An accidentally funny use of subtitles occurs frequently during the commercial breaks. If you watch TV with the "888" function enabled so that subtitles come up on the screen, most TV shows screened in Britain now have them. But advertising is lagging behind - so that some adverts have subtitles and some do not. When the advert break moves from an advert with subtitling to one without, on Freeview the last subtitled phrase from the previous advert remains on screen throughout the next advert. Thus the last line of a medication advert aimed at parents of children might be For all infestations of headlice and nits. If this stays on screen over an advert for expensive sophisticated shampoo and conditioner of the Laboratoires Garnier or L'Oreal type, there is room for a certain mirth...
Shin Chan's gag dub is already hilarious, but one episode features a character working as a detective in a parody of Lupin III, and at one point he must hop on platforms floating on lava. (Or some red, hot, liquid material) The steam from the lava is everywhere, and subtitles below says, "Okay, this was WAY too much of a bitch to translate. Use your imagination. Seriously, look at all that steam. We're not dealing with that. This would spell 'E-Q-U-A' if we cared. If you squint your eyes, it kind of looks like English." A later episode did the same thing with the label for a bag in a windstorm, even calling back to the previous example at the same time.
The second episode of Zoku Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has a particularly convoluted subtitle gag. The characters are just speaking gibberish and the subtitles (in Japanese) are nonsense about the Dragon Balls. One fansubbing group who were stuck in the unenviable position of translating all that both translated the subtitles and added "supertitles" to show the actual lines from the manga chapter on which the episode is based, which is about Commodore Perry. Sorta.
Excel♥Saga has a multi-layered subtitle gag that plays around with both the English dub and Japanese original track in one episode.
How to best explain it... The episode starts with the flying words in space, ala Star Wars. The words are in English, but it's a Japanese series so they provide a Japanese translation at the side, and the narrator also speaks out the Japanese translation. If you watch it in the original Japanese or the English dub, that's it. But watch it with English subs, and you'll get not only the original English text, but also a translation of the Japanese translation written on the side of the screen, and a translation of the narrator's reading of the translation. All of this results in the screen being full of text, with three different English versions, each with subtle differences.
And there's Sumiyoshi, who only speaks in subtitles that everyone can read.
Often, in the US DVD release, jokes will be put in the subtitles of the Japanese with English subs, but put the punchline in the English dub, AND vice versa, acting as a sort of Genius Bonus for fans who take the time to watch the series in both sub and dub formats, which is actually a likely choice for most viewers anyway because of how wacky the Gratuitous English is in the spoken dialog of the Japanese audio already!
In the first Urusei Yatsura movie, Lum's mother's speech has two sets of subtitles. One, in English and with parentheses, explains that Lum's mom is speaking not Japanese but an alien language which no human understands. The other set reads "Ιφ ψου χαν ρεαδ τηισ⊃" followed by "⊃ψου∍ρε α σεριουσ Οτακυ." In case you're wondering, that is the result of writing "If you can read this…" / "…you're a serious Otaku" in the Symbol font from classic Mac OS (using the Mac OS Roman character set).
Bilingual English/Japanese speaker here. To me, this linked to the first half of an episode where Satoshi visits the Isshu area with his mother and the Professor, and is titled Pokemon 1-1, poster-animeultimacom, site-Dailymotion...but the subs are spot on. I could not get past the first two minutes of the second half due to Flash issues, but that looked fine, too. Please certify this possibly hilarious link?
This◊ wall of text in a Chess game from Code Geass. The subtitle is "Checkmate", but translation notes fill the screen with details about the characterization implied by an illegal move.
One of the Haruhi Suzumiya ASOS Brigade promos for the season 1 DVD release messed with the subtitles to turn them into Leet Speak.
An episode of Lost Universe involved a political figure from some foreign country and a rebel leader (in a chicken costume) arguing in complete gibberish. One fansubber decided to subtitle their conversation anyway, having them arguing over the ethics of releasing fansubs.
The Gundam 00 movie features a Show Within a Show that has the cast in an utterly ridiculous Super Robot show. The fansubs (which for the rest of the movie were of high quality) decided to be silly during this scene and deliberately made terrible subtitles for that sequence. They're written in awkward Fonts, leave a bunch of terms untranslated, and use translator's notes gratuitously. It fit in well with the tone of the scene and was generally agreed to be utterly hilarious by the fans.
Due to U.S. Broadcasting requirements a lot of dubbed DVDs sold in the States end up with two subtitle tracks: traditional subtitles based on a more-or-less literal translation of the original language track, and closed captioning for the hearing impaired, which is a word-for word transcription of the English dub. So one can create their own fun with subtitles by playing with the subtitle and audio settings, or see how much effort was spent on localization.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which inspired the writing of this trope: the opening credits are in English, with subtitles in a faux-Scandinavian language. Eventually the subtitles transform from fairly decent As Long as It Sounds Foreign to a weird ramble about Sweden and a moose biting someone's sister—clearly in English, but with a few spelling eccentricities to retain the Scandinavian edge.
