‘The Interview’ Release to Deepen Rift Between Sony, Major Exhibitors

The Interview Randall Park

It looks like a bitter Christmas for owners of major theatrical chains in the U.S., thanks to Sony Pictures Entertainment’s decision Tuesday for a limited release of “The Interview” in a few hundred independent cinemas — with a VOD release coming soon.

Exhibitors were already angry over last week’s move by Sony to make them the scapegoat for the Dec. 17 cancellation. Several executives told Variety that they only wanted the film’s premiere to be delayed or modified.

Following Sony’s announcement of a limited release for “The Interview,” the move is expected to only deepen the resentments that have emerged over the past week between the studio and major exhibition chains.

After the movie was pulled from theaters, the major chains expected not to show “The Interview” due to the plans for an imminent VOD release — violating the longstanding policy that major studios wait several months after a movie opens before distributing it on other platforms.

Now that Sony has officially put the movie back in theaters outside the major chains and coupled those plans with what could be a day-and-date VOD release, tensions have been aggravated further.

Theater owners were already incensed because they believe Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton blamed them unfairly last week for not showing the film.

After hackers threatened a 9/11-style attack on theaters that screened “The Interview,” Sony said in a statement last week that the majority of exhibitors cancelled their bookings — an assertion that’s been disputed by several exhibitors.

In his statement Wednesday, Lynton did not offer details on how soon the VOD release is coming.

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” he said. “At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

Authorities have since said that North Korea is behind the hacking as punishment for Sony backing “The Interview,” which centers on a plot to kill the country’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Exhibitors have been especially perturbed by the Dec. 19 interview with CNN, during which Lynton said: “The only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it…Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.”

His remarks came after President Barack Obama said Sony had made a “mistake” in pulling the film because it emboldened the North Korean hackers who have tormented the studio for weeks.

The major chains may react by toughening up on the prices they’re willing to charge Sony for films, screen counts for its lower-profile films or the level of promotional support for Sony titles.

A spokesman for Sony declined to comment.

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m. PST — Landmark Theaters, which specializes in independent titles and operates 50 locations with 229 screens in the U.S., has issued a statement that it will not screen “The Interview” —

Landmark Theatres has no plans to play The Interview. Our theatres have been fully booked for months as there is an enormous amount of film already in the marketplace in addition to six new films opening on Christmas Day. It would never occur to us not to honor our existing commitments to our distribution partners during one of the busiest times in the year.

UPDATE, 6:38 p.m. — Sony Pictures domestic distribution president Rory Bruer has told Deadline.com that Sony has lined up over 300 theaters for “The Interview” and disputed that major exhibition chains are angry over how the situation has been handled.

“I have been totally open with exhibitors, every step of the way,” Bruer said. “My conversations have been really fruitful, with a total openness in regards to how we were moving forward. My relationship with exhibitors and the folks we do business with is very important and I wouldn’t take part in anything that would put that at risk. What you heard wasn’t what anybody has been saying back to me. If that had been the case, I would have brought it to the table at our company, big time, if I thought there was something that was going to harm our relationships. I don’t want that and neither do they. Everybody knew this was a tough situation, and they’ve shown a lot of understanding. Many of them offered to help us in anyway, and they understood that we had to do it any way we could to do what is best for our business. It has always been my intention to have excellent partnerships with major exhibitors and independents. We maintain strong partnerships.”

 

 Brent Lang contributed to this report.

 

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  1. Donna says:

    Not one article mentions the “safety” factor reasoning which exhibitors identified. They were concerned that playing the film might result in another”Aurora” tragedy.

  2. memory says:

    Really, are people’s memories THAT short? First one chain pulled out of releasing, then 4 others, then Sony shelved the release due to lack of venues willing to show it that they had already contracted with before the hacking. Kudos to the independents for asking Sony to be allowed to show it and kudos to Sony for doing the right thing.

