‘The Expendables 3’ Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion

'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion

David Pierce’s "I torrented ‘The Expendables 3’ and I’m still going to see it in theaters," published at the Verge, is labeled an editorial, but it’s more like a cross between a breathless fanboy review and a starry-eyed techno-Utopian fantasy. Pierce doesn’t quite come out and say that he torrented a leaked copy of the movie, which isn’t due in theaters until August 15, but does say he watched it twice on his personal laptop and he’s "already counting down the days until I can see it in IMAX." 

It’s mindless, and I mean that in the best way: I could spoil every single second of the movie and it wouldn’t diminish its appeal in the slightest. The action starts early and never stops, allowing you to breathe only when Stallone makes a not-funny funny joke or Wesley Snipes makes creepy-crazy eyes. And the explosions — oh, the explosions! There’s a flying motorcycle and a pretty girl and a lot of guns and a bunch of tanks and a lot of abandoned buildings and basically every other thing a good action movie could have.

I’m fairly certain that most critics have torrented content at some point in their career; when a movie is out on Blu-ray overseas and you’re offered a low-quality screener defaced with anti-copyright watermarks to review, it’s practically dereliction of duty not to. (It bears pointing out that despite the increasing regularity with which distributors furnish critics with cumbersome, unreliable online screeners with "DO NOT COPY" permanently burned into the image, the leaked copy of ‘The Expendables 3’ is unblemished, and the movie hasn’t been shown to critics anywhere in the world.) But you cross a line when you start arguing that it’s not only permissible but harmless. When you start believing that the entities that hold the copyright might consider being grateful, you move into sheer self-justifying delusion. 

That’s what Pierce does when he argues that the online leak "might just be the best thing that ever happened to ‘The Expendables 3.’" 

The people who have downloaded a leaked torrent of the movie are, almost certainly, the series’ most fervent fans. They’re the ones most likely to go see it in theaters, the ones who turned the two previous films into a $600 million franchise. And sure, maybe some of them won’t pay $13 to see it again. But many of them will, because they’ll realize how much they missed the first time. Many of them will also spend the next three weeks telling everyone they know how awesome this movie is, how Rotten Tomatoes is full of it and that really "The Expendables 3" is two-plus hours of near-flawless action porn.

The sheer volume of baseless suppositions in that single paragraph — the "almost certainly"s and "Sure, maybe"s — gives you an idea of the extent to which Pierce is simply inventing facts to fit his predetermined rationale, which, given that the article appears on a site devoted to tech, unsurprisingly sums up as "Macho blockbusters want to be free." Given that, for those with high-speed internet connections and familiarity with the software, a torrent takes only a few seconds to set up and 15 minutes to fully download, there’s little evidence to suggest that "the series’ most fervent fans" are doing the bulk of the downloading: Letterboxd has over 60 reviews, none of them from professional critics, who would find themselves promptly disinvited from future Lionsgate screenings if they admitted to watching a torrented copy. The majority are three stars (out of five) or below, which makes it hard to imagine many members of this admittedly unscientific sub-sample telling their friends to rush out and see the movie in theaters. At best, they might tell them to torrent it.

In Pierce’s rationale — or, more to the point, rationalization — downloading the movie in advance is like peeking at a band’s setlist before the concert. The analogy that doesn’t hold up for as long as it takes to read that sentence, but it ties into a larger narrative in which "The Expendables 3" isn’t a movie but a show, "a band of legends getting back together for one more night to show that they’ve still got it." "It’s not something you’d want to watch on a 13.3-inch MacBook Air or even a 47-inch TV," he goes on. "You go see it live." (Never mind that Pierce did watch it on a laptop — twice.) "The Expendables 3," you see, "is meant not to be watched but to be experienced. As art becomes commoditized experience becomes the only thing worth paying for, and there’s evidence everywhere that we’ll pay for it when it’s worth it. We don’t want to pay for access, but we’ll gladly pay for experience."Of course, commodities are things you pay for. What Pierce really means by "commoditized" is "devalued," and what he means by that is that since ‘The Expendables 3’ isn’t worth anything in the first place, there’s nothing wrong with taking a copy for yourself.

"Experience" is indeed becoming the coin of the realm: Two years ago, trailers urged, "See It In IMAX"; now it’s "Experience the Power of IMAX," which sounds less like an advertising come-on than the patter of a third-tier Marvel villain. And when you’re paying for the experience — not out of curiosity or as a way of supporting an ecosystem that allows the creation of new work — it only makes sense to sample the product beforehand. But in so doing, you’re pushing cinema in a direction where every movie has to be a show: Either it’s big and loud enough to make you feel like you’re missing out by watching it (legally or illegally) at home or it might as well not show up to play. 

More to the point, enough with pretending that by torrenting movies, you’re helping to push the industry towards its own inevitable future, and that filmmakers and studios should consider being flattered by the attention. You wanted something and you took it: People have done a lot worse. But when someone smashes your car window, at least they don’t expect you to be glad you own a convertible.

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Tim C

I will see it and I will enjoy it because I grew up with these guys and I like movies where the good guys win. I'm not expecting it to win any awards, I'm expecting it to entertain me and none of these guys has let me down before.


it was indeed a brainless action 'movie' and unlike the author of the article , i dont mean it in a positive way. dont bother watching it you ll regret having wasted 2 hours of your life on it!


The way this movie leaked, I'm wondering why it wouldn't make studios nervous about putting hundreds of millions into one basket. It could be shape shifting reality check, how can you protect a $200. million dollar digital property that fits on a $2. flash drive?

FYI, The picture you used in this article is from Expendables 2.