The DVD of the movie also has a feature called "Subtitles for People Who Don't Like The Movie", which subtitles the whole movie with lines from Shakespeare.
In Johnny Dangerously, subtitles appear on screen to state the year the movie takes place. Then a car drives over them, as they are actually plaster props standing in the street.
Austin Powers in Goldmember has a scene in which Austin converses with a Japanese CEO. The subtitles are in white, and happen to be obscured by objects that are also white...
The Bowdlerised TV edit has the Japanese executive offer Austin some dungeness crab.
There was another scene where Austin has a conversation with his dad using Cockney rhyming slang which is subtitled in American English that Americans can understand. Eventually, though, the subtitles start getting confused (replacing long stretches of the conversation with "??????"), only catching up to the final phrase: "...and shat on a turtle!".
Or with "tea kettle".
Snatch had Mickey the Pikey, who spoke English with a very thick accent. An extra on the DVD has Mikey subtitled; the subtitles once read "?????????".
In the parody movie Fatal Instinct, a woman is plotting in the middle of a park with her lover to kill her husband, and the two of them speak subtitled Yiddish. At one point, the man sitting in the bench answers a question the lover asked her. When she asked if he understood Yiddish, he replied that he was simply reading the subtitles, at which point, the two of them look down at the words, as if just noticing them.
The Man With Two Brains jokes goes like this: The character is arrested, and the policeman addresses him in subtitled German. When he is answered in English, he exclaims "Oh, you speak English!" before telling his associate to drop the subtitles.
George of the Jungle: when George is speaking "gorilla" to his ape friends. Normally George has about as basic a vocabulary and grammar rules as anybody, but apparently he speaks gorilla like a Shakespearean scholar, complete with a calligraphy-style font for the subtitles.
Taken up to 11 in the sequel. The animals are translated into English, but the subtitles are animal sounds.
In Wayne's World, there are subtitles when Wayne speaks Cantonese. However, at one point he stops talking, and the subtitles keep coming. The actors sit there in silence, looking slightly bored, while this goes on.
To clarify, the implication is that the four word Cantonese phrase Wayne uses is worth a couple of paragraphs in English, taking considerably more time to get all the text on the screen than it is to say. This is a play on foreign films where long streams of speech are accompanied by ridiculously minute, concise subtitles. It's also a reference to the Looney Tunes cartoon Wackiki Wabbit, cited below.
In the sequel, when he inadvertently insults his girlfriend's father, provoking an immenent fight, Wayne asks if they can switch from subtitles to dubbing (since it's going to be a martial arts fight scene).
Very well. If that is your custom, prepare to die.
A nightclub scene in Trainspotting has two simultaneous conversations subtitled, because the music is too loud to understand what the characters are saying otherwise. The joke was reported lost in the US, where the entire film had Glaswegian/English subtitles.
The Imposters has a scene where one of the heroes overhears a terrorist plot... while hiding under the bed & reading the terrorist's subtitles.
A very rare non-comedic example: in Man on Fire, the subtitles start out behaving normally, appearing at the bottom of the screen whenever character speaks in a non-English language. As the film goes on, however, they get...weird. They start popping up one word at a time. They turn up when a character is speaking English anyway. They appear in unorthodox parts of the screen. Finally they've all but taken over the film, with such instances as a large grainy word appearing right out of a character's mouth and floating creepily across the screen before dissolving becoming not uncommon.
Which follows Creasy's increasing descent into madness quite well. Only when he finds that Pita is still alive do the subtitles go back to normal, more or less.
Barfly Jack in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels recounts a story involving one of the film's antagonists in an almost impenetrable block of Cockney rhyming slang, with English subtitles.
He then proceeds to order an Aristotle of the most ping-pong tiddly in the Nuclear sub.
In Airplane!, the two black guys speak "Jive" to everybody. While they're speaking to each other, their conversation is subtitled, but later on the subtitles end, and an elderly lady who happens to "speak jive" volunteers to translate.
And the translator was June Cleaver, no less.
The Bilingual (French/English) movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop the two main characters switch back and forth between French and English. In the "English" version, only when they're speaking French do subtitles appear, translating the dialog into English (and the reverse happens in the so-called french version of the movie). It is also possible to display the entire movie with English or French subtitles, or to have each language subtitled only in itself. David, the Quebecois cop, assuming that his Ontario counterpart, Martin, only understands English, makes snarky remarks about him in French.
David (after the 'squarehead' suddenly addresses him in fluent francais): "You speak French?"
