The Interview, the raucous comedy that became the center of a dispute over cybersecurity between the United States and North Korea, will be released in a small number of theaters on Christmas Day after all, Sony Pictures said Tuesday. The development gave new life to a film that Sony had pulled from distribution last week, after hackers threatened violence against any theater that played it.
Sony also left open the door to video-on-demand availability of the movie, either simultaneously with its debut in theaters, or nearly so. In announcing the new plan Tuesday, Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures’ chairman, said his studio was continuing efforts "to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience."
"Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!" Seth Rogen, who co-directed, co-wrote and co-stars in The Interview, wrote on Twitter.
A comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong Un, The Interview was withdrawn by Sony last week after theater chains refused to play it in the face of a terror threat. Though Sony was privately searching for new outlets, the aborted release led to a chorus of protests, as irate Hollywood stars, free-speech advocates and even President Barack Obama complained that Sony had capitulated to extortionist demands to cancel the release.
On Friday, hours after the FBI identified North Korea as "centrally involved" in a cyberattack of Sony and the subsequent terror threat, Obama elevated the issue from a serious industry problem to one involving national security and artistic expression. "We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," Obama told reporters.
Following Obama’s rebuke, Sony stepped up its campaign to secure a release. Lynton, who had already been searching for alternatives, insisted to CNN and NPR last Friday that the studio had not caved and that it was scrambling to find new distribution. David Boies, a Sony lawyer, delivered the same message on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Over the last day, Sony reached out again to the big multiplex operators asking whether they would rebook the film, according to people briefed on the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because negotiations were continuing.
Sony on Tuesday had so far patched together release of The Interview in about 200 smaller theaters, including the Plaza in Atlanta and roughly 20 venues operated by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a chain based in Texas. Some theaters reported near-instant sellouts for Thursday screenings. Still, a run of that size would be largely symbolic in financial terms for Sony, which spent $44 million to make the film and had planned to release it on more than 2,000 North American screens.
It appeared unlikely on Tuesday that major exhibitors would come back on board, as security concerns were compounded by anger over Sony’s handling of The Interview. North America’s four largest chains – Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike – either declined to comment or did not respond to queries.
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