One of the things I perpetually miss in Russia is the American movie-going experience.

The movies themselves are here. American movies. Big Hollywood blockbusters. Award-baiting limited releases. We get them all and then some – it’s easier to find an Asian, European or Latin American film on a big screen in Moscow than in New York.

NOW PLAYING IN MOSCOW Image credit: all their studios.

Now Playing in Moscow.               Image credit: all their respective studios.

Russia’s appetite for movies is growing, and rapidly. Most films open here around the same time as in the US. And Moscow certainly doesn’t lack for theaters (at present 215 and counting). So yeah, catching a flick really isn’t hard. But for me, enjoying it sometimes is.

Because of the voices.

Since moving to Moscow, I have discovered that I am allergic to dubbing – even good dubbing, where the timbre of the voice-over actor matches that of the one onscreen, when the lip movement syncs up perfectly. Still, hearing someone’s fake voice – because I KNOW it’s not them – is like nails on a chalkboard.

Voice and language disparity are the two biggest obstacles standing between myself and my suspension of disbelief and proper movie enjoyment. In fact, two years in, I still find myself trying to lip-read what the actors are saying and dub the movies back from Russian to English in my head.

Especially the jokes and the snappy one-liners.

If, like myself, you were one of the 38 billion* people who have watched Marvel’s The Avengers, you might remember Tony Stark throwing some funny jabs at Thor — invoking Shakespeare in the Park and Point Break. These jokes were left on the Russian dubbing-room floor, because the above cultural references would have been meaningless to the local viewer. Instead we got some mumbled-something-something, which had me running to “Google: Avengers quotes” as soon as I got home from the theater.

*rough estimate 

Thus, whenever I can – and especially if vocal stylings of Rickman, Cumberbatch or the Greater Hemsworth are involved – I try to watch the new releases in original English.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (Star Trek: Retribution), Rush (Race)

Star Trek: Into Darkness (Star Trek: Retribution), Rush (Race).                      Image credit: respective studios.

Moscow, however, does not make this as convenient as one would expect given the vast and vibrant expat community here.

According to several estimates, at any given time there are up to 100,000 foreigners from the Far Abroad** legally residing in Moscow. It’s a pretty safe bet that only a small portion of those are fully fluent in Russian.

**(Near Abroad = former Soviet Republics; Far Abroad = everything else)

Now, can you imagine a 100,000-people town with only 2.5 small movie theaters? Because that’s exactly how many foreign-language theaters there are in Moscow. Two — 35mm and Pioneer — consistently play latest foreign releases in their original languages with Russian subtitles. They have 10 screens between the two of them (that’s about two and a half times less than the number of screens in my high school-era movie hub of Warwick, RI — population: 82,000).  Mind you, one of the theaters (35mm) mostly plays niche releases like Romeo and Juliet, Machete Kills, and UK stage productions, while the other one (Pioneer) is located a 15-minute walk from the nearest metro stop, one that itself is in a fairly shady/dodgy rail station area.

Pioneer Cinema all gussied-up for its reopening in 2009. Image credit: Snob.

Pioneer Cinema all gussied-up for its reopening in 2009.         Image credit: Snob.

The remaining half a theater is the 5 Zvyozd (5 Stars) cinema franchise, which arbitrarily decides to play a wide-release movie in its original language during maybe one or two showtimes on any given week at one of the two possible locations with no coherent annotation  provided on its website as to which movie that might be and exactly when/where it could be enjoyed.

This is what I look like when trying to find a movie I want to watch in the language I want to watch it:


Sigh. I guess it could be worse? There could be no foreign-language cinemas at all. But also, it’s Moscow, a world-class city, and I have faith that Moscow can do better.


Here are some other unique aspects of Moscow’s movie-going experience:

The Good: Beer and Food.

Most concessions stands serve beer – draft and bottle – and you know I would never object to that.  Some fancier theaters have mini-restaurants with fully-stocked bars, and you are free to enjoy your Tiramisu and your Long Island Iced Tea in front of the big screen. The only downside is potentially missing some critical on-screen action when you have to take the necessary break during the 2.5-hour Superhero Saga. Then again, that’s also an opportunity to get a refill!

The Bad: Small Screens.

Ridiculously small. Not even by American movie theater standards — I’m talking ‘large home-TV’-small. ‘Should sit in the first three rows’-small. Unless you’re going to see a special effects-laden tentpole film in the first couple of weeks of its release, be prepared to see it on something marginally bigger than this:

The latest for your home, from Samsung. Image credit: The Seattle Times.