Martin: Non, je ne parle pas français. Je me suis fait installer un petit gadget au cerveau and I see subtitles under people when they speak. (No, I don't speak French. I had a little gadget installed in my brain et je vois des sous-titres sous les gens quand ils parlent.)
Not Another Teen Movie features a character who speaks in a series of light foreign accents but receives subtitles despite being perfectly intelligible. Also, she spends the entire movie naked and, when necessary, there large spaces are left in the subtitles to keep her nipples visible.
Woody Allen's film Annie Hall has a scene where the two leads, newly met and mutually attracted, are awkwardly conversing with each other. Subtitles start appearing which reveal what each of them is actually thinking as they talk.
In Major League III, when Gus Cantrell speaks with Tanaka to coax him to play for the Buzz, Tanaka's very heavily accented English words are subtitled in English, while Cantrell's English is subtitled in Japanese.
Later on, a nigh-incomprehensible shout is subtitled as:
The closed captioning in at least one VHS edition of Disney's Pete's Dragon slightly colorized some of the lyrics to the song "Every Little Piece" — the word "gold" appeared in yellow text, and some other references to money, cash, etc. were in dark green. It was an older tape, at that.
Crank: two men having a conversation where one was subtitled. When the camera cut to the other's perspective, the subtitles could be seen floating in the air back to front. Hard to explain. Just watch it.
The character in question, Chev Chelios, has been taking drugs all day and committing innumerable acts of violence in an effort to keep his adrenaline up. Near the end of the movie, he's in an elevator with a Chinese businessman, when he begins hallucinating that the man is talking to him in various people's voices (his mother's, his enemy's, and others). Then Chev begins to hallucinate that the man is speaking to him in Chinese, and he sees subtitles in the air. Throughout the movie there are other instances of subtitles being used in creative ways.
In The Master of Disguise, after a lengthy plotting session in Italian, someone sneezes; the subtitles translate "Gesundheit" to "God bless you" and "God bless you" to "Gesundheit".
The Three Stoogesin Orbit. The Martian invaders talk in their own gibberish language, with subtitles to let the audience know what they're saying. When the Stooges encounter them for the first time, they just read the subtitles on the screen below them to work out what they're saying. There's also a gag in which a long string of words turns out to be the Martian equivilent of "Idiot!" At the end of the movie the Martians speak in English ("If you can't beat them, join them!") with the subtitles in their own language, which then rearrange into THE END.
The titular monsters in the horror movie Critters speak a high-speed alien gibberish, which comes with humorous subtitles: "They have weapons." "So what?" BLAM "Fuck!" Then, at the very end when the Critters belatedly realize a bomb has been planted on their spaceship, they clearly say "Uh oh.." Subtitle: Uh oh. BOOM.
In the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, the prisoner Turley (played by Dalip "The Great Khali" Singh, who has gigantism) speaks English, but his words come out garbled enough that subtitles are given for everything he says, even if you can understand him. "I'm glad you're back. Now I don't have to stab you."
In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino sometimes subtitles well-known foreign words (like "merci") as themselves, rather than as their English translations, when translation subtitles are shown. Most likely, the decision was because he presumed that everyone, whether or not they knew the languages being translated, would know these small words.
There's a German truck driver in Eurotrip who won't go near Berlin anytime soon. According to the subtitles, he sexually assaulted a horse there. He actually says that he will be arrested should he even come close to Berlin (for killing a woman, that is. No horse).
A Japanese character in Another Gay Movie speaks English, but her lines are subtitled in Japanese.
One of the major appeals of the subtitled version of Night Watch is the use of subtitles. The subtitles for a vampire's psychic lure turn red and dissipate like blood in water, text read off a computer is typed out (complete with cursor), a woman's shout takes up a good bottom sixth of the screen.
1: Both speaking and singing subtitles match what is heard. Usually preserved for the "[language] for the hearing impaired" tracks.
2: Singing, but not speaking, subtitles match the audio. By far the most common.
3: Neither singing nor speaking subtitles match the audio. Rare, but it happens.
The Swedish subtitle track for Hercules, on the other hand, took the third to a new level. The speaking parts have incorrect subtitling, as do the singing parts, but the thing is, the subtitles during the singing part is "correct" in that it fits the beat of the music. You can sing along to the music using the "incorrect" subtitles. This implies that whoever wrote the Swedish subtitles either a) didn't get to listen to the audio track he/she was subtitling and had to subtitle the English track, complete with translating songs in a way that made sense, or b) was working from an old translation that got replaced before it reached the voice actors, or c) just said "Fuck it" and wrote a completely original subtitle track, complete with translating songs in a way that made sense.
In Death Race, the character 14K speaks the majority of his lines in Mandarin Chinese, with English subtitles to translate. The one line he says in English is given an appropriate subtitle in Mandarin.
The line is "Fuck me!".
