LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Interview" is shaping up to be a groundbreaking VOD success, earning $15 million online through Saturday.
The comedy, which has earned nearly $3 million in theaters, was rented or downloaded over 2 million times since hitting the Web on Tuesday, Sony disclosed. It was never supposed to be this way.
The film about a hapless TV host tasked with assassinating Kim Jong-un was originally intended to be released on roughly 3,000 screens on Christmas Day. It was expected to generate $20 million during its opening.
However, the gory subject matter likely inspired a cyber-attack from North Korea that brought Sony to its knees. After hackers evoked 9/11 and threatened violence, a theatrical release was briefly scuttled before Sony backtracked and lined up 331 arthouse and independent theaters willing to show the film. Its decision to release the film simultaneously on-demand and theatrically infuriated major exhibitors who refused to show the picture on their screens.
Overhauling the film's rollout required the input of its theatrical distribution team, as well as its home entertainment staff.
"We worked hard to get the film out there by Christmas Day," Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures president of worldwide distribution, told Variety on Sunday morning. "It was such a whirlwind to get it done that it kind of amazes me that we were able to make it happen."
In this case, controversy paid off. After four days, "The Interview" ranks as Sony Pictures' highest-grossing online release of all time. It also outstrips recent VOD successes such as "Snowpiercer," which earned $7 million on demand, as well as "Arbitrage" ($14 million) and "Bachelorette" ($8.2 million). Sony's decision to provide numbers for "The Interview's" VOD sales and rentals give rare insight into the home entertainment results of a major film release, figures that usually remain shrouded in secrecy.
Sony did not disclose the financial terms of its deals with online distributors, but in the past they have been more favorable than the revenue split studios share with theater chains. During a theatrical release, ticket sales are usually evenly divided, but digital release tend to favor the studios behind the films.
"The Interview" will depend heavily on its on-demand grosses. The R-rated comedy cost roughly $75 million to produce and market -- far more than most films that employ a simultaneous theatrical and on-demand strategy.
The film has been available on YouTube, Google Play and Microsoft Xbox since Christmas Eve, as well as a site set up specifically to show the film. Google Play and Google-owned YouTube are responsible for the bulk of the film's $15 million total, according to an individual with knowledge.
Apple's iTunes began offering the film on Sunday, after the digital numbers were tallied. The movie rents for $5.99 and sells for $14.99. Unlike "Snowpiercer" or other VOD hits, "The Interview" is not available for sale or rental on DirecTV or other cable providers.
Netflix is in talks to secure "The Interview," but no deal has been struck yet.