The 2010s was the decade that foreign-language television broke through the global ceiling and got Hollywood to notice the quality of content coming from all corners of the world. While Danish drama The Killing (Forbrydelsen) and French thrillers Braquo and Spiral began inching the door open in the “aughties,” hyper local titles and the booming streaming market means that Netflix subscribers are just as likely to binge Spanish drama La Casa De Papel (Money Heist) or German supernatural thriller Dark as they are the new season of The Crown.
Netflix’s VP International Originals Kelly Luegenbiehl recently told a London conference that “Hollywood is not the be-all and end-all of storytelling,” and “this is really just the beginning.” Georgia Brown, European content chief at Amazon, agreed that “language is kind of irrelevant now.”
It’s not just the SVODs that are helping this boom; linear broadcasters around the world have realized that specifically local titles stand more chance of becoming hits than global puddings. Many broadcasters, such as European public stations France Televisions, Italy’s Rai and Germany’s ZDF, are also teaming up to match the budgets of the streamers.
Below, Deadline has put together a list of 10 of the most influential foreign-language series and international formats of the decade (in alphabetical order).
Bron / The Bridge (Sweden / Denmark)
When Sofia Helin’s Saga Noren began investigating a murder on the Øresund Bridge, which links Malmo and Copenhagen, in 2011, few thought it would be the start of an internationally renowned case. Sofia Grabol’s Sarah Lund in The Killing (Forbrydelsen) had already made waves around the world four years earlier, with many believing there was only really room for one breakout Scandinavian drama. However, The Bridge, known locally as Bron, soon became a global phenomenon. The show, a co-production between Sweden’s SVT and Denmark’s DR, traveled to more than 100 markets, including a key spot on the BBC, and creator Hans Rosenfeldt would go on to create ITV and Netflix’s Anna Friel-fronted crime drama Marcella. It also became one of the blueprints for international co-production during the decade with broadcasters in a raft of territories working together to solve crimes. The UK’s Sky and France’s Canal+ teamed on Stephen Dillane and Clemence Poesy-fronted The Tunnel, while HBO Asia and PCCW-backed streamer Viu worked on a Singaporean/Malaysian version. In the U.S., FX remade the series with Diane Kruger, and versions have been set up in Croatia/Serbia as well as a potential African remake. Lars Blomgren, who was previously boss of Swedish producer Filmlance, which produced the original, and is now head of scripted, EMEA, at Endemol Shine Group. He old Deadline that the show helped open the door for subtitled drama and non-English-language shows. “The challenge right now is that you don’t want the different versions to compete with each other. Can we do another one in Asia now that we’ve done Singapore, Malaysia? I would love to crack China, and another one is India. I would to have an Indian Bridge,” he said.
Deutschland ’83 (Germany)
German drama series including Netflix’s Dark and Sky’s Babylon Berlin have become global hits, in part thanks to the success of Deutschland ’83, which kicked open the door in 2015. The period drama, a co-production with SundanceTV, follows Martin Rauch, played by Jonas Nay, a border guard from East Germany who goes undercover in West Germany, impersonating the murdered soldier Moritz Stamm. The coming-of-age story was set in the 1980s, set against the culture wars and political events happening in the country. Created by Anna Winger (who is currently working on the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox) and Joerg Winter (who runs Fremantle-backed UFA Fiction), the eight-part series sold around the world into over 100 territories, kicking off Channel 4’s foreign-language drama service Walter Presents. It has spawned follow-ups including Deutschland ’86, which aired in 2018, and Deutschland ’89, which will air on Amazon in 2020. Jens Richter, CEO, International, Fremantle, which distributed, the said that “Deutschland ’83 is an extraordinary piece of drama that really set the bar for non-English-language drama. It’s a super entertaining, coming-of-age story, with a real sense of fun and adventure. The modern portrayal of German history and stylish interpretation of real events put a spin on the classic spy genre. The cinematic feel, epic ’80s soundtrack and the incredible coveted fashion got everyone around the world talking. It really broke through into popular culture.”
Mafia drama Gomorrah has reinvigorated the Italian drama business, become a bigger local hit than Game of Thrones, sold to around 190 territories and forced creator Roberto Saviano into hiding from the Casalesi clan. The drama, which launched in 2014 and is based on Saviano’s own book, began by telling the story of tormented hitman Ciro Di Marzio, a member of the Savastano clan, which is headed by Pietro Savastano. The show has indirectly led to a raft of Italian dramas that have appeared on the world stage including Netflix’s Suburra and Andrea Riseborough’s Amazon, Sky and Canal+ cocaine thriller ZeroZeroZero, and spawned a feature film spinoff — an origin story on the series’ cult character. The series, which aired its fourth season in 2019, is also set for a fifth season. Gomorrah also helped producer Cattleya, which was founded by Riccardo Tozzi in 2017, seal a deal with ITV, which took a stake in the business in 2017. Oliver Bachert, EVP International Sales and Acquisitions of Beta Film, which distributes the series, told Deadline, “Gomorrah is the benchmark for ‘the more local, the more global’ thesis. Shot in Neapolitan in a unique endemic setting, this groundbreaking crime series inspired a new wave of linear as well as [digital] platform commissions and it is continuing its phenomenal international run with the spinoff The Immortal, as well as new seasons.”
