AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Sony has announced that it's canceling the theatrical release of its comedy "The Interview." The movie was supposed to come out Christmas Day. It's been at the center of a sprawling real-life drama that includes hackers making terrorist threats, secret documents being leaked and, of course, lots of tawdry Hollywood gossip. These are the latest developments stemming from last month's cyber attack on Sony Pictures.
NPR's Mandalit Del Barco is following the story and joins us from NPR West in Culver City, just around the corner from Sony. And, Mandalit, this a major and probably costly decision for Sony. How did they get there?
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Well, Audie, as you know, Christmas is a big movie-going day, and the story has been developing over the past week. And yesterday a group claiming responsibility for the cyber attack threatened moviegoers and the movie theaters planning to screen the interview with these words. (Reading) The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September, 2001.
So in response, seven of the country's largest movie theater chains announced they would not be screening the movie, and the studio said it respects and understands the decisions by the theater chains. But at that point, Sony's options were really limited.
CORNISH: So what exactly did Sony say about their decision?
DEL BARCO: Well, Sony Pictures said it had been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against its employees, customers and business. They said they were deeply saddened at what they said was a brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, though they stand by the filmmakers and their right to free expression. And they said that they're extremely disappointed. You know, the movie is a bro-mance starring James Franco and Seth Rogen who also directed it. They played two tabloid journalists who are asked to assassinate the leader of North Korea.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE INTERVIEW")
JAMES FRANCO: (As Dave Skylark) Hate us 'cause the ain't us.
SETH ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) They don't hate us 'cause they ain't us.
FRANCO: (As Dave Skylark) Hate us 'cause the ain't us.
ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) Stop saying that.
FRANCO: (As Dave Skylark) Shh. Haters going to hate, and ain't-ers going to ain't.
ROGEN: (As Aaron Rapaport) That is not an actual thing people say.
DEL BARCO: This comedy has become a real-life drama. It allegedly inspired computer hackers who said they were retaliating on behalf of North Korea. That angle is certainly being investigated, and it's also worth noting that this is not the first time the company has been hacked. In 2011, the PlayStation Network was attacked and tens of millions of customers' accounts were compromised. It was a massive data security breach. Now these hackers say they have over a hundred terabytes of data, and they plan to release more - what they're calling a Christmas gift.
CORNISH: Right, Mandalit. Also, Sony has other headaches now - two, right? As a result of this hacking it's facing two class-action suits from current and former employees.
DEL BARCO: That's right. The plaintiffs say Sony failed to protect confidential information from hackers. That includes their Social Security numbers and those of their families, possible confidential medical information, passport numbers, not to mention all those communications between executives, more of which is expected to come soon. One Sony employee told me the hackers apparently threatened their families, too. And of course, the FBI is all over this.
The next question, Audie, is whether Sony will decide to distribute this by video-on-demand so that people can just watch it at home.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reporting to us from NPR West. Mandalit, thanks so much.
DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.