Despite the popularity of Russia-themed movie blockbusters these days, filmmakers are reportedly reluctant to depict the country's president, Vladimir Putin, over fears that his so-called "patriotic hackers" could take revenge by launching cyberattacks in retaliation.
That's according to the Hollywood Reporter, which this week revealed how multiple in-production feature films with source material containing the controversial ex-KGB leader had dropped his inclusion in the movie versions as it may be considered provocative.
One movie, Red Sparrow featuring Jennifer Lawrence, is about a Russian intelligence officer who is assigned to seduce a rookie CIA agent. Despite Putin playing a role in the book it's based on – by former CIA spy Jason Matthews – he was discarded in the movie from Chernin Entertainment.
Insiders told the Hollywood Reporter that the exclusion was simply "creative choices" by studio heads, but the outlet teased that another reason could be to assuage any potential anger from hackers unhappy at Putin's on-screen portrayal.
Another movie cited as removing Putin from the big screen is titled Kursk, which tells the story of the sinking of a Russian submarine back in the year 2000. Again, the country's president was briefly featured in both the source material and early screenplays yet was later dropped.
"For a studio to release a movie about Putin that makes him look like a fool would be suicide," Ajay Arora, CEO of security firm Vera, told Hollywood Reporter. "That's a certain way to be targeted [for retaliation]," he added.
Not everyone agrees with the suggestion movie studios fear the Russian president. In response to the Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair published an article hitting back at the publication for overplaying how much Putin was initially included in the respective source material.
A source told Vanity Fair that, in the case of Kursk, the script was altered back in March to focus attention on the heroes of the story rather than confuse matters with political officials. At the time, the Hollywood Reporter again claimed the decision may have been hacking-related.
The movie industry was previously targeted by alleged nation state hackers back in 2014, when Sony Pictures fell victim to a massive cyberattack which compromised personal company information, internal emails, salary records and even copies of unreleased films.
But most recently, Russia has taken centre stage when it comes to the threat of criminal hacking. The US government and its intelligence agencies believe that Putin may have played a key role in the cyberattacks on political groups during the 2016 US presidential election.
The Russian president has never admitted involvement, but said that "patriotic hackers" may have taken it upon themselves to attack. "If they [hackers] are patriotic, they contribute in a way they think is right, to fight against those who say bad things about Russia," he said in June 2017.