‘Expendables 3’ Flops: Is Piracy to Blame?

The Expendables 3

Is piracy to blame for “The Expendables 3’s” puny box office debut this weekend or were viewers ready to euthanize the film’s aging action heroes?

That’s the question Hollywood’s asking after the thriller fell short of initial projections by roughly $10 million, debuting to a paltry $16.2 million.

As the dwindling numbers trickled in over the weekend, studio executives privately pointed the finger at a leaked copy of the film that hit the Internet three weeks before its debut and was seen by 2.2 million people.

“This is really a clear situation where this had an impact,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com. “It’s hard to measure, but the ripple effect, not only of the downloads, but of the word-of-mouth that spread as a result, can be seen in the soft opening.”

The film’s initial numbers are the worst in series history. The original “Expendables” launched to $34.8 million in 2010 while the second installment debuted to $28.6 in 2012. Still, some box office observers are hesitant to ascribe blame wholly to the illegal downloads, citing franchise-fatigue after three films in relatively short order.

“It got hurt,” said on rival distribution executive. “You’d have to say there was an impact there. But as low as the numbers are, there was a whole lot more going on. There was some audience rejection. When you go to the well too many times, you’re going to run out of gas.”

It’s also not clear that the majority of people who downloaded the movie illegally would have paid to see it in theaters even if it wasn’t available online, argues Rentrak media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. Then there’s the continued strength of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which still managed to do more than $20 million of business in their third and second weeks in theaters.

“It’s such a crowded marketplace,” said Dergarabedian. “Even taking piracy out of the equation, it’s so much competitive than we thought it would be.”

“The Expendables 3” was widely seen as a litmus test for the impact that piracy can have on a film’s prospects. Hollywood has tried to hit back against illegal downloading in the past, backing controversial legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). When those bills collapsed in 2012, undone by a grassroots backlash and concerns about their impact on First Amendment rights, studios chose to speak more softly. For the most part, their efforts have been limited to outreach to Silicon Valley companies. Given “The Expendables 3’s” poor results, those overtures may grow more intense.

Measuring the impact of piracy on box office is difficult and the data can be contradictory. For instance, an unfinished copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was widely distributed online a month before the film opened in 2009, but the picture still managed to rack up $373 million globally. That’s a big number and one that suggests a lot of people were still willing to shell out for the finished product.

However, some research suggests that piracy can take a big chunk out of ticket sales. A 2011 study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that when a film is pirated prior to release, it loses nearly 20% of its potential revenue.

Lionsgate, which distributed “The Expendables 3,” and producer Avi Lerner declined to comment, citing an ongoing lawsuit against 10 anonymous individuals alleged to have shared a digital copy of the sequel with piracy sites.

They may be quiet now, but don’t expect the studios to remain mum for long. Fresh shots were just fired in the piracy war.

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  1. Bill Conn says:

    After multiple movies in the same Franchise you would have to be an idiot NOT to expect revenue to drop (with some exceptions). Rarely do sequels do better and even more rare for 3rd and 4th parts to a franchise to collect the same revenue. The Expendables Franchise presented the audience with a treat with the number of A-listers starring together in the first movie and some mediocre action sequences to boot. Part 2 more of the same and especially part 3 MORE of the same. Everyone has “been there done that” with this series now and I am sure some of the actors are simply milking it for more paychecks at this point. This series is like every other action flick of the genre. Just good…not great. Piracy has nothing to do with box office shortfalls. If you have made a movie worth paying for then people will pay the price to see it on the big screen regardless of how soon its available for illegal download or what the ticket price is at the theatre, its THAT SIMPLE!!! If box office take is disappointing then the YOU HAVE PRODUCED a MEDIOCRE, unoriginal movie (like over 50% of everything thrown at the big screen now). There is no science to this and the usual piracy scapegoat the media and the studios blame is getting very tired…just like this Franchise and its actors. all the whining over piracy is making people do it more. Instead of belly aching studios have started to become creative and start finding ways to ADD VALUE to their movies on screen and on copies sold for in home use so it makes me laugh to still see the same complaints from 20 years ago. Some movies aren’t even worth watching when you get them for free, so who wants to pay the price of a movie ticket to see one, I used to say I’ll wait for the DVD after seeing some trailers on TV or at the theatre. Some of the crap they are pumping out now for the big screen makes me say no to the DVD as well…even with its FREE to download (other than wasting some time and bandwidth). Hell I feel like sending the Studio an invoice for my time after watching some of this “BIG SCREEN” junk. I want 89 minutes of my life back. Maybe I should sue? Sweet Baby Jesus!!!

