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'Money Heist': Netflix's Best Kept Secret Goes Viral and It's Time to Binge It
June 24, 2020  | By Gary Edgerton  | 10 comments

Money Heist 
is Netflix's most-watched success since the third season of Stranger Things dropped on the Fourth of July in 2019. More subscribers clicked on Part 4 of this ongoing suspense thriller than Tiger King this spring. Nearly 70 million account holders accessed Money Heist as opposed to an estimated 64 million who tuned in to see Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin go mano a mano according to Netflix's internal numbers.

Why then have more Americans heard of Tiger King than Money Heist? Simple. The latter is a Spanish series. Its popularity with U.S. viewers had grown exponentially from next to nothing when Part 1 made its way onto Netflix in late December of 2017 without any fanfare or promotion whatsoever from the streamer to the surprisingly high audience figures it draws today.

Part 2 followed in early April of 2018 as word-of-mouth spread like wildfire on social media around the world, alerting those in the U.S. that there might be something worth checking out. Then on November 19 of that year, La Casa de Papel (translated "House of Paper"), which Netflix renamed Money Heist for global consumption, won the 2018 International Emmy Award for Best Drama Series at the 46th annual ceremony in New York City.

Money Heist was a bona fide critical and commercial hit. La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) premiered on the Spanish broadcast TV network, Antena 3, between May and November 2017. It garnered a loyal audience ranging from 5% to 10% of the country's population in a poor time slot while instantly being recognized as a world-class crime series by television critics and industry insiders including Netflix executives who launched their service in Spain from afar in October of 2015 but were keeping close tabs.

Timing is often everything. Netflix committed all in to Spain during July 2018 by opening its first European production hub in TV City (Ciudad de la Tele) right outside Madrid. It earlier acquired the global streaming rights to Money Heist after it completed its first season on Antena 3 in December 2017, while simultaneously ramping up what has become Netflix's international strategy of entering into original co-productions with Spanish companies and talent.

The creator and showrunner of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) is Álex Pina, a veteran writer-producer of several other successful Spanish series, who Netflix signed last year to a long-term exclusive contract much in the same way as the streamer has struck licensed deals with Kenya Barris of black-ish and David Benioff and Dan Weiss of Game of Thrones in the U.S.

Company execs also collaborated with Pina to change the name of La Casa de Papel to Money Heist as a way to avoid any confusion with their signature series, House of Cards (the Papel in "House of Paper" is a Spanish colloquialism for euros), and signal, as simply as possible, to English-language subscribers that it is an action-adventure caper series.

Money Heist is as well-executed and inventive as any other high-end scripted series produced anywhere else in the world these days. Its hook is that it contains all the bells-and-whistles of a Hollywood blockbuster blended seamlessly with the specificity of Spanish culture, characters, and concerns. Think of how a sense of place was essential to the success of The Sopranos in that New Jersey proved to be surprisingly relatable to audiences worldwide.

Money Heist is a pedal-to-the-metal caper narrative flush with all the excess kinetic energy of the Ocean's Eleven franchise mixed with the many passionate on-again-off-again love affairs found in a first-class telenovela. It is a Spanish sense versus sensibility with a highly cerebral mastermind, the Professor, a shy empathetic antihero in Clark Kent glasses, leading a dream team of talented outcasts who are trying to commit the perfect crime.

El Profesor just has one iron-clad rule for his crew: no personal relationships. Good luck with that! The puzzle-box of a plotline unfolds in a non-linear fashion. The current action covers the twists-and-turns of a seemingly impossible heist while the expertly crafted flashbacks further develop the characters. Álex Pina and his creative team pull off quite a high-wire act where the action enhances the human drama and vice versa.

Money Heist's wild card is that it is also grounded in the moment. It is a series chock full of social commentary. Money Heist is set with the recent memory of the 2008 global recession looming in the background. The program reflects a climate of disenchantment with Spain's impersonal corporate state that cares little about its people and regularly lies, breaks its own laws and protocols, and uses excessive force and torture to maintain control. Sound familiar?

Money Heist's merry band of misfits set their collective sights on the Royal Mint of Spain in parts 1 and 2 as they dress up as modern-day Robin Hoods in their iconic red jumpsuits and Salvador Dali masks singing the anti-fascist Italian folk song, "Bella Ciao," at key make-or-break moments in the story. These thieves are leading the resistance, even to the point of releasing 140 million euros in €50 and €100 bills from blimps high above downtown Madrid to hundreds of people milling around in the streets below at the beginning of part 3.

