Over the past couple years, many of the best movies I've seen have been made outside of the US. "Foreign films" are nothing new and they have been standard fare for a long time at indie movie theaters like The Film Forum here in NYC.
But I think we are witnessing something more profound. As big swaths of the world modernize and gain large populations who have the time and the means to enjoy films, we will see more and better films come from outside of the US. We are already seeing it.
What that means is we'll need a better way to do subtitles. And we need to look no further than wikipedia and the world of open source to see the future of subtitles.
Last night, The Gotham Gal and I decided we wanted to have a quiet night at home. She made dinner and I downloaded Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). The Gotham Gal had read the book by Steig Larsson and had really enjoyed it along with The Girl Who Played With Fire. A commenter on her blog let her know they had made a film in Sweden out of the dragon tattoo book and she asked me to set it up on Boxee. So that's what I did.
The film is in swedish and the download I got did not have english subtitles. But fortunately Boxee supports Open Subtitles. If you are streaming or watching a downloaded video in Boxee, you can simply ask for subtitles and Boxee goes out and fetches them from opensubtitles.org.
You can also do this with the VLC player. When you load a file into VLC, you can check the box to load a subtitle file. You can get the subtitle file (a .srt file) from opensubtitles.org or a number of other subtitle services on the internet. Sometimes you need to play around with the delay parameter to get the syncing right, but it works well.
The larger point I am making here is that by open sourcing subtitles, we are making it easier to watch films and other forms of video that are made in other languages. People in Israel can watch TV shows and films made in the US in hebrew subtitles. People in the US can watch TV shows and films made in India in english subtitles. The possibilities go on and on. We don't need to wait for the producers of the films to release them in foreign languages (if they ever choose to do so). We can simply get the footage we want to watch and find a subtitle for it on the Internet.
The open subtitle market today is focused on popular films and TV shows, but there is no reason why it won't eventually grow to support everything from last night's Jon Stewart show to a viral video on YouTube. As the tools get easier to create .srt files and the various video players start to support them, the possibilities are endless. And the world will get just a little bit smaller as a result.