The latest, strangest turn in the Sony hack saga, an ongoing sequence of cyber-attacks seemingly motivated by Seth Rogen and James Franco's "assassination of Kim Jong-un" comedy The Interview, has a film studio taking a seemingly unprecedented step: letting movie theaters pull the movie entirely in the wake of terrorist threats. The film was due for release on Christmas Day and now may not be shown in any theater—certainly not the major chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Cineplex) that most Americans attend. It's a shocking turn, especially since it's motivated by extremely vague threats ("The world will be full of fear…remember the 11th of September 2001…we recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.").
In one obvious sense, then, the terrorists have won. But if their goal really was to prevent people from seeing Kim Jong Un’s fictional assassination, then it may turn out to be a pointless victory.
It remains to be seen how this situation will play out exactly—but it’s easy to guess. Within hours of The Interview getting yanked from theaters, news hit that Sony is apparently considering a premium online release for the film. That seems like the most logical step—both from a profit standpoint and a safety one. Sony stands to lose millions in this whole affair, not to mention whatever penalties they might owe the film’s creative personnel, so any money that could be recouped on VOD would help offset that. It also makes a certain sense that theaters are acting in unison on this—as vague as the threat might be, it would take just one incident to create enormous liability for them. The New York Times pointed out that shopping malls, in which many theaters reside, helped lobby for the decision to avoid screening The Interview.