The raccoons from The Great Outdoors every time they show up their chattering produces subtitles about how they will find ways to outsmart John Candy's character to get at his garbage.
Older than Television: From the 1927 silent film Sunrise, The Woman From The City suggests that the Man drown his wife. The intertitle text melts and runs down to the bottom of the screen.
In Fat Head, there's a clip of the lawyer from Super Size Me explaining why McDonalds has to be the one making everybody fat. Subtitles appear replacing his tenuous logic with It's All About Me (in particular, "hundreds of years" becomes "they don't have much money").
Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol includes another of the rare non-comedic examples of this trope. The movie is set in Russia, and at one point, Agent Hunt gets caught in the middle of an explosion. As he regains consciousness, he overhears a TV broadcast... and, momentarily, the subtitles displayed to the viewer are in Russian. As Hunt becomes less disoriented and begins to remember the language, the subtitles begin to seamlessly fade from Russian into English.
Emilio Estevez trips over them in the spoof film Loaded Weapon 1, first damaging them as he cracks his shin, then obliterating them (and his toe) as he kicks the remnants in frustration.
The Monuments Men: Granger's attempts at speaking French are translated literally in the subtitles.
On the DVD for The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, there's some choice subtitles, including 1337 $p33k, Swedish Chef, and binary (which takes up the entire screen). Also "d20," which references all the combat techniques and skill checks used in the game.
Live Action TV
Late Night with Conan O'Brien has a sketch about Letters from Iwo Jima, which replaced the real subtitles with fake ones that basically had the actors having a conversation that since Clint Eastwood doesn't speak Japanese, they can say pretty much whatever they want.
The show relies heavily on email, IM, and texting conversations depicted with subtitles next to the character reading them, eliminating the need for many shots of computer and smartphone screens.
The main character's trademark Sherlock Scan is depicted with floating subtitles that point out his observations and the conclusions he draws from them. The subtitles appear, fade, and transmute as Sherlock's focus shifts and he revises his conclusions.
Subtitles are also treated as a part of the environment: reflecting in mirrors, floating in and out of windows, sliding away along with the objects they are connected to, and so forth. Sherlock will sometimes physically interact with subtitles representing his thought processes, especially in "mind palace" sequences.
The third season Big Bad also uses "mind palace" memory techniques, in his case to manage vast files of blackmail information. This is visually represented with subtitles. Specifically, a dossier for each person he looks at displayed in Google Glass-like screen text.
Gags with subtitles were also common in the Monty Python TV shows; The best example is probably from the Book at Bedtime/Kamikaze Scotsmen sketch, which features a highly confused conversation between two Russians, one of whom is speaking in Russian subtitled in English, and the other in English subtitled in Russian... and then French... and then German... and then Chinese...
The Australian comedy series The Late Show had a skit showing a look-a-sound-alike Australian Crawl band performing, with the lyrics of the lead singer (notoriously hard to decipher) subtitled. Eventually the subtitles end up showing "????" and "something about hairspray?"
In The Middleman episode "The Sino-Mexican Revelation," when Wendy Watson switches from Spanish to English, the subtitles switch from English to Spanish. This gag would have been repeated, though with different players, in the never-filmed final episode.
He jock it made of steel. Eat sushi from a pail. Jet Jaguar? Jet Jaguar. He mother never really love him.
A sketch on Saturday Night Live with Elle MacPherson had the subtitle guy saying things like, "Man this chick is HOT!" and "I'm going to have a better look." and several seconds later a random guy with a headset walks behind her checking her out. All the while MacPherson is delivering a generic monologue.
The old SNL sketch with Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat advertising his music album. Because of his ... idiosyncratic pronunciation, every song is pretty much unintelligible. But when he starts singing "Bette Davis Eyes," the subtitles which have up to that point been giving the names of the songs default to "??????????"
DVDs of The IT Crowd have an extra subtitle track in 1337 or ROT13 depending on the episode.
The Look Around You DVD subtitles are designed to look like classic Ceefax ones. In the extras, one of the special features has deliberately corrupted subtitles, similar to what you would see if your TV reception was poor.
A Bull Island sketch had an Irish guy land in Afghanistan. The Arabic dialogue was subtitled in English, but all the English dialogue got the same line of Arabic for the subtitle.
CNX once did an ad for some sort of contest in which what the narrator said was subtitled, with one exception — when the narrator said "brave contestants", the subtitles read 'crazy fools'.
Burn Notice announces each character as they first appear with their name and relationship to Michael — for example "Nate — The Brother" or "Random Schlub — The Client". The writers are not above using the subtitles to make jokes — in one episode, Michael met a guy who, after being called a mercenary, insisted that he was a "military contractor". The subtitles immediately shot back with "Ryder Stahl — Mercenary".
