What the most pirated movies of 2013 can teach us about the film industry

Torrent Freak's annual list of the year's most stolen movies was topped by a film that came out in 2012

The Hobbit
(Image credit: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=459910884044522&amp;set=a.459910684044542.96733.160617097307237&amp;type=3&amp;theater">(Facebook/The Hobbit)</a><a></a>)

As we reflect back on 2013's cinematic landscape, there's one offbeat top ten list that's always worth considering: TorrentFreak's annual list of the top ten most pirated movies of the year, which offers a fascinating microcosm of the movies people want to steal (and, perhaps, the kind of people that are stealing them).

What do the year's most pirated movies say about the state of the industry? These are the lessons we can pull from 2013's list:

1. Widespread piracy doesn't mean a movie can't be successful at the box-office

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Almost every movie on the "most pirated" list was a major box-office success. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — which topped the list despite hitting theaters in 2012 — grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Into Darkness ranked among the highest-grossing movies of the year. Even Gangster Squad, the lowest-grossing movie on the list, managed to gross $105 million worldwide on a $60 million budget.

The bottom line: Widespread piracy doesn't mean that a movie won't succeed — but making a successful movie does mean that more people will pirate it.

2. Legal streaming may still trump piracy — but only to a point

It's worth noting that not one of the 10 most pirated movies from 2013 has ever been available on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or a comparable subscription-based streaming service. Despite the handkerchief-wringing fears of some prognosticators, it's clear that many people are willing to pay for a legal, convenient way to stream videos.

But that willingness only goes so far. Most of the movies on the list are available as legal streaming downloads from Amazon and iTunes — but only at purchase prices that range from $9.99 to $19.99, which is just as expensive as going to a theater or buying a DVD.

3. Movie pirates have different tastes than mainstream audiences

Popular box-offices successes like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness landed on the most pirated list, but five of 2013's highest-grossing movies don't appear on Torrent Freak's list at all. Most notably, that list includes movies like Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, and Frozen, which means that most parents aren't torrenting movies for their kids to watch.

TorrentFreak doesn't provide demographics data, but it is perhaps no coincidence that the vast majority of the movies on the most-pirated list (and on previous year's lists) were directly targeted at young men. (The MPAA once commissioned a study that found a full 44 percent of pirated movies were downloaded by college students — particularly men aged 16 to 24.) For what it's worth, that also carries over to the five most pirated TV shows in 2013: Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, and Dexter.

4. The theater experience still matters

TorrentFreak's list may trend toward big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, but there are are a few other movies that are notably absent from the most pirated list. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned mammoth ticket presales from hardcore fans of the franchise, and went on to become the year's second-highest grossing movie, but it doesn't appear on the list at all. Also noteworthy? The absence of Gravity, which was widely touted as a movie that needed to be experienced in both IMAX and 3D. Despite movie piracy, Hollywood earned more money from box-office sales in 2013 than any other year in history. The theatrical experience isn't going anywhere — and if you give an audience a specific reason to trek out to theaters, they're far more likely to do it.

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Scott Meslow

Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com. He has written about film and television at publications including The Atlantic, POLITICO Magazine, and Vulture.