AMC Theaters CEO Chastizes Sony Over 'The Interview': "They Made a Lot of Wrong Decisions"

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AMC Entertainment CEO Gerry Lopez

"You had the president of the United States promoting the movie on television, and it still bombed," Gerry Lopez tells THR.

Marking the first time that a major theater operator has addressed The Interview debacle, AMC Entertainment CEO Gerry Lopez said Wednesday that the movie's release was "poorly handled" by Sony and the film studio's chairman, Michael Lynton.

"You had the president of the United States promoting the movie on television, and it still bombed," Lopez told The Hollywood Reporter. "Let's just say the situation could have been handled a lot better. And in a quiet moment, Michael might even agree. Sony was blindsided and destroyed by the hack. They made a lot of wrong decisions."

A week before its scheduled Dec. 25 release, Sony pulled The Interview — starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two bumbling journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean president Kim Jong Un — following a direct threat against theaters by the group responsible for hacking the studio. The studio made its decision after the major chains, including AMC, said they would not open the film on Christmas Day.

But after President Obama, whose administration believes North Korea was behind the cyberattack, criticized Sony for canceling the film, Sony went into crisis mode and decided to release The Interview in theaters and on VOD on Christmas Day (it had already been in talks with VOD providers). However, only a few hundred independent cinemas were willing to play it, since most exhibitors have a blanket policy against carrying a movie that's being made simultaneously available elsewhere.

The major theater chains, including AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark, were said to be furious with Lynton for the way he handled the matter, because they had initially asked the studio to simply delay the film's release instead of pulling it altogether. But when Sony said it was up to theater owners whether or not to pull the film, AMC and the other major chains said would not play it, promoting Sony to scrub the release altogether.

Between VOD, online sales and North American box office receipts ($6.1 million), The Interview has grossed north of $55 million.

A month later, Feb. 5, Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal was ousted from the top post in the wake of the hacking and The Interview, which she spearheaded.

Lopez said The Interview changes nothing in terms of day-and-date VOD releases. "Sony lost money. If there's a new business model out there, it's that there is a new way of losing money," he said. "I don't think there are any lessons learned here, how you handle the situation. It's very unfortunate what happened. We believe there was a better playbook that could have been used."

On Tuesday, AMC Entertainment, the country's second-largest theater circuit after Regal Entertainment, reported record fourth-quarter financial results despite a sluggish box office. Lopez said one major reason was the decision to upgrade seats in 53 theaters, which provided for a 13.8 percent increase in revenues for those screens compared to last year.

AMC is owned by China's Wanda Group.

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