Sony Hack: How 'The Interview' Demise Will Impact Holiday Box Office

"The Interview"
Ed Araquel

The audience that would have gone to see the R-rated comedy won't necessarily buy tickets for one of the season's other family-friendly movies

While The Interview will no longer be released on Christmas Day — Sony announced today that it's pulled the movie from its scheduled release date as major theater chains backed away from showing the film — none of the other movies playing over the holiday season are expected to enjoy a boost from the fact that there is one less much-talked-about competitor in the marketplace.

The removal of the R-rated comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, leaves three other wide releases opening over Christmas weekend: the star-studded musical Into the Woods, Angelina Jolie's drama Unbroken and Paramount's crime drama The Gambler. The holiday weekend will be even more crowded because of holdovers Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Annie, which will be entering their second weekend of release. And two films with big awards buzz, Wild starring Reese Witherspoon and The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, will also be expanding wide for Christmas weekend.

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Most of the holiday offerings are family films, which tend to do strong business over Christmas. The Interview was the only new R-rated comedy in the landscape. (The most recent R-rated comedy was Horrible Bosses 2, which had a soft $15.4 million opening over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.)

The Interview had been expected to open to a debut of $20 million to $25 million, though most box-office observers believe that the removal of The Interview will not bolster any of the other new releases. The Hobbit threequel does skew male and could see a small boost, but overall there is not another strong lure for young men looking for a laugh.

"I think pulling it completely has the impact of pretty much wiping that revenue out of the mix because there really is no other R-rated comedy that's going to attract that audience. This was it," says analyst Ben Spergel, executive vp consumer insights at C4.

Any loss of revenue will be an added handicap for an already anemic box office. Hollywood is in need of a strong finish for 2014; at the end of November, the domestic box office was down 4 percent compared to last year.

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If The Interview had opened as planned, it likely would have benefit from all the media attention that it has received in recent weeks. Moviegoers outside of the film's core audience of teen males might have gone to see the film just to see what all the hype was about. If that had happened, it might have earned more than its expected $20 million figure.

"The curiosity about this movie would probably have helped, and overall would have been a boost to the box office," adds Spergel.

Despite some industry folk saying that a VOD release could be a good option for The Interview, Sony confirmed to THR that the studio had no plans to release the film at a later date. "Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film," the studio said.

Overall, Hollywood insiders say the attack and the response to how it has unfolded has not only been bad for Sony, but for the industry in general. Rival studios were worried that people would be afraid to go to theaters to see any of the holiday releases due to concerns about a possible attack on The Interview. That concern is now moot because of Sony's decision to pull the film. As one rival studio exec put it: "This was a bad situation with no good solution. This was bad for everyone: studios, theater owners and moviegoers."

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