Another episode has a Miami's 2nd biggest heroin dealer have the subtitle saying "Carmelo — Heroin Dealer" the second part is swiftly replaced by "(Second Biggest)".
And in yet another episode, Michael greets a Czech assassin with a DIY knuckle-duster to the face (a bent butter knife) and "[something in Czech], comrade," which the subtitles translate as "Welcome to Miami, ass*** ." (Asterisks.)
In another episode, the villain is a car thief who's trying to kill a teenager for roughing him up, after the thief attempted to rape his underage sister. The client says he should never have messed with a "stone-cold gangster", and the subtitle pops up "Felix Cole—Gangster". Fiona, who had been enraged by hearing about the thief's actions, claims that he doesn't deserve to be called a gangster and that he's a pervert. The subtitles pop back up, this time reading "Felix Cole—Pervert".
There is at least one instance of someone being introduced as "Random Schlub — Random thing". Once Michael agrees to take him on as a client, the subtitles come back with "Random Schlub — Client".
And the memorable one in another episode: "Probably Not An Alien..."
A character asks Michael if there is a Russian word for "Hardass" upon seeing the episode's Big Bad. Said Big Bad's subtitles display the appropriate Russian word with "(Hardass)" next to it.
At one point in the Season 3 mid-finale "Long Way Back", Fiona angrily snaps at Michael "I am NOT one of your damn clients!" The subtitle immediately shoots back "Fiona — Client".
Don't forget "Cantenna — Cute Little Improvised Hacking Device".
Two FBI agents go to Michael's mother's house, telling her they are Michael's friends. The subtitles show them with "Lane and Harris — Not Michael's Friends". In another episode Michael states that there are a lot of people who'd like to see him arrested. Cut to Lane and Harris with subtitles "Lane and Harris — Guys who'd love to see Michael arrested."
Being so used to the cute, funny, friendly subtitles also makes them suitable for creepier effect- for instance, the one that said nothing but "Management", indicating that we knew almost nothing about this guy and what we did know was not suitable for snark.
And Simon's first appearance simply gave him the subtitle "?".
In Tyler Brennan's first appearance, he's introduced with "Brennan — Black Market Trader". When Michael's ex-fiancee (long story) calls him an "evil son of a bitch"...
In his second appearance, he extorts Mike into helping him steal some Applied Phlebotinum from a lab, and tells Mike to think of him as "your new boss". The subtitles promptly supplied "Brennan — Michael's New Boss".
In one episode, the the client is introduced normally as "Client". Later on, she turns out to be an assassin and the man she claimed had hidden her son from her was totally innocent. Her title is reintroduced as "Assassin" while the man gains the title of "New Client."
Insurgent #1: We are not afraid to ...are they subtitles? They are, aren't they? What do I need subtitles for? Can't you understand me? I studied English at the bloody American University in Cairo. ...Hey!! How come he doesnt need subtitles?
In the last season of Boston Legal, from a group of Chinese lawyers and their translator:
Lawyers: [untranslated Chinese]
Subtitle: [untranslated Chinese]
Frequently on Viva La Bam, Don Vito's near-unintelligible speech is subtitled exactly how it's pronounced, which possibly makes how he talks even more confusing.
Used in a MADtv sketch parodying K-Dramas (Korean soap opera); at one point, Cathy Shim simply says "Sarang" (Love) and the subtitles fill the screen entirely.
On 30 Rock, when Liz is forced to do a major negotiation with German businessmen using only her half-remembered high school language training, the viewers only see the bits she remembers.
Heroes: A minor example. The subtitles are placed near the character's mouths to represent word bubbles in a comic book. This makes them much easier to read.
Also, subtitles subtitling different languages (Japanese for Ando and Hiro and Spanish for the MexicanBrazilianPeruvian South American siblings) get different colours. Also something minor, but interesting.
A sketch in Alexei Sayle's Stuff mocking Japanese car companies involved a Japanese businessman being subtitled during an interview. When the subtitles translate his words as "Basically, this is because my colleagues and I are complete and utter bastards", he begins shouting angrily, then runs up to the camera and peels off the subtitles, which are stuck to the 'inside' of the TV screen.
MythBusters, during the Compact Compact revisit. The narrator claimed that Jamie wasn't going to cuss Adam out for making a miscalculation... externally. Cue his next few lines being subtitled to make it look as if he is, indeed, cussing Adam out.
Top Gear had this when the presenters made their electric car a hybrid by bolting in an extremely noisy diesel generator.
A neat example from Finnish television: an episode of Frasier featured a character who spoke with a very thick French accent. To get this across in Finnish, instead of writing her dialogue in mangled Finnish they just added accents in certain places. Mínd yôu, ít máde rèading hér dialógûe a bît mòré díffícùlt, but not markedly so.
