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‘The Interview’s’ Christmas Release Date May be a Casualty of Cyberwar

Sony Pictures may alter the Christmas release of “The Interview” — if the studio believes that hackers’ threats are credible, and endanger people.

Indications are that the recent hack attack that brought the studio to a standstill may have been launched by supporters of North Korea as punishment for the comic tale of an assassination attempt on the nation’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. Though that nation’s government has denied involvement, a Dec. 8 email from a group calling itself Guardians of Peace issued an ultimatum that Sony not release “the movie of terrorism” ­— believed to be “The Interview” — or face unspecified consequences.

So far, no exhibitors have canceled showings of the movie, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners.

A half dozen exhibitors poised to release “The Interview,” which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a pair of tabloid TV reporters recruited to assassinate Kim, told Variety that they still plan to play the film, and at this time are not taking additional security measures.

Sony plans to release the movie on roughly 3,000 screens.

“We’re definitely going to support the film,” says Tim League, founder of Alamo Drafthouse. “This is a smart, absurd, wonderful comedy, and it’s going to play everywhere.”

League admits that when he first learned the subject of the movie, it gave him a moment’s pause. “I can say that when I found out about the premise, I remember thinking, ‘That’s a bold move on the part of Sony.’” League wasn’t the only one who was initially wary. According to a person close to Sony, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, an executive working in Sony Pictures’ government relations division advised the studio to use a fictitious country in the film rather than North Korea. The individual says the idea was initially discussed but was then dismissed.

Sony officials declined to comment on the matter.

Sony is plunging ahead with its release strategy for the film, and a source familiar with the matter says the studio will not alter the movie itself or any of the marketing materials, which poke fun at the Asian dictatorship.

Rogen and Franco are embracing the notoriety, joking about the hacking on “Saturday Night Live” recently when Franco hosted the show. All the media attention is raising awareness for the picture.

Since the attack, social media conversation around the film has increased 150%, with 30% of the chatter on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms centering on the security breach, according to social media consulting firm Fizziology.

“It’s too early to make a determination about the box office impact,” says Ben Carlson, president of Fizziology. “The conversation around the film has stayed neutral. It’s not, ‘Oh, I want to see it because of this news,’ but it’s safe to say awareness has been impacted.”

Theater owners and Sony hope that the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” will apply to “The Interview.”

“It would be ironic if all the attention helped the movie,” says Tom Stephenson, CEO of Dallas-based Look Cinemas. “I hope people have a sense of humor, and it becomes an even bigger hit because of it.”

Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, was parodied in the 2004 comedy “Team America: World Police,” and despot Saddam Hussein was lampooned in 1999’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” without any blowback.

Read Variety’s full coverage of the Sony hack here.

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