This week Neil Calloway looks at the most pirated films of 2014…
It may have not won any Oscars, but this week The Wolf of Wall Street was given a more dubious honour; it was the most pirated movie of 2014.
According to reports, it was illegally downloaded 30 million times. The Wolf of Wall Street didn’t do too badly at the box office, making about $400 million, but let’s say half of those that pirated it paid to see it. At $10, that’s an extra $150 million. So what, you might say. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are rich, they aren’t going to miss that extra money, are they? 12 Years a Slave was downloaded more than 23 million times, again if half of those had paid to see it, it would have taken its box office to more than $200 million. If everyone who illegally downloaded the film had only paid a dollar for it, it would have made its budget back alone. Steve McQueen’s slavery drama was also the most downloaded film in the UK, with 2.98 million people watching it. That’s right, almost three million Brits read all the positive reviews, saw the awards it was (rightly) showered with, heard part of the inspirational true story and thought “Oh, that looks good, I’ll watch it. But I won’t give the makers any money for it.”
Following Taylor Swift’s decision to remove her music from Spotify (which resulted in her album 1989 becoming the bestselling album of 2014 in the US, despite only being released at the end of October), Dave Grohl said musicians should give away their music. “Given them your music, and then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show.” Even though I don’t remember all those Nirvana reissues being given away for free, there is a logic to Grohl’s statement, but there is no equivalent in the film industry. If your product is not somehow paid for, there aren’t many other revenue streams for you to enjoy (for some reason, Hasbro never came out with 12 Years a Slave action figures).
The problem is that we’re now used to getting our entertainment, or news, for free. This in itself leads to issues. You have to pay for the Washington Post, but Woodward and Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal. You don’t have to pay for viral content websites, and now you 16 Celeb Eyebrow Fails We Could All Learn From In 2015. You had to pay to see films in 1978, and we got The Deer Hunter. You get for films for free now, and you get a sequel to a reboot of a comic book movie. Just as if you don’t vote, you cannot complain about our politicians, you cannot complain about Hollywood making bad films if you will not pay for what you do want to watch.
How many times have you, during a slow afternoon at work, had a conversation with a colleague when they said they went to Chiltern Firehouse last night and it was very good? You say “Isn’t that expensive?” and they tell you “Oh, I left without paying.” Probably never, but I’d bet you’ve had a conversation where a colleague tells you they’ve seen a film, and you say “oh, I didn’t think that was out yet” and they reply “oh, I watched a dodgy download of it.” Now, what’s the difference between running off without paying for a meal, and downloading a film illegally? Nothing. Let’s not call it piracy, which sounds slightly glamorous. Let’s call it handling stolen goods, or just plain stealing. People have put their life’s work into that film you’re watching, and by stealing it you are treating them with nothing but contempt. If you download films illegally, I have the same contempt for you that you have for the film-makers.
We’re now consumers, rather than participants; we used to go and watch our local football teams play, now we sit passively and watch La Liga at home. Cinema audiences do participate, too. Watching The Social Network, there is a scene where a character says people don’t walk around with a sign on them that says whether they are single or not. There is a beat as a brainwave hits Mark Zuckerberg, and a whisper went around the audience I saw it with as they clicked as to what the brainwave was. In 2014, Gone Girl was improved by seeing it with an audience who gasped at a couple of scenes. I would not have got that if I had sat at home and watched the films on my laptop. Like live football, great cinematic experiences are memorable. Watching films at home isn’t. If you pay for films, you get a better experience, and you end up with better films.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.