‘Money Heist’ flopped on Spanish TV. On Netflix, it became a global phenomenon.
‘Money Heist’ flopped on Spanish TV. On Netflix, it became a global phenomenon.

When “La Casa de Papel” premiered as a two-part miniseries on Spain’s Antena 3in the spring of 2017, criticspraised the thrilling caper — about a group of criminal masterminds who pull off a daring heist at the Royal Mint — for its absorbing pilot, powerful premise and boundary-pushing plot. But by the time the second half premiered that fall, enthusiasm (and viewership) had cooled enough to render the 15-episode series a virtual flop.

That would have been the end of “La Casa de Papel,” known in the United States as “Money Heist,” if not for Netflix, which picked up the show at the end of 2017, repackaged it into shorter episodes across two seasons, and ordered a third and fourth installment. The show’s presence on the streaming platform, where the first half of its fifth and final season arrived Friday, elevated “Money Heist” into a global cultural phenomenon that has inspired memes, Halloween costumes and one very memorable line in a chart-topping Latin pop song.

“Money Heist” wasn’t Netflix’s first Spanish-language original (that would be “Club de Cuervos,” a Mexican dramedy released in 2015), but it was the first to find a decidedly international audience. Its popularity prompted Netflix to invest in other series set in Spain, including the prep-school thriller “Elite,” which premiered to notable buzz in 2018 and has been renewed for a fifth season. “Money Heist,” set to drop its five remaining episodes this December, is rightfully celebrated as a forebear to other non-English language hits including “Lupin,” a French mystery thriller, and the Mexican whodunit “Who Killed Sara?”

By all accounts, the show’s post-Netflix success came as a surprise to its cast and creator Álex Pina — not least because it launched with little promotional fanfare on the platform. In a 2020 Netflix featurette called “Money Heist: The Phenomenon,” cast members including Jaime Lorente and Miguel Herrán recall noticing their follower counts rapidly increasing on Instagram after the show’s quiet streaming debut. That was the first of many signs the series, which won an international Emmy for best drama in 2018, had resonated with audiences around the world.

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