Piracy in the pandemic

The pandemic may have stopped many from going to the cinema, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t watch films in 2020. Whether through streaming services like Netflix or old-fashioned TV channels and DVDs, there are still many ways to enjoy films at home.

And, of course, there’s always piracy.

According to London-based company Muso, which tracks copyright infringement in 196 countries, visits to sites hosting pirated streams of films increased as much as 90% in some countries during the first few months of the pandemic. The company provided Rest of World with its list of the top 50 foreign films accessed via illegal streaming sites from January to October last year.

Predictably, many of the films are from the last two years. One notable exception? “The Flu,” a 2013 film about a lethal, airborne virus that infects a South Korean city. But which films made the top ten?

Attraction 2: Invasion

From: Russia
Genre: Horror
Release date: 12/19/2019

An ordinary girl becomes the object of study after she gains superpowers from exposure to extraterrestrial technology in this film from Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk. 

“Invasion” picks up where the 2017 film “Attraction” left off, after an alien ship has crash-landed in a Russian city. Exposed to alien technology, Julia is brought into a secret government lab to be studied. After gaining superpowers that threaten not only humans but also extraterrestrial life, Julia has to decide which side she is on. 

Though the film has not been widely reviewed in Western media outlets, the entertainment website Eclectic Pop noted that “the sequel avoids the mind-numbing quality of its genre peers to provide something captivating,” providing a worthy sequel to its predecessor. The film grossed $15.9 million worldwide.

Baaghi 3

From: India
Genre: Action
Release date: 3/6/2020

In this 2020 Indian action thriller directed by Ahmed Khan, the third in a series of loosely related films, a man with chiseled abs saves his elder brother from Syrian terrorists. 

Ronnie’s rescue mission is a display of punches, explosions, and acrobatics, often shown in slow motion, “but none of it can rise beyond a weak script that doesn’t go for the kill,” the Times of India wrote. Ronnie, played by Indian actor Tiger Shroff, beats up men, cars, tanks, and helicopters, mostly shirtless. “He bounces off buildings, treads on air; delivers triple roundhouse kicks and does devastating stuff with his hands and feet,” the Hindustan Times wrote

While the film attempts to reach beyond Bollywood cliches, one trope remains: demonizing Muslims as villains. The film grossed $16.7 million worldwide. 


From: Russia
Genre: Drama
Release date: 9/10/2020

Two Russian cosmonauts return to Earth from a research mission in 1983, but their spacecraft malfunctions on the way home. Only one crew member, Konstantin Sergeyevich, survives. But he is not alone. Konstantin’s body houses a slimy, spindly creature that is dormant during the day, in his stomach. At night, it climbs out of his body in search of human flesh. 

Reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz says a “very Russian vibe of soulful heaviness” sets the film apart. Rather than give up his dream of space travel, Konstantin, whose spouse passed away before the journey, put his son in an orphanage. When he returns to Earth, Konstantin must confront his responsibility. Though “Sputnik” is about an alien, it focuses heavily on humans: how and where our weak points are, how we can be manipulated, and how our biology can fail us. 

Released in the middle of a pandemic, “Sputnik” grossed $307,062 at the box office worldwide and was shown as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

One Piece: Stampede

From: Japan
Genre: Animation
Release date: 8/9/2019

It’s probably no surprise that this anime film is on the list, as it’s based on one of the most popular Japanese manga series of all time: “One Piece,” by Eiichiro Oda. It is the 14th film in the franchise. 

Pirates from around the world gather at a festival where they race to an island containing the legendary lost treasure of Gol D. Roger, king of the pirates. The race quickly unravels into fantasy violence, which the Los Angeles Times called “nonstop mayhem” — explosions, fistfights, earthquakes, and naval bombardments dart across the screen with colorful special effects. 

Luffy, the protagonist of the series, teams up with his crew, the Straw Hat Pirates. They face off against Bullet, who hopes to make his name as the strongest pirate, the new king, and someone who relies on only himself. Luffy, like all good role models, values friendship and teamwork. The film grossed $81.6 million worldwide. 

Son of a Rich 

From: Russia
Genre: Comedy
Release date: 11/24/2019

Here’s a comedic plot for the ages: an oligarch’s pampered son is tricked into believing that he has traveled through time to become a serf in a 19th-century village, in a bid to rehabilitate his appalling behavior. 

Grigory’s family is so wealthy, he believes that he is above the law. He parties hard, gets into trouble, and scoffs in the face of authority. One day, he goes too far — and so his father, as one does, buys a large tract of land and hires a group of actors to create a 19th-century village. His son gets into an orchestrated fake car accident and wakes up in the village, believing that he’s traveled back through time. Watched by a network of hidden cameras (and a team of psychologists), the oligarch watches his son discard his privileged ways and learn the value of hard work.

