When a high-quality, full-length work print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine surfaced on Internet bittorrent sites last night, early speculation was that this was a doomsday scenario for Fox and the filmmakers behind the tentpole, which is not due to be released until May 1. The response today from competing producers and studio execs, however, has been more measured. One producer behind another major summer franchise insists that while piracy is a serious problem that needs a “focused and visionary response” from the movie industry, a leak like this may not actually cut that deeply into Wolverine’s ticket sales.
“People who are going to download and watch it on their computer were either never going to pay to see it anyway or they’re the type of super-fan who was going to go 10 times in the first week,” he says, citing a leaked version of Iron Man that circulated a week before its blockbuster opening. “Seeing a spectacle movie like this one on your computer is not the same as seeing with a communal audience, and I don’t think this is going to hurt them that much.”
On the other hand, a high-ranking theater exhibitor sees much more dire consequences for the franchise. “This is a disaster,” he says, referring both to the free downloads resulting from the leak and to the subsequent bad reviews making their way around the Web. “It’s tens of millions of dollars lost.”
It’s certainly a sign of our digital file swapping times, and many in Hollywood are viewing it as a chilling cautionary tale. “If there’s been a tutor in my life about this stuff, it’s Steven Spielberg,” says director Brad Silberling, whose Land of the Lost is due to hit theaters June 5. “There’s a reason why directors are control freaks. Between marketing and publicity and all the other areas that get their hands on a film, you have to monitor it. You never like hearing about something like this happening an inch away from a movie being released.”
Fox and the filmmakers have released an official response, vowing to track down whoever is behind the leak, while competing studio execs seem to be engaging in some wishful prognosticating about whether audiences will still show up for the big theater experience, regardless of other cheaper options. “That movie is a spectacle and the audience wants spectacle,” says the exec with his own tentpoles due for release this summer. “I predict it still opens with a seven in front of it.”– Additional reporting by Nicole Sperling and Josh Rottenberg