6 Major Films That Leaked Online

Wolverine’s loose! Here are some other early escapees…

An unfinished, but close to final work print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine has leaked on to the net.

While word is that it’s missing some effects and boasts temp music, it’s undoubtedly a blow to Fox, which was counting on it to be a big summer tentpole release.

Still, how likely is it that a few people watching the thing online will hurt the movie at the box office?

Let’s take a look at some previous examples…

The Film: Hulk (2003)

The Leak: Around seven days before it was due to hit cinemas, Ang Lee’s comic book epic arrived online.

Well, more specifically, parts of it did. It wasn’t a full-length version like Wolverine’s release, but it was enough to warrant an outcry from fans.

And this was in the days before YouTube, when file sharing was still relatively new.

The Official Reaction: Universal announced it was “conducting a thorough investigation and those responsible 'will face serious consequences.'' So far, so typical studio threat.

But they got their man. On25 Jun 2003, Kerry Gonzalez, a 24-year-old New Jersey insurance underwriter, pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to criminal charges of posting the bootleg.

Did It Dent The Box Office?
While you could argue that an early glimpse at unfinished effects work didn’t do much for the film’s reputation, and it suffered a big drop in its second weekend, we doubt the leak had a real effect.

And, as blogger David Poland argues, the film did succeed on one level: “the film’s $62.1 million opening, five-plus years later, is still in the Top 50 openings of all time. Hulk is still the fifth best comic book character opener, behind Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and X-Men.”


The Film: American Gangster (2007)

The Leak:
A week and a half before release, Ridley Scott’s true-crime epic, starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, turned up at a file-sharing site.

And unlike other, unfinished versions, the copy that escaped in this case was a vaguely dark but otherwise shiny DVD Oscar screener.

Someone lost their academy status over that one, we bet.

The Official Reaction: Given that it involved an academy screener, Universal was surprisingly mum on the investigation that occurred to track down the culprit.

But the Seattle Times, which just happened to be shadowing the MPAA’s Mike Robinson (director of US anti-piracy operations for the group) gave a general statement: "We look at pirates as competitors to the studios. Our objective is to make them poor business competitors."

Did It Dent The Box Office
? Not really. The film opened to a healthy $46.3 million at the box office, and made it into the list for top R-rated films longer than 2 ½ hours (don’t you just love tortured US box office awards?)

"This is as great as I could possibly have dreamed," blabbed a spokesbod for Universal after the figures were in. But we can’t help thinking that the movie’s focus  - crime boss Frank Lucas - would have laughed at the pirating…


The Film: Hostel Part II (2007)

The Leak: Late May saw a release of not only dodgy pirated copies of Eli Roth’s sequel, but a near pristine work print for the film, which wasn’t due in cinemas for more than a week.

Despite an annoying bar sitting at the bottom of the screen, the movie quickly made its way around the net.

The Official Reaction: Roth himself was bitterly disappointed with the news. “You could buy Hostel: Part II for a quarter in Mexico City. As a result, in a lot of countries where the piracy was bad, they just didn't even release it."

The studio, however, seemed less concerned. “It’s distressing and disappointing, but it will have no meaningful impact on the box office,” Lionsgate boss told the LA Times.

Did It Dent The Box Office?
Actually, yes, it did. Roth was right and Ortenberg was wrong.

Hostel II spluttered across the box office, taking in just $17 million at the US box office. Even a low budget couldn’t help the movie and Roth hasn’t released a film since. Maybe bashing Nazis as part of Inglourious Basterds will be cathartic.


The Film: Sicko (2007)

The Leak: Two weeks before its 29 June release date, Michael Moore's healthcare expose was injected directly into the internet. Which was a bit of a coincidence, as Moore had just done an interview in which he stated: “I don’t have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people. As long they’re not doing it to make a profit off it, as long as they’re not, you know, trying to make a profit off my labor."

The Official Reaction:
"We are responding aggressively to protect our film," said the Weinstein Company, which acted quickly to yank the film from Google Video sites and YouTube.

Director Michael Moore, however, took a different tact. “I think the music industry’s response to Napster was misguided and for me, it’s about getting people to see the movie and that’s what I want, so they will talk about it,” he told Brandweek.

Did It Dent The Box Office?
Doubt it, though Sicko wasn’t a huge smash like Fahrenheit 9/11, which made more than $119 million worldwide.

Sicko, meanwhile, had to settle for a $24 million haul. But the idea of putting a movie out for free clearly inspired the liberal filmmaker – he released his next film, Slacker Uprising as a free download before it arrived for sale.


The Film: Soul Plane (2004)

The Leak: Weeks before its May release, a pristine bootleg of the movie – which stars Kevin Hart as a man who has a bad experience on a commercial airline and decides to start his own – arrived in shifty shops and on the streets around the world.

It was considered so dangerous to the box office that a full FBI investigation was launched.

But not everyone thought it was a serious problem…

The Official Reaction:
Let’s throw the mic to one of the stars, Snoop Dogg: "I don't think the bootleg is going to stop anything. I think people will want to see more of this because, to me, a bootleg is like a buzz.

“A buzz will get you feedback and the feedback on the bootleg is that it's dope. So those who didn't see it are going off the feedback of the bootleg, and they are going to go see it."

Did It Dent The Box Office?
The only “dope” here was the Dogg. Soul Plane crashed on arrival, failing to even make back its $16 million budget. MGM figured the film had been pre-watched (and pre-rejected) by the core audience of black and Latino audiences.

The final tally? $14 million in the US, or about what we figure Snoop spends on watches in a year.


The Film: Halloween (2007)

The Leak: Four days before the movie was due to be released, Rob Zombie’s fresh take on John Carpenter’s cult horror did a Michael Myers and escaped its confines to stalk the world. Via pirated DVD.

Interestingly, the release was a work print that had already been shown to (and panned) by test screening audiences.

The Official Reaction:
Zombie was not best pleased. “I don't know what this bullshit work print is. Something got online which I never saw...the version from the day that someone decided to steal the movie and put it online is one of the 300 versions we were cutting.”

300 versions? Really?

Did It Dent The Box Office? Unlike Hostel Part II, Halloween seemed unaffected by the leak, going on to become something of a sleeper hit and making $79 million.

Plus, Zombie is now hard at work on a sequel to his critically mixed fresh spin. Come on pirates, you know you want to find it!*

*Just kidding, Rob.

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    • mrbong

      Apr 6th 2009, 7:20

      i think you will find that more damages was done to Hostel Part II's box office by the fact that it was a very bad film rather than pirate copies being available. Roth stopping making films because of piracy means there's at least one good side effect of this filthy business, then!

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