Sony Pictures will release “The Interview” in about 300 theaters on Christmas Day, reversing an earlier decision not to show the picture on that date amid threats of violence.
Sony will screen the Seth Rogen-directed movie at the Alamo Drafthouse chain, based in Austin, Texas, and the Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Laemmle Theaters said on Twitter it will screen the comedy about a fictional plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at its North Hollywood location beginning Dec. 31. The film will be shown in about 100 other North American cinemas from next week, according to a Facebook post.
“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,” Michael Lynton, chief executive officer of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. “We are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
The studio, part of Tokyo-based Sony Corp., scrapped the Dec. 25 debut after the four biggest U.S. theater chains took the movie off their schedule, a response to threats from hackers linked to North Korea. President Barack Obama said last week the studio’s capitulation to terrorists would hinder freedom of expression.
“As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”
Shares of Sony rose 4 percent to 2,568.5 yen at the close of trade in Tokyo, extending a 41 percent gain this year.
A billboard for the film "The Interview" is displayed in Venice, California on Dec. 19, 2014.
An earlier schedule for the movie, which isn’t being released in Asia, listed plans to debut the film in Australia and New Zealand next month as part of plans to show “The Interview’ in more than 60 countries in 2015.
Jean Guerin, a spokeswoman for Sony Pictures (6758) Entertainment, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on the international release of the movie.
None of the major North American chains have changed their minds and said they will show the film, and representatives for the four largest exhibitors didn’t respond to requests for comment.
After a coalition of independent theater owners signed a petition expressing their desire to show the movie, Sony called them last night, according to Christian Parkes, chief brand officer for Alamo Drafthouse.
‘‘They didn’t put on any pressure that it had to be at a certain time, a fixed amount of screens or screenings,” Parkes said in an interview. “There is a dialog they are having about making the film available on the VOD format. We don’t know when or who it would be through.”
The Atlanta Police Department said it “is aware of the theater’s plans to show the movie ‘The Interview’ and we will be monitoring the location for potential threats. At this time, we are not going to be discussing specifics.”
The Austin Police Department said it hasn’t received any information regarding the screenings and has no plans to provide special security at the theaters where the movie will be showing.
Security decisions at privately operated movie theaters in Austin are left to the individual companies. Typically, theaters will turn to a private company to hire security, or they can hire off-duty officers from the Austin Police Department. Requests for such officers are normally handled by the Austin Police Association, the department’s union.
Kenneth Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said it hasn’t received any requests for off-duty officers to patrol the movie theaters where “The Interview” is being shown.
“The Interview” stars Rogen and James Franco as a pair of television journalists who are directed to kill Kim by the Central Intelligence Agency. The studio’s executives were concerned enough about the fateful scene that Sony Corp. CEO Kazuo Hirai personally approved a toned-down version. Lynton consulted with Rand Corp. and the U.S. State Department.
Michael Lynton, Chief Executive Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., said in a CNN interview last week that Sony still planned to release "The Interview," and was exploring how to do it.
Cyber-terrorists protesting the film attacked Sony’s computer system Nov. 24 and released thousands of documents including credit card information, social security numbers and health records of Sony employees. Sony maintained its plans to release the film until the hackers’ threats grew violent and spooked theaters.
The attack escalated into a geopolitical incident. Obama addressed the situation in an interview last week while Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized North Korea at a UN forum.
Sony pulled trailers and marketing materials after canceling the release, while Rogen and Franco called off publicity appearances. Lynton said in a CNN interview last week that Sony still planned to release the film and was exploring how to do it.
“Freedom has prevailed!” Rogen said on his Twitter page. “Sony didn’t give up!”
Sony told exhibitors they needed to know by about 3 p.m. U.S. West Coast time on Dec. 23 whether to send the film for it to arrive on time for showings on Christmas Day, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a film buyer.
Sony also plans to release the film via video-on-demand, according to TheWrap. Releasing the movie without the major theater chains will undercut ticket sales, as the four largest - - Regal Entertainment Group (RGC), AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Carmike Cinemas Inc. -- operate more than half of the theaters in the U.S., according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
“I’m actually really surprised that Sony would reverse course and agree to show the movie given the risks and a limited release -- which seems like more of a stand than an attempt to generate box office,” Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley & Co., said in an e-mail.“But, given that President Obama is behind the release, I would assume Sony can use that as a rationale.”