In the Wizards of Waverly Place TV movie, Alex ends up lost in a Latin American jungle and, not being fluent in Spanish, uses a subtitling spell to let her (and, of course, the audience) understand what the women she meets are saying about her. It's mostly insults.
Leverage has an example similar to Burn Notice's in the pilot episode. The subtitles describe Parker as "Security Circum—" then are deleted and replaced with "Infiltration and Alter—" which is also deleted and replaced with "Thief."
The season three opener, "The Jailhouse Job," subtitles the apartment above McRory's as "Nate's Apartment" but quickly deletes it and replaces it with "Leverage HQ."
The dutch comdy duo Kees Van Kooten and Wim the Bie once made a short music clip called "I Wanna Fuck You" performed by a very obvious parody of the Queen's (back then Heir Apparant) brothser in law. The subtitles were provided in Dutch, translating "I wanna fuck you" as "I like you" and the remainder of the translation was equally innocent... the text, not so much. The clip can be found here. Needless to say, it's NSFW.
Lucy ends another argument with Ricky using her ususal screwball logic. He goes into one of his Spanish tirades, and the subtitles read simply, "She's nuts."
When the Ricardos and the Mertzes are in Italy, Lucy tries her hardest to get a part in an Italian movie, and of course fails miserably. Ethel gets the part instead, and Lucy mutters something which the subtitles translate as "CENSORED".
Whose Line Is It Anyway? has a game called film dub in which two of the actors fake a foreign language conversation and the other two actors off screen 'translate' their lines after each person speaks, Hilarity Ensues.
On Parks and Recreation, a Native American convinces the superstitious townspeople that a curse will happen due to them having the Harvest Festival on Indian Burial Ground. Leslie finally convinces him to undo it by performing a lifting-the-curse ceremony for the cameras. As he performs the "sacred ceremony", the subtitles read, "I am not saying anything. No one can understand me anyway. Doobee, doobee, do."
One episode of the short-lived Misfits of Science series had a Cold Open set in East Berlin. The characters spoke English, but German and Russian subtitles appeared at the bottom of the screen.
In Survivor, they had fun with Phillip where he said he was a former federal agent, but nobody really believed him. For the entire season, his occupation was "Former Federal Agent?"
When Ivette told everyone she was gay, they cut to her in the diary room and instead of her usual occupation, they simply put "She's Gay" in the subtitle.
When Britney was tethered to Brendon, they were both sitting in the diary room while Brendon described another punishment he took, wherein he was taking a bath in chum. Britney looks at the camera and mouths the words, "Help me" and they subtitled her.
In one episode of Home Improvement, Tim and another man have an entire conversation using nothing but grunts and incoherent muttering. The subtitles translate what they're saying, including one quick grunt as a very long line of dialog.
There are two characters who use sign language in Fargo. Usually it just has one person translating for the other. But in "Eating The Blame" (Episode 4), there's nobody to translate to, so the subtitles appear next to their faces as they "talk."
"Weird Al" Yankovic's video for "Smells Like Nirvana" features subtitles on a stanza regarding Kurt Cobain's singing. "It's unintelligible/ I just can't get it through my skull/ It's hard to bargle nawdle zouss (???)/ With all these marbles in my mouth." This is a subversion, since those are the actual lyrics.
This video features footage from Woodstock "captioned for the clear-headed". Though clearly not the lyrics to the song being sung, the audio sounds a lot closer to what's in the captions than it does to the real lyrics.
The lyrics to the GWAR song Morality Squad render a character's roar as "(inarticulate bellowing)."
Even The Muppets had a go, with the captions to their version of Popcorn (or "Pöpcørn", since it featured the Swedish Chef)...
At the end of the music video for Ninja Sex Party's "Ultimate Sandwich," Danny is addressing the audience to check out their other videos in Spanish, while Richard the subtitler messes with his dialogue up until Ninja Brian kills him.
The Goon Show: a Nazi officer says "Speak English, you fool! Zere are no subtitles in zis scene!" Um, well of course not, it's radio...
The second VCR Clue game, Clue II: Murder in Disguise, began the first scene of the Blue Chapter (based in Paris) with M. Brunette and Miss Peach entering a hotel lobby, where this dialog takes place:
Brunette: Well, here we are!
Peach: And just where is here?
(Brunette just points at the still up subtitle: "A Hotel Lobby Somewhere in Paris")
Peach: Paris? What are we doing in Paris, honey?
When Fay poses as a sultry Frenchwoman in Anyone Can Whistle, she and love interest Hapgood carry on an extended conversation in French, with English surtitles for the audience in the style of French erotic films. At one point, Hapgood asks Fay a question and she has to consult the surtitle before answering.
