There are many ways to measure the success of a movie – box office returns, critical reception, Twitter buzz, little gold statues. But what about illegal downloads? It's not as outlandish an idea as it sounds. Millions of people around the globe use BitTorrent file-sharing services to access their favorite movies, television shows, and music. By taking stock of all that (very illicit) activity, we might get another window into a movie's audience.
Enter TorrentFreak, a blog that monitors and reports on file-sharing activity. Last night, on the eve of the Academy Awards ceremony, the team at TorrentFreak organized the Best Picture nominees according to the number of BitTorrent downloads. The results are illuminating. For instance, if you watched the Oscars, you know that "Hurt Locker" was the grand prize winner, snatching up prizes for Best Picture and Best Director.
You also probably know that "Avatar," a favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, is the highest-grossing movie of all time. One might assume that "Avatar" would also be the most popular among illegal downloaders. Not so. According to TorrentFreak, the sci-fi flick "District 9" saw upwards of 12,600,000 downloads in 2009, compared to 11,326,000 for "Avatar," and somewhere near 8 million for "Hurt Locker."
Here's the full list, with download stats, courtesy of TorrentFreak:
1. District 9 – 12,639,000
2. Avatar – 11,326,000
3. The Hurt Locker – 7,930,000
4. Up – 5,437,000
5. Inglourious Basterds – 5,376,000
6. Precious – 4,922,000
7. Up In The Air – 4,855,000
8. A Serious Man – 3,836,000
9. The Blind Side – 1,845,000
10. An Education – 683,000
One simple explanation for the performance of "Avatar" is that James Cameron's movie was meant to be seen in 3-D, with 3-D glasses, amid a crowd of fellow movie-goers. And it's pretty hard to watch "Avatar" in 3-D from your laptop. Here's another possibility: "District 9" was the quintessential word-of-mouth flick. It was made relatively cheaply, and it took off slowly. It didn't have the same market penetration as "Avatar."
So users simply found it on the Web instead.
Standard disclaimer: We don't endorse illegal file-sharing activity. Never have, never will. But we will endorse your opinion. So let us know what you think. We're on Twitter and Facebook, or you can drop us a line in the comments section.