I applaud the media for inadvertently calling attention that there is a torrent out there of this movie. You guys have failed to realize the implication of calling attention to the capability of downloading this movie and I find this to be quite hilarious. I'll see you guys at the movies!

Steven Wallace

Really? We're going to do an editorial about a person's editorial? An opinion of an opinion? This is the most ridiculous article I have read in months. Let's stick to facts and not opinions, please. The movie has yet to come out. Let's not spell doom and gloom already just because you don't agree with someone's opinion.


Got to love the internet. This is an article that is basically an opinion of an opinion. And now we're all expressing our opinions of the opinion of the opinion.


That last analogy needs work.


Piracy is a problem because Hollywood is greedy. Make the theatrical experience more economical. Piracy will NEVER go away, but it can be thwarted by being practical and not charge $30 dollars to see a 3D movie.


You make some good points but the question is – what do we do about it? Pierce isn't really talking about a techno-utopia, he's talking about a techno-inevitability as data becomes cheaper and the internet more accessible.

It's not Pierce's fault Ex 3 found its way online, and it's pointless to try and make a stand against pirating it even if you were inclined to do so. If it's there and it takes 10 minutes to download, you are never, ever going to stop those who want to from doing so. Piracy is as old as commerce itself and now that it's become easy to pirate movies, traditionally a tough thing to do with any sense of quality in the past, the question becomes how do we deal with it.

We all know piracy is wrong and most of us understand that pirating devalues a product and, increasing devaluation will start to affect the quality, consistency and supply of that product. But that's like saying we know there should be world peace or a more equal society – the true question is how we deal with it.

I would argue the opposite; piracy is not forcing every movie to be a show but instead hinting strongly that trying to make every movie into a show is and has been damaging Hollywood, and therefore is something they have to confront. To me, it seems it's usually the biggest "experiences" that suffer the most from piracy. Hollywood has tried to turn everything into a safe product line and it has had two profound effects on the industry: on the one hand it has made the system somewhat "safer" but, on the other, people simply attach less value to the products. Hollywood has tried gimmicks such as 3D and "event" elements to bring audiences in, and it has had some success, but the problem is none of it increases the perceived value of the product. The truth is, Hollywood tried to cookie-cutter a reliable franchise with the Expendables but it has also paid the price – by trying to appeal to everybody it ensures it ultimately resonates deeply with nobody. That's how I feel about virtually everything Hollywood makes these days – most of it is at least decent but virtually none of it is very good or better.

I'm not suggesting that the answer is simply to "improve" the product – piracy isn't an issue that will go away whatever you do, and of course making riskier and edgier films doesn't mean you'll necessarily attract more loyal audiences anyway. But Hollywood's business model is almost exclusively based around 12A/PG-13, ABC1 family audiences now. You will find little loyalty across such a big demographic, because you cannot create anything that will fit perfectly.

I have a feeling The Expendables 3 will probably be OK. Piracy isn't a good thing but neither is it the sword of Damocles for Hollywood. It does generate buzz and it doesn't necessarily erode audiences much more than it creates them. I think what Pierce is really saying is not so much it's great but – what ultimately are you going to do? Music suffered greatly because of digital and the rise of the internet, but it's an inevitability we must confront rather than simply preach ill of.

Hollywood has to look at different, more flexible business models, both in producing and selling movies. It has to foster smaller, more loyal audiences. It has to offer value in different ways and it has to find a way to live with piracy rather than toil with futility against it. It also has to recognise how its own endless desire to commodify movies has somewhat come back to bite it. Rather than shutting up shop and mercilessly hunting down the pirates and thieves it perceives is ruining everything, it should look to see if it can develop more intimate relationships with audiences who ultimately will part with cash if they can see the value in doing so. Let us not forget that most people simply believe films make a ton of money (and, let's also not forget, many still do).

I don't really "agree" with Pierce, but ultimately he sees where the future is inevitably going and is at least attempting to answer how Hollywood can still make money and give value. We're all going to need to be more constructive if major cinematic filmmaking is going to survive.


Pirating is not the same thing as stealing, so just know that when you use the car analogy, it makes it the least convincing argument in the world. No, I wouldn't steal a car. But I would copy one. This is the world we live in: Files are now infinitely able to be copied and shared. It's then unreasonable to expect everybody to pay for what is freely available; there are no gates to hold us back. And all your words are only that. Take Spotify. People are willing to pay for a platform, but not for one song alone. Because a single file doesn't mean anything. The rise of the digital nation has already arrived. You are denying what will never subside.

Emmanuel Báez

There are two sides to this story. Pierce belongs to group A, which thinks that torrent is the future. You belong to group B, which can't accept that this is the present. The only fact here is that Wolverine Origins was torrented a lot one moth before release, and it did very good in the worldwide box office, even tho it was a really dumb movie. Now think about that.


I agree 100% with the sentiment, Sam, and this is a well-written, informative, entertaining piece. But what frustrates me is the extra ink for a film that will be huge regardless. I love Sly and wish him well, but this movie has been running primetime ads since, it feels like, Christmas. The trailer ran before Expendables 2. They don't need your help, and you can't hurt them. Indie films, new voices, need help, especially from Indiewire. BEACH PILLOWS needs help. Not coddling, just attention. People seem excited and emotional about it; I'd just like more of them to know it exists. But whether it's my film or that of another independent artist, shine a light in the darkness. Good or bad, this one's already blinding.

Mark Gubarenko

1) Shaun Munro is a critic, and he have review on letterboxd.
2) Was it even planned in IMAX? Never heard of that.

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