  2. OOOWG says:

    Even the pirates think it was GARBAGE!

  3. Joe Johnson says:

    I liked it, I thought it was one of the stronger installments and I think any money lost on it’s leak could be balanced by dvd sales if they put a good package together with stuff people haven’t seen before(deleted scenes, behind the scenes)type footage. Maybe even a trilogy release. While I wouldn’t blame the entire decline profit on the leak, it certainly had an impact. Movies and movie theaters need to start giving you more bang for you buck(no pun intended/theater shootings) or they will suffer the same fate of the music industry hollowing out product nearing the end if it’s over the counter sales hayday.

  4. greg says:

    I still enjoyed it but agree that it was a mistake to go PG-13. It lacked the pop and gore of the first 2 films. Antonio Banderas was great in it though.

    “IF” they make a 4th they should stick to there target audience of 35yrs+ and go back to the R rating.

  5. Don’t blame piracy for an absolutely horrendous, terrible, pitiful, boring, predictable, worthless movie that wasted every single cast member.

  6. Cameron Rice says:

    Stallone screwed up BIG TIME by watering it down for a bigger audience, NONE of the younger kids showed up for it and it backfired on Stallone BIG TIME

  7. bart4u says:

    How about the movie was a horrible movie with bad reviews as another reason for low sale numbers. Let’s be honest here. Aging action stars making a movie that should had never been made. Giving that money to charity would had been a better idea. This studio is trying to lay blame else where. The executives that decided to finance this project should be fired and have their head examined. We need creative home grown movies filmed in California. Scripts with new fresh ideas and fresh new actors. Enough of the rehash of stupid ideas and using actors that should retire. When I saw the previews of this trash I just rolled my eyes and said this is nothing I would ever pay my hard earned money to watch. Hollywood hire new creative people and get rid of these decision makers who have no business working in the film industry.

  8. Eric says:

    They fail to the mention that the film pussed out and went PG13, and I’m sure that left a ton of people less than thrilled.

    • Richard says:

      The PG-13 rating was a bad idea, the 2nd was over the top R rated glory but then you go to PG-13? What to attract younger viewers, they were not going to come see this movie anyway. Plus what was up with all the screentime to the younger new comers. I payed to see Sly and co. not the dude from twilight.

  9. HUH says:

    Piracy definitely hurt it. I can’t name a single friend of mine that hasn’t seen it. Seeing a pirated movie is one thing, but an actual “screener” released early hurts even more. I don’t think a cam recording would have been as damaging.

  10. Jacques Strappe says:

    The piracy angle sounds like pure studio spin.

  11. bogdan says:

    Is the first 1st film made by stallone with cheap effects that ive seen. Is not like the first movie. This is why ppl dont go to see it. Hope that Rambo will not be such a big disepointment.

  12. William says:

    Oh did this movie release? I honestly had no idea until I saw this article, and I really think the advertisers missed the boat on something here. As a person in this movie’s target audience who spends more time on Twitch.tv than watching ACTUAL TV I can say they made a big error. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had adverts all over Twitch, but I never saw a single ad for Expendables 3. Maybe that was a conscious choice to not advertise there, but if so they’re really underestimating the money just sitting around on a site like Twitch.