  3. Gnrlriles says:

    Landmark Theaters say they have been booked for months and won’t allow “The Interview” to be shown because of it. So, did they not plan to screen “The Interview” before this hacking mess?

    • jlinn says:

      Since “The Interview” is a mainstream movie that was originally going to open on about 3,000 screens, and Landmark does more arthouse/independent movies, I suspect they were never going to show it to begin with. The only reason it is in arthouse/independent theaters now is because they banded together and told Sony they would show it. Did the theaters showing it now drop other movies? Maybe, but I know the ones playing it where I live are independent theaters, not arthouse. Just because you are independent doesn’t mean you don’t still try to book blockbuster movies. So the ones around here might have already been slated to show “The Interview” and just made Sony know they were still willing to show it.

  4. harry georgatos says:

    A changing of the guard is needed at Sony with Amy Pascal at the top of the list for this comedy of errors!

  5. John Shea says:

    More Variety speculation and pot-stirring.

  6. John Seymour says:

    The major chains continue to spit in the faces of their customers. They are refusing to show “The Interview” now because they are saying they can’t show a movie that may also be released on VOD. Bow-Tie Cinemas just confirmed they are completely out of touch with their customers in a reply to me. . I have unsuccessfully attempted to find a theater showing a “same day as theaters” VOD release several times in the past. I go to the theater for the experience of it – not the “formula” movies put out by Hollywood studios. I admit I would have never seen “The Interview” in theaters but this is a special case. If a theater near me shows it, I will support them. Now I find it is their policy not to show a film with a VOD release too close to the theatrical release. Yet another reason to boycott the major chains and let them wither and die. I am saddened that a long standing tradition of my family’s is coming to an end ( going to the movie theater) but we simply can’t support companies that would cower to the rhetoric of a mad man and then thumb their nose at progress rather than realize they already simply monetize the added value the theater and it’s sound system, lack of distractions and environment provide. Taking away choice from their customers by standing firmly in the past is the surest way for them to become just a memory of that past.

  7. nerdrage says:

    Sony and the theater owners share the blame for cowardice and shameful finger-pointing/

    Whatever theater closest to me shows this movie will have my business from here on out.

  8. TOM says:

    Holiday movie lovers – support Christmas release, but I’d steer-clear of any theater showing this dud. Who knows what type of knucklehead copycats North Korea’s warning might’ve inspired.

  9. EK says:

    Exhib chains always blow hard when they feel mistreated but when the next Sony major release like Spiderman or Bond is ready they will fall in line as always. They cannot afford to do otherwise.

  10. Dave Andrews says:

    I love it! “Last week’s move by Sony to make them the scapegoat.” Really? They WERE the reason! The major players were all backing out of the release once the first one did. Sony was trying to appease them. Sony could have forced them to show it or given them pretty extreme penalties, but instead they allowed the theater chains to choose. They chose. Now they’re trying to say “Oh no, we didn’t want it canceled, that was Sony…” Give me a break theater chains!

    • nerdrage says:

      Allowing the theater chains to choose was a deliberate stratagem by Sony to avoid having the blame for censorship and cowardice put squarely on them. Even at the time, I didn’t buy it. Both sides are to blame for being cowards.

    • Shari says:

      Perfectly put. What did the major chains expect. I am looking to give my business to the theatre’s that show it, regardless if it is any good or not.

    • malcolm says:

      I wish i could upvote you because you damn sure got it right

  11. I still can’t believe that they still playing the blame game. They both afraid that they will be sue by someone because the sony hacker make all kind of threat. So Sony Picture will release the film. Good luck to the movie.

    • InsuranceMoney? says:

      If the movie wasn’t such a dud they’d have no problem showing it. Everyone knows the film is a loser and they’re scrambling to ditch it with any excuse they can make up. I love hearing Lynton talk about collecting insurance money when neither Homeland Security nor the FBI verified the GOP trash talking as a credible threat that required closures and anything else.

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