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Rival Studios Urge Theaters to Drop Sony's "The Interview" Over Terror Threat

Carmike Cinemas has already dropped the film. Who's next?

Sony Pictures

The Sony Pictures Entertainment comedy at the center of a devastating cyber attack is facing another obstacle: Rival studios.

Sony spoke by phone with exhibitors Tuesday to inform them the studio will proceed with plans to distribute “The Interview,” but said it would not make an issue of theater owners elected not to show it. Meanwhile, some major Hollywood studios are maneuvering behind the scenes to elbow the R-rated comedy out of theaters, according to people familiar with the situation. Memories of the 2012 shooting in Aurora, CO at a late night screening of Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” still haunt Hollywood.

The other studios are concerned that hackers’ threats might cause audiences to stay home during the Christmas break, a time when moviegoers typically flock to theaters, the sources said.

“The holiday movie season which runs from roughly the weekend before Thanksgiving through New Years accounts for roughly 20 percent of the total year box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Rentrak. “So it’s a very important moviegoing period second only to the summer season.”

Theater owners themselves are re-evaluating whether to screen the Seth Rogen/James Franco film “The Interview” in the wake of hackers’ threat Tuesday to commit acts of violence at cinemas showing the movie.

The Landmark Theater in New York canceled Thursday’s premiere, and Carmike Cinemas became the first major chain to drop the film, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The upscale ArcLight Cinemas followed suit, Deadline reported.

Theaters in Detroit, Baltimore and Cincinnati have canceled promotional screenings planned for Wednesday evening.

The Department of Homeland Security said there was no “credible intelligence” of a plot against movie theaters in the U.S.

The competition for screen time during the holidays is always fierce. This year is no exception as the third installment of Warner Bros.’ billion-dollar fantasy series “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” vies for ticket sales with Disney’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale musical “Into the Woods” and Oscar hopefuls such as “Unbroken,” director Angelina Jolie’s biopic of World War II survivor and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini.

Theater owners, who have supported Sony Pictures’ decision not to capitulate to cyber criminals’ demands to withdraw the film, are re-assessing the situation, say people close to the situation.

Exhibitors are weighing whether the potential risks to its employees and the general public — no matter how remote — are worth the potential rewards of screening a comedy about an assassination plot on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Representatives of Sony Pictures and for Rogen, one of the film’s writers and directors, did not respond to requests for comment about its distribution plans for “The Interview.”

Hackers’ assault on Sony Pictures first came to light Nov. 24 when unknown attackers crippled its internal corporate network. Within days, attention focused on a possible connection to North Korea. The country has denounced “The Interview,” calling it an “act of war.” North Korea has officially denied a hand in the attack but has applauded the attackers, calling their efforts “a righteous deed.”

Story updated at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to reflect three additional theaters canceling a promotional screening of “The Interview.”

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