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Major Movie Theater Chains Drop 'The Interview' After Threats

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Tomorrow's New York of "The Interview" has been cancelled. The movie's stars have been pulled from publicity related to that premiere, and major movie chains across the country including Regal and Carmike have announced they will not show the film. It's a comedy that centers on a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader. These are the latest developments stemming from last month's hack on Sony Pictures, a real-life story that itself reads like a screenplay.

Joe Bel Bruno has been following Sony's troubles. He is the Hollywood editor for The Los Angeles Times. I asked him what prompted the cancellations.

JOE BEL BRUNO: The hackers. You know, not only have they released millions of e-mails, but they made threats with thinly-veiled suggestions of 9/11-style attacks. And that's when things got very serious. It kind of created a firestorm. That's when theater owners had a closed-door meeting and they decided that it was OK for them to pull back on the movie - to yank the movie. Sony gave theater owners their blessing to go ahead and not run it if they so desired. And so right now what we're getting are so many theaters, one after the other, saying that they're going to cancel it.

CORNISH: And how seriously are authorities taking this threat?

BEL BRUNO: Very seriously. In fact, it's the kind of serious level where we're getting short statements and not any kind of background information. There's certainly no leaks coming out of law enforcement on this. I have to believe that they're in touch with Sony pretty much every day. So they're looking into it and believe it's, you know, a credible hack. As far as a 9/11-style attack, the jury's still out on that. I don't think there's a lot of belief that your local theater is going to be bombed by Kim Jong-un. But at the same time, you might have some crazy person who decides to make, you know, a name for himself. And I think that's what the worry is, at least with law enforcement. I do know that the LAPD, the New York Police Department, other police departments have said publicly that they will probably post some officers at theater chains if this movie does premiere to the wide public on Christmas Day.

CORNISH: Joe Bel Bruno, Sony is clearly wary enough about these threats to release theaters from contracts to run the movie. Would they ever just pull the movie themselves?

BEL BRUNO: That's the question that we're asking. The belief is no - that what they're trying to do - at least the tactic that our sources are telling us is you kind of put it on the theater owners. That way Sony doesn't have to make that decision, the theater owners do. And theater owners are privately telling us that they're angry at Sony for putting them in that position. There's no contract between theater owners and Sony, so there couldn't be any lawsuits from that.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Sony is facing a class-action suit from current and former employees who say the company failed to protect confidential information from hackers. Is there any sense of how bad the impact of this cyber attack could get for the company?

BEL BRUNO: If you're talking lawsuits, 47,000 social security numbers went out there. Among those social security numbers, people like Seth Rogen...

CORNISH: Who's the director of "The Interview" and star of "The Interview" movie.

BEL BRUNO: Yeah, and James Franco's leaked - Amy Pascal, the studio chief. So Sony decides to help the employees and former employees by giving them a year's worth of credit protection. That might not be enough considering the amount of information that's been leaked, and that's what the claimants are alleging in at lest the two class-action lawsuits that have come out, and you're going to see more of them.

CORNISH: That's Joe Bel Bruno. He's following Sony's troubles. He's also the Hollywood editor for The Los Angeles Times. Thanks so much for talking with us.

BEL BRUNO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.