The controversial comedy “The Interview” would have shattered the record for biggest difference between media mania and box-office returns this weekend, if Hollywood measured such things.
The Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy at the center of the Sony hacking scandal dominated the news over the run-up to the holidays when, under pressure from President Obama and much of film industry’s creative community, the studio reversed an earlier decision to scrap its release. The film’s fortunes became uncertain after hackers tied to North Korea threatened 9/11-style attacks against theaters showing the comedy.
After finally opening to flag-waving fans on Christmas Day, it finished the four days with $2.8 million from 331 mainly smaller independent theaters. But major theater chains steered clear because Sony offered the film online in the first day-and-date digital release of a major studio film.
The movie’s debut was respectable given the challenges it faced, but hardly a blip on the box-office radar. And it’s far less than the $20 million-plus it was projected to make when it was scheduled for a nationwide release in up to 3,000 theaters. But on Sunday, Sony and the film’s co-director and star were thrilled.
“I’m so grateful that the movie found its way into theaters,” said Rogen in a statement, “and I’m thrilled that people actually went out and saw it. The fact that people actually left their houses when they had the option of staying home is amazing.”
Sony’s President of Worldwide Distribution Rory Bruer added that the top priority of the unconventional release was to give people the chance to see the film.
“While this is a completely unprecedented circumstance without proper comparisons, we are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically where we are seeing numerous sell-outs across the country, and online where it remains at the top of many charts,” he said. “Most gratifying of all is hearing how people banded together to watch the film and have a good time.”
The weekend breakdown was $1 million on Thursday, which was Christmas Day, $735,000 on Friday, $615,000 on Saturday and an estimated $461,000 on Sunday. The fact that it was in 331 theaters — well under a wide release and well over the standard for a platform launch — put it in sort of a no man’s land. And many of the theaters it did play in were smaller, with limited seating.
Sony has yet to release numbers on the film’s online performance, but it was the top movie at several streaming sites over the weekend. “The Interview” became available Sunday on iTunes, and was available since Thursday on YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and the studio’s own site.
“I don’t think box office grosses were what this was all about for Sony,” Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told The Wrap. “It was just a matter of getting the film out there, as the digital play shows.”