Sony Pictures on Wednesday scrapped plans for a Christmas Day release of its upcoming film "The Interview" following a new spat of threats from hackers. The move came after several major theater chains decided to not play the film, as the latest threats targeted the theaters.
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"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview', we have decided not to move forward with the planned Dec. 25 theatrical release," Sony said in a statement.
The studio expressed that it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie,” which caused “damage to our company,” and said that it stood firm by the film makers. The $42-million-controversial flick, starring Seth Rogan and James Franco, is a parody about two reporters recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The four theater chains that pulled the plug on “The Interview” -- Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Carmike Cinemas Inc. -- said the move was pending a federal investigation into the cyber-attack made against Sony, and the subsequent terrorist threats earlier this week, according to a report by Dow Jones. The chains together control more than 18,000 of the movie screens in North America. In addition to concerns about public safety, the threats stood to negatively impact ticket sales during the highly trafficked holiday season.
After the news broke, AMC Theatres said in a statement that it’s venues would also pull “The Interview,” citing the premiere’s cancellation and the cancellation of publicity appearances by the film’s leading talent, in addition to “the overall confusion and uncertainty that has been created in the marketplace."
Regal Entertainment said in a statement it was delaying the film’s opening due to “wavering support” and the “ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats.” Meanwhile on Wednesday, Canada’s largest movie chain Cineplex Entertainment LP also decided to postpone the opening.
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The FBI on Tuesday said it was looking into threats made online this week against theaters showing the film, that suggested Sept. 11-style attacks on those venues. On Tuesday night, the Department of Homeland Security downplayed the terrorist threat, saying it wasn’t credible.
The FBI is expected to make an announcement on Thursday regarding the probe, but late Wednesday night a law enforcement source told Fox News the FBI had linked North Korea to cyber-attack against Sony.
The hackers are believed to be the same ones who infiltrated Sony’s network last month, paralyzing computer systems and releasing a slew of never-before-seen movies, private documents and emails onto the Internet. Government and corporate investigators believe the attackers are associated with North Korea.
It is abnormal for theaters to cancel a movie release by a prominent studio a week out from its debut. Some industry experts are even hinting at Sony foregoing a theatrical debut all-together, and simply releasing the satirical film online via video-on-demand (for example, by sending it straight to Netflix (NFLX) or Amazon Prime (AMZN)).
A Sony spokesperson, however, negated that idea saying in a second statement Wednesday night the company had no plans to push out the film via video on-demand.
While it isn't clear what the next step is, Sony stressed that they "respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers."