Sony Pictures announced Wednesday it was canceling the scheduled Christmas Day opening of The Interview amid threats from hackers warning of 9/11-scale violence if the film’s release went forward.
The decision follows reports earlier in the day that the five largest movie-theater chains in the country were pulling the film in the wake of an unprecedented cyberattack on the entertainment company.
“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,” Sony Pictures said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”
Shortly after Sony’s announcement, CNN and other news outlets, citing unnamed senior administration officials, reported that U.S. investigators had definitively determined that North Korea was the source of the cyberattack and would formally blame the country as soon as Thursday. Many observers had suspected North Korea’s government to be the culprit, though the hermetic nation has officially denied those allegations—but it has called the cyberattack a “righteous deed.” The FBI is currently investigating the intrusion, which became public on Nov. 24.
But the White House has so far yet to publicly name any suspects, saying it will “provide an update at the appropriate time.”
“The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council said.
Sony, in its statement, said it had “been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business.”
“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale—all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” the statement continued. “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.”
Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas, and Cineplex Entertainment had already opted to not show the comedy—which depicts actors James Franco and Seth Rogen traveling to North Korea on a CIA-backed mission to assassinate the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un—due to the recent threats suggesting moviegoers could face violence for seeing the film, according to several reports that began circulating earlier Wednesday. Those theaters collectively account for nearly half of the 40,000 movie screens in the U.S.
The dramatic decision by Sony arrives just a day after those behind an ongoing hack on the company warned mass violence may await those who see The Interview on opening day.
“The world will be full of fear,” the hacker statement read. “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.”
The threat received considerable attention, prompting a Department of Homeland Security official to say there is “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”
In an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday night, President Obama attempted to downplay potential fears moviegoers may have during the holiday season.
“The cyber attack is very serious. We’re investigating, we’re taking it seriously,” Obama said during the interview. “We’ll be vigilant, if we see something that we think is serious and credible, then we’ll alert the public. But for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”
Delaying the release of a movie due to controversy is exceedingly rare, but not without precedent. The 2013 action movie Gangster Squad was bumped four months following the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, which left 12 dead and wounded 70 others. Gangster Squad, which depicted a unit in the Los Angeles Police Department that hunted mobsters in the 1940s and ‘50s, included a scene portraying a shootout at a movie theater. That scene was ultimately cut in favor of an alternate action scene.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, several films were delayed, including action-comedy Bad Company, which featured a criminal plotting to detonate a bomb in Grand Central Station, and Big Trouble, which involved a nuclear bomb aboard an aircraft. Both movies eventually saw a wide release.
But it appears The Interview may never see the light of day at all now. “Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” a company spokesperson said Wednesday evening.
The release cancelation marks a turn around for the beleaugered movie studio, which told theaters earlier this week that it planned to go ahead with the Dec. 25 release but that it would respect any decision to pull the film. Sony had already chosen to not release the film in South Korea or Japan, where it is headquartered.
The hackers, who refer to themselves as the “Guardians of the Peace,” included their threat alongside a release of a new batch of documents stolen from Sony Pictures. The company has endured a deluge of embarrassing stories in recent weeks resulting from the hacks.
Politicians began weighing in on Sony’s decision late Wednesday.
This article was updated Wednedsay evening.