Gran Hotel (Spain)
A number of Spanish dramas have been adapted by U.S. broadcasters in recent years including Debra Messing-fronted The Mysteries of Laura, which ran for two seasons on NBC, and Red Band Society, which aired one season on for Fox. Gran Hotel was the latest big-budget Spanish drama to get the remake treatment via Eva Longoria, and although the Miami-set series only ran for one season on ABC, the original Spanish series has been a breakthrough hit and helped kickstart the Spanish drama boom that has subsequently led to series such as Netflix’s Money Heist. Created by Ramon Campos and Gema Neira, the original series, which ran on Antena 3 and starred Amaia Salamanca and Yon Gonzalez, was set in an early 20th century aristocratic hotel during the reign of King Alfonso XIII and followed the mysteries involving the owner’s family and hotel workers. Produced by Tabu Producciones, the original Spanish-language series aired around the world on networks including Sky in the UK. It was also subsequently remade by Italian public broadcaster Rai, Mexico’s Televisa and even Egypt’s CBC, whose version became the first Egyptian series to air on Netflix after the streaming service took international rights. It was sold globally by Beta Film, whose EVP International Sales and Acquisitions Oliver Bachert told Deadline, “Grand Hotel is the avant-garde series that initiated the Spanish hype leading to today’s drama bonanza on the Spanish peninsula. The unique mix of glossy drama and a fresh take on the period, crime genre lead to extraordinary international success.”
Hatufim / Prisoners of War / Homeland (Israel)
Israel has become a hotbed of international drama, a trend that started with the success of Keshet’s Hatufim (Prisoners of War). The series was adapted as the Damian Lewis- and Claire Danes-fronted Homeland, which is heading into its eighth and final season for Showtime. The original series, which premiered on Israel’s Channel 2 in 2010, told the story of three Israeli soldiers who were captured 17 years ago while on a secret mission in Lebanon. Created by Gideon Raff, who went on to create FX’s Tyrant and Netflix’s Sacha Baron Cohen-fronted miniseries The Spy, the Israeli version sold to over 65 territories including Hulu in the U.S. and Sky in the UK. In addition to its Showtime remake, produced by Fox21 Television Studios, it has been remade in India via Star TV, which aired 126 episodes, and the format was sold to Russian broadcaster Rossiya 1. Raff told Deadline that he was “humbled” that the show traveled so widely and “transcended geographical and language barriers,” “It shows how art has the power to bring us together,” he added. Avi Nir, CEO of Keshet Media Group, the company behind HBO’s Our Boys, added, “I would highlight how quickly we moved from hearing Gidi’s pitch and, recognizing his unique story and voice, to reading the script and to producing the show. I’d also like to point out that we acknowledged the controversial aspects of the show but they didn’t deter us. The show’s artistic merits were our focus and our assurance.”
Married at First Sight (Denmark)
The Europeans have always created wacky formats that punch through globally, but few would have expected a show that paired strangers on their wedding day to have been such an international hit. The Red Arrow Studios International format has been produced in 29 markets and is moving into its 10th season in the U.S. on Lifetime. Created by Danish producer Snowman Productions, led by Michael von Würden, the show allows singles who have failed to find love put their hearts in the hands of a team of experts, who select their perfect partner. The couples then meet for the first time at the altar before going on a honeymoon and moving in together. After six weeks, they decide whether to stay together or file for divorce. In the U.S., there is a surprisingly high rate of success, with over 25% of marriages working across the first nine seasons. “When we first started producing the show, one of the best choices we made was to hire documentarians not reality TV storytellers. This set a strong, authentic tone for the show, and enabled us to follow the couples in small, everyday settings,” Würden told Deadline. “I am so proud that our original idea in Denmark has grown to become a show that millions of people are enjoying year-after-year, all around the world.” Nina Etspüler, Group Creative Director, Red Arrow Studios, added, “The reason for the success of the show internationally is pretty clear to us: there is nothing more universal than people searching for, and hoping to find, love. But also, the format itself combines such a strong structure for local versions to follow, alongside a lightness of tone that revels in the small, intimate details of being in a relationship.”
