The summer-movie season opened with a bang this weekend, as [movie id="345540"]"X-Men Origins: Wolverine"[/movie] nabbed almost $90 million at the box office. A month earlier — on April Fools' Day, no less — an incomplete copy of the [movieperson id="234610"]Hugh Jackman[/movieperson] action flick [article id="1608275"]leaked on the Web[/article], and industry experts and comic book fans had been wondering if the pirated version would hurt "Wolverine" at the box office.
But after its impressive opening weekend, "Wolverine" seems to have escaped relatively unharmed. "Nothing replaces the thrill of seeing a good old-fashioned popcorn movie on the big screen, and clearly the fans felt that way about 'Wolverine,' " said Harry Medved, a spokesperson for movie ticketing site Fandango. "There are so many intricately choreographed action set pieces and elaborate CGI effects in 'Wolverine' that it would look horrible on a computer screen, so watching it online would have been a waste of time."
Still, countless hundreds of thousands of people — the majority likely devoted comic book fanboys — did check out the early version online. But some industry experts contend their largely negative reaction did not drive down attendance numbers significantly. "A significant number of those people [who watched the leaked version] were excited enough by the property that they were going to go to see the finished movie in a theater regardless," David Poland of industry blog Movie City News said. He estimates that "Wolverine" lost between $1 million and $8 million because of the piracy.
The general public, however, seemed to have less exposure to the leak. "I think what really helped 'Wolverine' overcome the piracy issue [was] the people who went out to see it were probably more casual moviegoers than just the comic people," said Edward Douglas of movie site ComingSoon.net. "Which is why 'Wolverine' ended up opening so much bigger than 'Watchmen,' " which made $55 million during [article id="1606546"]its debut weekend[/article] in March. Douglas added that a lower running time and a PG-13 benefited "Wolverine" too.
Also helping the movie's big weekend was the fact that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the film was not strictly for guys. According to a Fandango survey, 48 percent of first-weekend "Wolverine" attendees were women, belying the notion that women instead opted for the Matthew McConaughey rom-com "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" ($15.3 million).
Another interesting comparison is between "Wolverine" and previous films in the franchise. The most recent installment, "X-Men: The Last Stand," did more than $100 million on fewer screens in 2006. "If you think about how much ticket prices have gone up in those years, 'Wolverine' probably had a lower attendance despite playing in significantly more theaters," Douglas said.
Whether those lower attendance figures are attributable to the leak, of course, is not known. Poland pointed out that "Wolverine" had a lower budget than the previous two "X-Men" films and thus will be profitable in its worldwide theatrical release while, he said, last year's blockbuster "Iron Man" was not.
Will the remarkable $90 million opening for "Wolverine," despite its illegal online exposure, have other studio execs breathing a sigh of relief? Don't count on it, Poland said.
"If the 'Wolverine' leak is only the beginning, then the film industry has a major, major problem," he said. "Anomalies are always given too much attention, but when anything becomes standard, it has a very different impact."
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