Why is it so hard to watch an American movie from abroad?

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

I have a totally random complaint that is very petty and does not matter at all in the grand scheme of things. But as it’s something that’s been annoying me for years, I just wanted to write a quick post about it.

It is strangely and frustratingly difficult to watch American films and television from abroad — unless they’re big blockbusters like Marvel movies or Fantastic Beasts.

It wasn’t until I moved to Switzerland in 2019 that I learned about regional licenses. You can’t stream something (using a paid, legal service) if the country that you live in doesn’t have the rights to it. Or maybe the streaming service that you’re accustomed to using just doesn’t exist in other countries. For example, you cannot get Hulu outside the US. Same goes for HBO. I don’t know how Europeans were able to watch Game of Thrones while it was still on? Did they just pirate the whole show for eight years?

At some point I tried to sign up for Apple TV in Switzerland, but ultimately I didn’t — I can’t remember if it was because it was impossible (navigating the Apple store is surprisingly difficult when you have the same phone but have changed countries), or because I saw something in the content that made me concerned that Apple TV content in Switzerland was only available in German/Swiss-German.

At the beginning of last year, when the critical acclaimed film Minari came out via virtual release, I tried to stream it. I went to the website of the studio, A24, and tried literally every one of the six streaming links they provided. They all blocked me based on my country. There I was, literally trying to pay them money to support Asian American cinema and storytelling, and they wouldn’t let me!

I ended up travelling to the US in May and watched it with my mother at home in Atlanta. To be honest, I thought the film was slow and a bit “meh”, but I was still happy to show my support. The film did eventually come to Switzerland — like six months later, in the tiny English language cinema in my neighborhood.

This year, I find myself once again stuck with the same dilemma. A24 has come out with another film that is getting rave reviews — Everything Everywhere All At Once, starring the legendary Michelle Yeoh. All the Asian bloggers I follow are raving about it. But I’m not sure how I can see the film in Europe.

According to IMDB, the movie has been released in a few European countries so far: Portugal, Estonia, Poland, etc. Unfortunately, they are all too far from me. Also, just because the movie has been released in a country, that doesn’t mean it’s still being screened. Let me explain.

Currently, the only remotely feasible opportunity that I have to watch the film is in Germany. It premieres there on Thursday, 28 April. I did a ton of research this weekend and was able to find two cinemas in Germany that will definitely be showing the film: one in Munich, and one in Cologne.

However, those two cinemas are only showing the film on the night of the 28th. Only once, for that one night. There are no additional screenings planned. I believe they are just doing the one showing to say “okay, the film is now technically released in Germany”.

For me to catch the screening on the 28th, I would have to travel to Munich the day before. Which, again, is possible in theory. I could leave Geneva in the late afternoon, transfer in Zurich, and be in Munich by close to midnight. But then I would still have to work remotely on Thursday and Friday, because we’ve just had a four-day Easter break, and also because work is going to be really busy that week, so I can’t just beg off. Which means I would have to stay in Munich for Wednesday night, Thursday night, and realistically Friday night as well — a significant expense. And all to see one movie?

I know I sound weirdly rigid here. Why don’t I just fly to Munich, stay one night to see the movie, and fly back the next day? One, I made a personal pledge not to fly in Europe anymore unless it was absolutely necessary. And two, the timing of such a flight would be extremely tricky since I can’t actually take time off work. It takes a lot of time to get to the airport, go through security, taxi, take off, etc etc. And of course the affordable flights are only available between 9 to 5.

Or: why don’t I just pirate this? Because I want to support Asian American filmmakers and producers and cast and crew. Our community has been subjected to so much hate and marginalization, including in the last two years of the pandemic. Money talks.

It’s a real bummer. In doing research, I saw a million screenings for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and whatever money-grabbing bullshirt the Fantastic Beasts franchise is on now, but nothing for the movie that I actually wanted to see. I hope A24 will up their international release game in the future.


  1. It’s frustrating when you can’t get access to something that you’d be happy to pay for. I had that problem today, looking for a French-Canadian short that I’d watched a while ago. Couldn’t get access to it.


  2. VPNs (Virtual Prívate Networks) – beloved by all American diplomats, military personnel, and expats. Many have had good luck with StrongVPN and NordVPN when living in countries that routinely block and censor the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

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