Someone let "Wolverine" out of the gate too soon.
A full-length version of the movie "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman, appeared online Wednesday, a month before it is due in theaters.
"We immediately contacted the appropriate authorities and had it removed," 20th Century Fox, the film's distributor, said in a statement. But once a film hits peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, stamping out all clips and incarnations of it can be difficult. Analysts estimate that thousands of people may have already seen the movie, which officially opens in theaters May 1.
Fox said it plans to determine the source of the leak through forensic means. "The FBI and the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] also are actively investigating this crime. We are encouraged by the support of fan sites condemning this illegal posting," Fox said.
According to Fox, the leaked copy was missing many special effects and included temporary sound and music -- but that didn't stop many people from watching the film and reviewing it online. The blog In GOB We Trust panned the movie, saying it didn't live up to its comic book origins.
"I just am so disappointed with this movie," blog co-founder Chris Lemke wrote. "They seemed to have all the tools to make this work and instead decided to dumb it down and essentially make a cartoon. … After this one, I don't have much hope for the rest of the franchise. If you are set on watching this, good luck."
The leak of "Wolverine" is the latest instance of what's become a problem for the movie industry. In 2005, eight people were charged with copyright-infringement offenses related to the leaking of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith."
In 2003, Universal's "Hulk" emerged on the Internet two weeks before its theatrical release. The film still raked in $62 million in its opening weekend, but a week later its haul dwindled to $19 million. "Hulk" ended up being a financial failure, not grossing enough to cover its $137 million production budget -- though that may have been due more to a poor critic and audience reception rather than the Internet leak.
Considering "Hulk's" fate, if the "Wolverine" leak doesn't generate an onslaught of bad reviews like the one by Lemke, it stands to reason that the film will do just fine at the box office.
"In some ways, this is sort of like 'X-Men 4,' and when you get to the fourth installment of any series, you can have audience erosion," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "So this movie really needs to excite the fan base."
And if more fans than not are enticed by what they saw online, it's likely they'll line up to see "Wolverine" on the big screen.
"Fox wants to show off this film in its best possible light, and this takes away some of their ability to market the film effectively, but seeing it in its unfinished version may just whet the appetite for people to see it again on the big screen," said Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst for Hollywood.com. "People are still going to want to go and see this movie the way it was meant to be seen."