A few days after the Oscar nominations were posted to the Internet, something else followed. A pirated dvd screener of Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time, became available for download. Many are speculating that the screener came from within the academy. With a take already up to $2 billion worldwide, can this free high quality download inflict any damage?
Probably not enough to notice.
– Box Office Pains –
Piracy usually takes place earlier on in a film’s theatrical run, rarely do they surface two months into its release. Granted there have already been downloads of Avatar available online, but their quality is less than great. Not to mention the word of mouth “If you see Avatar, you have to see it in 3d!“. But what about a movie like Wolverine, which suffered from an early, unfinished version of the film being leaked online far in advance of its theatrical release. And yet it managed to open to $85 million domestically. It’s possible that the majority of people downloading were huge fans and going to see it anyhow. The fact that the leaked version was ‘unfinished’ might have driven them to see it again, and the heightened media coverage of the leak definitely increased audience awareness of the film. Which explains the huge opening weekend, but what about the second weekend drop of 69 percent? Could that be attributed to piracy? If you’ve seen the film then you know it’s one of the worst of 2009. That probably has far more to do with it, of course the studios won’t and can’t admit to that. For legal purposes piracy must always be talked about like the devil.
– Box Office Gains –
Piracy follows trends, and those trends are typically set at the box office. The Dark Knight was so incredibly pirated after its opening weekend you couldn’t help but come across it. It is now (thanks to Avatar) the third highest grossing domestic film of all time (without adjustment). This makes it almost impossible to gauge the effect of piracy on it. The dvd and bluray releases also sold through the roof. I Am Legend, like Avatar, had a high quality copy leaked while it was still in theaters. That didn’t cause it to skip a beat all the way to a $256 million domestic take. In this sense piracy may not be great for a movie, but it can definitely tell you how well its doing in theaters, and whether or not it will be big in the home video market.
The only thing that may hurt Avatar is a slow down in return business. People that are going back to the theaters over and over again may instead decide to watch it at home, without the exorbitant ticket price.