ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's Christmas day and it is opening day for the movie The Interview."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SETH ROGEN: Thank you so much for coming. And we thought this might not happen at all.
SIEGEL: Writer, director and star, Seth Rogen, turned up at the sold-out first showing of the film shortly past midnight at a small theater in Los Angeles. It's one of more than 300 independent theaters screening "The Interview." But Sony Pictures also made it available on streaming video yesterday. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports on the questions this raises about the way movies could be released going forward.
INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Unless you've been on a meditation retreat in a convent on Mars the past few weeks, you know that "The Interview" is about a couple of hapless TV journalists played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, who are recruited by a CIA operative played by Lizzy Caplan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE INTERVIEW")
LIZZY CAPLAN: (As Agent Lacey) The CIA would love it if you could take him out.
ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) Huh?
CAPLAN: (As Agent Lacey) Take him out.
ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) For coffee?
JOHN FRANCO: (As Dave Skylark) Dinner?
ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) For kimchi?
JAFFE: North Korea called "The Interview" an act of war. Then unknown hackers got into seemingly everything that Sony Pictures had on their computers and threatened violent attacks against movie theaters that showed the film, at which point the major theater chains bailed. So Sony pulled the film. That move was widely criticized including by President Obama. Then Sony unpulled the film. In any case, the only reason that Sony has been able to distribute "The Interview" online at the same time it's in theaters is because none of those theaters belongs to major chains, says Gitesh Pandya, editor of boxofficeguru.com.
GITESH PANDYA: A movie like this, if it's going to be available at home or through digital streaming very soon or even in this case simultaneously, then the big theaters say thanks but no thanks.
JAFFE: But the independent theaters are used to the little, low-budget and foreign films they show being available simultaneously on Internet or video. And Pandya says it will be even less of a problem for them with "The Interview."
PANDYA: They will be able to capitalize on this red-hot relevant buzz that it has going on.
JAFFE: That red hot buzz has also led people to seek out the movie on the Internet. Mike Johnson of Lincoln, Nebraska watched "The Interview" yesterday on Google Play for about half the price of a theater ticket, though he's not a big Seth Rogen fan.
MIKE JOHNSON: I decided to watch it to support freedom of expression. I felt that it was important that people, not only in the United States but around the world, know that even if we disagree with them, they have a right to express those views.
JAFFE: The availability of the film on the Internet has really provided a showcase for the online streaming services like the ones run by Microsoft and Google, says Pandya.
PANDYA: Within a few days, the Microsoft and Googles of the world were able to jump in and make this available to the consumer right away at a pretty low price point.
JAFFE: Major theater chains have been successful in squelching this kind of competition so far. And they'll probably be able to continue doing that, especially with the spectacles costing hundreds of millions of dollars that look better on a big screen. Their concern now is that medium budget movies like "The Interview" might find new audiences willing to take a chance on a film if they can find it on the Internet at half the price of a theater ticket. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.