Pirates have voted on “The Expendables 3” with their clicks — and it turns out the Sylvester Stallone-starrer hasn’t been astoundingly popular among digital thieves, relatively speaking.
That likely contributed to the action movie’s dismal box-office debut this weekend. But over the same July 23-Aug. 18 time period, the movie was No. 4 in downloads, after “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (7.31 million), “Divergent” (6.29 million) and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (5.88 million). Moreover, that’s despite “Expendables 3” becoming available more than three weeks prior to the film’s U.S. theatrical debut.
For the week ended Aug. 18, the movie was the fifth most popular title on piracy services, with 1.54 million downloads. That trailed “Captain America” (2.61 million downloads globally), “Spider-Man 2” (1.70 million), “Noah” (1.62 million) and “Divergent” (1.55 million), per Excipio.
“Expendables 3,” starring Stallone along with an ensemble cast including Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Dolph Lundgren (pictured, above), garnered just $16.2 million at theaters in its opening weekend, well below that of the first two installments in the franchise and some $10 million below expectations.
It’s impossible to know how “Expendables 3” would have fared in the absence of piracy. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers estimated, based on several assumptions, that films subject to prerelease piracy generate 19% lower box-office revenue compared with those pirated after theatrical debut.
“There certainly are people who watched the pirated copies who weren’t going to see it anyway,” said Michael Smith, a professor of information technology and marketing at CMU and one of the study’s co-authors. “But the real fans are the ones who rush out on opening weekend, and what’s harmful is when it’s available on pirate sites before there is a legal channel to see it. You’re asking people to not only not see a pirated copy, but to wait a few weeks.”
However, it seems evident that other key factors conspired to depress the box-office take. Those include unfavorable reviews for the aging franchise (with a 35% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes), not to mention its aging cast. There was also the decision by producers to go with milder material in hopes of attracting a broader audience — the film has a PG-13 rating rather than the R of its predecessors.
The movie “smacks of desperation and teen-audience pandering from the literally bloodless action to the introduction of a younger, hotter backup team of fighters (call them the Hip Replacements),” Variety chief film critic Justin Chang wrote in his review.
Lionsgate, which is distributing “Expendables 3,” and producer Avi Lerner have declined to comment on the film’s piracy. The studio earlier this month won an injunction against 10 anonymous website operators, whom it sued for allegedly contributing to massive worldwide piracy of the movie prior to theatrical release.
— Brent Lang contributed to this article.