The Expendables (2010 film)

The Expendables franchise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Four years ago, the all-action, star-studded cast of “The Expendables” celebrated a solid opening weekend of $34.8 million taken at the box office.

Fast forward to this past weekend and the movie’s third iteration barely limped towards half of that, taking just around $16 million.

A drop off in interest, perhaps? That would be one explanation, were it not for the fact that the second version also opened not far off $30 million. If we multiply $8 by 2.2 million, however, the resulting figure is $17.6 million, even half of which would have brought the latest Expendables release much closer to its expected tally.

Why those numbers?

Well, $8 is the average price of a movie ticket in the U.S., while 2.2 million is the number of people who illegally downloaded “Expendable 3,” after a leaked version hit torrent sites some three weeks before the official opening. To those who argue that piracy is great exposure¬†and leads to a net benefit, try telling that to the creative folks who worked for months to bring this movie to the big screen, only to now face a flop that could kill the series.

Pre-release piracy has the potential to deal a hammer blow to the creative industries. It hit high profile musicians last year, not least Lady Gaga’s “Artpop,” which was leaked almost two weeks early and also led to poor opening week sales. Beyonce had to go the extreme of releasing an album with zero notice the following month, which worked wonders for her but would be a tough sell for artists with less

And with movies this is an even tougher ask, as the filming process and industry buzz is so much more open. It would be almost impossible for any big budget movie with A-list actors to keep things quiet, which means that the traditional build up to release and raising awareness are a required part of making and marketing a film. This relies on viewers waiting for this release and building anticipation, which is completely undercut if versions are available online beforehand, even if they’re often of an inferior quality and riddled with malware.

Much of this will depend on viewers to commit to the actors and artists they love by waiting for official releases and supporting them via legitimate channels when they arrive. Pirate sites will always take advantage of those who create original works, but fans don’t have to follow their unethical, anti-creative lead.