Sony Hack: 'The Interview,' 'Annie' Caught in Crossfire
The 'Interview' premiere will go on as the studio defies hacker threats and 'Annie' hopes to overcome piracy
This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In an internal report laying out of the international marketing strategy for the upcoming comedy The Interview — one of hundreds of thousands of Sony Pictures documents hackers have leaked — there was one note of caution: "Avoid direct references to North Korea or Kim Jong Un in your advertising. We have little to gain by pointing this out when the parallels are obvious."
That could be the understatement of the year. While it's unclear who is responsible for the attack and North Korea officials have denied involvement, a Dec. 8 message from the ostensible hackers, Guardians of Peace, demanded, "Stop immediately showing that movie of terrorism," an apparent reference to the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy about journalists recruited to kill North Korea's leader.
Sony, though, is moving forward defiantly with the release of Interview, set to open in the U.S. on Dec. 25 even as the besieged studio goes about launching its big holiday musical, Annie. It held a special screening of Interview for the San Francisco Film Society on Dec. 9, and the $44 million movie's official premiere is set for Dec. 11 in Los Angeles. The international rollout, though, could be affected. It begins Jan. 22 in Australia, Argentina and parts of Europe and extends through April 17, but no dates have been announced for South Korea, Japan or any other Asian territories. (A Sony source says a South Korea release never was planned and Japan is not solidified.)
The studio also is juggling Annie, which stars Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx and hits theaters Dec. 19. The $60 million-plus movie was among a handful of Sony films illegally uploaded to the Internet during Thanksgiving weekend, but conventional wisdom holds that family fare isn't as hurt by pirated versions (and stats show Fury, with Brad Pitt, was far more popular in piracy circles than Annie). Rivals, though, say interest in Annie, produced by Will Smith and Jay Z, is relatively soft and that it might debut in the $15 million range amid tough competition, on par with Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, which opened to $16 million a weekend earlier (Dec. 13) last year. But Sony insiders say a $15 million start would be fine, considering moviegoing turns into a seven-day affair during the year-end holidays. "Annie will have incredible word-of-mouth," says Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer.
According to general tracking, African-Americans are by far the group most eager to see Annie. Definite interest hovers at 63 percent, compared with 24 percent among whites. Family tracking, which measures kids ages 7 to 16, tells a different story, with interest running even between the ethnic groups.
Some believe the media attention on both Interview and Annie could actually help build curiosity. For their part, Rogen and Franco continue to promote their film in force. "Just relax and go see theinterviewmovie on dec 25th. I promise a guuuuuud time," tweeted Franco on Dec. 9, not resorting to the sort of taunt Rogen lobbed June 20 when he tweeted: "Apparently Kim Jong Un plans on watching #TheInterview. I hope he likes it!!"