In today’s digital world, leaks are prevalent. However, this streaming culture has also made it less important to consume movies and TV shows the day they’re released. It stands to reason that the people who were going to go see a movie in theaters are doing it for the experience, and they’ll likely do that regardless of whether a film leaks online. On that note, those who choose to download that early release would likely have done so at a later date anyway. So does a leak really hurt the success of a movie, or does it simply create extra buzz around the title?
As with most case studies, the outcome varies based on a variety of factors: How anticipated the movie is, if it has awards potential, if it’s a sequel or part of a franchise, if it’s a blockbuster or an indie darling. The following are very much films that had at least a moderate amount of hype surrounding them, and many still came out on top of the box office.
Let’s take a look at 15 Movies That Leaked Before They Were Released.
This is one of the most unique tales of leaked movie footage — but considering the source material, who would expect anything less? Deadpool was a long time coming: After Ryan Reynolds portrayed (a hated version of) the role in Wolverine’s first solo flick, fan voices became louder than ever: Where’s Deadpool’s movie?
As we all know now, it was stuck in development hell — the script was ready, director Tim Miller was on board, and Reynolds was raring to go… but Fox wouldn’t greenlight it. That is, until test footage was infamously leaked during San Diego Comic Con in 2014.
Normally, someone might have been axed for this, but looking a bit deeper, the timing seems too good to be coincidental. The Merc with the Mouth himself agrees — though no one has come forward and confessed, the leak was purposeful. Whatever the reason, Fox jumped on board at the fans’ positive reactions to the footage, and the rest is history. Deadpool just loves a happy ending.
Speaking of superheroes, another Marvel favorite made it out in front of audience eyes earlier than expected, though with a much less satisfying outcome. Before Mark Ruffalo, before Iron Man and Jon Favreau, and even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, there was Ang Lee’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana in the title role. After his smashing success on TV, Universal decided to take a chance on Bruce Banner, and began developing the property an entire decade before it would see the big screen.
That’s right — it took almost 10 years of writes, rewrites, hiring, firing, and rehiring before the script was finished and in Lee’s hands. And then, after what Bana called an “intensely draining” production experience, parts of the film were leaked just before the release date. While it’s hard to say whether or not this had an effect on the box office numbers, the movie performed poorly, the proposed sequels were canceled, and it was somehow decided that the first rule of Hulk
fight fan club was not talking about Hulk — that is, until Edward Norton came along.
13. American Gangster
Here’s some math for you: What does a script based on a true story, plus huge names in the lead roles, to the power of director Ridley Scott equal? High anticipation, for sure — and some Oscar buzz. That was the case with 2007’s American Gangster, which was adapted from an article about Frank Lucas, a former heroin dealer who claimed that he smuggled product into the country in the coffins of dead American soldiers returned to the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
Starring Denzel Washington as Lucas, a screener leaked online a couple of weeks before the film’s release date. This had little, if any, impact on the financial success of the flick, which brought in $266.5 million. American Gangster went on to score two Academy Award nominations, and critical reception was good all around. As for who leaked the screener? We’ll likely never know, but they probably at least got a slap on the wrist for it.
12. Super 8
Even before he took on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams was known for his sci-fi chops. Outside of the popular Star Trek franchise, Abrams wrote and directed Super 8, a thriller about a group of nerdy boys who team up with a girl to learn more about the bizarre creature that’s terrorizing their town — and yes, it clearly shares a lot of the same influence as Stranger Things. (Spielberg did co-produce, after all.)
With solid box office success and critical praise, Super 8, while perhaps slightly hindered by its puzzling marketing campaign, managed to do quite well. This is no thanks to Howard Stern… wait, what? That’s right, the self-described “King of All Media” had a screener of the flick, and guess whose name was watermarked on a bootlegged copy that was circulating the ‘net? Not so shockingly, nothing came of this — Paramount didn’t come after Stern or anyone from his show, and other than a true-to-form rant from the man in question, that was the end of that.
Choosing to remake a classic is often a risky move. It takes a balance of paying homage to the original, while simultaneously creating something fresh and genuine-feeling. When Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, announced it was adapting the musical Annie, it stressed that it would be very much the same story, but with a modern twist and updated versions of the classic songs (arranged by Jay-Z).
