NEW YORK – Sony Pictures has canceled the Dec. 25 release of “The Interview” after hackers threatened terrorist-style attacks and the largest multiplex chains in North America pulled the film from its screens amid stronger signs the incident is linked to North Korea.
In a statement Wednesday, Sony said it was canceling “The Interview” release “in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film.” The studio, which has been shaken by hacker leaks over the past several weeks, said it respected and shared in the exhibitors’ concerns.
“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,” read the statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
It was not clear whether Sony plans to release it in some form at a future date.
Federal investigators have now connected the hacking of Sony Pictures to North Korea, a U.S. official said Wednesday, though it remained unclear how the federal government would respond. The cyberassault exposed sensitive documents and ultimately led to terrorist threats against moviegoers.
The official, who said a more formal statement could come in the near future, spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.Until Wednesday, the Obama administration had been saying it was not immediately clear who might have been responsible for the computer break-in, with FBI Director James Comey last week saying there was still more work to be done. North Korea has publicly denied it was involved.
The unidentified hackers had demanded that Sony cancel the release of the movie.
Earlier Wednesday, Regal Cinemas, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark Theatres, the three top theater chains in North America, announced that they were postponing any showings of “The Interview,” a comedy about a TV host and producer tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. It is directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Regal said it was delaying “The Interview” “due to wavering support of the film . . . by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats.”
Sony had offered theaters the option of bowing out, and when so many of them did — other chains included ArcLight Cinemas, Cineplex Entertainment and Carmike Cinemas — it left Sony little choice for the release of “The Interview.”
The seriousness of the threat made Tuesday in messages posted online by the hacking group that calls itself Guardians of the Peace, is unclear.
The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday there was “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters,” but noted it was still analyzing messages from the group. The warning did prompt law enforcement in New York and Los Angeles to consider ramping up security.
It was not immediately clear how the U.S. government was preparing to respond. The options against North Korea are in some ways limited given that the U.S. already has a trade embargo and almost certainly would not consider military action.
In May, the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of announcing indictments against five Chinese military officials accused of vast cyber-espionage against major American corporations. But months later, none of them has been prosecuted, illustrating the challenge of using the U.S. criminal justice system against cybercriminals operating in foreign countries.
Sony did not say what its plans for “The Interview” now are. Conjecture has centered on the possibility of an unprecedented on-demand release that would distribute the film without risk to theater operators. No wide-release studio film has ever been first released on VOD, out of protection for the theater business.