50 Days On: How Much Damage Did The Wolverine Leak Do?

It's now 50 days since X-Men Origins: Wolverine was release. So just how much damage did that online leak do?

There’s not a blockbuster this summer that had such a troubled journey to the screen as Fox’s prequel movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The production itself was, if you believe the rumours, a very troubled one, with the studio at loggerheads with its director, Gavin Hood. Some suggested that it was only the intervention of Hugh Jackman that kept Hood in the director’s chair, but that’s been strenuously denied by all involved.

But then there was the leak. A month before the film was due to be released, a DVD-quality workprint of the film leaked onto the Internet. It was lacking special effects shots, and Fox was insistent that it didn’t include reshoot material from earlier in the year.

But then it emerged that it was indeed the full, final cut of the film, albeit lacking those final special effects. Nonetheless, this was unprecedented, as never before had such a major blockbuster found its way online. In fact, last summer, Warner Bros was adamant that the opening grosses for The Dark Knight were so high because it so actively policed camera-shot versions of the film heading online on its first weekend. How would Fox’s tentpole blockbuster movie for the summer fare then, given that pretty much the entire film was already out there?


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The general feeling heading into the film’s release was that it would have to do well to match the opening weekend for X-Men: The Last Stand, which shot out of the gate with $102m. Tempered expectations suggested something in the region of $70-80m would be about right, given that origin stories play harder to devout fans of a franchise, rather than to a broad, mainstream audience. That said, the star power of Jackman and the popularity of the Wolverine character clearly gave Fox some heavy ammunition.

When the final numbers came in for Wolverine‘s opening, Fox must surely, therefore, have been delighted. It brought in a first weekend of $85m, a number that makes it – right up until the release of the incoming Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (which will knock it out of the proverbial park) – the biggest opening of the year. Bigger than Star Trek. Bigger than Angels & Demons. Bigger than Terminator, Watchmen, Up, Fast & Furious and Night At The Museum 2, too.

The general rule at this point is that once a film has had its opening weekend, then it’s down to the quality of the picture itself to help it keep its legs in the weeks that follow, as well as, clearly, the strength of the competition. On both counts, though, Wolverine had problems.

The film itself was generating middling reviews at best, with some wondering where the sheer sense of fun of the earlier X-Men movies had gone. The Wolverine character was suddenly in a bad mood for pretty much the entire movie, and while the film boasts some impressive sequences, it’s a surprisingly downbeat blockbuster. That’s going to have hurt word of mouth, and inevitably, the film’s second weekend.

But the bigger problem, arguably, was the film that was incoming at the same time. A week after Wolverine debuted, Star Trek blasted onto cinema screens, accompanied by some of the strongest reviews of the year so far. Playing to much of the same core audience, and yet generating word of mouth that helped it spread out fully into the mainstream market, Star Trek quickly knocked Wolverine into orbit, and perhaps did it more damage than any web leak could have done.

Wolverine‘s second weekend take was down a heavier than usual 69% at $26m, but the $75m taken by Star Trek undoubtedly landed a hefty blow. By contrast, Star Trek – whose total gross has easily eclipsed Wolverine‘s – had a clearer path. Angels & Demons followed the week after it, which was never going to derail JJ Abrams’ juggernaut, and that meant that the biggest threat Trek faced was Terminator: Salvation. But that’s a film that proved to have problems of its own in finding a big audience.

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Wolverine, at the time of writing, has found its way to a total gross of $176m since it was released, a sum that puts it ahead of the first X-Men movie, but behind – by some distance – films two and three in the franchise (it was, it should be noted, some $60m cheaper to actually produce than X-Men: The Last Stand, primarily, you’d imagine, down to star salary savings). It’s also, until Transformers arrives, the fourth biggest film of the year, although we’d wager that The Hangover will be overtaking it. Nonetheless, hits such as Fast & Furious, Angels & Demons, Night At The Museum 2 and sleeper hit of the year, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, are some way behind Wolverine‘s numbers.

And that, given all the factors concerned, must be a bit of a result for Fox. There’s also a by-product of the film’s decent success, in that a spin-off Deadpool movie, starring Ryan Reynolds, has gone into production.

So did the leak ultimately hurt Wolverine? It’s hard to conclude that it has done so far, although Fox will no doubt be watching the DVD and Blu-ray numbers closely. The $176m take, bolstered by roughly the same amount overseas, has given Fox the springboard for a Wolverine 2, and you’d have to suggest is a respectable amount to bring in.

Given, particularly, that the film was hardly your usual crowd-pleasing blockbuster (for all the brickbats aimed at The Last Stand, it did give the mainstream audience some big sequences, and had a lot more star power), and given that reviews were in a number of cases weaker than for the third film, the film actually arguably exceeded expectations. What’s more, had Star Trek not arrived a week later, you just wonder if $200m may have been within its grasp.

All of this won’t, of course, stop the finger pointing and accusations that at some point will surface surrounding the leak. But the truth here is that Fox got a result, and it very probably knows it.

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One thing is for certain, though: if and when Wolverine 2 happens, any workprint is going to be guarded as if people’s lives depended on it…