By Cory Bennett - 12/23/14 12:30 PM EST
Sony Pictures has approved limited Christmas Day screenings of "The Interview," reversing course after taking heat for canceling its planned release after threats from hackers.
“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton in a statement.
The film, about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was pulled last week after cyberattackers threatened terrorist attacks on any theater that screened the film.
The decision set off a chorus of criticism.
President Obama said the company had "made a mistake.” Lawmakers urged Congress to screen the film and blasted Sony for what they saw as a suppression of free speech. Many among the Hollywood elite — including Judd Apatow and Rob Lowe — joined the disapproval, calling the move a dangerous precedent.
On Tuesday, a CNN/ORC poll revealed most Americans thought the studio had overreacted.
“We are proud to make [‘The Interview’] available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech,” Lynton said.
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a small theater chain based in Austin, Texas, and the Plaza Theatre, an independent theater in Atlanta, will screen the film starting Thursday. Major theater chains had canceled plans to screen the film after the threats.
“Breaking news: Sony has authorized screenings of THE INTERVIEW on Christmas Day. We are making shows available within the hour. #Victory” tweeted Tim League, the Alamo Drafthouse’s founder.
Sony vowed over the weekend that “The Interview” would be released in some format, but the Christmas Day release represents a dramatic reversal. Most assumed if the film was to ever hit theaters, it would be shown after Dec. 25, the original release date.
The movie studio has been battling cyber criminals since late November. Hackers infiltrated the company’s networks, leaking internal documents, embarrassing the company and costing it upwards of $100 million.
The issue became a national story after the hackers made violent threats against moviegoers planning to see the film.
The FBI has accused North Korea of sponsoring the attack and the White House has vowed a proportional response for the incident.
North Korea has denied involvement, but praised the hackers’ actions as a “righteous deed.”
Sony promised the limited Thursday release isn’t the studio’s only plan for the film.
Many have speculated the company will try to distribute the film through an online streaming platform, such as Netflix or the Sony-owned Crackle.
“We are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience,” Lynton said, without hinting at specifics.
On Twitter, the film’s co-star and director, Seth Rogen exclaimed: “The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn't give up! The Interview will be shown at theaters willing to play it on Xmas day!”
--This report was updated at 1:20 p.m.