EXCLUSIVE: The Interview is dead as a theatrical release, but the lingering question of exactly who killed it is fast becoming a Who Killed JR? cliffhanger. After President Obama criticized Sony Pictures today for scrapping the film, Sony quickly laid the blame squarely at the feet of theater owners. Sony claimed it was steadfast in its determination to open the film until a lack of screens made that impossible.
Sources on the exhibition side tell a different story. On Tuesday night, a number of NATO members reached out to Sony brass with a novel suggestion on how to release The Interview safely. They wanted to start with a small-scale release, consisting of a low-double-digit theater count — in the range of 25-40 — confined to stand-alone structures. Heightened security would be put in place, and subsequent houses might be added later if all went well. Sony said no, according to those sources. Less than 12 hours later, NATO issued a statement permitting member theaters to skip showing The Interview. Hours after the major chains bailed, Sony cancelled.
There is lingering bad blood over the way this played out; exhibitors already were getting flak from other studios with Christmas films that feared empty houses. The exhibitor move left those other studio customers breathing sighs of relief, but the exhibitors have hard feelings toward Sony because theater owners were painted as the guilty party for capitulating to a terror threat out of safety concerns. Exhibs maintain that even after the major chains pulled out, some NATO members theaters remained ready to play the film when Sony pulled the plug. Those exhibitors felt that Sony wrongly positioned them to wear the goat horns for the unprecedented cancellation of a major studio film under these circumstances. NATO had no comment.
Sony insiders said the exhibs made a vague offer to open that film in scattered houses, in places like Canada, but it wasn’t worth it to Sony and that’s why the studio rejected the plan.