Sony Pictures' controversial comedy "The Interview" began its atypical release with about $1 million in ticket sales from 331 theaters on Christmas Day, the studio estimated.
"The audience reaction was fantastic -- the limited release, in under 10% of the amount of theaters originally planned, featured numerous sell-outs and a first-day gross over $1 million," said Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures' president of worldwide distribution, in a statement on Friday.
The film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, was also made available through video-on-demand platforms starting Christmas Eve. The studio released the movie at 10 a.m. PST on Wednesday through YouTube Movies, Google Play, Xbox Video and its own stand-alone site www.seetheinterview.com for digital rentals ($5.99) and purchases ($14.99).
Sales figures for the on-demand market were not available.
In theatrical release, analysts expect the film to pull in a total of $3 million to $4 million through the Christmas holiday weekend.
Some theaters across the country hosted sold-out showings as many moviegoers trekked to the cinemas out of a sense of patriotism and support for free speech after the movie's rocky ride to its release date, while some went mostly for the comedy.
"The Interview" was originally intended as a broad, wide-release Hollywood comedy set for more than 3,000 screens. But the studio on Dec. 17 scuttled those plans after hackers threatened violence against movie theaters and most exhibitors declined to screen the film.
It likely would have grossed $20 million to $25 million in its opening weekend, had the fallout from last month's cyber attack against Sony Pictures not drastically altered plans. The film depicts a fictional assassination attempt against Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, which is suspected of having orchestrated the attack.
After pressure mounted from independent theater owners, free speech advocates and even the White House, the studio agreed to let cinemas show "The Interview."
Bruer acknowledged the unusual nature of the film's voyage into theaters.
"Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience The Interview on the first day of its unconventional release," Bruer said.
Critics' responses to "The Interview" have been mixed-to-negative. The Times' own Betsy Sharkey called it a "sloppy farce with the look of a low-budget affair, perhaps to match its lowbrow idea."
As "The Interview" dominated the news cycle, big studio movies "Unbroken" and "Into the Woods" did strong business, and awards contenders such as "American Sniper" drew considerable crowds.
"Unbroken," the Angelina Jolie-directed drama about the Olympian-turned war hero Louis Zamperini, topped the charts with an estimated $15.6 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada. That was good enough to make it the third-highest Christmas Day opening ever, not adjusting for inflation, coming in behind 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" and 2012's "Les Miserables."
Disney's Stephen Sondheim musical adaptation "Into the Woods," starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Emily Blunt, launched with an impressive $15.1 million on its opening day for second place.
Paramount Pictures' remake of "The Gambler," starring Mark Wahlberg, also made its wide debut, pulling in about $5 million. That put it in fifth place for the day behind holdovers "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" and "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb." Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" debuted with about $1.4 million.
Among the prestige films in limited release, "American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller and directed by Clint Eastwood, pulled in a stellar $240,212 from just four theaters. The civil rights drama Selma scored a robust $322,000 from its 19 screens.