Despite big names in the starring roles — Jamie Foxx was cast as Will Stacks, the new Daddy Warbucks character, and Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s newly-minted Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis played Annie — most were hesitant to get on board with the remake, and those who were interested were mostly young children and their parents. So when the Sony Pictures leak happened, Annie’s inclusion wasn’t heavily discussed, even though it was three weeks away from hitting U.S. theaters. After all, the studio knew that families don’t fit the usual profile when it comes torrent sites. Besides, following its release, the film was generally panned by critics, sealing its fate.
10. The Revenant
Now (unofficially) known as “the movie where Leo grunts a lot but finally gets his Oscar,” The Revenant garnered critical attention before the first teaser trailer was even put out. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu fresh off his Oscar trifecta victory for Birdman, the film tells the semi-autobiographical story of Hugh Glass, a 19th century fur tradesman who is abandoned after his cohorts believed he was killed by a bear. He then attempts to make it through the wilderness alone.
A screener for Academy Award consideration was leaked on December 20, 2015, just a few days before the film’s limited Christmas Day release. Along with The Peanuts Movie, this leak was traced to a man named Kyle Moriarty from Lancaster, CA. But The Revenant prevailed: It did very well in both national and international box offices, Iñárritu scored the Best Director prize at the Oscars for the second year in a row, and the internet exploded with joy as Leonardo DiCaprio got to give the speech we’ve been waiting for since (at least) Catch Me If You Can.
It often seems that anytime Hollywood can show the allies bringing down Hitler, they leap at the chance. And who can blame them? After all, he was the big bad of the early-mid 20th century. As a project, Fury was a good fit for action writer-director David Ayer, who set out to tell a nuanced, realistic story about soldiers in WWII — and he definitely succeeded.
Though it didn’t make the same impact as Ayer’s latest flick, Suicide Squad, Fury did very well at the box office. However, the studio believed it could have been an even bigger hit, had it not been a victim of the “Guardians of Peace” hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. And while that may very well be true, the film fared far better than any of the others that were released that day. Apparently, a lot of people still prefer to see Brad Pitt’s abs on a giant screen.
Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell teamed up for a third time on the biopic Joy, about the woman who invented, among other things, the Miracle Mop. While there was a lot of early hype surrounding the flick, it received middling reviews, earning a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, once someone becomes an Academy darling, they rarely leave the nest, and JLaw was once again nominated for her role in a Russell production.
Another Christmas Day flick, Joy was one of films released at the same time as The Revenant, but was attributed to Hive-CM8, a piracy group that threatened to release more titles before backtracking and apologizing (more on that later). Joy‘s box office numbers were pretty good, but not quite at the level of many other Oscar vehicles. That being said, there were likely a myriad of other factors as to why it didn’t perform as well as expected, not the least of which being Jennifer Lawrence-Bradley Cooper fatigue, an ailment that first hit those of us bored to tears by American Hustle, and has since spread.
7. The Hurt Locker
Foreign releases can be a tricky thing. Take The Hurt Locker, for example. The war film about a bomb disposal squad in Iraq made Kathryn Bigelow the first female director to win both the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars — not just together, but individually as well. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2008, but didn’t make it to the States until the following year, so it was honored at the 2010 Academy Awards
Likely due to the overseas release, a pirated version of the film leaked five months prior to its U.S. premiere. However, unlike many of the movies on this list, The Hurt Locker‘s box office numbers were impacted. Making only $48 million worldwide, the flick was also one of the top 10 most pirated in 2010. Legal action was pursued, but most of the cases were eventually dropped. Illegal downloading services and those who use them have struggled more in recent years though, so perhaps there was a bit of a win in there for The Hurt Locker after all.
6. Zero Dark Thirty
Poor Kathryn Bigelow — another powerful Oscar-contender, another leak. Zero Dark Thirty followed Maya, a CIA Analyst, as she worked to hunt down Osama bin Laden in the years following 9/11, all the way up to his (spoiler alert) eventual capture in 2011. Tackling such a heavy issue that occurred over a long period of time is a feat in and of itself. It must have been even more difficult considering the script was originally based around an earlier, unsuccessful raid in attempt to capture bin Laden, but was completely retooled and turned around in less than two years after the news broke of his death. The film went on to collect five Oscar nominations and four Golden Globe ones, and was number one at the box office the weekend of its wide release.