Clearly, this relatable tale of redemption struck a chord with people: the Russian comedy directed by Klim Shipenko grossed $43.8 million and was one of the most pirated films of the year.

Recep İvedik 6

From: Turkey
Genre: Comedy
Release date: 11/7/2019

Recep, a man with a unibrow and a penchant for slapping people in the face, has misadventures in Kenya, in this Turkish slapstick comedy, directed by Togan Gökbakar. 

Recep İvedik is at home watching television, when the mailman delivers him an invitation to a dried beans festival in Turkey’s Konya province. But instead of getting plane tickets to Konya, Recep and his best friend Nurullah end up on a flight to Kenya. 

Recep and Nurullah join a safari tour. A series of escalating comical escapades ensue, with everything from close encounters with the local wildlife to mediating a dispute between two tribes. The film grossed $17 million worldwide. 


From: South Korea
Genre: Thriller
Release date: 7/15/2020

The 2016 zombie thriller “Train to Busan” was met with universal critical acclaim and became one of the films that marked South Korea’s rise as a cinematic power. Peninsula, however, is another example of a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original.

“A sequel was inevitable, and despite some truly white-knuckle car chases and creative lighting, Peninsula, like many films that jump on the surprise hit bandwagon, proves lightning in a bottle happens only once,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote. 

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, “Peninsula” shows people trying to escape the zombie-ridden South Korea of the first film. Captain Jung-Seok is unable to get his entire family out safely and, four years later, goes back to the country from the safe harbor of Hong Kong, to attempt to recover $20 million from a food truck. The captain dodges flesh-hungry zombies in their quest to find the money. Peninsula grossed $39.7 million worldwide. 

Miracle in Cell No. 7 

From: Turkey
Genre: Drama
Release date: 10/10/2019

This Turkish drama, directed by Mehmet Ada Öztekin, is a remake of the 2013 South Korean film of the same name. The story focuses on Memo, a disabled father, and his seven-year-old daughter, Ova. At the film’s outset, Memo and Ova live with her grandmother, Fatma Ana, in a small Aegean town. 

Memo, who works as a shepherd, is sentenced to death after being accused of murdering the garrison commander’s young daughter. He is sent to cell number 7, where he awaits his execution. The prisoners realize that Memo could not have committed the crime. Back home, Fatma Ana passes away. Ova, now alone, sets out on a quest to be reunited with her father. 

“Miracle in Cell No. 7” was chosen as Turkey’s Oscar nominee for the 93rd Academy Awards and was the most-watched film in the country in 2019. By the end of the film, viewers are forced to reckon internally with their own perceptions of good and evil — and to take a long look at abuses of power and flaws within the justice system. The film grossed $17.2 million at the box office worldwide.

Ip Man 4: The Finale

From: Hong Kong
Genre: Action
Release date: 12/19/2019

The final film in the saga of Bruce Lee’s martial arts master, “Ip Man 4” turns the lens on racism in the United States. In the film, which grossed $176 million worldwide, fight scenes are used as a way to turn foreigners’ biases against them.

Mostly set in 1964 San Francisco, the film pits karate against kung fu — in the forms of a racist marine and Ip Man, a master of the Wing Chun school of the Chinese martial art, played again by Donnie Yen.

Yuen Woo-Ping, whose resume includes work on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Matrix” films, stages fights that The New York Times deemed “thrilling” and full of “fluttering limbs in action.” 

Its imagery is “bathed in a mid-century wash that makes the film look like it came from an ad in Life magazine,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote. The film’s signature scene involves a teacup, a revolving circular glass table, and two people who won’t back down. 


From: South Korea
Genre: Thriller
Release date: 5/30/2019

The most pirated film last year shouldn’t be a surprise: as the first foreign-language film to win the Academy Award for best picture, it’s none other than “Parasite.” 

This South Korean black comedy and thriller, directed by Bong Joon-ho, interrogates the gap between the rich and the poor with the quality of a haunted house story. Parasite earned $258 million at the box office worldwide and received four Oscars in total. 

The film is centered on the homes of the Park family, which is fabulously wealthy, and the Kim family, which is poor. One by one, the Kims begin to infiltrate the Park household, working as an English tutor, an art therapist, a driver, and a housekeeper. Each family member pretends to be someone they aren’t. The film is an extended commentary on social class disparities and greed. 

“We don’t have any villains in Parasite, but in the end, with all these misunderstandings, they end up hurting each other,” Bong Joon-ho told The Atlantic.