Sony Pictures has confirmed the inevitable and cancelled the December 25 launch of The Interview after most major theater chains refused to run it.
"The ability of our guests to enjoy the entertainment they choose in safety and comfort is and will continue to be a priority for theater owners," said the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) in a statement [PDF].
"We are encouraged that the authorities have made progress in their investigation and we look forward to the time when the responsible criminals are apprehended. Until that happens, individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer."
Several of the largest cinema chains, including NATO members, cancelled all showings of Sony's "comedy" film about the life and death of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un – after hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace, thought to have plundered Sony's servers, threatened September 11-style attacks against theaters.
You may be forgiven for thinking this is a ludicrous, empty threat. However, it is being taken seriously. Anonymous miscreants have previously made threats against Sony Pictures' workers and their families, while dumping details of their private lives online.
Following the warning of attacks on cinemas, Sony cancelled the New York premiere of the film on safety grounds, and cinema owners obviously figured "why take the risk?" It's not as though the film's early reviews have been stellar. According to IMDB, the movie cost $44m to make.
Under the circumstances Sony said the entire run of the film, which was due to open on Christmas Day, will be halted. The status of the flick is now unclear, but there's no indication Sony is planning a release straight to DVD.
"We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers," the company said in a statement.
"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."
The identity of the hackers is not known. After today's announcements various "national security" sources were saying off the record that North Korea might be involved, a claim Best Korea denies. The only official statement from the FBI (and plenty of unofficial ones from the security community) suggest a Nork attack is unlikely.
An inside job has also been mooted, with possibly a former employee looking to take revenge on the company. Investigations are still continuing.
In the meantime the world will not be seeing the comedic stylings of Seth Rogan and James Franco on the big screen any time soon. Sony could release the film later, or go straight to DVD, although Hollywood rumors suggest the movie will never see the light of day. All eyes are now on the hackers' next move. ®