A clear pattern has emerged here. As with many other years, shortly before awards season begins, a slew of titles that have garnered early buzz somehow make their way onto a torrent site. In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained were among the jilted, with critic’s screeners to blame. Does anyone else smell a conspiracy?
5. Still Alice
Another victim of the Sony Pictures leak was Still Alice, an indie with award show buzz that premiered at TIFF two years ago. Starring Julianne Moore, the drama follows the titular character through her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s and the progression of the disease, as well as how it affects her family and those around her. The film was critically well-received, specifically Moore’s performance, which earned her the Best Actress Oscar at the 2015 Academy Awards in addition to Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Critic’s Choice awards in the same category.
On November 27, 2014, the anticipated film, along with a number of others on this list, was leaked on to the internet, about a week before its general U.S. release. Though it wasn’t hit hard monetarily speaking, Still Alice didn’t manage to crack the top 10 at the box office until months after it first landed in theaters, following Moore’s Oscar win.
4. The Expendables 3
When a film leaks online early, especially a high quality copy, it will likely always have some impact. But when it’s a big budget sequel, that’s bound to hurt. As the third installment in the Sylvester Stallone-helmed franchise, The Expendables 3, was the first to have a PG-13 rating, and the violence was toned down a bit. While this, paired with the fact that the same formula tends to get old to audiences, may have hurt the box office numbers, another major reason was the film’s leak, which occurred almost a month prior to its in-theaters release.
Distributor Lionsgate filed a lawsuit, and at least five file sharing sites were contacted about the leak. However, as with most piracy cases, little came of this action. When it comes down to it, critical reception was mediocre at best and, while the movie may have lost some money due to the leak, the real damage was done by the product itself.
3. The Hateful Eight
While January seems to be the most popular time for screeners to leak, December is also a dangerous one for the most anticipated of flicks. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, had a limited Christmas Day release last year — but many got to see it for free online at least a few days early.
This title was just the most notable of the many leaked, with the other movies in question, including Straight Outta Compton and Creed, at least meeting the same fate post-release. This was all part of the aforementioned Hive-CM8 leak, and while the group released many movies in a short time period, they later appealed to the masses with a public statement, part of which was an apology specifically mentioning The Hateful Eight. In the end, while the film may not have fared as well as some of Tarantino’s past efforts, it probably wasn’t hurt too badly by the leak.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Despite being one of the top 10 highest grossing movie franchises ever, the X-Men film series has made a few missteps. However, none hits fanboy buttons quite like X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Meant to be the first in a series of X-Men prequels, everything about the project was wrought with conflict, from filming schedules to the script’s late completion to studio-director tension. This alone is enough to make someone not sign on for more.
But what took the cake for this particular feature was something else entirely. More than a month out from its U.S. release date, a supposedly unfinished version of the film was leaked online. Evidence appeared to link the copy in question to a special effects house in Australia that worked on various scenes, but the FBI eventually traced and charged a New York City resident, Gilberto Sanchez, with the actual upload. Not that it hurt Fox in the end — the flick brought in $158.1 million on its opening day worldwide. Considering that kind of dough, even the leak partnered with lack of critical praise seems to have barely touched the franchise.
1. Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith
Heading back to the mid-aughts, the third and final installment of the Star Wars prequels, Revenge of the Sith, is widely thought to be the shining star of the controversial trio. It attempts (and mostly manages) to connect the story to that of the original films, and ties up a number of loose ends. Its critical and box office success, as well as a few choice lines of dialogue, will likely always be what it’s remembered for.
However, scandal often sticks. Just hours before the film’s U.S. and U.K. releases — while many were likely already standing in line — a workprint was uploaded to the internet, and downloaded at least 16,000 times. Due to the high-profile nature of the flick, an investigation began, and the U.S. Attorney’s office determined that the copy was stolen by an employee at a post-production facility, and eventually ended up in the hands of Huntingdon Beach resident Marc Hoaglin, who was responsible for sharing it illegally. Hoaglin pled guilty, and faced up to three years in prison. Oh, the things nerds will do to get their Star Wars!