Sony Fires Back at Obama: "We Had No Choice" But to Cancel 'The Interview' Release

The Interview Still 5 - H 2014
Ed Araquel

The Interview Still 5 - H 2014

The president earlier made remarks critical of the studio's decision-making

After President Obama criticized Sony for its decision to cancel The Interview's release after theater chains decided not to show the film, the studio has issued a statement elaborating on the move.

"The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation's theater owners choosing not to screen the film," the statement said. "This was their decision."

A source tells The Hollywood Reporter that Sony was surprised by the president's comments and did, in fact, have many conversations with the White House both before and after the movie was pulled Wednesday. That would fly in the face of President Obama's claim that the studio never approached him for advice on how to handle the threats of violence that invoked the 9/11 terror attacks. Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Michael Lynton taped an interview with CNN on Friday, and part of it was aired that reaffirmed the studio had been in contact with the White House.

"We definitely spoke to senior advisers or a senior adviser in the White House to discuss the situation," Lynton said in the interview with CNN, adding that although he didn't directly talk to President Obama himself, "the White House was certainly aware of the situation."

During his press conference Friday, the president said he wished the studio would have "spoken to me first. I would have told them 'Do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.' " The source insists to THR that the studio engaged in multiple conversations with the White House; however, they were not directly with the president but were with his staff.

In the press conference, Obama had sharp words for the studio. "Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake," the president said.

Read more Obama: Sony "Made a Mistake" Canceling 'The Interview' Release

The FBI confirmed earlier in the day the link between the hacking group that calls itself Guardians of Peace and the North Korean regime. The "North Korean government is responsible for these actions," the agency said of the attack, which was first noticed by the studio Nov. 24 but was likely carried out well before.

Salaries, personal data, movie budgets and more than 12,000 messages from Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal's email inbox were leaked. 

Prior to the release of Seth Rogen and James Franco's The Interview, which featured the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, hackers sent threatening messages to Sony invoking the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sony allowed theater chains to make the decision to show the film or not, and major theater chains decided against showing the film. 

Sony's full statement reads: 

Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees' personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation's theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.

Let us be clear — the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.