  13. Josh says:

    No, it being a bad movie is to blame.

  14. donna says:

    I haven’t seen any of the Expendables movies and decided to see #3 but wanted to see Numbers 1 & 2 first. I went to Amazon’s site and they have #2 on Prime but I’d have to pay to see #1. Why would #2 be free but not #1? I decided to pass on all three movies instead.

  15. Wheee says:

    Mr Lang,
    Did you actually watch this movie? It sucked… period.
    ““The Expendables 3″ was widely seen as a litmus test for the impact that piracy can have on a film’s prospects.”

    What about when Wolverine leaked? You seem to just dismiss that it did amazing and just maybe Piracy DROVE PPL TO THE MOVIES TO SE IT.
    Did you write this article while at an MPAA paid-for lunch?
    I feel Variety should release you from duty. This seems more like a paid-for article from the MPAA rather than an informative news piece.

    What a lousy biased article.
    Being a senior blah blah… does that put you over 45?

    Google: Hollywood Desperate To Blame Bad Opening Box Office Of Expendables 3 On Piracy Rather Than The Fact That It Sucked

    Then come back to reality.

    The studios have been crying for decades that every new technology that comes along will kill their monopoly. The player piano, the cassette, the CD, etc. All crying wolf.

    You act like Hollywood has never gotten any legislation passed.
    Life +70 ring a culture destroying bell?

    The word of mouth that made ticket sales fall off is… THAT THE MOVIE SUCKED. Deal with the fact you released a bomb of a movie and move on.

    Hey Brent… why dont you actually look at the numbers and trends rather than taking as fact talking points from the MPAA. Maybe you can then regain credibility in your field.

    • greg says:

      Hi Whee… I’m sure that you’re used to hearing this… but you’re wrong. It’s a fine film and a great escape. Btw… you’re facts are replete with inaccuracies and over exaggerated in order to make a point that has no merits.

      P.S. you’re dad says that he’s sorry for everything and really does love you after all.

    • greg says:

      Hi Donna… I’m sure that you’re used to hearing this… but you’re wrong. I bet your husband would agree with me. It’s a fine film and a great escape. Btw… you’re facts are relpete with inaccuracies and over exaggerated in order to make a point that has no merits.

      P.S. you’re mom says that she’s sorry for everything and really does love you after all.

      • greg says:

        Sorry Donna… my reply was actually misdirected towards you when in fact it was intended for “Whee”. Let’s try this again:

        Hi Whee… I’m sure that you’re used to hearing this… but you’re wrong. I bet your husband would agree with me. It’s a fine film and a great escape. Btw… you’re facts are relpete with inaccuracies and over exaggerated in order to make a point that has no merits.

        P.S. you’re dad says that he’s sorry for everything and really does love you after all.

  16. jeremy says:

    It sucked. All of them have been terrible.

  17. Eric says:

    It flopped because it’s a piece of shit movie, all three of them have. Also, Sly being hypocrite with regard to the subject of guns; he thinks nobody should own them, but it’s alright to make movies using them??? Fuck you you speech impeded asshole.

    • greg says:

      Your very angry Eric… you’re wrong and I’m fearful you may hurt someone. Please seek professional help. Viva Stallone et al!

      • greg says:

        “Your vs. You’re” ha!… apparently I have some grammatical issues to work out myself. BTW.. Fun movie and look forward to getting the DVD for Xmas. Highly recommend if you are a fan of the genre.

  18. Law says:

    Maybe the reason i didnt see it is because Sly’s (Rambo, Bonomo, Jack Carter, Robert Rath, Machine Gun Joe) negative stance on the 2nd Amd, yet his whole career was based on the 2nd Amd

  19. Richard says:

    Ill go see it because I loved the movies these guys made in the 80s. That being said I think Sly went to the well to many times with this idea. I really would have rathered the movie be Rated R also so you could get all the crazy stuff you saw in movies like Rambo 2 and the Running Man.