The latest for your home or Moscow’s movie theater. Image credit: The Seattle Times.

Still bigger than my laptop screen though, so off to the movies I go.

The Frustrating: Release Schedules

I like being in the pop-culture loop. Which means I want my movies at the same time that they are being discussed on Entertainment Weekly, CeleBitchy, Lainey Gossip, Hollywood Reporter, Vulture etc. As I mentioned above, most of the time the tentpoles come out the same week as in the US, just, strangely, a day earlier. I actually went to see The Avengers at 9 am on a Thursday before work last year, hot breakfast in tow. But sometimes I have to wait a couple of weeks or even months for some of my most anticipated films and thus also having to take great care to not have them spoilered by friends or The Internet.

That is why beer is essential not just at the movies, but to keep sanity while waiting for Rush to open with a 3-week delay DAMMIT!


The Mindboggling: Prices

In the last year I have paid anywhere from 100 to 840 Russian rubles (just over $3 vs $27) to see an American new release, dubbed in Russian, in 3D, in a regular section (none of this VIP BS), on a proper BIG screen, in — or very close to — the Central district of Moscow. I understand some variation due to day of the week or time of the showing, but by a factor of 9? Or even higher, because I have heard of a couple of theaters charging upwards of RR1000 for a ticket. Boggles the mind.

Once again, this wondrous city does not stand up to logic or reason — but I guess that’s what makes living here so exciting!



Cinema Hall 35mm — a favorite among Moscow expats. Central location. At least one really big screen (somehow all the movies I’ve gone to see there were playing on the same screen). Anything that opens in limited release in the US; anything you might expect on an Oscar or BAFTA shortlist; widest selection of non-English foreign cinema, especially pretentious art-house fare; documentaries; UK stage productions. Very user-friendly website with an English option. 

Pioneer — most of the Hollywood tentpoles on the screens far too small for proper CGI enjoyment. Might want to BYOB (technically not supposed to but nobody checks) because the concession stand is small and there aren’t a lot of cafés nearby. Really comfy seats though.

English-language weekly newspaper The Moscow Times does a bang-up job rounding up what’s playing where and in which language, both in the movie theaters and on the local festival  circuit. 

Afisha (“Billboard” in Russian) is the most comprehensive listing of current and coming attractions in and around Moscow. This includes all the movie theaters, with showtimes, reviews and online ticket purchase options, but does not indicate whether a film is playing in another language. I looked up one of the 5 Stars theaters, which, according to The Moscow Times is playing Blue Jasmine in English; the Afisha site simply notes that some films might be playing in the original language, but does not indicate which ones/which showtimes. Also, the site itself is available only  in Russian.

Enjoy your show!

35 thoughts on “VOICES IN MY HEAD

  1. Ha, Riga is way better 😉 All of the movies are in the original language with subtitles – and it’ll only cost you around $4-5 for the pleasure!

    I like that you put in shady/dodgy for those of us Br. Eng. speakers who wouldn’t understand your American shadiness 😉

    Who’s that dude ruining Chris Hemsworth’s shot??

  2. Aw, it’s the same crap here in Spain… everything’s dubbed…I hate it! Once a week, the local cinema puts on original version films, but they tend not to be major releases.
    Surprising about Moscow, though, I’d have expected there to be more cinemas showing the real mccoy.

    • Yes, but your town is 84,00 people total and foreigners are mostly just passing through…you can always hop over to Madrid! I used to watch movies in English there on the regular, when I had time left over from all the mandatory Almodovar screenings in Spanish.
      Real mccoy…you sound so American! Warms my heart 🙂

  3. I agree with you totally Anna. Even if I know not a word of the original language I prefer subtitles. Dubbing just grates on me. Whereas subtitles just blend into the background after a while and you forget you are reading them. Hopefully things will improve gradually. Debbie

    • It’s amazing how after just a few minutes the subtitles just kind of melt away in your might, right? I noticed that when I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the first time a decade+ ago.

    • I have gone to one of those in Rhode Island, of all places. It’s…ok. I’d rather just grab a couple of pints with me into a regular theater. I hope one of the two by my office has a 9 or 930am Thor2 showing on the 7th
      😀 And then I will have to swing by Pioneer for the awesome that are Tom’s and Chris’ voices. **chilllllls**

  4. ARGH. This makes me crazy. The first movie I saw in Russia was one of the Harry Potter movies… Harry Potter and Severus Snape being voiced in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY almost made me lose it right there.

