Economics researchers at Wellesley College and U Minnesota have published a study showing that feature films' US box office returns are not correlated to BitTorrent sharing. They also show that shorter delays between the US exhibition and overseas releases result in less file-sharing -- that is, people outside the US download movies because they can't buy tickets to them.
The second point is an important one. There's only one Internet, networked culture doesn't respect national boundaries. A particularly effective marketing campaign for a new release in America will stimulate demand in other countries, and if there's no legitimate way to fulfill demand, then some portion of viewers will choose illegitimate routes. For example, the new Muppets movie has only just been released in the UK, some months after the US theatrical release (which was attended by enormous publicity). Presumably, someone at a studio concluded that there were too many UK movies in the pipeline at Christmas and not enough in February, and chose to delay the film's release to now. However, a certain portion of the audience for Muppet movies have been reading reviews, watching viral YouTube clips, and sitting through extended online discussions of the movie without being able to see it and participate. I'm pretty sure that a lot of these people downloaded the movie so that they could be a part of this moment.
Maybe they'll still buy tickets to the cinema, too. I'd guess that a lot of middle-class families with small children will do this. There aren't many kids' movies in cinematic release at the moment, and Muppets is certainly the best bet for a Sunday matinee during the record-breaking cold-snap, when no one wants to take the kids to a park on the weekend or during half-term break. Read the rest