It was a merry Christmas after all for "The Interview." After nearly missing its release entirely, the troubled flick got its day in the sun, bringing in about $1 million in box office receipts from just over 300 theaters who decided to hold showings Thursday, the original opening day.
Never mind that the revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the film's reported $80 million budget. It's about more than business now. The movie has become an exemplar of free speech and seeing it, an unlikely symbol of patriotic pride. It's also now raising dissent about its lack of international distribution.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have downloaded illegal copies of the movie, which were dispersed on the web over the Christmas holiday.
Sony released the film online Wednesday, and viewers quickly put it at the top of the most popular videos on YouTube. Others bought or rented it from Xbox Video, Google Play and a dedicated site from Sony. Official viewership numbers are not available, but more than 152,000 people left ratings of the movie across the sites.
Those ratings (including 112,000 thumbs up and 22,000 thumbs down on YouTube), come only from viewers in the U.S. and Canada, as the movie was restricted to within North America. Before adding a Canadian release Wednesday afternoon, Sony said in a statement, "While we do hope to see the release of 'The Interview' across the globe, for the time being this is limited to the U.S.A. only. You can only purchase the movie with a U.S. card, and can only stream it from a U.S. IP address."
But people didn't need a U.S. card or a U.S. IP address to watch one of the many pirated copies that starting immediately showing up online.
Data collected by the site TorrentFreak shows that "The Interview" was downloaded an estimated 200,000 times through the file-sharing site BitTorrent in the first 10 hours it was available. After 20 hours, that number had surpassed 750,000.
TorrentFreak spotted comments indicating that there was an international hunger for the film that could only be sated with illegal downloads. As one commenter put it, "Just signed up to say Thanks, since it was not released outside of US when it should be all at the same time. Will now be finally able to watch this."