You may have already heard about a certain workprint for Fox’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” leaking onto the Internet two weeks ago since the resulting firestorm and fallout has been covered and re-covered by bloggers, journalists and former journalists alike. So there’s not much left to say on the issue. I do, however, want to go on record, as In Contention’s resident box office guy, as saying that this leak will have absolutely ZERO effect on the amount of money the film will pull in. Well, almost zero.
First, let’s take a look at Fox’s logic. Potential customers see the movie on their computer before it comes out. Customers then do not go see the movie in the theater. It does seem to make sense and this logic most likely comes from the devastating effect that illegal downloading has had on the record business.
Now, here’s my logic. While the record business is definitely going down the tubes, the music business is doing fine. Concert business is relatively stagnant and vinyl sales are up significantly. Look at Flo Rida. His album only sold 80,000 units its first week, which is disappointing, but his single “Right Round” has been downloaded over a million times on iTunes alone. In other words, CDs may be dying, and possibly even the album format, but the music industry will be fine.
Look also at the top 30 Billboard debuts for artists like Animal Collective and Andrew Bird so far in 2009. Not only did both acts post career-high sales totals, but they both cater almost exclusively to the audience that is supposedly getting all their music illegally. Really, though, it’s silly to even compare the two industries, since buying a record was never a group activity or a night on the town to begin with.
Which brings me to movies. What do you think the number one downloaded film of 2008 was? “The Dark Knight.” Does that mean if downloading didn’t exist the film would have grossed $600 million instead of $533 million? What about a film like “Taken?” It was released internationally a full year before its debut in the States and was widely available for download for the same period. Given a dreaded January release by Fox, which marketed the film admirably if not aggressively, it appeared with little buzz from inside the industry, yet got enough positive word of mouth from somewhere to pull off a $25 million opening and become the second January release ever to cross $100 million.
“Fast & Furious,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Gran Torino” and every other blockbuster has been available to see for those who are willing, yet the box office is booming. Attendance and revenue are both up over 2008 so where is the proof that this type of downloading hurts a film?
If “Wolverine” opens with a disappointing figure, Fox will almost certainly be quick to point the finger at piracy for the performance, but the real blame will be with themselves. Because the only thing that really matters is the quality of the film. The unexpected leak has merely given word of mouth a head-start and God help them if the word of mouth is not what they’re hoping for. On the other hand, if the film pleases, like “The Dark Knight” and “Taken” did, then they should have nothing to worry about.