Fox Fantasy: Web Leak Cost Weak "Wolverine" $20M At The Box Office


Wolverine opened to a somewhat impressive $87 million this weekend — a big enough debut to let file-sharing advocates claim the movie’s early release didn’t really do any damage.

But Fox insiders are reportedly arguing that the leak could cost the film $20 million in box office receipts. So the poorly-reviewed prequel should have made $107 million this weekend? Seems unlikely.

Even though it’s impossible to know what could have been, Fox probably did lose some money at the box office because of the film’s early release. The Hollywood Reporter‘s legal blog, THR, Esq., crunches the numbers to figure out how much the leak could have drained from the film’s opening weekend total:

$7.18 million — Reports following the leak suggested that about 1 million people viewed at least part of the workprint. That number seemed low to us, given the publicity, the Web savvy of the film’s core audience and how easy it is now to access torrent sites via Google. But accepting that number and multiplying it by $7.18, which is the average North American movie ticket price, the early availability might have shaved about $7.18 million off the opening weekend numbers. Sure, many of those who cared enough to look at the leaked version no doubt donned their muttonchops and plastic claws to see the finished film on opening night. And plenty of lookie-loos never would have seen the film anyways. (Plus, the 1 million presumably refers to views worldwide) But the leak also contributed to some negative buzz about the film, which–like with Universal’s leaked “Hulk” in 2003–reverberated beyond the pirate community (“Wolverine’s” RottenTomato rating ended up at a splattering 38%).       

$15.75 million — That’s the difference between the opening weekend domestic gross of “Wolverine” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Brett Ratner’s 2006 contribution to the series opened to a more impressive $102.75. Granted, that benchmark seems unfair because “X-3” opened over the Memorial Day weekend and was riding high on the fan support of Bryan Singer’s well-received “X-2: X-Men United.” But an argument could be made that a prequel about the series’ most popular character, released as the summer kickoff in a year of recession-supercharged boxoffice, would have reached $100 million without piracy.

$12.6 million — A better comparison for the film might be the $98.6 that “Iron Man” pulled in over the same weekend last year. That comic book adaptation launched without the built-in franchise power that “Wolverine” has and without the recession boost but still managed to outgross it by an estimated 12.6 million. (Good reviews helped the Jon Favreau pic, but these movies are review-proof, aren’t they?)

$00 — What if the copyleft is right and piracy doesn’t really impact opening weekends at all? Maybe the unfinished print acted as a massive tease for the final cut, something that primed the core audience and served as free publicity. Or maybe audiences separate the experience of watching pirated movies online from the fun of seeing a big summer movie in the theatre. We doubt it (and we never believed those rumours that Fox actually leaked the film itself to stoke buzz or create an excuse if the film fizzled). But look for the pirates to point to “Wolverine” and say the studios are crying, um, wolf, when they beat their drums about leaks hurting the bottom line.

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