Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of "The Interview" after the nation's major theater chains said they would not screen the film.
The action came as U.S. intelligence officials confirmed widespread speculation that the North Korean government was behind the devastating cyber attack, which has hobbled Sony Pictures and spread fear throughout the entertainment industry. "The Interview" depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Federal investigators began briefing some legislators that the rogue state gave the order to pilfer Sony's computer system, leading to a massive leak of sensitive data, including emails, financial documents and even the salaries of Sony's top stars.
The studio said it has no plans to release the controversial movie in the future, either in theaters or via home video on-demand. "Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film," a studio spokesman said on Wednesday.
The studio said "we respect and understand our partners' decision" and “completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers."
Regal, AMC and Cinemark -- the three largest chains in the United States -- decided not to screen “The Interview” starting on Christmas Day in the wake of threats made by Sony hackers, said people familiar with the decision. The chains asked Sony to postpone the release date of the controversial film.
"Due to the wavering support of the film “The Interview” by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres," Regal said in a statement.
The decision represents a major blow to Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has been under siege by a hack attack that became public Nov. 24.
Late Tuesday, Carmike Cinemas, the fourth-largest theater chain, with 2,917 screens in 41 states, became the first major exhibitor to scrap plans to screen "The Interview."
New York-based Bow Tie Cinemas also said Wednesday that it was scrapping plans to screen the Sony comedy at its 55 movie theaters, which have roughly 350 screens. Bow Tie is one of the oldest theater chains in the country with theaters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Colorado.
"We at Bow Tie Cinemas are saddened and angered by recent threats of terrorism in connection with the movie, 'The Interview,'" the theater chain said in a statement. "It is our mission to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests and employees. Given that the source and credibility of these threats is unknown at the time of this announcement, we have decided after careful consideration not to open 'The Interview' on Dec. 25, 2014, as originally planned. We hope that those responsible for this act are swiftly identified and brought to justice."
Landmark Theatres said Thursday's New York premiere of "The Interview" at Sunshine Cinema has been canceled.
At an emergency meeting of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, Sony executives told owners that they could drop the film from their holiday schedules without breaching their contractual agreements or jeopardizing future bookings of Sony films.
The owners group said in a statement Wednesday that it is "working closely with the appropriate security and law enforcement agencies."
"We are encouraged that the authorities have made progress in their investigation and we look forward to the time when the responsible criminals are apprehended," the group said. "Until that happens, individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer.”
Federal officials are taking seriously the possibility that, in retaliation for "The Interview," North Korea could be behind the massive cyberattack at Sony.
The Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-directed film is about a fictional attempt to kill North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Un. In June, North Korea called on the U.S. government to block the film's release or face a "decisive and merciless countermeasure."
"We will clearly show it [our Christmas gift] 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 hackers wrote Tuesday.
Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.