Two days after Disney/Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” premiered overseas, the superhero tentpole has been widely pirated — with copies popping up like weeds on multiple torrent and illegal streaming sites.
While Disney can’t be happy about that, the piracy activity so far hasn’t derailed “Endgame’s” trajectory of having the biggest movie opening ever. And it’s also possible that many of the digital pirates accessing the illegal copies will wind up seeing it in theaters.
The three-hour movie has already raked in $305 million in its first two days of global release in 46 markets, led by a record-breaking $154 million take in China. After a boffo $60 million in Thursday previews, “Avengers: Endgame” is slated to hit theaters widely in North America Friday with a projected opening-weekend box office of around $300 million — which would top “Avengers: Infinity War,” the prequel that garnered $257.7 million in the first three days of its release in April 2018.
It’s very difficult to quantify the impact of pre-release piracy for movie like “Avengers: Endgame,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. The question is what portion of those people who streamed or downloaded illegal copies of the movie would not have paid anything at all — and how many will go see it in the theater anyway.
“I’d postulate ‘Endgame’ has a higher degree of immunity than most films [to piracy] because it’s a movie that demands to be experienced on the big screen with an audience,” Robbins said.
Disney’s global release strategy for “Endgame” — virtually day-and-date around the world — is designed to limit the appeal of pirated versions. But within hours of its debut in China, a low-quality video-cammed version of “Avengers: Endgame” was already in circulation on piracy networks. Since then, higher-quality copies have popped up. On one popular file-sharing site Friday, at least 13 different copies of “Avengers: Endgame” were being shared among more than 35,000 users.
The piracy of “Avengers: Endgame” has “become an issue, but certainly not a crisis, with films debuting internationally ahead of domestic [release],” said Jeff Bock, analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Disney, like every other studio, is obviously concerned, but with [‘Avengers: Endgame’] turning box office records into dust, I’m sure they’ll take it in relative stride.”
Bock added, “If it had become wholly out of control, we probably wouldn’t see overseas audiences getting releases ahead of North American moviegoers.”
The “decidedly nonevent nature” of the movie’s pirated copies will likely have a negligible effect on the box-office bottom line, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The film is already breaking global records left and right and the true fans will not want to see this film on the small screen until its legitimate home-video release,” he said.
However, some industry observers believe piracy undoubtedly works to depress box office to some extent, and perhaps even more so cut into sales and rentals in the home-video window. “The huge proliferation of movie copies available on easily find-able and well-curated pirate services will have a direct impact on revenue,” said Simon Williamson, chief commercial officer of Friend MTS, a provider of anti-piracy services.
The battle against piracy continues to be a “cultural issue that needs to be addressed,” Williamson continued, “to help people understand that piracy is theft and it financially impacts everyone who works in the industry.”
Ultimately, most pirated copies of a movies “are nearly unwatchable,” Bock said. “Those that can afford to attend movies will likely seek out ‘Endgame’ in theaters to enjoy the complete experience.”
Disney has not responded to requests for comment on the movie’s piracy.
Interest in pirated versions of “Avengers: Endgame” has soared in the last three days, with Google searches for “avengers endgame torrent” peaking at around 5 a.m. ET on April 26, according to stats from the internet company. Google reports search trends over a period of time weighted on a 1-100 scale:
Meanwhile, last week a spoiler-rich video clip, subtitled in Arabic, hit internet sites, according to reports.
The movie, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, stars an ensemble cast reprising their Marvel character roles: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin. “Avengers: Infinity War,” which also was directed by the Russo Brothers, grossed $2 billion at the box office worldwide.