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Sony won't release The Interview Christmas Day after all

Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Cindy Ord/Getty Images
  1. According to CNN and Variety, Sony has pulled its planned Christmas Day release of The Interview. It has no plans to release the film at all, even on DVD or VOD.
  2. Sony's decision came after AMC became the latest theater chain to pull The Interview showings, and urged Sony to delay the film's release, slated for Christmas Day. That followed similar decisions from Carmike Cinemas and Bow Tie Cinemas.
  3. Regal Cinemas, the largest theater chain in the country, has yet to officially pull the film but said it would delay its release indefinitely in the chain's theaters.
  4. The studio said yesterday it "would not object" to theater owners pulling showings of the film, which have been the subject of terrorist threats, connected to the recent hack of the company.
  5. Though The Interview involves the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it is still impossible to verify if North Korea was involved in the hack or threats.

Why Sony pulled The Interview

Sony has pulled the Christmas Day release of The Interview. Said the company in a statement:

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 December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale - all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

The news was first reported in a tweet by CNN's Pamela Brown.

Variety later confirmed that Sony has no plans to release The Interview at all.

This happened after many theater chains, including AMC and Regal, opted to pull The Interview from their screens or delay its Christmas Day release. That this happened just eight days before the film was to open in the United States is unprecedented. The first chains to pull the film were Carmike Cinemas, which pulled the movie yesterday, and small Northeastern chain Bow Tie Cinemas, which pulled it this morning.

The news of AMC's pulling of the film broke on Twitter.

Ironically enough, the Sony hack has brought far more attention and publicity to The Interview than it likely would have received released as usual. Christmas Day is one of the most competitive movie release windows of the year, and the film would have been up against several returning contenders, including the final Hobbit film and Sony's own remake of Annie. Granted, The Interview was chasing an audience — fans of raunchy comedy — without a lot to see right now, but it still seemed an unlikely bet to become a major hit.

Now, with physical threats made against the film by the hackers, that attention has reached even higher levels — but in a way that will probably doom the film to audiences being unable to see it. Without screens showing the film, The Interview seems destined to die a quick box office death, with curiosity seekers catching up with it on DVD or VOD in the spring.

The usual hallmarks of movie publicity campaign are also quietly shutting down. The film's stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, will no longer do publicity for the film, and Landmark Theatres canceled its New York premiere that was to be held Thursday night.

By far the most interesting idea for handling the release of The Interview comes from Vox sister site The Verge, which urges Sony to release the film online immediately. The Verge argues it could do so for free, to garner good publicity, or do so at a minimal charge, to experiment with day-and-date home releases of theatrical films, something movie studios need to do anyway that they have been dragging their heels on. However, as mentioned, Sony has no plans to do anything of the sort.

Why this matters

From the first, a movie about the assassination of a foreign leader has seemed like a bad idea for any movie studio to pursue, no matter how ridiculous the context of that film. Yes, movie studios have made films mocking foreign leaders before — like the Charlie Chaplin classic The Great Dictator, which made fun of Hitler to devastating effect — but those films did not actually depict said leaders' assassinations. Plus, turning Kim Jong Un into a buffoon could undercut the horrible things actually happening in North Korea right now.

At the same time, it's not hard to worry that the response to The Interview will have a deleterious effect in terms of studios backing politically risky projects. Movie studios are already some of the most risk-averse businesses on Earth, and that's only becoming more and more true with every year, as outlined brilliantly by Mark Harris in this Grantland piece. Political satire has a rich history in American film, but it's been harder and harder to get films like this made as the decades have rolled on. How much more true will this be now?

Certainly, Sony gave theaters the option to pull showings of The Interview, and it was arguably the correct choice in terms of ensuring the safety of film patrons. But what's most concerning here is the idea that making great movies means taking big swings. From early reviews, it sure sounds like The Interview was the worst possible version of itself. But it was a big swing, in an industry where such things are less and less common.

Sometimes, those big swings result in The Great Dictator; sometimes, they result in The Interview. But you don't get the great movies if nobody's even taking those swings. And the fact that the hackers have basically driven The Interview from the public sphere means those swings are less likely to happen.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that Sony has opted not to release the film on Christmas Day and to reflect Sony's lack of plans to release the film at all.

How North Korea got so crazy, in 2 minutes:

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