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Entertaining Business: Cost of shelving The Interview

December 17, 2014

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The new Seth Rogen/James Franco vehicle, The Interview, hasn’t even hit theaters yet, and now it looks like it won’t any time soon.

Sony Pictures announced Wednesday that it is canceling the Christmas release of the movie, after a number of theater chains in the U.S. and Canada said they wouldn’t show it.

The comedic duo teamed up to make a movie about killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In response, a group of hackers (who claim not to have ties to North Korea, though evidence suggests otherwise) have stolen personal salary data and correspondences from Sony (the studio that produced the film).

This week, hackers suggested there could be violent actions at theaters when the movie opens. That opening day? Christmas. 

While most of the top grossing Christmas Day releases aren’t particularly family-friendly (Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, Meet the Fockers, Les Miserables, Django Unchained), none had the threat of violent attacks looming over them.

Here is the statement that Sony released on Wednesday.

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 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. 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.

If Sony opts to pull the movie from theatrical release completely, it could stand to lose a significant amount of money. The film reportedly cost $44 million to make, and based on previous ventures featuring the duo, could be expected to make at least double that amount. Pineapple Express made $101 million worldwide and This Is the End grossed $126 million worldwide.

But, movies that have taken on similar subject matter before haven’t done that well. The marionette movie Team America: World Police (from the South Park creators) only made $32.8 million and Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy The Dictator made $59.7 million.

So, The Interview might be a hard sell, despite Rogen and Franco’s successful history.

One compromise has been suggested: release the film straight-to-DVD. (As someone suggested Tuesday on Twitter, the hackers couldn’t target everyone’s living room.)

But that isn’t a solution for Sony, since the studio may not recoup its costs. Seth Rogen’s recent film, Neighbors, cost $18 million and made nearly $270 million worldwide theatrically, but its DVD/Blu-ray sales were only $25 million dollars. Similarly, This Is the End only grossed $14 million in DVD sales.

Rogen recently defended the movie, saying that killing the North Korean leader isn’t an edgy position, and the studio had asked to tone down (or even remove) the death scenes at the end.

As of now, the film still is set for eventual release, but the controversy may eventually keep it from arriving in a theater near you.

STORY IDEAS

Franco & Rogen Talk The Interview

Theater Owners Pulling The Interview

Box Office Predictions

Angel Cohn is a freelance journalist who has written about entertainment and television for the last 15 years. She is currently an editor at NJFamily.com. Follow her on Twitter at @angelcohn.

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