The past 48 hours or so have been fascinating and frustrating to watch unfold. With the (ironically named) hacker group Guardians of Peace issuing a direct threat yesterday to theaters that planned to show Seth Rogen and James Franco‘s “The Interview” (our review), tossing around comparisons to 9/11, it didn’t take long for cinemas to react. Before the day was out, Carmike announced they will not screen the movie, the New York premiere was canceled, and Rogen and Franco pulled out of their scheduled media appearances. But today, things escalated.
By this afternoon, Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Bow Tie, Arclight, and Canada’s major chain Cineplex all announced they won’t show the movie either. Now bear in mind, this was not Sony‘s decision. The studio, by all accounts, was ready to proceed with the release, though they did give exhibitors their blessing to opt out. And they have en masse. Now Sony has decided to scrap the release of the film altogether. Here’s their full statement (via THR):
This is a shocking move for a number of reasons. Firstly, Homeland Security has already stated they have no credible intelligence about any attacks on movie theaters, but moreover, it sets a terrible precedent. Who is to say they won’t make another similar threat when another movie comes down the line that is “offensive.” Granted, no one wants to undervalue the threats only to have something happen, but it’s the start of a slippery slope.
There is another troubling element too. When three or four distributions can effectively force a major studio to drop release plans for a movie, it’s makes you wonder when that power might be exercised for other “controversial” films that may not fit the tastes of certain groups or audiences. For a long time, film distribution has been in the hands of a few major players, but we perhaps haven’t seen until today how problematic that can be. Here’s a little trivia fact: Canada’s Cineplex dominates 77% of the box office market in the country. Their actions alone in dropping the movie effectively killed any chance of it being seen north of the border.
Now, here’s an anecdote that should lend some context to what’s happening. In 1940, when Charlie Chaplin made Adolf Hitler spoofing “The Great Dictator,” not only was it released to much success, he also sent a copy directly to the Nazi leader.
There’s no word yet on what the future holds for “The Interview.” We can’t see a climate in which theater owners will be comfortable with screening the movie, and with the hackers promising further Christmas “gifts,” maybe Sony can beat them at their own game and usher this out on VOD next week. For more, check out Rogen and Franco talking to Howard Stern about the hacks right here.