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The Interview made over 5 times as much online as it did in theaters

The Interview made $15 million in online sales and rentals over the long weekend.
The Interview made $15 million in online sales and rentals over the long weekend.
Sony Pictures
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Sony has announced that The Interview made $15 million from online sales and rentals since its Christmas Eve release on online platforms. The film also made $2.8 million in theaters over the long Christmas weekend. In all, Sony said, the film was either purchased or rented online 2 million times, reports Deadline.

The Interview was seen as an important test of whether movies can now sustain themselves with day-and-date releases in theaters and at home. And though that $15 million weekend was undoubtedly boosted by curiosity seekers drawn by the controversy around the film, it's still an incredibly impressive number. A Marvel superhero movie, which requires a much larger opening weekend than that, probably won't be using day-and-date releases soon, but it stands as an increasingly viable alternative for smaller budget projects.

The Interview was budgeted at $44 million. Whether or not it can make back its production budget will depend on how well it holds up in online sales (something that's still relatively untested), but it has a much better shot at that number than you would think from its relatively paltry theatrical ticket sales. It would have to perform absurdly well to make back marketing costs (which are unknown to us) as well, but for it to even break even with its production budget would be an accomplishment and set a solid precedent for future online releases.

Of course, the big question in online releasing is how studios will balance the potential for money made there against the needs of movie theaters, which are still necessary to open big studio tentpole films, at least for the time being. And by so utterly outperforming theatrical sales with online sales, The Interview has also shown why theater owners are so worried.

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