  20. BooBoo says:

    It could also be the fact that all they did was shove as many names as possible into a film in hopes that those names would attract people. The first two were not that great and I imagine having the multiple actor crutch would not help the new installment. I wouldn’t have paid to see it anymore than download it. I think blaming piracy is ridiculous. These studios making millions upon millions each year need to accept the fact that not only is their industry changing but not all of their films will be cash cows.

  21. Alan says:

    Piracy maybe. Movie was a major disappointment. Sucked compared to I and II

  22. Linda says:

    It had to have been the piracy for I would have love to have seen it. I didn’t even know it was out this past weekend! In fact there was a no show as far as know here. Sad for I love all of these actors and know they still have a tremendous amount of fans. In fact that is what hard them. Their fans! They purchase the movie ahead of time Privacy! it hard the movie and it hard them. Their fans won’t be seeing their actors again for sometime and it’s their own fault!

  23. William wingate says:

    The Internet is what’s responsible for killing the video store business and soon it’s going to do the same to magazine and newspapers and cell phones will be what kills the small pocket digital cameras well now the Internet and satellite TV will be what kills movie theaters because now so many movies can be seen at home on the band on the same day it’s released in theaters and yes pirating has a lot to do with it too the Internet companies when a movie is illegally downloaded to the net should be shut down and yes just like in that one movie it going to take having Internet police to put a stop to piracy so till then more companies of all kinds will be losing money do the Internet nowadays you can even do your grocery shopping online and have it delivered and because of the Internet people can even work at home now so soon there won’t even be a need to leave your house because of the Internet it will not be necessary for you to go visit friends cuz you can now Skype with them it’s just like being there and when they come out with this virtual 3d crap will you put on the glasses and sit down and you’re in the Bahamas that’s when it’s all over the Internet has no heart no soul and that will be the end of mankind so that’s just my opinion but I hope it gives you something to think about

  24. Eric says:

    Or maybe it do poorly because these movies suck and it went up against Guardians and Mutant Ninjas.

  25. Ivan says:

    This movie, from what I understand, wasn’t worth stealing.

    They should have just added a tag line to their marketing ‘Coming soon to a 4 movies for $5 bargain bin near you.’

  26. KShah says:

    Yes the movie a bad, it had bad story, large flaws, like every time the tanks would hit the building, there would be no signs of damage from previous shots, come on, no body dies,no body, and they kill like 400 people, thats bullshit man, they just wanted to kill piracy thats all, its a plot

  27. Missir says:

    LOL. The fact that they’re trying to cover up their problems with this pure shit-storm of a film by blaming piracy is absolutely comical. Even those on the pirating websites absolutely hate the film. Maybe it’s just a sign that you can’t just throw a bunch of past-their-prime actors into a film, basically have an outline or where you want the scene to go, and then just wing, and improv, it a few times so you have enough to cut together. The only redeemable character is by Kelsey Grammer.. simply because he’s Kelsey Grammer.. That’s all the positive about this film and its “I didn’t do it. They did. Nuh uh, they did” childishness. Grow up, and try pumping out less crap.

  28. strikerhawk says:

    I have the strange feeling that the movie was really released by Hollywood online early as a plot to sabotage movie pirates. The movie would probably not have done well at all anyway, but now they will use this “leak” to justify witch hunting every pirate in the world. I smell a conspiracy.

  29. You have two other data points – the second of the series launched at about 8 million less than the first. It’s idiotic to expect the third one to launch at just a littke bit less than the second. Also, consider the second one had mediocre reviews.

    There is a secret to making a successful movie: make a movie people actually want to watch.

  30. Jova Jamm says:

    This was clearly a movie that should have been released in the fall, or maybe even in February. A little Stallone goes a long way, and he’s always been unable to understand that. I didn’t see the download, but I’m just not ready to shell out money to go see “The Over The Hill Gang Rides Again 3” after what seems like 6 months since the last one was out.

