The only movie theater playing “The Interview” near my family’s home in Fresno, Calif., was 40 miles away. I attempted to drag my parents along, but they weren’t in the mood for a holiday road trip. Instead, we streamed the comedy on our TV for $6. And we got to see it early, because Sony Pictures debuted it in homes a day before its limited theatrical run on Christmas.
My mom watched for 10 minutes before she disappeared to finish holiday errands. “Who wants salmon?” she asked, interrupting a string of penis and anus jokes in the R-rated satire about two U.S. journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jung-un. When she returned for the last act, she promptly fell asleep on our couch. But my dad stayed awake, often laughing–to my great discomfort–at many of the cruder gags. “The CIA should have stopped the release of this movie,” he quipped at one point. “It makes them look worse than North Korea.”
“The Interview” still saves its most pointed barbs for Kim. He’s depicted (by Randall Park) as a spineless tyrant who starves his people, collects fancy cars and hosts a sex party where he kisses Franco. Among his many flaws, Kim is afraid to drink margaritas because his father Kim Jong-il told him that would make him gay, and he keeps his obsession with Katy Perry a secret. When our heroes finally carry out the assassination, a scene which has already leaked online, his demise isn’t necessarily played for laughs.
After two weeks of wall-to-wall media coverage, which included a hack into Sony Pictures’ private emails, threats of Sept. 11-like violence on movie theaters carrying the film and a surprise endorsement by President Obama, “The Interview” became the most talked about movie of 2014. But on its long journey to the bigscreen, one of the film’s unintended legacies could be nudging studios to reconsider releasing their movies in homes on the same day they hit multiplexes.
“The Interview,” which cost roughly $75 million to market and make, is the biggest project to ever simultaneously open on multiple platforms. Other high-profile vehicles, such as 2011’s “Tower Heist,” for which similar release strategies were considered failed, because the owners of the multiplexes—including AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment—refuse to show movies that are already on VOD. As a result, the films that do premiere on VOD early (like “Snowpiercer” or “The Babadook”) are arthouse titles, and Hollywood doesn’t know if the studios would earn–or lose–millions on blockbusters with a different release pattern.
Could “The Interview” change all that? The movies theaters have long argued that if their titles premiered in homes after a shorter window, fewer consumers would trek to the movies. Now we’ll finally see if that scenario spells doom for box office receipts, which are already down 5% in the United States this year. If Sony reports that “The interview” grossed more money because it was available on numerous platforms, the cash-strapped studios could push back, forcing movie theaters to revise what many already consider an outdated policy.
Then again, “The Interview” is an imperfect test case, given all the free publicity it has received. Sony originally planned on opening the film on at least 2,000 screens, but the major theater chains bailed after the hackers issued a cryptic threat last week to destroy venues showing the film. Sony indefinitely tabled “The Interview,” only to reverse its decision when Obama said in a press conference on Friday that the studio had made a mistake. “The Interview” is currently playing on 200 indie-theater screens as well as four different home platforms (such as YouTube Movies and Google Play). We might never know how much the movie actually grosses on all these various channels.
But as far as my family was concerned, $6 seems like a bargain compared to the cost of admission (not counting popcorn) of taking all your relatives to the movies. This doesn’t necessarily take money away from theaters: My baby-boomer parents aren’t in the target demographic for a Seth Rogen comedy, and the movie is still sold out on many screens. On the other hand, if we didn’t stay at home, we probably would have had time to see another theatrical release such as “The Hobbit” or “Unbroken.” If this year’s Christmas box office numbers slump, movie theaters will definitely blame “The Interview.”
My Parents’ Review of “the Interview”
Review: “I thought it was a pretty good movie. It was unpredictable. It was funny. I liked the actors.”
Review: “It was so boring, it made me sleep. I never fall asleep watching a movie. It was the first time that’s happened.”