SPONSORED:

Sony cancels 'The Interview' release

 

Sony Pictures has canceled the release of its comedy “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and has subjected the studio to a massive hacking attack that could cost it more than $100 million.

Hours after five major movie theater chains withdrew “The Interview” from their upcoming lineups and a day after hackers threatened Sept.11-style attacks on theaters showing the movie, Sony announced it would not release the film, set for Christmas Day.

ADVERTISEMENT

The result is a massive victory for the unknown hackers who for weeks have released emails and documents meant to embarrass the company. It’s unclear who the hackers are, though U.S. investigators on Wednesday linked them to North Korea.

“The Interview” cost tens of millions to make and has been the subject of a marketing campaign that has cost millions more. Sony’s decision will raise questions about the cyber-safety of big U.S. companies and whether they are vulnerable to threats from hackers.

Sony’s decision was a quick reversal from its insistence mere days ago that the film would hit the silver screen as planned.

In a statement, it insisted it stood by the rights of the filmmakers, who include actor-writer-director Seth Rogen, to express themselves even as it announced an uncertain future for the film.

The studio’s calculation appeared to change when the hackers threatened to carry out terrorist attacks on theaters, which resulted in theater chains saying they would not carry the movie.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business,” Sony said Wednesday. 

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like.

“We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers,” the company said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

The decision capped a shocking and swift turn of events.

As recently as Tuesday morning, the Sony hack had been seen as a game-changing cyber event but not a national security threat. The anonymous hackers going by “Guardians of Peace” were being called cyber criminals, not cyber terrorists.

That changed after the hackers issued a chilling warning Tuesday afternoon.

“Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001.  

“We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.).”

The proclamation set off a rapid chain of events. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was pulled onto the case. The film’s stars, James Franco and Rogen, canceled their upcoming press events. In just hours, the film would be completely pulled.

Before Tuesday, the hackers had simply focused on intermittently dumping the massive amounts of data they had stolen from Sony. Unreleased films were leaked along with Sony employees’ personal information. The assailants exposed the email catalogues of top Hollywood brass, revealing petty insults being hurled around about famous actors and racially-tinged jokes about the president.

But at no point until then did violence enter the equation.

Sony has been battling the hackers since late November, when they infiltrated and shut down the company’s computer system, stealing massive quantities of sensitive information.

Many have speculated the hackers are connected to North Korea, though Pyongyang has denied involvement while lauding the hackers as undertaking “a righteous deed.”

The DHS has said it has “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters.”

After Sony's announcement late Wednesday afternoon, multiple outlets reported that unnamed U.S. officials were preparing to point the blame squarely at North Korea in an upcoming announcement on Thursday.

For Sony, the damage has already been done.

This story was updated at 6:53 p.m.