According to reports by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, 20th Century Fox is claiming that between four and 4.5 million Internet users have downloaded an illegal workprint copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine since it was uploaded to the Internet on April 1. This is revised upwards from prior estimates placing the number of downloads somewhere in the vicinity of a million.
The degree to which this has affected the box-office take, if at all, has been the subject of some debate, with Fox apparently implying to Variety that the impact could be as high as $20 million. That seems high, since it presupposes that virtually everyone who downloaded it would have seen the film at full price in the theater, but bad word-of-mouth among fans who had seen the film shouldn’t be completely discounted either.
The film opened at more than $158 million globally–making it the biggest opening of 2009–and was the worldwide #1 movie of the week in spite of the Swine Flu outbreak causing Fox to delay the film’s opening in Mexico. The Variety story notes, though, the film underperformed in certain foreign markets where piracy is rampant, including Korea and Germany, which may lend credibility (considering its strong performance elsewhere overseas) to the notion that pirate copies of the film’s workprint did slow ticket sales at least in some parts of the world.
On a related note, while stories popped up all over the Internet this morning announcing the a sequel was in active development at Fox, cult ABC comedy Scrubs made what is likely to be its final joke at the expense of X-Men Origins: Wolverine star Hugh Jackman tonight, citing him as one of the many things in the universe that Dr. Perry Cox (played by Office Space‘s John C. McGinley) doesn’t care about. Throughout the eight seasons of the show, McGinley’s character has consistently insulted Jackman. Tonight’s episode, originally written as a series finale, has been re-billed as a “season” finale as ABC explores the possibility of a ninth season of the show.