It’s bold to steal a movie. Any movie. But a surefire blockbuster like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fox’s make-or-break $130 million summer-movie tentpole? That takes nerves of adamantium. And the fact that someone somehow did manage to swipe such an incredibly high-profile project is sending shock waves of panic throughout the industry. ”This is certainly a lesson for us all,” says Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman. ”We, like everybody else, thought our system was secure.” Yet, on April 1, there it was: an unfinished version of the movie, available online a full month before its release date. (Since then, the file has been accessed 100,000 times, and the blogosphere buzz has been mixed at best.) Fox is working with the FBI to find the culprit — ”Somebody’s going to end up in jail for a long time,” insists Rothman — but no arrests had been made as of press time. Hollywood bigwigs, who have taken their case for tougher antipiracy laws all the way to Congress, are certainly out for blood. ”You have to find the [thief] and you’ve got to give him serious time,” says director Tony Scott (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3). In fact, when he first heard of the theft, ”I said, ‘F— him. Shoot him!”’ That harsh brand of justice has swept up those even tangentially involved in the scandal: Fox News columnist Roger Friedman was fired for downloading the movie and posting a positive review.
When the smoke clears, what impact will any of this have on the movie’s box office haul? Hard to say. When Ang Lee’s Hulk was pirated in 2003, Universal Pictures claimed the theft — of a close-to-finished print — cost it $100 million. (That could have been posturing: The movie was also leveled by brutal reviews. Universal had no comment for this story.) At least one industry insider thinks the exposure may boost ticket sales. ”Everyone was talking about Star Trek before this happened,” he notes. ”Now everyone’s focused on Wolverine.” — With additional reporting by Chris Nashawaty and Christine Spines