Avengers box-office success shows pre-release piracy isn't necessarily the kiss of death

The Avengers was both widely pirated ahead of release and the most successful opening in box-office history. As Forbes's Paul Tassi notes, this suggests that piracy and commercial success are not mutually exclusive:

An early copy of The Avengers actually leaked out onto the internet a week ahead of release, and Disney was subsequently flipping out about the prospect of the full film being released on the web. Shortly after, the camcorder version had been downloaded a half million times, likely a record for the format.

However, despite setting piracy records, all that’s really happened is that this has shown how much illegal downloads of in-theater movies really does not effect box office tallies. Even if you’re using the skewed math that says every download is a lost sale, the pirates would only make up 0.5% of the revenues of the film so far.

Of course, that’s not the case, and anyone passionate enough about The Avengers to download it a week early more than likely had a desire to see on the big screen as well. Even if pirates are “cheapskates” the way they’re portrayed, cam copies of movies just aren’t remotely in the same league as seeing a movie in a theater. An apt comparison is that piracy of music does not prevent people from showing up to concerts. It’s just not a true alternative, especially for a film as epic as The Avengers. It’s not a full experience watching a low quality variant on your laptop.

The Avengers Demonstrates Piracy's Overstated Effect on Ticket Sales (Thanks, Lis Riba!)


  1. Complaining about piracy is one of the ways of optimizing it. Put another way: if you made a huge movie and nobody bothered to pirate it, why should I bother to see it?

    1. Maybe because it was good. There are many “small” movies I would like to see, and I grieve that they are not “pirated” enough.

      1. But huge movies are not, by default, ‘good’.  They have enormous advantages in the marketplace, though, because of their advertising and distribution, and those advantages drive the piracy market as well. Pirates don’t want to pay for advertising — they are piggybacking on the inherent notoriety of the films they choose to pirate. This correlation between the incipient popularity of a film in the legitimate marketplace and the perceived demand for a film in the pirate marketplace certainly signals something to the producers, distributors, and consumers, though what (if anything) it says about the quality of the film I really don’t know.

        Shorter version: if they pirate a film like The Avengers, it means nothing; if they do not, if means something, and not something good. For smaller films without the inherent advantages of advertising and distribution, none of this applies.

        1. I wholly agree with you.  Sorry if I did not see that you meant about the film: huge budget AND nobody pirated it.

        2. Pirates don’t want to pay for advertising — they are piggybacking on the inherent notoriety of the films they choose to pirate.

          You’re making an assumption that internet pirates are motivated by profit (I guess?) – which isn’t true.

          1. You’re making an assumption that internet pirates are motivated by profit

            All pirates are motivated by profit. They call it booty. It’s not always money, but it’s always good.

  2.  Just as likely that it is now on sale as cheap DVDs in various parts of the world where a official DVD will cost several weeks salary.

      1. And potentially as many fansubs as the seller could be bothered to grab before burning and packing.

  3. Yeah, make better movies and people will watch it. Stop blaming box office bombs because of piracy.

    Watched it twice in a non 3D version btw.

  4. pre- release piracy is a bit like having a single on the radio before being released for sale. makes people want to pay for it (if it’s any good that is)

    1. These days one risk having heard it so many times that even a second brings on nausea…

  5. I’d just prefer not to consume the work of companies that want to get into a tizzy over piracy, pirated or otherwise. I imagine the weekend that The Avengers opened I likely read my book, listened to non-commercial radio, and enjoyed myself completely. 

    1. I am so very, very impressed by your perfect consumer habits, internet stranger.  Tell me more. I assume you lack a TV, hate e-readers, and never go outside, so as to avoid all advertising. If not, well, sorry, you’re just not indie enough.

      1. Also I assume he uses a teletext like browser as to avoid any flash content and facebook posts.

      2.  Clearly, a perfect consumer liked things that weren’t mainstream before liking things that aren’t mainstream became mainstream, so he doesn’t like things that aren’t mainstream anymore he… wait, let me start over… cramping…

  6. Why would anyone that’s planning to see it in the theatre watch a crappy camcorder download?

    1. I could understand if it was just a comedy or something, but this is the type of movie that does better on the big screen.  But I know people who do this.  I don’t understand, either.

