A group calling themselves Hive-CM8 has leaked screeners for four of this year's awards contenders online as a means of bringing the films to a wider audience. High-profile releases like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle are posting strong numbers at the box office over the holidays, but for many cinephiles, this time of year is also Oscar season. During the build-up to the Academy Awards, film buffs are always interested in catching the main players to stay up-to-date, but studios don't always make it easy for viewers to keep up.
The Oscars are known for nominating more smaller works than big studio fare (though there are always some exceptions), meaning more often than not, the Best Picture hopefuls are relegated to limited releases in a handful of major markets, sometimes never going nationwide during their commercial runs. This is frustrating for moviegoers intrigued by the buzz some projects are getting, and now there's a way (albeit illegally) to cross films off their "to watch" lists.
According to Deadline, Hive-CM8 has released pirated copies of four awards screeners online as a Christmas present for audiences. The rollout started on December 24 with Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying and continued later with I, Tonya, Call Me By Your Name, and Lady Bird. Interestingly enough, Hive-CM8 posted a message asking cinephiles to support these movies in theaters if they could, and that this event was for "people who can't visit the cinema due to illness, or because it is a limited release." In 2015, Hive-CM8 leaked Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight prior to its debut and was blamed for negatively impacting the Western's box office performance.
The films Hive-CM8 have leaked, most notably Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird, are in high demand this awards season after picking up several accolades from various organizations. Those two in particular are among the frontrunners and are considered shoo-ins for Best Picture. I, Tonya doesn't have that kind of buzz, but has received a plethora of nominations for Margot Robbie and Allison Janney's turns (including the Golden Globes). However, screenings of these are hard to come by. Of the quartet Hive-CM8 shared, Lady Bird had the largest distribution, playing in 1,557 theaters the week before The Last Jedi opened. It's now in just 372 locations. In comparison, Call Me By Your Name has peaked at 114 theaters, I, Tonya is playing in only 37 locations, and Last Flag Flying capped at 110. It remains to be seen if any go wide in the coming weeks, but odds are, none of these will be readily available until they reach home media.
Piracy, of course, is against the law, so this raises a moral quandary that's easily avoidable. A24 deserves credit for getting Lady Bird across the country, but for the most part, the studios have failed at distributing their top awards contenders (some of which have been generating hype since festivals in January). The onus is on them to find a solution so more people can see the films without having to delve into dubious methods. Lately, there have been attempts to institute a system where movies are put on-demand a couple weeks after their theatrical premiere, and that model would benefit the indie dramas yearning for Oscar gold. As acclaimed as Lady Bird and I, Tonya are, they have niche appeal and can't contend with Star Wars or Marvel at the box office, but VOD is where they could thrive. Hopefully this is no longer an issue one day.