Sony Pictures decided to pull its upcoming comedy "The Interview" from distribution Wednesday amid security concerns and news that the five largest movie theater chains in the U.S. had decided to hold off on screening the film.
“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. 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 to NBC News.
Theaters showing "The Interview" have been subjected to threats of violence from a shadowy group of alleged hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace. The same group has claimed responsibility for a massive Nov. 24 hack attack on the film's studio, Sony Entertainment. The hacking has revealed private email exchanges between top executives, details of movies currently in production, salaries and medical records of employees, and much more. "The Interview," which depicts a satiric attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator King Jong Un, has been cited as the impetus for the hacking by the alleged perpetrators. Sony Pictures has been sued by two former employees for failing to protect employee data.
The Guardians of Peace have been consistently issuing warnings of more leaks to come in tones that have become increasingly threatening in nature. The latest statements from the group have alluded to potential acts of violence on movie theaters showing "The Interview" and their patrons, prompting major chains like Regal and AMC to hold off on the scheduled Christmas Day release of the film.
"The recent cancellation of 'The Interview's premiere and publicity appearances by its leading talent, and the overall confusion and uncertainty that has been created in the marketplace, brings into serious doubt whether the movie will open at all next week," AMC said in a statement to msnbc. "At this time, to best enable AMC guests to plan their holiday movie-going with certainty and confidence, AMC is programming its theaters without 'The Interview.'"
Actor Rob Lowe, who appears in the film, slammed Sony's decision on Twitter. "Saw @Sethrogen at JFK. Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today," he tweeted Wednesday alluding to the former British Prime Minister's decision to acquiesce to Adolph Hitler's demands in the lead-up to World War II.
Later he added, "Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow."
"I think it disgraceful that these theaters are not showing 'The Interview.' Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?" tweeted producer Judd Apatow. "What if an anonymous person got offended by something an executive at Coke said. Will we all have to stop drinking Coke?" The films stars frequent Apatow collaborators James Franco and Seth Rogen.
Franco and Rogen have canceled all their planned television interviews promoting the film, including a scheduled upcoming appearances on "The Tonight Show," and the actors have also canceled all the press interviews at the Los Angeles premiere.
Meanwhile, one Texas theater is thumbing their nose at the North Koreans by screening the 2004 comedy "Team America: World Police" -- which lampooned Kim Jong Un's father Kim Jong Il -- instead of "The Interview," according to The Hollywood Reporter. "We're just trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation," James Wallace, the creative manager for the movie house told the entertainment publication.
Prior to the theater chains' decision to postpone screening the film, Sony had already decided to scrap its high-profile New York City premiere. "Sony Pictures has 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," Sony said in a statement to NBC News. "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 FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are both currently investigating the threats made against Sony employees and theaters screening "The Interview."
"DHS is aware of a threat made online targeting movie theaters in the United States," U.S. Homeland Security said in a statement. "We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States. As always, DHS will continue to adjust our security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people."