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The Hollywood maxim that even bad publicity is good news will hold true for Sony's hack-a-licious picture "The Interview," say film industry experts who foresee merely a delayed debut and a modest box-office boon.
“A movie with this much press behind it, honestly, you know it has people kind of in a fervor to see this, and it is going to find a home in theaters,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co., Inc. in Los Angeles.
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Sony Pictures Entertainment, which reportedly invested $42 million to make the film, decided Wednesday not the release “The Interview” as planned on Christmas Day, due to security concerns.
Sony did not return an email or a voice mail from NBC News, seeking comment on the predictions of an early 2015 release. A Sony spokesperson confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday the studio "has no further release plans for the film." That includes no video-on-demand release, the spokesperson said.
The movie — a James Franco/Seth Rogen comedic romp about a CIA plot to kill North Korea’s dictator — is a casualty of an unprecedented hack attack against Sony that revealed reams of sensitive internal emails, many embarrassing.
The hackers vowed violence at theaters if the film opened as scheduled.
U.S. government officials suggested Wednesday that the regime of Kim Jong Un appears to be behind the Sony breach and the threat, though some cyber-sleuths still harbor doubts that North Korean leaders masterminded the online assault.
“The movie would have recouped anyway, would have been very successful without all of this happening,” said David Poland, a film industry analyst, movie critic, and founder of the website Movie City News.
“We’re at the beginning of the story. Once you go down that road to who did this, it may become a much bigger story, a political story, not a Hollywood story. I personally think once they get some stability in terms of knowing who’s responsible, and it's not just all this swiping at ghosts, I think the movie will come out in January or February,” Poland said.
But he doesn’t expect the tumult around the hacks and leaks to boost theater crowds for the initial public screenings, if and when those happen.
“I don't think it changes the box office very much,” Poland said. “These guys (Franco and Rogen) are kind of on a hot streak. A month from now or six weeks from now, when things calm down, all of this will be an afterthought.”
In the mind of box-office expert Bock, the release could take place next spring or summer. But he agrees the movie’s gross likely won’t suffer or gain from the recent cyber chaos.
“Once things settle down and once the culprits are brought to justice, this film will get released,” Bock said.
“It was never going to be the biggest film. It’s R-rated. It’s Seth Rogen and James Franco. You know those guys, and you know if you like them or not. So it’s not like they were going to find a whole new audience because of this,” Bock added.
The New York Times offered complimentary words on the movie following a pre-hack screening, describing it as “a film that shows off the Franco-Rogen duo as millennials’ answer to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby … (as they) keep finding themselves in increasingly absurd situations.”
Some fans of Franco and Rogen’s previous work pleaded with Sony to release the film straight to video-on-demand and DVD, believing that strategy would avert the theater-violence threats.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings earlier in December posted on Facebook that audiences and movie moguls should “Say no to cyber intimidation and yes to outrageous humor. I’m buying 10 tickets to The Interview when it comes out.”
But will Sony ultimately be the studio that releases the movie?
After all of the email carnage, there’s talk in Hollywood that Sony may offer "The Interview" to another movie company before release.
“They might sell the rights,” Bock said. “It’s obviously very complicated. I’m sure it’s not as easy as, ‘We don’t want this film. You buy it at a fire sale.’
“There definitely may be more to it with the large amount of press it’s got.”