Capping weeks of headline-grabbing tumult over the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy "The Interview," the film finally began to roll out into 331 independent theaters nationwide just after midnight on Christmas Eve. One of the first showings in Los Angeles, a sold-out 12:30 a.m. screening at the Cinefamily Theater on Fairfax Boulevard, drew camera crews, carolers, fans dressed as Uncle Sam -- and, in a surprise appearance, co-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg themselves.
"You are the best," Rogen told the crowd. "We thought this might not happen at all."
Rogen and Goldberg had been largely out of the public eye for over a week since Sony Pictures first canceled the release of the movie -- which centers on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- in the wake of a crippling cyberattack tied by U.S. officials to North Korea. At the eleventh hour, Sony brokered deals to distribute the film via independent theaters and a handful of video-on-demand platforms, including YouTube and Google Play.
Having weathered a firestorm unlike any Hollywood has ever seen, the two were eager to take a public victory lap.
"The fact that it's showing here and you guys all came out is super ... exciting," Goldberg said.
Sony had initially planned a wide Christmas Day release for the film in some 3,000 theaters, until the nation's major exhibitors dropped it after a hacking group calling itself Guardians of Peace threatened violence against moviegoers. Buffeted by widespread criticism from President Obama, among many others, Sony executives scrambled to put together a patchwork release unprecedented for a major studio movie.
It remains to be seen how much revenue Sony will be able to draw from the film, particularly given that it is already being widely pirated online. But given that for a few days it looked like it may not be released at all, Rogen and Goldberg were clearly relieved that audiences were getting a chance to see it on the big screen.
"If it wasn't for theaters like this, and people like you guys," Rogen said, "this literally would not be ... happening."