Is Piracy Responsible For The Failings Of Expendables 3?


Prior to its cinematic release, The Expendables 3 was discovered to have been leaked online. The high quality screener copy of the film was quickly snapped up by hungry pirates all over the world, ready for their fix of blood, violence and quippy one-liners. Lionsgate, the distribution company, immediately reacted by demanding sites be taken down and the torrent removed. But, as with all things on the internet, once it is online it is staying there and the screener is still available to many internationally.

Huge torrent sites, such as Kick Ass, have removed the film entirely from their sites fearing more vigorous attacks from Lionsgate through the courts. The company has seen the film underachieve at the box office, and the current consensus is that this is due to piracy. The matter of financial gain versus quality art is more apparent than ever in the modern industry, and regardless of personal feelings towards the act of piracy it is becoming a more and more heavily debated social topic. Are the pirates ruining the film industry? Or is the greed of the Hollywood system destroying film? All films require profit to be a success in the eyes of the production company, and many of the lower budget films released do not have the financial backing to stand up to the economic consequences of piracy. The Expendables 3 may be a big budget, Hollywood picture filled to the rafters with A-Listers, but that does not mean piracy will not negatively effect the future of the much loved action franchise. Further, if Lionsgate, who have the financial means to attack the sites, and are able to do so, then legally they are within their right. More so, being more powerful in terms of financial backing they have a responsibility to do so to protect themselves and smaller budget films and companies. But is piracy to blame for a fall in the film’s box office success? Or is piracy merely a scapegoat for the failings of a bad movie? Our critics review is available to read here.

The difference in box office opening weekend takings for the trilogy is rather startling. The first film took nearly $35million dollars in America alone. The second instalment however took only $28million, a fall of roughly $7m, 20% less than its predecessor. The third, rumoured to be the final film of the franchise, took just under $16m, sending Lionsgate on their piracy witch-hunt. With the third film taking less than half what the first took in the opening weekend it is deemed as a box office flop, so far. A staggering 60% lower opening domestic weekend take is a sharp decline, and there must be a reason for it, with piracy being an easy target. Surprisingly the overall gross for the second movie was $305m, beating its predecessor by around $30m, despite its slower start.

The first film led the box office charts on its opening, beating fellow new releases Eat Pray Love and Scott Pilgrim. It held its own against Christopher Nolan’s Inception (in its 5th week) and Adam McKay’s The Other Guys (in its 2nd week). The first film was the only all out action movie out at the time, and offered cinema-goers blasts from the past with Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke uniting on screen with the modern action heroes such as Statham, Courture and Stone Cold Steve Austin interesting the younger generation. It went up against a very niche adaptation, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, but had little competition in its own genre. The second film also rocketed to the top of the weekend charts on its release, but had no real rival whatsoever. Expendables 2 debuted against the likes of Sparkle and Para-Norman. The Dark Knight Rises was in its 5th week, and the terrible Bourne Legacy entered its second. Once more, the Stallone lead ensemble had little competition. The third film however has genuine box office rivals, firstly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in its second week. The Michael Bay produced movie has accrued far more internet attention than Expendables 3 and has received far better reviews so far. The third film is the only of the trilogy to go up against a Marvel summer release, in Guardians of the Galaxy in its third week, with its popularity is ever growing. The one embarrassment Expendables 3 suffers is losing out to fellow debutant Let’s Be Cops, who Lionsgate clearly assumed would offer little competition to its trilogy ending picture. The fall in box office receipts could simply be due to fiercer competition.

None of the three films have exactly been adored by critics, and were never likely to be so. The entire trilogy is escapist cinema at its best, pure spectacle from the mega star cameo laden cast to the huge explosions and gratuitous violence. The first was engaging, the second more humorous and fan loved due to awesome one-liners from stars like Arnie and Bruce Willis. The“I’ll be back” (Arnie) to which Willis retorts “You’ve been back enough, I’ll be back” scene will go down as one of the coolest scenes in cinema history among action junkies. The third film lacks this fan engaging banter taken from the stars earlier films, at times taking itself a little too seriously. The trilogy puts spectacle above story, and as such the three films are held together by stars as opposed to characters with no overarching narrative to follow, unlike trilogies such as The Dark Knight. There is simply very little pull to watch the film when new, exciting and more narrative lead films are available that offer equal levels of action.

For the Expendables franchise to thrive it must keep its fans attention, without the ease of a narrative that demands resolution there is now little to entice fans into the film. The joy and nostalgia of the first two is now spent. The wonderful one liners inspired by other films already used, and the novelty is now fading fast. People who flooded to see the first two have had their fill, and happy to watch the latest film on blu-ray, Netflix or even TV when it is released. The urgency to rush out to watch Stallone and Schwarzenegger on screen together is gone, fans have already seen it. Without Bruce Willis the film’s appeal takes a massive hit, replaced with Harrison Ford who is not the box office megastar he once was. Casting Mel Gibson, as inspired as it is, is also a dangerous move as his reputation has plummeted over the last decade. While Wesley Snipes, fresh out of prison and seemingly Hollywood exodus for failing to pay his taxes while millions across the world struggle to keep a roof over their families heads also stars. Expendables 3 simply does not have the same amount of attraction as the first two, and its new additions are not exactly popular right now. The question is, do the majority of cinema goers want to line the pockets of stars like Snipes and Gibson? From the box office figures at this time, it would appear not. The morality of piracy is equalled by the questions posed of the Hollywood star system. Many may feel that lining the pockets of a man believed to be a racist, woman beating adulterer to be equally evil as “stealing” a film by downloading it. Maybe Lionsgate should look at its own moral failings on society and the glorification of such actors as opposed to condemning the less fortunate who downloaded a film they were never going to be able to afford to see. Regardless of any of their own potential failings morally, Lionsgate are the victims of piracy, some consider theft.

Piracy may have had an effect on the film’s success, but when looking at it from all sides it is near impossible to accurately estimate the damage done until the film’s final gross is revealed. It is also near impossible to solely blame piracy when the films biggest pulls are stars who currently have such terrible reputations. With Lionsgate infuriated by the leaked film, and holding piracy responsible for the films financial failings it begs the question, do big production companies believe that the average movie goer is devoid of any moralistic objection to watching a film starring the likes of Snipes and Gibson? It appears that piracy is a more acceptable reason for failure than the production company looking at its own failings, but surely the experts involved with the production and marketing of the film recognised the potential dangers of the films castings.

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