Spain’s global hit series ‘Money Heist’ reaches end

Netflix will on Friday release the final five episodes of "La Casa de Papel" (Money Heist), the most in-demand TV series in the world currently and one which blew open the door for other non-English language series on streaming services.

money heist season 5 finale
"Money Heist" has been the most in-demand series globally across all platforms this autumn, according to Parrot Analytics. Poster: Netflix

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.

‘Highly addictive’

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.

The cast of “La Casa de Papel” during the presentation of the season and series finale at the Palacio Vistalegre arena in Madrid on November 30th, 2021. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

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:

Sleeper hit

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.

A demonstrator wearing the red jumpsuit and Dali mask of the Spanish Netflix hit series La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) during a demonstration in Marseille, France. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP
A demonstrator wearing the red jumpsuit and Dali mask of the Spanish Netflix hit series La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) during a demonstration in Marseille, France. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

 Resistance symbol

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.

 Crime inspiration

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.

City names

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.

Building swap

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.

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What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?

Semana Santa or Holy Week is held in Spain during the run-up to Easter Sunday. Celebrations and parades take place all over the country, but there are some cities that go all out.

What are the best cities in Spain to see the Semana Santa processions?

Holy Week takes place this year from April 2nd to 9th, complete with passionate parades, music and elaborate religious floats. Andalusia and Castilla y León are where you’ll find the biggest and most impressive celebrations, although there are a few other standout towns and cities in other regions, including Castilla-La Mancha. 

Granada, Andalusia

If you’re really into Semana Santa and want to be able to watch non-stop parades all week, then the Andalusian city of Granada is the place to go. It was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest in 2009, along with the celebrations in Seville and Málaga. Some 32 brotherhoods take part in the Holy Week celebrations here, each hosting different parades on different days. One of the best parades here is held on Holy Wednesday when the Christ of the Gypsies float is carried through the streets of the gypsy district of  Sacromonte, filled with flamenco tablaos and cave homes. The hordes that follow the float sing saetas (religious flamenco songs) and recite poems along the way.

Seville, Andalusia

There’s no denying that Sevillanos love Semana Santa and there’s nowhere that celebrates it with quite as much fervour. Even during the lockdown during the pandemic in 2020 locals created mini processions out of paper and cardboard that could travel from balcony to balcony. The festival begins on Palm Sunday with the representation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before his death. There are around 60 brotherhoods that take part during the week. One of the most emotional parts of the processions in Seville are the saetas, flamenco songs about the Passion of Christ, which are usually spontaneously sung by locals.

Seville is one of the best cities in Spain to spend Semana Santa. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

Málaga, Andalusia 

The third city in the Holy Trinity of Semana Santa cities along with Seville and Granada is Málaga. One of the most unique aspects of the Holy Week celebrations here takes place on Holy Wednesday when every year one of the city’s prisoners is pardoned and released. The tradition dates back to the time of Carlos III when the prisoners, in protest against the cancellation of the processions due to an epidemic, opened the prison doors and carried the Jesús Nazareno statue through the streets on their shoulders, before returning to their cells.

Córdoba, Andalusia 

The maze of narrow streets around Córdoba’s Mezquita makes for an atmospheric setting for its 37 brotherhoods to parade through the city, along with clouds of incense and the soft flickering of candles. Unlike the loud passionate music accompanying the statues in some Spanish cities, many of the processions here are held in silence.

Penitents take part in a Holy Monday procession in Cordoba. Photo: François-Xavier MARIT / AFP

Zamora, Castilla y León 

The small city of Zamora, just north of Salamanca has been holding Holy Week celebrations since the 13th century. Processions take place during both the day and the night here, with daytime ones bringing lots of colour and music and nighttime ones solemn silence. Music is very important in the festival here with lots of choir singing and Gregorian chants.

Valladolid, Castilla y León

Another Castilla y León city to visit during Holy Week is Valladolid. There are 21 brotherhoods in Valladolid, the oldest of which, Vera-Cruz, dates back to the 15th century. The most important procession is the one on Good Friday, known as the General Procession of the Holy Passion of the Redeemer, which features statues by the famous baroque sculptor Gregorio Fernández.

Members of the “Siete Palabras” brotherhood take part in a Holy Week procession in Valladolid. Photo: Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP

Cartagena, Murcia

Many of the impressive processions in Cartagena take place at night or just at dawn, representing the pain and martyrdom of Christ. One of the most outstanding parades takes place on Holy Tuesday, when the city’s Marine Infantry and the army accompany the religious statues. Other must-see events include the Great Procession of the Cristo del Prendimiento de los Californios on Holy Wednesday and the Procession of the Santo Entierro de los Marrajos on Good Friday. Floats come adorned like in many cities with candles and flowers. 

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

Every year more than 30,000 people participate in the processions in the hilltop city of Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha. The tradition of the parades here dates back to the 17th century. If you only have a few days to spend here, make sure your trip coincides with Good Friday and the impressive Camino del Calvario procession, which begins at 5:30 am, accompanied by bugles and drums.

The historic city of Cuenca makes for an atmospheric backdrop to celebrate Semana Santa. Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

Cáceres, Extremadura

The city of Cáceres is located in Extremadura and is a great alternative to spending Semana Santa in Andalusia or Castilla y León. The city’s brotherhoods were founded in the 15th century and its Easter celebrations date back until this time. Its processions go through the historic centre, which adds to the beauty of the parades in such a stunning setting.