Good luck seeing The Interview now: After a group of hackers posted a message yesterday threatening theaters with violence if they proceed with showing The Interview, the nation's five largest movie theater chains have decided not to show the film at all, a source tells The Hollywood Reporter. Deadline Hollywood reports that theater chains are expected to make an official announcement about the matter later today.
Several reports yesterday and today indicate that, in private meetings with distributors, Sony said that it would not pull the film, an R-rated comedy about two journalists tasked with assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, but that theater owners would be under no obligation to show it. One theater distributor, Cinemark, reportedly decided not to show the film earlier today. Reports indicate that, following the threats, theater chains were worried about the legal liability in the event of violence.
If the report is accurate, it means that the movie will be difficult if not impossible to see in American theaters—not because Sony pulled the film from release, but because exhibitors declined to show it. Sony could presumably still go ahead with digital distribution or home video releases.
The Department of Homeland Security has told multiple news outlets that it has "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters" in the U.S.
Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace targeted Sony's computers in November and in recent weeks have released troves of internal communications, including emails from top executives and completed but unreleased films. Some reports have suggested that the hackers may be connected to the North Korean government, which has denounced The Interview.
Basically, an anonymous Internet threat looks likely to derail the release of a major motion picture that offended the sensibilities of a foreign dictatorship.
Update: Sony has decided not to release the movie as scheduled on Christmas, according to CNN's Pamela Brown. A statement from Sony Pictures, via Buzzfeed's Lisa Tozzi, says that "in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release." Sounds as if the studio is leaving open the possibility of a delayed release, although I wouldn't bet on it. Digital distribution is likely still an option, but with the biggest theater chains out, and Sony pulling the plug on next week's release, it looks rather like this one will never be shown in theaters.
Update 2: The New York Times reports tonight that U.S. officials have determined that North Korea was behind the initial cyberattack on Sony:
American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was "centrally involved" in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures's computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony's decision to cancel release of "The Interview" amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.
No word on how or if the U.S. government might respond.