Pirates Have Taken Over One of Disney’s Biggest Properties

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Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) with Cinderella Castle (L) and Disney+ menu (R)

The Walt Disney Company owns and operates many brands, franchises, and properties throughout the world. They are known for theme parks, classic Walt Disney Animation Studios movies, Mickey Mouse, pop culture phenomenons like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in recent years, the rapidly-growing Disney+ streaming platform.

But others want a piece of the pie, and they will even break the law to get it.

Bob Iger interviewed by ABC
Credit: ABC News

Over the last few years, Disney has, like many other businesses, adapted to a fast-changing environment. With physical experiences like theme park vacations and moviegoing completely shifting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rise in streaming services, corporations like The Walt Disney Company cannot just rely on old methods to secure and retain audiences.

Back in 2019, Disney launched the Disney+ streaming service. The streamer, which began with a handful of Originals like The Mandalorian and a significant portion of the Mouse House’s existing catalog, has since grown its content output exponentially with multiple new Original programmings like WandaVision and Loki from Marvel Studios, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Star Wars: Andor from Lucasfilm, not to mention Disney’s own projects like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

Disney officials presenting Disney Plus
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney+ Blasted By Parents Group, “What Comes Next? Live Stripteases in Fantasyland?”

In 2021, Disney+ also enacted an additional paywall called Disney Premier Access which allowed subscribers to buy a rental for a new movie to watch in the comfort of their own home instead of at the movie theater. While the function was successful in the way it gave audiences who weren’t ready to return to movie theaters, or preferred the accessibility of home-viewing an opportunity to catch the latest release, it seemingly affected a film’s overall performance globally and thus was made obsolete — the Scarlett Johansson Black Widow (2021) lawsuit being a pertinent example.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in 'Black Widow' on Disney+
Credit: Marvel Studios

Disney+’s last reported subscriber count was over 164 million, with the total subscribers for Disney’s streaming offerings (Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu) topping 221 million, surpassing streaming giant Netflix as the most subscribed service in the world. However, it’s not all sunshine and daisies as Disney+, according to the latest numbers from CFO Christine McCarthy, is still not profitable and won’t be until around the end of fiscal 2024. That trajectory did not change when current (and returning) CEO Bob Iger delivered his first Earnings Call since his shocking comeback in November 2022.

Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu logos
Credit: Disney

Has piracy hit Disney+?

But, for all the effort media corporations go to get movie and television shows in front of audiences, it isn’t enough to keep piracy at bay, and pirates have taken on Disney+, reaping it for all its worth.

Per new reports from Variety, whose findings come from an investigation by Muso showed that superhero content, at least in the cinema space, accounted for almost 70% of illegal pirating last year through illicit streaming and downloads, among other methods. The top 10 most pirated movies of 2022 were, Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), The Batman (2022), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), Black Adam (2022), Uncharted (2022), Eternals (2021), Top Gun: Maverick (2022), Jurassic World Dominion (2022), and Encanto (2021).

Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'
Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures

As Variety points out, the lack of a high-quality on-demand release for something like Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick is likely why this box-office giant is further down the list than movies like Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder whose streaming release windows were significantly shorter per Disney’s own theatrical-release rule.

Then over on the TV side of things, while Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things topped the Nielsen streaming charts, the 80s supernatural drama did not make the top 10 most pirated list, somewhat surprisingly. It would be HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, that would take first place as the most pirated TV show of 2022. Also on the list were things like Chainsaw Man, Rick and Morty, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and Marvel’s Moon Knight.

Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant/Marc Spector/ Moon Knight in Disney+'s 'Moon Knight'
Credit: Marvel Studios

Related: DC Star Reportedly Removed From Entire Franchise

Surprisingly, it is only Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight that made the top 10 most pirated shows despite Marvel having a plethora of other content like WandaVision, Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law — the latter two releasing in 2022 just like Moon Knight.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) could become one of the most pirated films of 2023 after its recent streaming release.

What superhero movies are coming out in 2023?

Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'
Credit: Marvel Studios

So when it may seem that viewership is down in legitimate figures, chances are that piracy is afoot and that illegal downloads and streaming are contributing to its lower-than-expected audience. As superhero content looks set to make an even bigger smash in 2023 with the likes of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), The Marvels (2023), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023), Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), and The Flash (2023), the most pirated films of 2023 may already be easy to call.

Do you think pirates will continue to snap up superhero movies? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below! 

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