Sony Pictures Entertainment scrapped its Christmas release of the “The Interview” Wednesday. The move comes after several major theater chains decided not to run the film in response to threats hackers who launched a major attack on the studio over the past month.
Just as Sony officially announced it wouldn’t release “The Interview,” several news organizations reported that North Korea was behind the hack, citing unnamed sources close to the U.S. investigation.
In a statement Tuesday coupled with another mass of leaked emails, the hackers referenced Sept. 11 and warned people to stay away from theaters showing “The Interview,” which North Korea has previously condemned.
The comedy is about a TV host and producer recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Sony has been battered for weeks by continuous leaked emails, internal documents, financials, social security numbers and more.
The Seth Rogen and James Franco film, with a modest $45 million budget, is relatively small fare for Sony.
“It’s not your typical ‘X-Men’ type of blockbuster where there are endless commercial tie-ins,” says Jennifer Holt, a professor of film and media studies at the University of California.
Holt says Sony will take a hit, but it was far riskier for the entire movie business if it was screened during Christmas.
“The Christmas season is a huge time for the movie business, and it’s a time where they bring out all of their marquee films, so this is a very big revenue period,” says Holt.
Eric Wold, analyst with B. Riley & Co., estimates movies will bring in about $2.5 billion in revenue during the last quarter of the year. “The Interview” potentially represented just 2 percent of that, Wold says, while representing an outsize threat to theater chains’ bottom line.
“If moviegoers themselves are concerned that something could happen, even if they are not planning to see that movie, they may skip going to the theater altogether to see ‘The Hobbit’ or some other movie coming out,” says Wold.
Theaters can easily replace Sony’s film with one of the big Christmas movies being released next week, and likely avoid a financial hit, says Wold. For that reason, he says, it makes sense for exhibitors to pull out of screening “The Interview.”
But Jason Squire, a film professor at USC and editor of “The Movie Business Book,” says the implications go far beyond this one film.
“This is really going to have a negative impact on what is an artistic business venture,” Squire says.
Because of the Sony hack, movie studios are likely to become more cautious about the content of their films in the future, he says.