Mike just recently did a post on the horrible effects of piracy on Hollywood box office results from last year, which can be summarized as “holy shit, look at all the money!” That post took a macro look at the year Hollywood had at the box office, in which revenue and individual ticket sales were both up, despite the fact that piracy exists. Still, the post warned of one potential rebuttal some might make: yeah, but Star Wars.
And it’s true that such a high level look at the numbers would need to account for the smash hits released and gobbled up by the public. Still, such examples seem to indicate that the public is willing to fork over dollars if demands are met, but there are micro-examples of this as well. Take, for instance, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s latest film. You may recall that the film suffered a leak prior to its release, making it widely available on the internet for anyone who wished to engage in a little piracy. It was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, leading some to worry that its availability to would hamper its success at the box office. That’s when one writer, with impeccable intelligence and an un-matched sexual charisma, wrote:
Pay close attention to how Hateful Eight does at the box office, because it’s almost certain to be a smash hit, even as it competes with a certain film franchise from a long time ago and far, far away. And that really is the point. Even as media reports will breathlessly detail the pirating of the film, even as we’ll be told about street corners in China where copies of the film are offered, and even as the download numbers of the film will soar, the film will do well.
So, how did it all work out for The Hateful Eight? It was, as predicted, a hit. As in a record-breaking hit. Specifically, the 70mm version, something requiring special equipment that is unavailable to most pirates, helped propel the success.
The 70mm version of the film, which has been showing in the largest 70mm release in more than 20 years, had a strong opening-weekend debut, earning $4.6 million at 100 venues in 44 U.S. markets. After its first two weeks, its 70mm engagements have grossed $11.2 million for a $112,000 per theater average for the first 12 days.
The neo-Western expanded to a total of 2,474 engagements at the beginning of its second weekend on Jan. 1, and its combined 70mm and digital showings have grossed a domestic total of $33.8 million to date.
All of that for a film which was leaked early and available for pirating. So, why the success? Well, the obvious answer is the 70mm gimmick, which those pirating the film couldn’t enjoy. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story, because $34 million gross early in a film’s release, especially when competing with Star Wars, is quite a thing. The real reason for this is the combination of Tarantino building up a loyal fanbase that wants to support his work coupled with the theater experience that is still immensely important to many viewers. Going to the theater is an event that cannot be replicated in the home for many movie-goers, no matter how good home theater technology gets.
So, if this demonstrates that piracy doesn’t really translate into lost ticket sales in the theater, as I believe it does, then this all returns us to the question of why Hollywood wants to spend so much monetary and emotional capital fighting a fight that might not really matter?