Russians Reportedly Turn to Old Soviet-Era Tactics to Watch Western Movies

Russians Reportedly Turn to Old Soviet-Era Tactics to Watch Western Movies
Image: Gizmodo (Photo: Disney/Pixar)

If you thought the age of streaming services would put an end to people watching oddly formatted bootleg copies of the newest movie releases, then you’d probably be surprised to see what some Russians have been forced to do to watch Turning Red in theatres.

In what can best be described as a return to the old Soviet-style efforts to import western movies to the country, The New York Times is reporting that theatres are making use of bootlegs to show the latest hits on the big screen. Top Hollywood films have been appearing in Russian movie theatres despite major studio companies like Paramount, Disney, and Warner Bros. having pulled their movies out of Russia in protest of the ongoing carnage in Ukraine. Many Russians have not had access to at home movie streaming as well.

Still, Some individuals in Yekaterinburg are renting out spaces in movie theatres, then advertising on social media they were selling tickets to The Batman.

Other theatres are reportedly being much more overt about their pirated screenings. Theatres in various cities were showing the newest version of the dark knight, as well as Pixar’s Turning Red, Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, and the recently released Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

Of course, putting up bootleg digital copies of these films is both more sophisticated and easier than the days of Russians home-dubbing over VHS copies of movies and TV shows back before the transition from the USSR to the modern Russian Federation. Though in this case, there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of protest in the battle against censorship, especially since Russia’s leader Vladamir Putin threatened to snatch up assets of those companies who are protesting the ongoing war and loss of life.

The Times reported that, so far, the government has not cracked down on these illicit screenings, according to the underground theatre hosts reporters talked with. Still, that could of course change as sanctions against the country blows past their two-month anniversary.

The Russian Association of Theatre Owners has said there were 2,161 cinemas in Russia at the start of the year, and that by April 18 36% of those venues were closed. Theatres were apparently losing around 50% in both box office sales and viewers.

The association said they were rereleasing classic Russians films onto the big screen, and are also working to get Indian, South Korean and other foreign cinema up to replace the lost Hollywood favourites. The organisation reported those tactics wouldn’t make up more than 10% of lost revenue.

The Times reported that even those few who were going to see these bootleg movies are sitting in mostly-empty theatres as the ongoing conflict continues. There’s much less of an estimation of what’s happening for those Russians looking to watch streaming movies at home.

Normally, tech-savvy individuals would turn to VPNs to access content around censors, but the Russian government has been actively working to shut down VPN servers within the country. Wired reported that the Kremlin blocked 20 VPNs by the end of March, though the website Top10VPN shows that as of April 11, there are still several options for users looking to access foreign servers.

One of those still-accessible VPNs, Windscribe, shows that there are still three servers listed for Russia but they are not peer-to-peer, meaning that users can only access the country’s VPN servers through that singular connection point. The VPN provider even offered advice articles and discount codes for Russian and Ukrainian individuals. Company reps told Wired that there were issues paying the Russian hosting companies, and that Russian clients have struggled to pay them when services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Visa and Mastercard are no longer available in the country.


Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.