Hundreds of independent theater owners across the country have signed up to show “The Interview” during the Christmas holidays, with many declaring it a patriotic duty to show North Korea it can’t mess with America’s freedom.
By early Wednesday morning, the number of theaters planning to screen the film was put at 300, a far cry from the 3,000 movie houses originally planned before many of them backed out in the wake of threats. It’s a potential four-day gross, Variety reported, of about $3 million for a film widely judged mediocre.
On the other hand, a few days ago “The Interview” was being written off not only as a $42 million loss, but as a cave-in by Sony and theater operators that was, as the ad says, priceless.
Now, boosted by the president of the United States, the movie has become “a case study on whether all publicity is good publicity,” as Variety’s Dave McNary put it. So far, the study looked good for Sony: While Rotten Tomatoes scored it at 52 for its “middling laughs,” a dismal critical rating, it gave it a 96 on the “want to see” scale.
As Hayley Tsukayama and Cecilia Kang reported in The Washington Post, Sony initially put the movie’s release on ice after threats of terrorist attacks from hackers who stole and released countless documents — many embarrassing — from the studio last month. The attack, which the U.S. government attributed to hackers backed by North Korea, was allegedly prompted by the comedy, which revolves around two Americans’ plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The new united front behind Sony and “The Interview” started to crack a bit, however, when independents saw reports Tuesday in the Wrap that Sony was simultaneously working to offer the film via video-on-demand, a move that could cut into box office for theaters sticking their necks out to show the film.
Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment, which has eight theaters in Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press he was interested in screening the film on Christmas Day until he learned of a possible V.O.D release. “If this was about ‘Look, we’ve changed our mind and are going to make this film available for an exclusive theatrical run,’ we would be very happy to show the film,” Glantz told the Detroit paper. “But as long as Sony plans a simultaneous video-on-demand release, we have no interest in playing it — I don’t care what the title is, I don’t care what the content is.”
He added: “It’s not about principle or defending our First Amendment right, it’s about defending our business model.”
While it’s unusual for a major studio to release a movie in theaters and on video on the same day, other theater owners were move forgiving than Glantz. “Nobody likes it but we understand the stress and strain on Sony,” Lyndon Golin, president of Regency Theatres in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times.
The majority sentiment was united in a show of mettle against North Korea.
“We’re not going to let North Korea decide what our freedoms are as Americans, and we’re going to show the film,” said Kim Benjamin, general manager of a theater in Buffalo Grove, a suburb of Chicago. “It’s a comedy,” he told ABC7 in Chicago.
“It’s really important to me as an American, as somebody who loves this country, that we can’t cave in,” Michael Moore, a co-owner of the Hollywood Blvd Cinema in Woodbridge, Ill., told the station.
“We shouldn’t have to be afraid of what we show and what we do,” Alen Wilson, manager of Swap Shop Drive-In in Lauder Hill, Fla., told CBS Miami. “We believe that there shouldn’t be a dictator telling people what to do and everybody has the right to speak up and how they feel and that deals with all art form.”
In Eugene, Ore., Edward Schiessl, part owner of the Bijou, said he and his partners concluded anonymous threats of a “9/11 style” attack were not credible — at least not in Eugene. “We’re pretty under the radar in Eugene,” he told the Eugene Register-Guard. He said it was an unusual opportunity for the Bijou to show a first-run film with little financial risk, as the theater is paying Sony only a cut of ticket sales.
“If no one shows up, there’s not a huge out-of-pocket expense for us,” said Schiessl.