LOS ANGELES (AFP) - US cinemas cancelled screenings, including a red-carpet New York premiere, of a madcap comedy that offended North Korea, after mysterious computer hackers issued a chilling threat.
Hollywood studio Sony Pictures said it is not pulling the film, but is leaving it to theatre chains to decide whether to show the movie, which depicts a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
"We plan to release the film," said a source at Sony, which is dealing with fallout from an enormous cyber-attack last month.
The source added that a decision whether to show the film "is with theatre owners, partners whom we support."
Two movie chains, Carmike theatres and Bow Tie theatres, said they will not show the movie, while the New York City premiere scheduled for this week at the Landmark chain's Sunshine Cinema also has been cancelled, Variety reported.
Two other major chains, AMC and Regal Theatres, did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
"Will theatre owners balk at booking the film? It's actually highly possible," said analyst Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, adding that the film had been set for a relatively modest debut anyway when it opens on Christmas Day.
"Truth be told, The Interview wasn't likely to be in more than 2,500 theatres anyways, but that number could actually drop significantly now," he told AFP.
Meanwhile, the film's stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, have cancelled all promotional appearances linked to the film.
9/11 ATTACK THREAT
Skittishness about attending the movie follows threats by the so-called GOP (Guardians of Peace) hacking group, which invoked the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in an ominous warning to any movie-goers planning to see the film.
The group warned in a message written in broken English that a "bitter fate" awaits any who attend the film.
"Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear," the statement warned.
It added: "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.)"
US officials, meanwhile, have played down the threat.
"There is no credible intelligence backing this up at this point in time," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN.
In addition to the threats, Sony has been seen the release of a trove of highly unflattering internal e-mails, unpublished scripts and other internal communications, including information about salaries, employee health records and other personal information.
On Monday, Sony Pictures boss Michael Lynton sought to reassure employees that the studio would not be destroyed by the leaks.
"This will not take us down," Lynton told employees, adding: "You should not be worried about the future of this studio."
North Korea has denied involvement in the brazen Nov 24 cyber-attack, which some experts said could possibly have been carried out by disgruntled workers or by supporters of North Korea furious over the movie.
Meanwhile, lawyers have filed two class-action lawsuits against Sony Pictures in Los Angeles.
One of the suits alleges that "Sony failed to secure and protect its computer systems, servers, and databases, resulting in the release of the named plaintiffs and other class members'" personal data.
"An epic nightmare, much better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life, is unfolding in slow motion for Sony's current and former employees," the 45-page lawsuit said.