In one production, the translations were on large cue cards held by two extras, and continued into the ensuing song "Come Play Wiz Me," which mixes French and English. When Fay sang the English phrase "imperturbable perspicacity" (which means, in essence, "rock-solid insight"), the cue cards read "?????"
It's common for productions of operas to feature projected surtitles translating the libretto into the local language. Baz Luhrmann played with this in his production of La Bohème, projecting the titles in various places on the set and in different fonts, depending on which character was singing.
In Thoroughly Modern Millie, Those Two Bad Guys speak Cantonese (and sing in Mandarin) the entire show, which is subtitled via a projector on screen. In one song, however, they begin singing in English, and the subtitles change to Mandarin for the verse. The final time they sing it in English, the subtitles read: "You know the word."
In Quest for Glory IV there is a group of inn patrons whose voice actors improv much of their dialogue, despite what the text reads. At one point, the written dialogue says "No one goes out at night", and the voiceover adds "except my girlfriend, but she's working."
The character Suzie from killer7interjects smileys into her speech. Also, in the Japanese version of the game, all instances of words relating to death or murder are highlighted in red and shaking very quickly, to give them a greater emphasis.
Super Fighting Robot: Invented by the Twins! Size: Maximum!!!
Kyle K. and Ken K.: Ramona's FIFTH and SIXTH ex-boyfriends! Powers: Being Japanese...
Negascott: Scott Pilgrim's EVIL TWIN! Rating: Negative Awesome!
Super Gideon Graves: Ramona's SEVENTH ex-boyfriend! Powers: Just LOOK at him!
Gigagideon Graves: Ramona dated this guy?! Powers: Undefeatable!
Gideon Gordon Graves: Is this the real Gideon?! Powers: Unknown...
Not from the game itself, but in the French track in the Silent Hill 2 Making Of DVD, Akira Yamaoka, the composer, is being interviewed. After a while, he keeps speaking but no new subtitles appear. When they return, it's to display a message along those lines: "at this point, Akira is just finishing his sentence, but it takes a heck of a lot more time in Japanese, so we're trying to entertain you any way we can. We apologize for the inconvenience."
Played with, like everything else, in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series: in Episode 9, we're hearing what is theoretically the Spanish language track, only to read "All of your Puzzle are belong to me!"
Episode 10 uses part of "A Cruel Angel's Thesis" instead of the normal opening, subtitling the lyrics by taking the original lyrics and making them more about card games. For example, the final line, "Young boy, become a legend", is replaced with "Young boy, play some card games".
Similarly, nearly everything Pikachu says in this specific PokémonAbridged Series is given a meaning it could not have had in the original anime. Metapod evolving into Butterfree elicits a subtitle of "Yay the drugs are gonna come out".
One of the trailers uses this to hilarious effect. What starts out as a seemingly normal promotional trailer degrades into an argument between the voice over guy and the subtitler. And here is the aforementioned trailer.
Possessed!Lopez's subtitles somehow translate "Madre de dios"note "Mother of God" into "Son of a bitch." You can't get much farther from the truth than that.
One episode of Banana-nana-Ninja! uses blinking subtitles for an intercom announcement. In an animated comic featuring Deadpool as a guest judge in a cooking contest, he complains about his subtitles and gets word balloons instead.
In Sonic Shorts Volume 8, one short makes fun of the first battle scene between Sonic and Shadow in Sonic Adventure 2 by having Sonic make Shadow literally eat his words. Note that it's the only short with subtitles, so a savvy viewer might see the gag coming.
Concession showed this once; Artie's cousin worked in the closed-caption department and had handed in her notice, so she took the time to mess with the subtitles. She'd just had an unhappy affair with one of the newsreaders, so that person's speech got subtitled as "I'm a lying whore who likes to beat up the homeless".
One Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan stripnote It'd take a while to find the specific strip within the comic's huge archive has fun with Gnomish. In one panel an entire paragraph of dialogue is translated by one word, while another inverts the gag.
Okay, so there's this video of Dschinghis Khan singing "Moskau" in German at the 1979 Eurovision contest. This video gives obviously nonsensical subtitles... But thanks to cognitive dissonance, and the similarity to the sounds of what they're saying, it's all too easy to believe that's what they really are singing!
Deadpool from the Im A Marvel And Im A DC videos uses yellow subtitles in lieu of his yellow yellow caption boxes from the comics. He then uses the subtitles to mock the video's primitive animation and tries to use them as a weapon against the Green Lantern.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog contains an optional "Wiccan" subtitling. It's not really a Wiccan track, but a clue for one of the Easter eggs, and it stops a minute in. It's also in a different font from the rest (Helvetica, not Arial).
 has two characters, 1337Fox and Greg who speak in 1337. One episode has them confront each other and go into a hardcore dialect of 1337 that uses absolutely no actual letters. This is voice acted, so it has them say each individual text character that make up the letters, and the sentences are pretty long. Thankfully, there are subtitles that tell us what they're saying as they say it, so we don't have to write down the characters to see what letters they look like. After the conversation, Super64 (who speaks normally) butts in, and gets subtitles rendered in 1337.
