LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Sony Pictures will allow “The Interview” to play in more than 200 U.S. theatres as of Christmas Day, reversing its decision to pull the film, after coming under criticism from President Barack Obama and others for caving into pressure from North Korea.
The White House praised Sony’s about-face, which the studio said would result in “a limited theatrical release” of the film, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco and is about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
“The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome,” presidential spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.
It was another surprising twist in a saga that started four weeks ago, when a massive cyberattack now blamed on North Korea crippled the Hollywood studio. The hacking has grown into a geopolitical headache and a global symbol of attacks on free expression.
On Friday, Obama had called Sony’s decision to pull the $44 million movie a mistake, suggesting it could set a precedent in which “some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats, as well as Hollywood luminaries such as George Clooney, had also assailed the canceled release, with some accusing the studio of self-censorship.
Franco and Rogen, who also co-directed the film, broke their silence after Sony made the announcement.
“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed!” Rogen said, while Franco added, “VICTORY!!!!!!! The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken!!!”
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton said the studio was looking for more options to screen the film, which major U.S. theater chains pulled because of threats from hackers who warned of a September 11, 2001 style of attack.
Lynton said in Tuesday’s statement: “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.” He said the studio, a unit of Sony Corp, was trying to secure other platforms and more theaters “so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”
TICKETS SELL QUICKLY
One of the first signs of a breakthrough for Sony came in a tweet from Tim League, founder of the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, saying it planned to show the movie. Tickets sold out for many of the screenings within minutes of being offered online.
Most of the 200 or so theatres are believed to be independent exhibitors and some said they would take some extra security precautions for the first screenings. The major movie chains that had bowed out last week, such as AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas, had not yet addressed the reversal.