Sony Corp.'s New York premiere of "The Interview" was canceled and the fourth-largest U.S. cinema chain won't screen the film after threats of violence from the hackers behind a devastating cyberattack on the studio.
The Dec. 18 debut at New York's Sunshine Cinema has been canceled, the venue's operator, Landmark Theatres, said in an e- mailed statement. Carmike Cinemas, which has interests in more than 2,000 screens, won't show the film, said a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named as they aren't authorized to speak publicly.
Sony, which had said it would go ahead with the movie, told exhibitors they're free to pull the film from theaters after hackers invoked the Sept. 11 attacks to disrupt its release. The group that seized control of Sony's computer system last month is trying to prevent distribution of the film about a U.S. TV crew recruited to assassinate North Korea's leader, Sony's lawyers told media outlets.
"We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time," the hackers wrote in a reference to theaters that will show the film. "(If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)"
Executives at Sony Picture spoke with exhibitors Tuesday in the U.S., telling them they're free not to screen the Dec. 25 release, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The studio still plans to release the film and will support whatever decision exhibitors make regarding the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy, said one person.
The movie, which isn't being released in Asia, is scheduled to debut in Australia on Jan. 22 and New Zealand a week later. The film is slated for release in more than 60 countries, according to its website.
Robert Rinderman, a spokesman for Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike who works for Jaffoni & Collins Inc., had no immediate comment.
Representatives of the three biggest theater chains -- Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc. -- didn't respond to requests for comment.
Sony's Hollywood studio had its computers attacked by cyberterrorists objecting to the comedy about a U.S. TV crew that's recruited to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film is unusual in depicting the onscreen death of Kim, a sitting head of state.
"The Interview" could have generated as much as $100 million at the U.S. box office by the end of the March quarter based on similar movies and those with Mr. Franco and Mr. Rogen, Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley & Co., said in a report. A complete loss of the film would affect as much as 1.9% of exhibitor revenue.
"We believe that the potential risk of the hackers carrying out any threats clearly outweighs the potential minimal loss of revenues to the exhibitors," Mr. Wold wrote. "Should increased concern by moviegoers keep some of them away from theaters to any degree, there could be risk to other important 2014 movies to be released in the coming weeks."
There is no credible intelligence to indicate there is an active plot against movie theaters in the U.S., said an official with the Department of Homeland Security who asked not to be identified during an investigation.
The decision by Carmike was reported earlier by the Hollywood Reporter.