Sony’s new comedy The Interview, which sees Seth Rogen and James Franco attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, isn’t exactly being hailed as the next great piece of American cinema (read our review), but the raunchy film has generated lots of headlines and attention the past few weeks in the midst of the Sony server hack. Recently, the group allegedly behind the cyber attack, the “Guardians of Peace,” posted a threatening message directed towards theater owners who opted to screen the movie during its previously scheduled Christmas Day release, evoking memories of 9/11 and proclaiming that the “world will be full of fear.”
Regardless of the credibility of the threat, it placed Sony and the theater chains in a tight spot; and in the hours that followed, America’s largest chains decided against showing The Interview and the studio pulled it altogether (saying there were no plans for release). The cancelation, while understandable from a certain point of view, drew the ire of many, with several moviegoers and film industry professionals wondering what kind of dangerous precedent was set by the move. As it turns out, Sony has had a change of heart and will in fact distribute the film.
According to The Wrap, Sony has authorized screenings of The Interview in select theaters while also planning on a video on demand (VOD) release simultaneously. A full list of providers is not yet available (Sony is expected to announce that later today), but two theaters are participating in the (very) limited theatrical release: the Plaza theater in Atlanta, GA and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX. It is unknown at this time if other theaters will show the movie as well.
UPDATE: The Wrap has a list of theaters that will be showing The Interview on Christmas. Head over there to see where it’s playing in your area. Keep checking that page for more updates.
In a statement addressing the decision, Sony CEO Michael Lynton expressed the studio’s dedication to the controversial project and his enthusiasm over its impending release:
“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day. At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.
I want to thank our talent on ‘The Interview’ and our employees, who have worked tirelessly through the many challenges we have all faced over the last month. While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that The Interview is going to see the light of day. The film sports a $44 million production budget and that doesn’t include the fees for the movie’s highly-visible marketing campaign. Even though its price tag isn’t that high (for Hollywood, anyway), it still represented a large investment for the studio during the lucrative Christmas moviegoing season. From a business standpoint, it just didn’t make sense to completely bury it, which was why there were those who were convinced it would be released in some capacity down the line.
In fact, the release could be even more profitable for Sony than if The Interview came out under normal circumstances. After all the talk about whether or not the movie should be made available, everyone – from casual audiences to die-hard cinephiles – will want to see what all the fuss was about, which will lead to more revenue. It will be interesting to see how much is raised from the VOD rentals, especially after the much smaller Snowpiercer had a successful run on that platform, leading to discussions about the future of film consumption.
Whether the outcry over Sony removing the film was the catalyst for this decision or not, it should please those who were upset over the many ethical issues the initial cancelation raised. In the end, this is a win-win for everyone. Sony gets to make money off a high-profile comedy film (which in all likelihood would have done very well in a wide theatrical release) and the people have the option to see it if they so please. We have yet another film to check out during a busy Christmas weekend.
The Interview will be released in select theaters on Christmas Day. We’ll keep you updated on when the VOD release will take place.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.