LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sony Pictures on Wednesday canceled the Dec. 25 theatrical release of its North Korea comedy "The Interview," after major U.S. theater chains pulled out of showing the film following threats from hackers.
Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters were among the cinema chains announcing they will not show "The Interview" as planned on Dec. 25, citing security threats by hackers that breached Sony Corp's computers.
The move is the clearest sign of the widening influence of the hackers who have also leaked Sony documents that drew global headlines, and now have forced a change of plans for a Christmas Day movie release for thousands of screens.
"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview,' we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," Sony said in a statement.
The studio said it was "deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company."
It said it stood by the film makers of "The Interview," a comedy about two hapless journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Representatives for Rogen and Franco, who canceled numerous scheduled appearances this week, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hackers who claimed responsibility for seizing control and leaking data from Sony's computers last month, on Tuesday warned people to stay away from cinemas showing the film, and reminded moviegoers of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
The National Association of Theatre Owners, which represents movie theaters across the United States, said Wednesday it was it was working closely with security and law enforcement agencies and that cinemas may choose not to show the film.
Several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government was working with entertainment companies to address the threat but had no credible evidence of a threat to moviegoers.
"The theaters are reacting out of fear and uncertainty," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world's leading cybersecurity experts.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on Wednesday, but said earlier this week there was "no credible intelligence" to substantiate the threats.
Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Eric Kelsey and Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles, Jim Finkle in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang