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'The Interview,' Now Sony's Top Online Film Ever, Earns $15M

<em>The Interview </em>is now Sony's top online movie. It earned $15 million through rentals and sales, the studio said.

The Interview, the Sony Pictures movie that was pulled from theaters after threats from a group of hackers, has earned the studio $15 million in online rentals and purchases in the four days since it was made available last week.

The $15 million figure was only slightly less than the $20 million the studio had estimated The Interview to generate in its opening weekend in theaters across the nation.

The film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is a comedy that centers on a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But Sony's emails were hacked in the period leading up to the movie's planned Christmas Day release, and the group that claimed responsibility for the hack, the Guardians of Peace, also threatened violence against moviegoers if the movie made it to theaters. That prompted the nation's largest movie theater chains to say they wouldn't screen The Interview. Sony, too, said it wouldn't release the movie.

That seemed to be the end of the road for the film, which reportedly cost $44 million to make, until last week when it was announced that about 300 independent movie theaters would show The Interview. Sony also announced it would make the movie available for rent online for $4.95 on services such as YouTube Movies and Microsoft's Xbox video console, as well as a dedicated website, and for sale at $14.99.

Variety reported today that the movie was rented or bought more than 2 million times through Saturday. That figure is likely to increase as Apple's iTunes service made the movie available over the weekend. The Interview also earned nearly $3 million through its screenings at 331 theaters. Bloomberg noted that the movie is Sony's top online film ever. The news service adds:

"The unconventional rollout of The Interview is the first big test for a simultaneous theatrical and online release. Typically, such debuts have been reserved for smaller films, such as independent movies that may not have enough widespread appeal to warrant a big theatrical marketing budget, according to Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Rentrak."

The FBI initially accused North Korea of being behind the hack, but the communist country, while calling the hack "righteous," denied any role. Some experts say they doubt North Korea has the capability to carry out such an attack.

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