NEW YORK -

The Interview

was put back into theaters Tuesday when Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a limited Christmas Day theatrical release for the comedy that provoked an international incident with North Korea and outrage over its canceled release.

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that Seth Rogen's North Korea farce "will be in a number of theaters" beginning Thursday. He said Sony also is continuing its efforts to release the film on more platforms and in more theaters.

"We have never given up on releasing The Interview," Lynton said in a statement Tuesday. "While we hope this is only the first step of the film's release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech."

For Sony, the decision was the culmination of a gradual about-face: After initially saying it had no plans to release the movie, the company began softening its position after it was broadly criticized.

Moviegoers celebrated the abrupt change in fortune for a film that appeared doomed as The Interview began popping up in the listings of independent theaters across the country Tuesday, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The film is set to open in dozens of theaters on Thursday, the day it was originally set for wide release.

Three independently run theaters in Delaware - in Wilmington, Middletown, and Rehoboth Beach - intend to begin showing the film Christmas Day, according to the Wilmington News Journal.

Sony officials aren't commenting on whether the film will also be released to video on demand - another possibility. Starz, which has first VOD rights to Sony releases, didn't respond to requests for comment. Streaming service Netflix declined comment, while YouTube didn't respond to requests.

One of the loudest critics of the film's shelving, President Obama, hailed Sony's reversal.

"The president applauds Sony's decision to authorize screenings of the film," said Obama spokesman Eric Schultz. "As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome."

White House officials declined to elaborate on what role, if any, the White House played in Sony's decision to reverse itself, but pointed out that Obama had stated publicly that he believed Sony's earlier decision to cancel the release was a mistake.

Rogen, who stars in the film he codirected with Evan Goldberg, made his first public comments in a surreal ordeal that began with hackers leaking Sony executives' e-mails and culminated in an ongoing confrontation between the United States and North Korea. The FBI has said North Korea was behind the hacking attacks.

"The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn't give up!" said Rogen on Twitter.

"VICTORY!!!!!!!" said James Franco, who costars in the film. "The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken."