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The latest Sony hacker threat: Will it make you skip the movies?

Latest threat escalates the Sony hack into a potential attack on all moviegoers

It's on now.

"Guardians of Peace," the hackers who laid Sony Pictures' computer network to waste, broadened their targets Tuesday to include potentially anyone who goes to the local multiplex during the holidays. That's because they threatened a "bitter fate" for those who see the edgy Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy, "The Interview," that Sony has scheduled for wide release on Christmas.

Presumably, the group is referring to a bitter fate different from the one that awaited audiences who paid to see Franco in "Good People" or Rogen in "The Guilt Trip." The Guardians didn't say what they might do to the theaters that showed the film, but they made some ominous allusions.

"The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001," the group's message said. "We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)"

I don't remember terrorists flying planes into multiplexes, but I get the point. If Sony releases "The Interview," the hackers are saying, people will get hurt.

So far, the Department of Homeland Security isn't exactly quaking in its boots. A department official told Politico on Tuesday that "at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States."

Nevertheless, Sony Pictures is taking the threat seriously enough to consider not releasing the movie in theaters next week. Alternative include postponing the theatrical debut until after the holidays or releasing it to online video-on-demand services.

The movie -- in which a dimwitted tabloid-TV host (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the behest of U.S. intelligence officials -- seems aimed at males between the ages of 18 and 34, the people most likely to find humor in bumbling, amateur hit men trying to kill the most unpredictable world leader with nuclear weapons at his disposal.

That's a pretty big group of potential victims. But a threat to attack theaters carrying "The Interview" threatens other moviegoers as well, given that the vast majority of the screens showing the movie will be in multiplexes.

Clearly, this group is trying to hurt Sony by depressing the box office for "The Interview," rather than counting on movie critics to do the job for them. But their tactics have transformed the Sony hack from a perversely entertaining exercise in Tinseltown schadenfreude into a gut-check for moviegoers in general, particularly the millennial-generation ones upon whom the studios rely for sustenance.

It's no longer about who's said what horrible things about whom, or who's getting paid how much. It's about whether tough talk from an anonymous group of hackers can prompt Sony to pull the movie or scare people away from the theaters, damaging the filmmakers, employees and, yes, shareholders of Sony Pictures and the other studios whose investments will be on the screens.

Simply put, if "The Interview" tanks, the terrorists win.

OK, that's too dramatic. The movie may prove to be terrible (the early reviews compiled by Rotten Tomatoes aren't encouraging), and sometimes that's bad for ticket sales. Sometimes. So if Sony releases it on schedule and it stinks and flounders at the box office, it'll be hard to tell how much to blame the Guardians and how much to blame the filmmakers.

Still, I'm tempted to go see the movie just to tell the Guardians not to mess with my right as an American to watch a goofy buddy comedy, no matter how offensive or insensitive it may be. At the very least, I feel the need to go to the multiplex on Christmas just to show I'm not cowed. Foolish, perhaps, but not cowed.

What about you?

Follow Healey's intermittent Twitter feed: @jcahealey

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5:43 p.m.: The post was updated to reflect new reporting by The Times that, in light of the threats, Sony executives were considering not releasing "The Interview" as scheduled.

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