Sony’s ‘The Interview’ Scores $1M on Christmas Day

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“The Interview” took in more than $1 million in ticket sales on Christmas Day, as the Sony Pictures comedy filled U.S. theaters in limited release without incident following threats of violence.

The movie, which opened in more than 300 locations, was also available for rent and purchase at Google Play and other websites. It topped the charts of two online marketplaces, Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox video store and YouTube’s movie store.

Filmgoers made a point to see “The Interview” on the big screen after major cinema chains dropped the movie because computer hackers linked by the FBI to North Korea threatened to attack theaters that showed it. Sony released the film to independent theaters after drawing criticism from President Barack Obama to the Republican National Committee over its initial decision to shelve the Dec. 25 debut.

“We sold out all our screenings yesterday across the chain,” Christian Parkes, chief brand officer for Alamo Drafthouse, which operates 19 theaters, said in an interview. Every screening began with a video message from directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg thanking the audience. “It was very much a festival and a party atmosphere,” Parkes said.

Hackers last month broke into Sony’s computer systems, releasing contracts, e-mails and other confidential data onto the Internet. The cyber-terrorists condemned the movie, a farcical comedy about a a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That country denied it was behind the attack.

‘Challenging Circumstances’

North Korea blamed the U.S. for an Internet outage it experienced this week, calling Obama “reckless in words and deeds” and charging him with forcing the release of the movie.

“U.S. President Obama is the chief culprit,” the National Defence Commission said in a statement carried today by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. When Sony Pictures said it would withdraw the film, “Obama urged it to unconditionally screen the movie,” the statement said.

Sony made the film available for rent and purchase on Dec. 24 at Google Play and other websites at a price of $5.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy, in addition to limited release in independent theaters.

“Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience ‘The Interview’ on the first day of its unconventional release,” Rory Bruer, president worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures, said in an e-mail.

Hackers on Dec. 25 hit Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Network, Internet services that video gamers use to play online. A group called Lizard Squad claimed responsibility. Both PlayStation and Xbox acknowledged the problems from corporate Twitter accounts.

Financial Performance

Service was restored for Xbox users on Dec. 26. Sony’s PlayStation Network was “gradually” coming back, Sky News reported on its website today.

The movie’s financial performance will test whether a broad studio comedy can succeed when released online and in theaters at the same time. The studio spent an estimated $80 million making and marketing the film, according to Wade Holden, an analyst at Kagan Research.

Online viewing will eat into ticket sales, Parkes said, since a family can rent it online for less than the cost of one ticket. Alamo Drafthouse wanted to screen the movie to ensure that the threats didn’t sink the film, and Sony was clear in negotiations that the studio would release it online as well.

“There will be a pretty steep fall off,” Parkes said. “We’ll play it until people stop buying tickets.”

In other Christmas releases, Walt Disney Co. said “Into The Woods” took in $15.1 million in ticket sales in about 2,440 theaters.

The online release of “The Interview” also exposed the film to intellectual property pirates. The website Torrent Freak reported the movie has been downloaded more than 750,000 times since its appearance online. Sony didn’t comment on the piracy and hasn’t announced plans to release the film overseas.

(A previous version of this story had incorrect time references.)