Real Humans (Sweden)
AMC broke through the crowded marketplace with original series such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but its second phase of success was arguably helped by the quality of international co-productions that it was involved in. Shows such as The Night Manager, McMafia and The Little Drummer Girl were preceded by Humans, an English-language take on Swedish series Real Humans. The original series, which was created by Lars Lundstrom, first aired on SVT in 2012. It told the story of two families that deal with the emotional effects of consumer robot workers, who have attained free will and want their freedom from human ownership. Endemol Shine’s Kudos subsequently remade the series with Spooks writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley. Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios was originally on board to air in the U.S. but changed their strategy, which saw AMC step in. The Banijay-owned superindie also partnered with Croton Media on a Chinese version of the show, one of the few scripted European titles to be remade in that country. The series also led to the breakout of star Gemma Chan, who went on to star in Captain Marvel and Crazy Rich Asians. The show ran for three seasons in the U.S. and UK and Vincent and Brackley joked that one day they might be able to pick up the story and called for Tesla’s Elon Musk to move into original content. “If there’s anyone out there with a few million quid and an interest in AI stories, we’re all ears. DM us Elon,” they said.
Scandinavia is usually known for dark crime thrillers (see Bron, above), but a teen show from Norway became one of the breakout European hits of the decade. Skam, which was produced by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK’s youth service NRK P3, follows the daily lives of teenagers from a school in a wealthy Oslo suburb. Each of the show’s four seasons follows a different main character including Eva Mohn, who chronicles her difficult relationship with her boyfriend, Noora Amalie Sætre, Isak Valtersen and Sana Bakkoush. The show, which broke streaming records in its home market, covered controversial issues such as sexual abuse, homosexuality and Islamic relations. Created by Julie Andem, who recently struck an overall deal with WarnerMedia’s HBO, the series has been remade in the U.S. by Facebook Watch, which has run two seasons of its Austin-based adaptation. Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s head of global creative strategy, called Skam a “shining example of what social video can be,” while executive producer Simon Fuller, who created the Idol franchise, said it was an “intimate” and “immersive” format. The show has subsequently been remade in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands and has opened the door to youth-based programming around the world.
The King of Mask Singer / The Masked Singer (Korea)
If The Voice was the international format that kick-started the decade, The Masked Singer was the global format that capped it off. The show was originally created by Korean broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, where it was known as The King of Mask Singer. The show, which features celebrities singing in elaborate costumes and competing in a series of elimination rounds, became a global hit after launching on Fox in January 2019. The U.S. version, which is hosted by Nick Cannon, was originally developed by Craig Plestis, who discovered the show when he visited a Thai restaurant. It has arguably become the biggest new entertainment hit in over five years and its third season will premiere after the 2020 Super Bowl. It has aired or is set to air in over 20 markets, with British commercial broadcaster ITV launching a UK version in early January. This is no mean feat as international producers have told Deadline that it was a particularly difficult format to option, with one producer joking that they spent days on the phone trying to track someone down at Korea’s MBC who spoke English.
The Voice (Holland)
The singing competition space was already a relatively crowded genre with the likes of Idol and The X Factor when Big Brother creator John de Mol came up with The Voice. This, however, did not stop the Dutch format, originally known as The Voice of Holland, becoming the most successful global entertainment format of the decade with over 121 local versions. While the show features many of the traditional elements of talent contests, including battle rounds, knockouts and live performances, it was the concept of the blind audition, with rotating chairs, helped devised by Dutch musician Roel Van Velzen, that catapulted The Voice to stardom. It has been a huge success in many major markets including the UK, where it controversially moved from BBC One to commercial rival ITV in 2017, and in the U.S., where it launched on NBC in 2011 and is moving into its 18th season. The show was also a major reason that ITV acquired de Mol’s Talpa Media in 2015, for an initial sum of $460 million, and despite de Mol’s recent exit, ITV still owns the format. There have been a slew of spinoffs including The Voice Senior and The Voice Kids as well as The Comeback Stage, while the franchise has always shown the international entertainment community that there’s still a place for shows with new twists on evergreen formats. Maarten Meijs, COO of Talpa Media, told Deadline that it was important not to be “scared to fail.” “When John de Mol came up with The Voice, every network rejected the show. It was at a time when no one thought there was room left in this genre. But we have been persistent and really worked for a long time on finding that different angle. You need to be willing to take a chance on a new format that is not more of the same. And when you believe in it, you need to keep going to get it on air,” he added. “The Voice is a positive and powerful show that resonates with people everywhere in the world. It is entertaining billions of people across the globe and gets entire families in front of the TV, in a time where often kids and parents are glued to their phones, tablets or laptops. Broadcasters need those tentpole formats in their schedules that attract a steady audience.”