'The Interview' finds its audience at indie theaters, online

'The Interview' collects $2.8 million in 331 indie theaters, more than $15 million online since Christmas Eve

It seems Sony's 'The Interview' didn't need a wide release after all

The studio reported that its Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg comedy collected $2.8 million in 331 independent movie theaters and more than $15 million online since its launch last week.

The film, which stars Rogen and James Franco, is about the fictionalized assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Though it was originally intended as a wide-release film, Sony axed those plans on Dec. 17 after hackers threatened violence against movie theaters, and most exhibitors declined to screen the film.

Amid criticism from President Obama, 1st Amendment activists, and moviegoers, Sony decided last week it would roll out the film to a limited number of theaters on Christmas Day.

The studio also announced it would release the film on video-on-demand platforms including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a stand-alone website, http://www.seetheinterview.com starting on Christmas Eve. The movie also was made available on iTunes on Sunday. Rentals cost $5.99, while customers can pay $14.99 to buy the movie.

Through Saturday, the film has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times, Sony reported. The vast majority of the sales were through Google Play and YouTube Movies platforms.

"While this is a completely unprecedented circumstance without proper comparisons, we are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically, where we are seeing numerous sellouts across the country and online, where it remains at the top of many charts," Rory Bruer, Sony's head of distribution, said in a statement Sunday.

Some said the $15-million video-on-demand haul was unexpected.

"That's a big number, and it seems like a lot for one weekend of video-on-demand," said Paul Verna, a digital media industry analyst at research firm EMarketer. "But I don't know that we have anything to compare it to, because it's an unprecedented situation."

Before the Sony hack in November, analysts said the comedy, which cost $44 million to make, could have debuted to $25 million in the four-day holiday weekend at the box office. Some analysts predicted it could have grossed up to $100 million during its run in theaters.

Verna attributed the film's successful online debut to public curiosity after the Sony hacking scandal. However, he said it's hard to say how much the studio will ultimately make off the film.

"It's not the kind of movie that has very long legs," Verna said. "I don't know if it's going to do a lot more, but Sony has done pretty well so far. It doesn't seem to me that they are going to lose money, but it's still too early to know for sure how it's all going to shake out."

Many who watched on video-on-demand took to Twitter over the weekend to post their reactions.

Damaris Santiago, an Orlando, Fla. resident, said her YouTube stream of the film got disrupted four times from all the Web traffic. The 32-year-old tweeted Wednesday: "Watching #theinterview...it just got posted on YouTube. Take that North Korea."

Threats also didn't scare away moviegoers, who showed up at theaters across the U.S. to support free speech and see the controversial film. Many independent theaters reported sold-out shows.

At the Crest Theatre in Westwood on Christmas Day, dozens of moviegoers lined up for the noon showing. Kim Gregory went with her husband, a veteran, even though they "have never ever gone to a movie on Christmas Day."

"That's not normally our deal, but we had to," she said while waiting outside the theater. "We thought it was outrageous that a foreign country could inhibit our own freedom of speech."

Rogen, Goldberg and Franco spent Sunday afternoon live-tweeting the film. They cracked jokes while providing fans on social media behind-the-scenes tidbits and general reactions to the comedy.

saba.hamedy@latimes.com

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