“The Expendables 3” Leak Is A Piracy Lightning Rod

You may well have heard of the third instalment of The Expendables movie series starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger and almost every other known action actor. The movie opens in wide release on August 15, but a high-quality version was leaked to the Internet almost three weeks before the release. This kind of thing has happened in the past, but never so long before release, and never in such a completed state [1]. Again, the debate over piracy (and associated penalties) is in the public’s consciousness.

Here’s the thing; all of this interest in this movie [2] can only be good for ticket sales. We are in an economy that is fuelled by the amount of attention any particular idea gets, and how long that attention is sustained. Bean counters are going to pour over all this weekend’s box office details to determine if the movie loses money, but we all know (rather instinctively) that it won’t be the case. From sales of toys, DVDs, the worldwide name recognition of the stars and even The Expendables trilogy packages.

Though, if critical panning could be said to affect a movie’s returns, The Expendables 3 has a rather high hill to climb. The movie currently sits at a dismal 32% on RottenTomatoes. Will this be taken into account if the movie fails on some level? Will any monetary failure at this point just be attributed to the leak?

We may be at the precipice of change. The way we view Piracy itself is undergoing an image makeover. In the face of all kinds of marketing and constant comparisons to physical theft, another revolution is occurring for those that have come to understand this idea differently. A large (and pointed) movement seems to be forming against copyright protection. Heck, some are even publicly admitting that they downloaded this movie. The leak of  The Expendables 3 is perhaps the perfect storm of interest, action, and public attention.

In response to the leaks, Lionsgate has sued a number of torrent and file sharing sites. This appears to be making an impact in the short term at least; with popular file-sharing site Hulkfile ( actually closing under the weight of an injunction. Clearly, Lionsgate is serious enough about this that they’ll kill other businesses in the process.

The film’s star, Sylvester Stallone had this to say about the leak: “That makes me feel really sad, but you know I understand that a lot of people have accepted that’s kind of a way of life“.  Even he seems aware of this large shift in attitudes about digital copying. At a reported net worth of $400 million, it’s unlikely that Stallone will be in the poor-house anytime soon. The same probably can’t be said for the crew who worked on the movie – who probably get paid much less. Should we feel bad for them?

The question remains, what will come of the attention this leak garners? Are we about to see a change in how piracy is handled, or will the focus on Lionsgate’s tactics backfire and create more copyright backlash?

Update: Box Office results are coming in and The Expendables 3 is on track to earn a very disappointing $16,200,000 (domestic) in its first weekend. For those interested, that’s a full $18,625,135 less than The Expendables 1 opening weekend and $12,391,370 less than the first-weekend take of The Expendables 2. All of them released in similar August weekend frames. This puts the movie in fourth place, beaten by newcomer Let’s Be Cops and holdovers Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Foreign results are not yet in, and the movie tends to do well in world markets, so that will probably help.

Also: An interesting interview at Variety talked to an “Expert” with a suspiciously generic sounding name. This shows how the focal point of an Expendables 3 leak has some outlets spinning this story in specific ways.  Michael D. Smith of Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College school of public policy [3] spoke about the impact that piracy had on the movie. In effect, he said it was impossible to know, and spent the rest of the interview assuming it was true that piracy hurt the movie. I found his final quote most telling:

If piracy becomes more and more popular, studios are going to stop making some types of films, and that’s bad for all of us. It’s not only the fat cat studio chiefs you’re hurting. It’s you the consumer.

Let’s hope we see less of the “bad”, and more of the “good” types of films.

1. For example, in 2009 a copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked before release, but it was in a very unfinished state.
2. That probably exists as a sub-rate action spectacle
3. Say that 5 times fast!