A new move by Russian theater owners could legalize piracy of Avatar: The Way of Water, as the film is days away from premiering elsewhere across the world.
Avatar 2 marks the release of a sequel more than a decade in the making. With the film, director James Cameron will attempt to follow up on his 2009 epic, Avatar, a movie that became the biggest box office hit of all time.
And The Way of Water is looking like it is going to live up to the hype of the first film. Critics seem to love the sequel thus far, with some calling it "mind-blowing."
However, one country that will not be able to enjoy the Titanic director's latest sci-fi odyssey is Russia. As the country remains the aggressor in the unfortunate Ukraine/Russia conflict, Disney has decided to pull the film from distribution in the European nation.
But that seemingly will not stop Russian audiences from seeing Avatar 2, as the act of pirating the film may be legalized amongst theater owners in the country.
The Unofficial Russian Avatar 2 Release
The outlet reported that the Russian Association of Theater Owners (ABK) is ready to legalize the distribution of the film, despite the Avatar sequel being held back from an official release in the country.
This act would go directly against the copyright of rightsholder, 20th Century Films, but Russian theaters are expecting illegitimate prints of the movie to be making the rounds in time for The Way of Water's December 16 release date.
The pirated copies of Avatar 2 are likely to cost theater owners a pretty penny, with rips of the film costing anywhere from RUB 50 thousand (USD $790) to RUB 1 million rubles (USD $15,820), depending on the quality.
Some theaters on the lower end will show in-theater camcorder recordings from elsewhere in the world, while others will shell out for near-flawless prints of the movie that look straight from Disney.
A number of Russian filmmakers are seemingly against the idea of Avatar: The Way of Water coming to the country, as they hope to catch as much of the box office draw over the holiday season with their own domestic fare instead of international works that aren't even legally allowed to show there, to begin with. This could cause the illegal release of the film to be pushed a number of weeks when the Russian release calendar is a little less crowded.
This mass-pirating effort could potentially cost theater owners thousands of dollars in fines, however. Even though the Russian government does not regulate what movies are shown in cinemas, the local Ministry of Culture does require what is known in Russia as a PU (Distribution Certificate) for new releases, something theater chains can no longer do for foreign films as all Moscow-based arms of the major studios shut down operation earlier this year.
The Association of Cinema Owners in Russia is attempting to push through a system that would allow them to acquire PUs without the Hollywood go-ahead, which would lead to them being able to show pirated copies of films legally on their screens.
Will Avatar 2 Ultimately Come to Russia?
At this point, it seems like Russian theaters are more than willing to do just about anything to get James Cameron's latest blockbuster on their screens. If that means pushing the release date into the new year, incurring fines, or showing a copy filmed by someone elsewhere in the world, they will do that.
It is fascinating to see just how hard they are pushing to play pirated material for Russian audiences. But from a business standpoint, it actually makes sense.
Avatar was/is the biggest movie of all time, and it was no slouch in Russia itself. The first film made just over $120,000,000 at the Russian box office back in 2009, making it the most successful film of the year in the country.
And now, 13 years later, there is physically no legitimate way for Russia to see James Cameron's follow-up.
As war rages on in Ukraine, and the rest of the world cuts ties with Russia, one of the side effects includes none of Hollywood's biggest and brightest playing on Russian screens.
Because of this Russian theaters have been forced to play pirated copies of a number of films including Pixar's Lightyear, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and more.
This isn't something theater owners have any control of. They have no say over their nation's military operations. They just want to be able to make enough money to stay afloat, and something like Avatar could help buoy them in a continually uncertain fiscal and geopolitical time for the European nation.
So, if they have to resort to piracy, that is pretty well the only option they have.
Avatar: The Way of Water releases on December 16 stateside, with no official release for Russia.