Los Angeles - Sony Pictures said The Interview has earned more than $15m in online sales and another $2.8m in theaters, an impressive return made possible by the publicity surrounding the cyber-attack blamed on North Korea.
The studio said on Sunday the film had been purchased or rented online more than 2 million times on the four days through Saturday, making it Sony Pictures' No. 1 online movie of all time.
"That is a huge number," said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.
"This is almost what it was going to do theatrically before it was pulled. It made about what people expected, but in a completely different way."Check out the trailer of the The Interview:
The film that triggered the devastating cyber-attack on the studio last month, which the United States says was launched by North Korea, opened Thursday in 331 independent theaters with a $1m box office and $1.8m over the subsequent three days, according to Sony. Many filmgoers and theater owners said they supported the film in the name of free speech.
The $44m film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco had been expected to gross at least $20m in its opening holiday weekend if it had gone to wide release, according to Boxoffice.com.
After large movie theater chains, like AMC and Regal Entertainment, refused to screen the comedy following threats of violence from hackers who opposed the film, Sony stitched together a limited release in theaters and a $5.99 video-on-demand (VOD) rental and $14.99 purchase option on YouTube Movies, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox Video and a dedicated site starting 24 December.
Sony had been fiercely criticized by top Hollywood talent and President Barack Obama for what many considered caving to the hackers. Sony maintained it had no choice but to pull the wide release and immediately began looking for alternative platforms with technology companies.
Weird watching this on TV
It was still unclear whether Sony, which is still struggling with the impact of the cyber-attack, would recoup the money it spent to make the film and the $30M or $40M in estimated marketing costs.
But in a sign of the film's power and place in the cultural debate, Apple Inc said on Sunday it plans to carry the movie for rental and purchase on iTunes, the biggest and most-popular online content store.
"The Apple component will be significant," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at tracking firm Rentrak. "I've heard anecdotes of people who have never downloaded a movie on iTunes doing that for this movie."
The Interview is now considered by experts a test case for simultaneous VOD and theatrical release, a taboo topic for the movie theater chains that want to retain their exclusive window.
"It'll be interesting to see how quickly industry moves forward with these kinds of services," Bock said. "This is money they don't need to share with the movie chains and that's a big deal. It could shake a lot of things up."
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