Sony pulls 'Interview' amid threats against theaters

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Following hackers' threats to movie theaters that run the new Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy "The Interview," Sony Pictures Entertainment decided to pull the film from its planned Christmas Day opening.

The company, which has been the victim of a series of corporate hacks in recent weeks, expressed regret over its decision.

"We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

The decision to yank the film from the release schedule came after the nation's five biggest theater chains — including AMC, Regal and Carmike Cinemas — decided not to show the movie. On Tuesday, the hackers behind recent attacks on Sony threatened a 9/11-style attack on theaters that play the film, in which Rogen and Franco play characters sent to North Korea to assassinate leader Kim Jong Un.

"We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers," Sony said in a statement Wednesday.

Wednesday night, federal investigators connected the hack to North Korea, a U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press.

Mike Mihalich, CEO of MJR Digital Cinemas, said the move to pull the movie off the schedule was unprecedented.

"In the 40-some years I've been in this industry, I've never heard of anything or experienced anything ever like this before," said Mihalich, whose chain operates nine Metro Detroit theaters.

He said in light of the threats he agreed with the choice to pull the movie's release. "With the threat of violence hanging over it, I think it's a wise decision to find out what you're dealing with rather than go out there and play Russian roulette, and I applaud Sony for having the guts to do that."

Before the decision to pull the movie, MJR and other Metro Detroit theater chains were taking a wait-and-see approach to showing the film.

Paul Glantz, co-founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment, said the chain was planning to run "The Interview" in all eight of its theaters but was going to make a final decision Monday.

"It's an extraordinarily difficult decision for me," Glantz said Wednesday. "I believe in 'give me liberty or give me death,' and I'm concerned about the slippery slope we're on where we are ceding our liberties in search of security. By the same token, I have to be respectful of the concerns of our guests, and their safety and comfort."

Glantz called the incident an attack on our First Amendment rights and said it was "loathsome" but said the safety, health and comfort of the chain's guests "is of paramount importance to us."

Sony had told theaters owners it was up to them whether they wanted to show the film, and the theater chains' decisions snowballed on Wednesday.

The attack is unprecedented and possibly the costliest for a U.S. company ever, says Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner. "This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business — and succeeded," Litan said.

Sony was also under pressure from other studios. Christmas is one of the most important box-office weekends of the year, and the threats could have scared moviegoers away.

"The Interview" earned mixed early reviews from critics and was expected to do solid but not extraordinary business in the crowded holiday marketplace.

Mihalich had already canceled a promotional screening of the film that was scheduled to be held at MJR's Troy location Thursday.

Mihalich said he's worried about the precedent set by the removal of the film from the release docket as well as the possibility of copycats, but he said safety has to be a top issue, regardless of the movie.

"If this was perceived to be an impact picture like 'Star Wars' or 'Star Trek' or 'The Avengers,' it would have more of an effect," he said. "But even then, if there was a credible threat hanging over this, you'd still have to take the same position."

Politicians, Hollywood stars and others weighed in, many disagreeing with Sony's decision.

"We should not let a pathological regime in N. Korea intimidate us," Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, tweeted.

"Sony has absolutely no courage or guts. They should have never pulled it," said Donald Trump via video on Facebook.

Associated Press contributed.