Sony Responds To President Obama’s Criticism: “We Had No Choice,” Still Hope To Release ‘The Interview’

UPDATE, 2:00PM: Following a very public rebuke from President Obama for caving to terrorist demands, Sony Pictures said today it is committed to getting The Interview seen by audiences. Two days ago, a studio spokesperson basically said the movie was dead, telling Deadline, “Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film.” Here’s the studio’s official statement, on the heels of CEO Michael Lynton’s defensive appearance on CNN (read his remarks below):

“Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.

Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

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LyntonPREVIOUS, 12:44 PM: “We have not caved,” Sony CEO Michael Lynton said today, defending his company from President Obama’s comment that the studio had “made a mistake” in bowing to terrorist demands over the North Korea-skewering The Interview. “We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered, and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

So who let the terrorists win? Lynton shifted blame for The Interview’s cancelled release to exhibitors who shied away from showing the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy after hackers threatened the safety of moviegoers. Sony left the decision to play The Interview – or not – to the theater chains, who started pulling out one by one this week.

Related: DGA Stands By ‘The Interview’ Directors, Calls On Feds To Protect Hollywood

The Interview featuredLynton today explained that when theaters started dropping out, “we had no alternative but to not proceed with the theatrical release on the 25th of December. And that’s all we did.” After the top five exhibitor chains bowed out this week, the studio said on Wednesday they would not be releasing the film.

“The unfortunate part is… The President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened. We do not own movie theaters. We cannot decide what will be played in movie theaters,” Lynton told CNN.

“I think (Sony) made a mistake,” President Obama said earlier on Friday in a press conference addressing the Sony hacking attack, which the FBI said the North Korean government was responsible for. “That’s not what America is about… I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks’.”

Related: Everything On The Sony Hack So Far

In his CNN interview set to air in full on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 at 5PM PT/8PM ET, Lynton made a point of contradicting Obama’s statement that Sony had not asked for his help.

“I did reach out,” said Lynton, who said Sony indeed sought assistance from the President. “We definitely spoke to a senior advisor in the White House to talk about the situation. The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”

In less than four weeks the Sony hacking has devastated the studio, exposing embarrassing and damaging emails, trade secrets, and the personal information of thousands of current and former employees – all supposedly over the political comedy, in which two bumbling journalists are asked to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Would Lynton make the movie again if he had the chance to do this all over?

“Yeah, I would make the movie again,” he said. “I think, you know, for the same reasons we made it in the first place – it was a funny comedy, it served as political satire. I think we would have made the movie again. Knowing what I know now, we might have, uh, done some things slightly differently, but I think a lot of events have overtaken us in a way that we had no control over the facts.”

Related: Sony Has “No Further Release Plans” For ‘The Interview’ On VOD Or Elsewhere

Lynton says Sony still wants The Interview to be seen and is considering their options. Those include DVD and Blu-ray home video, YouTube, VOD, and other digital platforms but “there has not been one major VOD distributor, one major e-commerce site that has stepped forward and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said.

“We would still like the public to see this movie, absolutely.”

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