These outsiders grow into genuine folk heroes in the public's eyes as Pina, his writers, and actors instill this badass crew with far more complexity than the showy star turns in the various Oceans iterations.

All of the criminals are named after an assortment of international cities — for example, Tokyo (the impulsive thief and unreliable narrator), Berlin (the sociopath and leader on the ground), Rio (the hacker), Nairobi (the forger), Helsinki (the muscle), etc.— à la Quentin Tarantino's use of color names in Reservoir Dogs.

Still, Money Heist is less Tarantino than Spike Lee's Inside Man in tone and style with its nuanced character development and its sympathetic interplay between robbers and hostages. The music is also nonstop and eclectic from its global chart-topping theme song, "My Life is Going On," by Spanish singing star, Cecilia Krull, to tunes as alt-hip and varied as Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" and The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" to the more salsa-flavored "El Preso" ("The Prisoner") by the Africolumbian trio, Fruko y sus Tesos (Fruko and his bros), and the electronic dance remix, "Boom," by Spanish singer, Ofi La Melodia (Ofi the Melody).

Money Heist is no longer just a niche favorite with the 15% of the U.S. population that speaks Spanish, but a runaway viral sensation with all of the other viewers who watch it dubbed into English (about 70%) or subtitled (30%). It climbed to number two on Netflix behind Stranger Things when part 3 became available on July 19, 2019, and remained in America's top-10 over the next three months. Then it shot to number one when part 4 premiered on April 3 of this year.

So what's going on here? Money Heist was a top-10 Netflix program in over 70 countries, including the U.S., during 2019, and given its popularity so far this year, it's almost certain to be ranked that high again in 2020. American audiences have been slow to embrace non-English language television programs and films. There is so much homegrown content to choose from that most domestic subscribers feel little need to sample series from elsewhere.

Believe me, though – Money Heist is worth a look. Peak TV has gone global, and this series is just the tip of the iceberg that proves how certain breakout international series can be as binge-worthy and habit-forming as their American counterparts. Particularly now, when we are still caught somewhere between venturing out or staying sheltered-in-place, Money Heist is an adrenaline rush of a series built for binging. It is a first-rate entertainment spiced with an addictive Latino vibe. 

Take a chance. You won't be disappointed.

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Your blog posts have become a source of inspiration for me. Thank you for sharing your ideas.
May 29, 2024   |  Reply
Your article was a great read, and I appreciate the effort you put into it. Thank you!
May 29, 2024
Your writings stick out to me since the content is interesting and simple to understand. Even though I've read a lot of websites, I still like yours more. Your essay was interesting to read. I can understand the essay better now that I've read it carefully. In the future, I'd like to read more of your writing.
Jan 16, 2024   |  Reply
Jonathan C
If their is a #1 Fan and in love with this Movie series its me and my wife and 3 children. I got us all the Red jumpsuit & mask. We got our T-shirts, sweaters , face mask, and key chains. Cant wait for Season 5. Ive watched all 4 seasons for the 3rd time already and dont get tired of watchin it. Keep up the good work all of you. Will be missing Nairobi plz brink her back!!!
Jul 1, 2020   |  Reply
Zita reay
Fabulous writer,,Addicted fan,love all the Actors, Everything you wont in as film Keep going Gary.love you all and keep safe.love love love.
Jun 30, 2020   |  Reply
You're a great writer, Gary. Superb!
Jun 30, 2020   |  Reply
Bonita Doering
Totally addicted. This series encompasses everything you could want. Love love love
Jun 29, 2020   |  Reply
Yvonne davis
I absolutely love Money heist, i binged watch it for two days. Anciently awaiting season 5
Jun 28, 2020   |  Reply
John mehtor
Truly fantastic I can't wait for the next season
Jun 26, 2020   |  Reply
Susan Pearce
Money Heist is fabulous. The cast, the writing, the plot in a word, wonderful. I watched all four seasons in subtitles. I cannot get enough. One of the best Netflix series.
Jun 26, 2020   |  Reply
Jose Pedraza
Money Heist is my best Netflix series. Plots are good even with a little mishaps but I love money Heist. Tokyo is my favorite. Nairobi also I follow her other movies on Netflix. I follow all the characters on their new series or movies..they are awesome. Can't wait for new season to come out.
Jun 25, 2020   |  Reply
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