    I’ve actually never been the 35mm. Guess I’m just not that big of a movie person that it’s worth it.

  5. Interesting. Here in Abu Dhabi, they don’t dub anything. Everything is in its original English with Arabic and French subtitles.

    But oh do they cut them… even cartoons get cut for inappropriate/risque moments on occasion. (Although not always.) Puss in Boots was advertised as Cat in Boots here. Anything rated R is going to be a whole lot shorter if there’s sex involved. Televised movies are even worse. Sometimes the plot skips ahead a whole lot and you’re sitting there going “Huh?”

    I tend to just watch everything online, for the sake of not missing anything.

    • Are there two subtitles running simultaneously? That seems kind of crazy. I must say tho – Puss in Boots is Cat in Boots in Russian lore too. I think in this context ‘puss’ literally translates as ‘cat.’ Like, I wouldn’t even know what ‘puss’ meant aside from the gross white disease goo, had I not lived in the US for most of my life.

  6. How frustrating! I live in Spain and I refuse to watch dubbed movies. They are just. so. bad. We do get original version movies though, which are awesome.

    I like the idea of beer at the movies though. What a genius idea!

    • Jessica, first of all – love your blog name! When I studied in Madrid, my friend Josh was called anything from Yost to Yak 🙂 What is it with Spaniards and that sound? But there was also beer at the movies there – might have just been ok in the lobby/cafe, not the actual theater. I was less of a beer hound those days…I remember going to the English movie theater at Cuatro Caminos and then to a Chinese restaurant across the street…Those were the days!

      • ok there is a hotel in moscow i think its called cosmos… they used to show american films in english for free. definitely research on that… and also about the dubbing. latvia i s a small country with only 2 million ppl and so is finnland. dubbing just wouldnt be worth it. but in russia there s like 140 millions so… however i absolutely agree with u. in fact i think each movie theatre in russia should show the movies in english plus russian subtitles as an alternative to the dubbed version. this way ppl who speak at least some english would slowly get used to watch all usa movies in the original. because right now the dubbing is awfull. do u know that they even translated all the songs in the film versions of chicago, sweeny todd and high school musical? thats like a crime against nature hwne u have to watch chicago musical with phillip kirkorov singing in it

        on the other hand while ur in russia, watch as many russian movies as u can. u wont see any when ur back in the us. besides the good thing about russia is that here we watch movies from all over the world not just the hollywood productions

        • American movies for free? What brilliant propaganda! 🙂
          Dont think they do it with new releases, but the American Cultural Center here does occasionally screen the classics. I hadnt checked it out yet…I presuuuume they do it in English.
          Otherwise, I totally understand the need for dubbing from the markets perspective, and they DO do a good job, but it’s not the same for someone who knows the original language. Thus I complain 😦
          Oh, and I’ve seen ALL the Russian movies. Seriously, I am THAT good – all of them! I can quote all the classics by heart! And after I left, my mother took about 400 DVDs of Russian films with her to the US 🙂

          • u dont need to have 400 dvds, just register on vk.com and watch all u want for free=) no i ment there s new russian movies coming out on a regular basis, watch them. as for the cosmos hotel, maybe it was a different hotel, i dont remember but i definetely watched casino royal in english in moscow there when it first came out. then mgu and rggu universities often show movies in original language for anyone willing to watch

          • That’s brilliant! I will totally check out those places as soon as I get home tonight from THOR: THE DARK WORLD in English WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

  7. Hi Anna, I am a little late to the conversation, but I wanted to chime in to say “I feel your pain!”… Italy and France are terrible with the dubbing, but the Netherlands uses subtitles, which the Dutch hardly read anyway because their English is so good. If you ask me, this is a self-perpetuating cycle. The countries that never hear the English are simply not as familiar or comfortable with English, and therefore desire (and depend on) the dubbing. Countries like the Netherlands, which hear English on a daily basis (because their TV programs are also in the original Hollywood English), are shockingly better at speaking fluent English! Really, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the average Dutch person’s English is – and they claim not to have studied English any more than the French…

    P.S. I’m also a regular Celebitchy reader, world traveler, and blogger! 🙂

    • Yes, those pesky small-country Europeans with their 5-language-minimum fluency have us all bested – and once again we can blame Hollywood! 🙂 Welcome to the blog, Kathleen!

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