Sony Pictures said The Interview has earned more than $15 million in online sales – making it the studio’s number 1 online movie of all time with more than 2 million rentals and purchases so far. But despite the film’s online success, don’t expect to see a trend of more online movie debuts, according to Rentrak’s Senior Media Analyst, Paul Dergarabedian.
“I don’t see this as being a threat to brick and mortar theaters at all,” said Dergarabedian. “In fact, if you want to go out and try to replicate what happened with The Interview be my guest. I think it would be impossible to create this kind of organic marketing, this fervor, not just in the entertainment press, but also in the mainstream media which has fueled a lot of folks who might not have otherwise known of Seth Rogen and James Franco or this movie, now they were made aware of it and they went out and saw it in theaters and they also downloaded it in a big way.”
The raunchy comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made almost as much money through online distribution and in limited theaters in its opening weekend as it would have in a wide release that was shelved after threats from hackers. The film had been expected to gross at least $20 million 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 December 24.
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 $30 million or $40 million in estimated marketing costs. But Dergarabedian said for Sony, it’s not necessarily about the bottom line.
“I think the bottom line here is that, this was a pretty expensive movie because when you take the budget, the production budget of The Interview, which was reported of being around 40 million, and then the marketing costs on top of that, that’s a lot of money. And this 18 million dollars for this opening weekend in theaters and online is a step in the right direction, but I think it’s more about what the movie represents than the bottom line dollar for Sony. They did the best with a really tough situation. Audiences got to see a movie they didn’t think they would get to see, and it created a really interesting turn of events over the holidays that nobody could have predicted months ago.”
Sony had been fiercely criticized by top Hollywood talent and President Barack Obama for what many considered caving to the hackers, when it originally said it would shelve the film. Sony maintained it had no choice but to pull the wide release, but immediately began looking for alternative platforms with technology companies.