Seth Rogen and James Franco cancel appearances after Sony hackers threaten 9/11-style violence

Cast members James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen (right) pose during premiere of the film The Interview in Los Angeles, California on Dec 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Cast members James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen (right) pose during premiere of the film The Interview in Los Angeles, California on Dec 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON (Reuters) - Two United States security officials cast doubt on a threat against theatres planning to show Sony Corp's controversial movie about an assassination of the leader of North Korea, but the police across the country vowed on Tuesday to take extra precautions.

Sony executives, meanwhile, told theatres owners the studio would not pull the film but added they would not object if theatres decided to cancel screenings, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

On Tuesday night, the film's New York premiere slated for this week was cancelled, said the New York Times. Theater chain Carmike Cinemas also cancelled its showings of the movie, added the report.

US security agencies are investigating a hacking group that published what appear to be more internal emails on Tuesday and promised a "bitter fate" for those who go to see the movie, The Interview, following a cyber attack that severely damaged movie studio's network.

The threat was e-mailed to news outlets including The Hollywood Reporter. The version sent to The Hollywood Reporter read: "Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)"

Another version posted on Pastebin website read: "We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made."

An official at the US Department of Homeland Security and another US security official said investigations had found nothing concrete so far to substantiate the threat. "At this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States," the homeland security official said.

Police departments in Los Angeles and New York said they were take the warning seriously.

Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck told a news conference that officers would be taking extra precautions to make sure movie theatres were "as safe as we can make them". He said the threats were "done to put terror" into US audiences. "People should not be afraid to go to the movies in Los Angeles; we have no credible threat."

John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter-terrorism at the New York Police Department, said the situation was similar to "some of the Bin Laden films, other controversial films where there've been threats" in the past.

A Sony spokesman had no immediate comment on the threat.

Sony is already reeling from the disclosures in documents released by the hackers, which have publicly exposed internal discussions important to the company's future.

Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the more than 100 gigabytes of documents that have been distributed via the Internet. The company has confirmed that at least some are authentic, apologising for the loss of sensitive employee data and some comments made by executives. The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, is scheduled to debut in US and Canadian theaters on Dec 25.

BuzzFeed reported that Franco and Rogen had cancelled all planned media appearances on Tuesday, the day they were scheduled to appear at a BuzzFeed event. Representatives for the actors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The newest file published on Tuesday appeared to be emails from Sony studio chief Michael Lynton. Several rounds of leaks of emails have prompted apologies for disparaging remarks that executives made about celebrities. The leaks have included a James Bond script, high-quality digital copies of films that have yet to be released and private employee data.

Sony has also been sued by self-described former employees who accuse Sony of failing to properly protect their personal data. Sony declined to comment on the lawsuit.