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There is often a debate between people who watch TV shows and movies: Do you prefer them with or without subtitles? While movie theaters don’t use subtitles, streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max have allowed users to turn on subtitles for their viewing pleasure. A new survey reveals that audiences mostly prefer to use subtitles and there are many shows and actors that viewers find hard to understand. 

Watching movies and TV shows with subtitles is more popular with younger audiences

Cillian Murphy stars in Netflix's Peaky Blinders, which was voted the hardest TV show to understand in a subtitles survey
Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby | Netflix

In a new survey shared by, 50% of respondents said they use subtitles most of the time. 70% of Gen Z respondents said they use subtitles, followed by 53% of millennials, 38% of Gen X, and 35% of baby boomers. 

The survey showed that there are various reasons for why viewers are more often using subtitles. The leading reason respondents gave for using subtitles is that the audio is muddled, which 72% of respondents gave as the main reason. Other reasons include the accents being hard to understand, they don’t want the TV to be too loud, they want to stay focused on the screen, or they want to learn a new language. 

A possible reason why the pro-subtitle responders skew younger is that many said they watch TV and movies in public, perhaps on their phone or on a tablet. 57% of respondents said they watch content on their mobile devices and 74% of those respondents were Gen Z. 

What TV shows and celebrities are the hardest to understand?

One aspect of the survey was seeing what TV shows and actors were the hardest for respondents to understand and needed subtitles for. For TV shows, the most popular answer was Netflix’s Peaky Blinders, followed by Derry Girls, Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Downton Abbey. For celebrities, respondents said Tom Hardy is the most difficult actor to understand. Other popular answers included Sofia Vergara, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery, Johnny Depp, and Jackie Chan. 

Additionally, 50% of respondents said the most difficult accent to understand is Scottish, followed by British and Irish. While audiences would like to understand the dialogue, 74% of audiences prefer to watch foreign language shows, such as Squid Game, in their original languages with 26% saying they prefer to watch the English-dubbed versions. 

Viewers still want subtitles to be optional


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While the survey is split on whether people prefer subtitles, only 32% of respondents think that subtitles should be the default for streaming and cable while only 26% think it should be the default for movie theaters. Respondents also gave a list of pros and cons of using subtitles.

The leading pros for using subtitles are that it helps TV show viewers understand the plot, it helps them focus on the screen, and it prevents them from having to rewind if they missed what was said. The leading cons are that it distracts from the visuals and it’s more distracting than helpful. 

Subtitles continue to be a popular debate and this survey shows how polarizing the tool is. Where do you stand on the subtitle debate?