      1. My only guess is they’re checking to see if the movie’s worth paying for – so this kind of piracy only hurts bad movies. Then again, even bad movies have been leaked and still did great box office, like Hulk and Wolverine.

  7. Possible lesson for Hollywood to derive from this:
    You can maximize profits by either:

    a) hiring people who can write intelligently and well, and actually care about the subject matter/characters


    b) continue to hire hacks to direct films based on toys and boardgames (in Shitty Post-Conversion 3D!), and CONTINUE TO FIGHT THE SCOURGE OF PIRACY TOOTH AND NIAL.

    Probably b, then.

    1. I’m not sure if you mean to imply otherwise, but Hollywood did actually do your option a in the case of The Avengers (though not for most of the preceding films introducing the individual characters), and that resulting in “maximized profits” is probably an understatement!

      On the other hand, I saw The Avengers on the Friday it opened, in the afternoon (a little while after schools let out). I sat next to a kid, maybe 10 years old, and his dad. They had interesting reactions/discussions about the trailers that played before the film – which was nice to hear (smart kid) until the trailer for Battleship played. That was the one the kid was most excited about, and both he and his dad agreed that they’ve got to see it as soon as it comes out.

      But, less dishearteningly, there’s an obvious trend in Hollywood the past few years where they are actually trying to make good stuff. It’s apparently finally clear to them that the summer blockbusters that nobody cares about after a couple months aren’t going to generate huge guaranteed profits any longer compared to the similarly-large-budget films that are well-made and which create a huge, long-lasting fan following. 

      Examples: Nolan’s Batman series (and Inception by the same director), about 1/3 of the superhero movies that have come out since Spiderman (up to and including The Avengers), LOTR, Harry Potter… lots more I can’t think of off the top of my head.

      There are “bad” examples of those types of films as well, of course – but the ones that continue to make profits long after release are the ones that are very well made. So there should be an obvious incentive there to do things right, but obviously nobody’s surprised it took Hollywood execs so long to figure that out.

  8. Too bad the “pirates are killing us” rhetoric has worked so well. They’ve managed to get a lot of really  bad laws pushed through and bullied their way into winning a whole bunch of settlements. The business model has been proven and no amount of proof that piracy is not hurting sales is going to change their mind.

    That ship has sailed, options are to either go along for the ride or stop buying their product.

    1. “That ship has sailed”
      I’m sure there’s a great joke about pirates in there, but I’m too hungry to think of one right now

  9. There’s just one thing I regret in Avengers, it’s shown in 3D only in my town. The format gives my right eye a feeling like glowing warm in the first 15 minutes, and troughout the first 45-50 minutes everything looks like a toy miniature filmed with a tilt&shift camera, and it seems slightly flickery. I’d like to see the movie a second time, but right, but I can’t, it’s only shown in 3D…


  10. I caught a prerelease screening and they made us all take our cell phones back to our cars, and even wanded us on the way in to make sure we didn’t still have them.  Because I guess they were really concerned that someone would post a cellphone recording of a 3D movie to the Internet.

    Out of curiosity I checked the next morning to see if anyone had managed to sneak a camera into a screening and post the movie online.

    Of course they had.

    On the plus side, it’s the only time this century I’ve been to a movie where nobody had a damn phone.

  11. As the last sentence in the excerpt says, it just means nobody wants to watch a crappy cam release anymore. I suspect different download numbers if a DVD Screener copy was out there.

    1.  You suspect different download numbers, but do you suspect different ticket sale numbers?

  12. Even if it was a full HD quality downlaod, I still would have gone to the cinema to see it. Make great movies by talented people and I will pay to get the big screen experience and then possibly pay again to own it for home viewing if it’s really great.

  13. Internet piracy is a promotional campaign for a good movie, but a kiss of death for a bad one. That’s the lesson. Make good stuff, be rewarded. Of course the studios hate the idea of not being able to cram garbage down our throats by advertising the hell out of it. They hate that the word gets out so fast on what is a stinker. Bad for them, but good for us.

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