"American Gangster," the true story of former New York City drug kingpin Frank Lucas, may have topped the weekend box office take, reeling in $46.1 million.
But that's only the official tally.
Unofficially, the movie that has generated Oscar buzz for stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, both of whom already have Academy Awards, may have taken in tens of millions more.
That's because movie pirates have flooded the underground DVD market with so many copies of "American Gangster" that many folks had already seen the film before its theater debut.
"You don't understand," wrote one blogger in an online discussion among film buffs who are trying to figure out how such a pristine copy of the film hit the Internet and the streets some two weeks before it opened in theaters.
"The 'knockoff' was an exact DVD copy [with] 5.0 Digital sound and perfect picture. This wasn't a copy [by] some dude in a theater with a Samsung Digicam."
Not only was "American Gangster" available on DVD for $5 in such bootleg capitals as Los Angeles and New York, it also was being sold in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Savannah, Ga., Houston and everywhere in between.
Universal Pictures, which made the film for an estimated $100 million, has refused to comment about the proliferation of bootleg copies.
It's the latest in a growing problem that the Motion Picture Association of America estimates costs U.S. motion picture studios more than $6 billion a year.
A 2005 study found that the United States accounted for only a fifth of the lost sales, with the bulk -- 80 percent -- occurring overseas, where bootleg copies are rampant.
Of the bootlegged copies, the study said $3.8 billion -- 62 percent -- was the result of pirated DVDs, while $2.3 billion -- 38 percent -- was the result of Internet piracy. At 90 percent, China had the highest piracy rate -- nine of every 10 potential dollars were lost to viewings of illegal copies -- followed by Russia and Thailand at 79 percent.
China, in particular, has come under fire for movie and music piracy that executives say costs their industries billions, prompting the United States and other countries to seek to negotiate an agreement aimed at curbing the counterfeiting of consumer goods around the world.
"We have some significant challenges ahead," MPAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Glickman said in a keynote address last week to the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia. "There is no question the evolution of the on-demand world and the new and enhanced power of consumer choice is impacting the habits and preferences of the audiences we serve."
His organization, and the Recording Industry Association of America, have been fighting back. Last year, they launched a holiday campaign in 11 states including Pennsylvania to dissuade the public from buying illegal DVDs and CDs as holiday gifts.
But the piracy continues. While the quality of the "American Gangster" bootleg DVD has set the bar high in terms of illegally copied films, it's not the first film to hit the streets before the theaters this year. "Hostel II" and "Ratatouille" also were available on DVD before their release dates.
Typically, bootlegged copies of films are available about 24 hours after debuting in theaters. But often they are not of the greatest quality and are obtained by video pirates sneaking camcorders into the theaters, which is illegal in 39 states including Pennsylvania.
A first offense in Pennsylvania is considered a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than five years and/or a fine of $10,000, according to the MPAA. New York City, which this year established a separate law from New York state, is much more lenient. A first offense there is a misdemeanor with up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.
Piraters also can be snagged under "True Name and Address" statutes, enacted in 45 states, which make it illegal to rent or sell prerecorded movies for home use without including the true name and address of the manufacturer.