A number of highly anticipated movies are due to be released in the coming weeks, including a few major contenders for the upcoming award season. But with so many illegal streaming apps and sites, pirated versions of these new releases could be availble online within hours of their cinematic debut.
With the Oscars just around the corner the holiday season is an exciting time for Hollywood, it’s also a busy time at the box office - of the 20 highest grossing movies of all time, nearly one third were released in December including Avatar and Titanic. But film piracy and the ease of access to illegal content online continues to threaten the industry. Even before movies make their cinematic debut there are a number of ways screening and pre-release piracy can damage box office takings.
With illegal streaming and downloading most popular amongst the younger generation, certain genres are particularly vulnerable to piracy including horror movies, sci-fi and action. According to reports by the BBC Interstellar was the most pirated movie of 2015 with almost 47 million illegal downloads, closely followed by Fast & Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World all of which had extremely high download figures. With sci-fi and action movies so popular amongst those who download illegally, the upcoming release of Passengers - an adventure drama surrounding a malfunctioning spacecraft headed for a faraway planet - could experience high levels of illegal downloads. Released just days before Christmas, and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, the movie is likely to attract a younger audience who prefer to watch it online for free even if it is done so illegally. The same can be said of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which is due for its U.S. cinematic release on December 16. The movie had an eyewatering a budget of $200 million and is the first Star Wars anthology film. With such high investment in production, high piracy could really threaten the returns on this film. And there is reason to worry as Sci-fi movies typically attract more piracy than other films; Star Trek is high up on the list of the most pirated movies ever, along with Avatar, Transformers and Inception.
With Oscar season at the door, the buzz surrounding a handful of upcoming releases also make them high-risk for piracy. Screeners for the award season carry their own risk and have been leaked previously; last year for example the hateful eight was leaked a week before release, causing distributors and cinemas to scramble for protection against piracy. This year hold similar threats, fans of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may be eager to see La La Land, a musical drama brought to us by the director of the hugely popular and triple Oscar winning Whiplash. Due to be released on December 16, La La Land has already been tipped for an Oscar after a screening at the Venice Film Festival. Another movie expected to do very well during awards season is the upcoming drama Fences. Directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars in the movie alongside Viola Davis, the movie will make its cinematic debut on Christmas day in the U.S., but won’t reach cinemas across Europe until mid February. Pirated versions could already be available online before the movie even hits cinemas on this side of the Atlantic.
And while this year’s Christmas-themed movies will hardly expect any Oscar nominations, their hopes of box-office success could be seriously impacted by illegal downloads. Billy Bob Thornton is back in Bad Santa 2, the sequel to the 2003 Bad Santa movie which is still in the top ten pirated Christmas movies. The star-studded Christmas comedy Office Christmas Party also hits cinemas in the next few days. Having involved some of the same writers from The Hangover, the movie has been compared to the 2009 comedy hit which also attracted a younger audience and was one of the most pirated movies of its time. This movie will undoubtedly reach streaming platfroms soon given it's audience; the question is whether the movie will be protected online for long enough for cinemas to get a good number of tickets sold.
While legitimate streaming sites such as Netflix make it easier than ever to legally watch movies online, pirate sites and applications are constantly adapting to change the way illegal content is shared and causing huge losses to the industry. Movie studios continue to battle against piracy, mainly through issuing takedown requests to servers, however many in the industry have criticised the likes of Google saying not enough is being done to fight piracy and to protect their intellectual property.