Last month, the film industry was taken aback by the unprecedented controversy following Sony’s comedy film, The Interview, which infamously stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as entertainment journalists assigned to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The touchy subject matter had apparently upset the “Guardians of Peace”, a group that was allegedly behind the extremely-damaging hacks of Sony’s servers; and they threatened to attack any theater that showed the film during its previously scheduled Christmas 2014 release.
In response, some of America’s largest theater chains canceled screenings, which probably influenced Sony’s decision to stop the release altogether. After several film professionals and fans expressed outrage over the move, the studio backtracked and put the film out in a limited theatrical release, as well as distributing it on various VOD streaming services, such as iTunes and Google Play. Now, Netflix is getting in on the deal.
Variety is reporting that The Interview will begin streaming on Netflix in the U.S. and Canada on January 24, which is a month after the film was originally released. While Netflix tried to get the rights back in December, Sony most likely wanted to maximize the revenue that VOD would generate before putting it on Netflix; and that decision has arguably paid off in some capacity. As of this writing, the 5.8 million rentals of the film have given the studio over $40 million, a nice addition to the $6 million it made from 581 theatrical locations.
In the weeks leading up to its premiere, many moviegoers expressed a strong desire to see The Interview in the name of protecting free speech, but since the film has been out for a few weeks, that stance has cooled off a bit. Also, now that many have seen that the film isn’t exactly a heralded piece of biting satire (read our review), all the controversy surrounding it seems somewhat ridiculous in retrospect. All of these factors could lead to the VOD rentals becoming less and less profitable for the studio, leading them putting it on Netflix for their millions of customers.
The one question that will haunt Sony executives for a while is whether or not this was all worth it. It’s true that the estimated $46 million The Interview has made to date is considerably more than if they had just buried the film, but Sony is far from being in the black when it comes to all of the movie’s costs. The production budget for the film was $44 million, and an extra $30 million was spent on a highly-visible marketing campaign that was heating up during December. That conservatively puts the studio at $28 million in the red.
If Sony went through on the nationwide theatrical release (around 3,800 screens), analysts claim The Interview would have made about $25 million over a holiday weekend, and most likely would have been able to parlay its domination of media headlines into a hefty total when it was all said and done. Most definitely it would’ve made more than the $46 million it’s taken in – not to mention, had a chance at being a profitable endeavor instead of where we are now. Is this what Sony should have done, from a business perspective?
The Interview was just a bad situation for a studio in a worse one that had no real win-win outcome. It’s true that patriotism prevailed and we got to see the movie, but Sony still lost a considerable amount of money on something the studio had hoped would be a holiday season tentpole; and from a certain point of view, canceling the release was the right move. Sony does stand to make some additional coin off of the impending Blu-ray release in February, but now that Netflix customers can see the movie for nothing, that won’t help with clearing costs either.
The Interview is now available on various streaming services.