Sony Pictures has told cinema owners that they are free to cancel screenings of its forthcoming comedy The Interview, after the group responsible for a massive hack of the Hollywood studio threatened those theatres that chose to show the film.
The hacker group, which calls itself Guardians of Peace (GOP), posted a message on text sharing site Pastebin on Tuesday, invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks as it warned cinemagoers to avoid seeing The Interview, and advised anyone who lives near to a cinema showing the film that they should leave their homes. “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,” the message read.
The Interview stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as television journalists, who secure an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and are then asked by the CIA to assassinate him. The film is due to be released on Christmas Day in the US.
At its Los Angeles premiere on 11 December, Mr Rogen publicly thanked Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal for “having the balls” to make the film at all. The studio chief has been personally embarrassed by the hacks, after multiple personal emails from Ms Pascal’s account were published online. The latest threat from the GOP comes a day after hackers leaked a scene from The Interview, depicting the death of the North Korean leader in a rocket attack.
During the summer, the North Korean regime warned that the film’s release represented “an act of war” that would lead to “merciless” retaliation against the US. Although there is no firm evidence to connect North Korea to the hackers, it now seems clear that The Interview provided the GOP with a motive for its cyber-attack on Sony.
On Tuesday, Mr Rogen and Mr Franco both cancelled all their upcoming media engagements in support of the film, including a Q&A with the website Buzzfeed, and an appearance by Mr Rogen on the late night chat-show, Late Night With Seth Meyers. On Monday the pair were interviewed on the popular ABC breakfast show, Good Morning America.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that there was “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theatres,” while the FBI said it “continues to work collaboratively with our partners to investigate this matter.”
In New York, where the film is expected to have its East Coast premiere on Thursday evening, NYPD counterterrorism chief John Miller told the Associated Press it was unclear whether the group was threatening another cyber-attack or a physical one. “I think our primary posture is going to be to have a police presence and a response capability that will reassure people who may have heard about this and have concerns,” he said.
On Tuesday the hackers also released a cache of some 8,000 emails from the account of Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment, describing its latest data dump as part of a “Christmas gift”. The Sony data breach is one of the largest in US corporate history. On Monday evening, two former Sony Pictures workers filed a lawsuit against the firm for failing to prevent the hack – and therefore the theft of personal and financial information from past and current employees – despite warnings that it was vulnerable to such an attack.
Meanwhile, human rights group Fighters for a Free North Korea has announced plans to airlift DVD copies of The Interview into the country by floating them over the border attached to hydrogen balloons. Thor Halvorssen, the philanthropist funding the initiative, told the Hollywood Reporter, “comedies are hands-down the most effective of counter-revolutionary devices.”