  31. rizzo says:

    Obvious garbage movie is obviously garbage, piracy has nothing to do with it.

  32. Mathias says:

    sure, let’s blame others first. let’s blame piracy. or global warming. or terrorists! in that case you have already a plot for the 4th movie.
    even though the difference between a R-rated movie and a PG13 movie is just the visibility of blood, it gives the whole franchise kind of a bad reputation. at some point that is an image lost you can’t fix with any argument like “it’s still the same movie”.
    and for the record: after seeing the CGI in the movie i had this robin williams “Jumanji” meme in mind with “what year is this”, cause those were from the last century. i’m not a CGI or graphics fetishist, but at some points i’m expecting a certain level of quality.

  33. Michal B. says:

    In my opinion makers of the movie are to blame. What was great on first Expendables? Not so much of a story which was balanced by near absolute lack of narrative. Who cares about the story anyway when there is only 5 minutes of space for it while other 115 minutes are filled with great humor, hidden comments making fun from the actors, tons of shooting and hectoliters of blood? I really don’t. And they were only starting. What seemed as unbeatable action movie was beaten in Expendables 2 and I was astonished how amusing that was. And what about Expendables 3? Yeah, I can live with strange camera in action scenes, I can live with lack of good jokes, hmm I can even accept absence of all the gory things to be PG13. But what I can’t live with is that there were 2 -yep really only TWO – action scenes at beginning and at the end and there is a short, dull and really boring insert between those two scenes which lasts for eternity. Okay I joke here, but hour and a half of boring nothing is really bad for action movie. Not to mention the kids. Why the hell was there was so much space for some young pussy ass kiddos while everyone was expecting to see Sly, Jason or Arnold in action? I really don’t know but this is in my opinion what killed Expendables 3.

  34. Arne says:

    there are SEVERAL studies, that found out, that people who watch a lot of films on streaming sites, are ALSO the ones who go to the cinemas very very often.

    expandables 1 was very bad, but the actors made it good.
    expandables 2 was even worse and not event the actors could make it any good.
    what do you expect from expandable 3 now? :D

  35. Christopher Kelly says:

    The PG-13 rating is to blame. You just don’t make the first 2 movies rated R then the 3rd PG-13 so kids can go see it

  36. Sue says:

    It could be because they’ve had 3 Expendables movies in the last 4 years. They are too close together. I’m sure the poor reviews didn’t help either, imdbs meta critic score is 35/100.

  37. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Piracy definitely hurt it, but will still do well internationally. Will pay to se it again!

  38. Jeff says:

    Sure, they’ll want to blame piracy, but there are so many other reasons why the movie did poorly, and most are symptomatic of the problems plaguing the industry in general right now. Here are just a few:

    1. The price of admission. When movies were $7 or $8 a ticket, people didn’t mind taking a chance on a film, because there wasn’t much of an investment. Now that the tickets cost nearly twice that (not to mention the astronomical price of concessions) the audience is doing its homework before blowing money on a bad movie, especially in a struggling economy.

    2. The theater experience. Sure, there’s nothing like seeing a great movie on the big screen. But it’s not as special when your senses have been overloaded by advertising from the second you enter the theater. And it’s really not as special when your attention is constantly being drawn away from the screen by people who insist on using their phones to text/tweet/post during the movie.

    3. Sequelitis. The law of diminishing returns is a near certainty, especially when word of mouth on the first sequel was pretty bad.

    4. Nostalgia serves the stars’ old movies better than a new movie. The very premise of “The Expendables” is flawed from a 2014 point of view. If people want to see these action heroes, they want to see them in their prime, and with all the digital options out there, it’s easy to spend an evening watching classic Sly and Arnold instead of AARP Sly and Arnold.

    It’s a different world out there. If the makers of “The Expendables” really wanted to make money with the franchise, instead of making movie sequels, they would have put their resources into making it a videogame series. In that context, you could make the actors young and kick-ass again, and gamers would eat it up if it was done right.

