Created by Spain’s private Antena 3 network, the thriller about a gang of thieves and their elaborate heists became Netflix’s most-watched series not in English after it picked up the show in December 2017.
The fate of the robber characters, all of whom have code names from cities around the world, even hooked audiences in the United States, which was not then used to dubbed shows.
The New York Times praised the series and its twists and turns as a “joy ride in every sense” while Israel’s Haaretz newspaper called it “seriously riveting”.
The red overalls and Salvador Dali masks sported by the renegade gang members in the series soon became popular around the world at costume parties and street protests.
“This is the first non-English language series to become a global phenomenon,” said Elena Neira, a professor of communication sciences at the Open University of Catalonia.
Thanks in part to the success of the show, Netflix and its competitors “realised that they did not need to produce everything in the United States” to get a global audience, she added.
Netflix soon scored big with other series not in English, such as French thriller “Lupin” and South Korean dystopian drama series “Squid Game” which this year became the platform’s most-watched series ever.
While the “Money Heist” screenplay is “not revolutionary”, it tells “a very universal story, of the struggle between good and bad…with messages about the power of women, camaraderie and the need to rebel,” said Neira.
“Lupin” shares many of the show’s features, such as its focus on a thief with “a certain moral” aspect who is “very intelligent,” she added.
“Money Heist” was also lucky to have been picked up by Netflix shortly after the steaming service in January 2016 went live in more than 130 countries, bringing its coverage to almost the entire globe except China.
Netflix’s recommendation algorithm also favours series like “Money Heist” which end with a cliffhanger and are “highly addictive,” said Alberto Nahum Garcia, a professor of audiovisual communication at the University of Navarre.
“There was a kind of alignment of the planets at a time when distribution became even more global,” he added.
Neira said the show benefited as well from the US streaming giant’s willingness to invest heavily to dub and add subtitles to shows in dozens of languages.
Launch pad for Spain
The global success of “Money Heist” has also given Spain’s audiovisual sector a huge boost.
“It placed Spain’s industry in a place where we never dreamed it could be,” the show’s creator Alex Pina said Tuesday at a Madrid news conference to promote the second part of the fifth and final season of the series.
Netflix in 2018 signed a deal with Pina to produce new series and projects exclusively for the streaming giant.
And the following year it opened its first European production centre in Madrid, part of a multi-million euro investment in Spanish language content.
“Money Heist” showed that “stories can be created anywhere in the world and be appreciated everywhere in the world,” Netflix’s vice president of content for Spain and Portugal, Diego Avalos, told AFP.
Several “Money Heist” stars have become regulars on other Netflix shows.
Jaime Lorente, who plays hot-tempered robber Denver, and Miguel Herran who plays young hacker Rio, appear in teen drama Elite, another Spanish global hit.
“Our aim is to be part of the Spanish creative ecosystem. We are investing for the long term,” he added at the opening of the company’s production centre in Madrid.
Five interesting facts to know about Spain’s smash hit Money Heist
The following are five facts about the show about a gang of thieves who launch elaborate heists:
The debut season of the series scored so-so ratings when it was first broadcast on free-to-air Spanish TV station Antena 3.
The first episode aired on May 2, 2017 was seen by four million viewers, but the audience kept dropping and the final episode of the season captured just 1.4 million viewers.
It was only after Netflix bought it, re-edited it, dubbed it and began streaming it in December 2017 that the show took off in Spain and the rest of the world.
The story centres on a group of criminals who break into Spain’s Royal Mint to print their own money, an allegory of revolt against the excesses of capitalism that struck a chord with many viewers a decade after the global financial crisis.
French daily Le Monde called the series “an allegory of rebellion” and the red overalls and Salvador Dali masks worn by the fictional thieves in the series have been donned in protests around the globe.
In December 2020 a group of gunmen carried out a brazen robbery in Criciuma in southern Brazil which appears to have been inspired by the series.
The heavily armed gang burst into a bank, detonated explosives to blast open its safe and then threw bills flying into the air before fleeing.
Bystanders who raced to collect the money hampered the efforts of police to catch the robbers.
In the series all the members of the gang are given code names taken from cities around the world: Tokyo, Rio, Berlin, Moscow, Nairobi, Oslo, Helsinki, Denver, etc.
The show’s creator Alex Pina has said the inspiration came from a staff member of the series who wore a t-shirt with the word Tokyo.
Fans of the show who visit Madrid can often be seen taking pictures of themselves in front of the Royal mint where much of the series takes place.
But for security reasons the exterior images of the building were actually shot in front of another institution with similar architecture — the Spanish National Research Council.