The Cinema Snob employs this whenever he gets a foreign movie undubbed and without subtitles.
Ling-Ling in Drawn Together is a Pokémon parody who speaks in incomprehensible "Japorean," gibberish that is supposed to be Japanese and Engrish. His subtitles also often contain Engrish as well. Once, when a Comedy Central banner for The Daily Show blocked his subtitles, Captain Hero started talking about Jon Stewart, implying they only understood him through his subtitles.
It became a running gag in one episode where numerous banners would block his subtitles. This made everyone he talked to, including Ling-Ling's own father, stare at the bottom of the screen in utter confusion since they could no longer understand what he was talking about.
In a non-banner-related gag, Ling-Ling said something that ended with the phrase "who we really are." The subtitle said "who we really L", while the audio said "something something are."
One episode of Family Guy had Peter finding his real father is Irish. At one point, they get involved in a drinking contest, and they end up incoherently slurring, with subtitles telling up what they are talking about. At one point, the subtitles read "?????????".
Another episode has two Brazilian men jumping out of a crashing plane and cursing at each other as they parachute to the ground. The subtitles are in Korean.
When Quagmire first sees Joan (Peter's maid-for-a-week), he has a quick fantasy of himself and Joan in a The Lord of the Rings forest setting, including the use of Elvish. Quagmire's really long line translates simply to "Giggity".
in "It's a Trap!", the Family Guy parody of "Return of the Jedi", Jabba's command to throw Luke in to the Sarlakk pit has the subtitle "Put him in" when he says "Meelar Kooniss". Mila Kunis is the voice of Meg Griffin, who was playing the part of the Sarlakk. Later, he says "Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada! Mocha Choca lata ya ya!", which is subtitled "Somebody help me! I'm being choked to death!"
In the Looney Tunes short "Wackiki Wabbit", Bugs Bunny greets two castaways with a long line of faux-Polynesian gibberish, which the subtitles translate as "What's up, Doc?" He follows that with a short phrase, with the subtitles reading "Now is the time for every good man to come to the aid of his party." When one of the castaways says, "Gee, thanks", faux-Polynesian subtitles appear beneath, causing his friend to comment, "Did you say that?"
Disneyland: the First 50 Years, a short film showing at the titular theme park and starring Steven Martin and Donald Duck, at one point uses subtitles to translate the latter's barely-intelligible speech. Donald notices the subtitles and begins arguing with them and the accompanying narrator voice-over. Finally, he grabs a giant mallet, stalks off-screen, and thrashes the interloper, with randomly flying letters and punctuation indicating the severity of the beating.
Animaniacs did this a couple times. They seem to be able to interact with and alter them as well; one sketch has them altering "These are typical Earth creatures." to "Are these typical Earth creatures?" and immediately making bizarre faces. The same short has them change "No" to "No Problem".
Mandy: Ugh, this isn't working. Grim: He said, 'If you're talking about the new interns, you can find them in the cafeteria.' Mandy: You understood him? Grim: No, but I'm pretty good at reading subtitles backwards.
In an episode of Chowder, the titular character speaks Spanish-sounding gibberish, which is subtitled as: Spanish-sounding gibberish.
Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie did this briefly, translating Princess Mindy's seahorses' whinnying to "Mermaid magic?"
At the beginning of the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "Banjo", Zorak and Moltar have a Seinfeldian Conversation concerning Moltar's soap and Zorak's book, while the subtitles project blatant Ho Yay on the characters. The only time the subtitles really match up to the dialogue is Zorak's lone "What?"
A Japanese fansub of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (the fifth episode, to be exact) messes with the subtitles at two points: when Spike has the hiccups, his subtitles shake around a bit, and a Gilda's subtitles are written in a different, more graceful font when she's making fun of Fluttershy.
Quite often it is done on films made using concealed cameras to make sure people understand what is being said.
This was used as a gag in a comedy skit where a female British reporter was interviewing a terrorist who stopped mid-interview when he saw subtitles and became angry that he was being subtitled. It gets funnier when his partner talks with just as much accent, doesn't get subtitles and he storms off...still being subtitled.
Common on Dutch and Flemish TV, where broadcasts from the other side of the border, most often TV series, tend to be subtitled despite being perfectly intelligible. As elsewhere, people speaking with a thick regional accent get are often subtitled, which, as this parody shows, is usually justified.
Tends to happen whenever an Australian speaks with a natural accent (not Crocodile Dundee) on American TV.
YouTube's "Transcribe Audio" feature, based on a Google translator, can produce some hilariously inaccurate subtitles. Case in point.