  39. “When you go to the well too many times, you’re going to run out of gas.”
    Pick a side of the river and swim on it! You pick one metaphor and you finish the thought. Come on “on rival distribution executive”!

  40. Alex says:

    Mistake 1, it’s still the summer. A time when movies aimed at teens and families ala TNMT & GotG rule. The Expendables demographic is more of an adults with nostalgia market.
    Mistake 2, the first was a pleasant surprise due to low expectations but the 2nd was horrible. They really needed to focus the advertisements as “over the top crazy violence like you remember from the 80s” vibe. Reassure the market that this was more like the orifinal rather than the sequel.

  41. DorothyParkerlite says:

    No one ever talks about how many times the audience has been duped into thinking they’re getting quality storytelling when really what they’re watching is two hours of product placement. Isn’t that a kind of piracy too? If you could count the nickels on that, I’d say Hollywood is definitely coming out on top. Stupid decisions, stupid casting, half-ass scriptwriting, low production values… That’s what it really comes down to. Hollywood fucked up by losing audience trust long ago. And they haven’t made up for it, instead going on an on about how the audiences owe THEM. Really? You wanna think that one over, boss, ’cause I’m doin the math and it ain’t adding up.

  42. Levi says:

    I have stated this elsewhere, but the best way to combat piracy is to combat it at its heart. Most people who watch pirated movies at home, are those who do not like going to the theaters, whether its due to health problems, or other reasons. Most would gladly pay for a movie ticket if they could watch it from home, at the same time its at theaters. The thing is, Expendables 3 was completely finished over a month in advance, I would gladly shell out 12 – 15 dollars to watch it early if its legit quality. Heck I would pay more than movie ticket prices if I could see movies at home before theaters.

    • Alex says:

      Health problems? Lol.
      People pirate because it’s free.
      Some people don’t like going to the theatre due to price, inconvienance, lack of fellow movie goers with the proper etiquette and manners.
      We’re starting to see the genesis of simultaneous releasing of movies at the theatre and home on demand. Snowpiercer off the top of my head was a recent one. I saw it in the theatre and I’m damn glad I did.

  43. I’m convinced they leaked this film on purpose because they knew it would be trash.

  44. sunshineincal says:

    I paid to see Expendables III. It was actually a great movie full of laughs and action. I couldn’t car less about Mel Gibson and I’m glad he was the bad guy and died in this movie. I like that older actors are sticking around. I was surprised by Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes’s appearances. Snipes was so funny, people were laughing out lough in the theater. The problem is that Guardians of the Galaxy is still killing at the box office AND it was hardly advertised. A friend just happened to mention it so I looked up new movie releases and it was there. Don’t blame downloads, there are other reasons for it’s failure at the box office. We saw the first showing Saturday morning and there were only 8 people in the entire theater.

  45. jayman419 says:

    “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a movie that has been heavily pirated. Make something good and people will go see it, download it, and still buy it when it comes out on DVD.

    No one is going to see Expendables 3 because it’;s the third version of a movie that should have been a 2 minute “Family Guy” bit (at best). Sorry Hollywood, you can’t just say “Pirates! Yar!” every time you screw the pooch.

  46. janessica says:

    It flopped because it was a terrible movie.

  47. Ron Kinker says:

    Can’t use “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” as comparison. The quality of the Expendable 3 copy on bit torrent was very high!

    • jayman419 says:

      “Django Unchained” leaked as an Academy screener. It was a perfect and way early. It still opened to $30 million in heavy traffic on Christmas day on its way to bringing in $420+ million in box office.

  48. Muh says:

    I think people got taken by two lazy garbage movies and learned their lesson.

  49. Hhdjjdjx says:

    Maybe try making a movie that rates higher than 35 percent on RT. Try earning your money?

  50. Louise says:

    No, the movie was boring. I was falling asleep

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