'Wolverine' Leaked Online One Month Before Release

Will Unfinished Print on Web of Potential Summer Blockbuster Kill Buzz and Box Office?

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Internet pirates late Tuesday night got their claws into an early print of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," the upcoming Twentieth Century Fox movie adapted from the popular Marvel Comics character. Overnight, thanks to file-sharing technology such as Bit Torrent, the stolen print -- essentially a 90% finished version of the final movie -- had spread around the globe.

A pirated version of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' which opens May 1, has spread around the globe.
A pirated version of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' which opens May 1, has spread around the globe.
But the peril "Wolverine" now faces, according to Marvel Studio's recently departed worldwide head of marketing and distribution, Geoff Ammer, is not piracy -- it's marketing.

"If it's a good movie, it won't fucking matter. People will go see it," Mr. Ammer said. "But if it's a bad movie, it could have consequences. There's such a small universe of people that would go and download the movie. So if one fan boy hates the movie and then goes on every fan site, saying 'This is unreleasable, blah blah blah.' one person's opinion doesn't make a difference. But if a lot of fanboys download it and all concur, en masse, that's your downside."

Mr. Ammer, a marketing consultant to Hollywood studios, has substantial experience managing such fanboy ardor. Prior to Marvel, he was the former worldwide head of marketing at Columbia Pictures, where he was responsible for marketing Marvel Comic's "Spider-Man" and its sequel, and most recently oversaw the release of last summer's massive Marvel hit "Iron Man" while at Marvel Studios.

Fox, however, is not taking the wait-and-see attitude as Mr. Ammer for its film, which opens May 1.

In a statement to Ad Age by a Fox spokesman, the studio promised that the "source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

But Fox also did whatever it could to dissuade fan-boy curiosity from affecting word of mouth: Its statement on the theft was careful to point out that the "incomplete" version of "Wolverine" leaked online "was without many effects, had missing and unedited scenes and temporary sound and music." The studio went on to say it was "encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film."

Don Murphy, the producer of comic-book film adaptations such as "From Hell" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," both of which were released by Fox, called the leaked "Wolverine" print a "tempest in a teapot" adding, "If you want to see it like I do, you are gonna see it large in a theater with people. It's that kind of experience."

However, Mr. Murphy, who earns his living by also producing big blockbusters such as DreamWorks' "Transformers," quickly added: "That said, they should catch whoever is responsible and set an example that this is illegal and not OK. A lot of people worked really hard on the film only to have their work robbed from them like this."

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