North Korea comedy The Interview earns $15 million through online release

Controversial James Franco and Seth Rogen movie at the centre of the recent Sony hack has become a hit despite missing out on general cinema release

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Millions have defied threats from hackers and watched controversial comedy The Interview.

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Starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as journalists tasked with killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the film earned over $15 million (£9.6 million) and was downloaded more than two million times in the first three days it was available online. It raised a further $2.8 million (£1.8 million) at the Box Office, after a limited opening in theatres on Christmas Day.

The numbers, which aren’t too far off the film’s expected opening had the controversial movie’s release gone to plan, makes The Interview Sony’s most successful online release ever.

It is some of the first good news Sony has had in weeks. After hackers calling themselves the ‘Guardians of Peace’ released thousands of files from Sony Pictures servers –including incendiary private emails and details of upcoming movies– they threatened any theatres that planned to show the comedy, urging them to ‘remember 9/11’.

Major US theatre chains promptly announced they would not screen the film, leading Sony to cancel the release all together. However many criticised this decision, including President Barack Obama.

Sony Pictures eventually managed to release on Christmas Day, both online and to several hundred independent theatres. iTunes is the latest online service to offer The Interview for rent, joining the likes of YouTube and Xbox. According to TorrentFreak, The Interview was also downloaded illegally more 200,000 times in the first ten hours it was available on Christmas Day.

Tthe FBI has said it believes the attack on Sony originated in North Korea, although many respected web security analysts remain sceptical. While the North Korean government denies involvement in what they call the ‘righteous deed’, internet and mobile phone networks have mysteriously crashed in the hermit country. Obama had promised a ‘proportionate’ response “in a place and at a time of our choosing.”

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North Korea has blamed their communications problems on President Obama, saying he is the “chief culprit” for the movie’s eventual distribution and comparing him to “a monkey in a tropical forest.”