December 17, 2014 5:57 PM EST Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview on Wednesday after an unknown person or group threatened to attack theaters that played the film. Sony’s decision comes after several major theater chains backed out of showing the film in light of the threats.
“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
MORE: 3 Reasons People Think North Korea Hacked Sony
The threats, which warned of 9/11-style attacks against theaters showing
The Interview, may have come from the same people responsible for hacking Sony Pictures late last month. Thousands of Sony employees’ emails and personal data have been posted online as a result of the hack, and Sony is still reeling from its effects.
It isn’t yet clear who hacked Sony or threatened the theaters, though some analysts
have pointed fingers at North Korea. Pyongyang is furious over The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about TV journalists asked to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But no clear link to North Korea has been established, and the government has denied responsibility for the hack. The Most Controversial Films of All Time The James Franco-Seth Rogen movie hadn’t even been released when it made its greatest impact. The Interview, 2014 The Interview, about two Americans on a mission to kill Kim Jong-un, has sparked conversations about the tastefulness -- or not -- of depicting the killing of a foreign head of state. But it also is widely seen as having sparked the Sony hacking scandal, as the hackers, known as the Guardians of Peace, have urged Sony not to release the film. The ripple effect of the email hack saw off-color remarks about Angelina Jolie, Aaron Sorkin, and President Obama between Sony executives go public. Columbia Birth of a Nation, 1915 Birth of a Nation is held in high esteem as one of the most ambitious and innovative early films. It has also, in the near-century since its release, been derided for its use of blackface to depict black men as sexually rapacious and its characterization of the KKK as heroes. Is it possible to admire a film’s technical excellence while acknowledging that its content is deeply offensive? Many film scholars, who point to Birth of a Nation as part of the foundation of modern film, believe so. Hulton Archive/Getty Images Charlie Chaplin’s lampooning of Hitler came before the U.S. was necessarily ready to hear it -- the country hadn’t yet entered World War II yet. The Great Dictator, 1940 The Great Dictator was controversial both for its advancement of anti-Hitler rhetoric and, at the same time, its turning Hitler into a figure of comedy.
United Artists/Getty Images Billy Wilder’s frank depiction of alcoholism, anchored with a tragic performance from Ray Milland, was startling for its time. Though it won several Oscars and the Palme d’Or, it had been, before its release, far from a sure thing. The success of The Lost Weekend, 1945 The Lost Weekend allowed for fuller depictions of social issues on film, even though it could be uncomfortable. Paramount/Getty Images This film was perhaps the first of director Stanley Kubrick’s to directly court controversy; the poster famously asked “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” and the question was very much worth asking. Lolita, 1962 Lolita, the novel, is a strange and surreal look at an older man’s obsession with “nymphets,” or young girls; the film manages to carry across the same subject matter, though Lolita herself was aged up to avoid outright banning. MGM/Getty Images Arthur Penn’s depiction of the short, glamorous lives of two bank robbers kicked off the New Hollywood era and scandalized audiences with its over-the-top violence. Bonnie and Clyde, 1967 Bonnie and Clyde made its subjects look like, well, movie stars -- and then killed them in a brutal, seemingly endless hail of gunfire.
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian drama features shocking sex and violence, to the degree that the film was restricted within the U.K. for decades. Its central notion, of behavioral therapy as a force for evil, has also provoked debate since the film’s release. A Clockwork Orange, 1971 Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images This domestic drama, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as a couple whose marriage ends, was upfront about the challenges of raising children and the degree to which married life could be fundamentally unsatisfying. Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979 Columbia/Getty Images This film made Sharon Stone, for a brief time, one of the most compelling movie stars on Earth. Her role as the voracious novelist and serial killer Catherine Tramell outraged gay audiences who viewed her as a homophobic stereotype, and spooked some men who were unaccustomed to Stone’s forthright sexuality. Either way, no one could stop talking about Catherine, or about Stone. Basic Instinct, 1992 TriStar/Getty Images Stanley Kubrick’s final film was perfectly in keeping with his careerlong interest in provocation. Eyes Wide Shut, 1999 Eyes Wide Shut depicts a seamy New York underworld in which just about everyone is looking for sex, power, or both. Though the film’s graphic sexuality (including a scene at an orgy) was shocking, it was its depiction of the act of love as a transaction that really unsettled audiences. Warner Brothers/Getty Images Darren Aronofsky’s breakthrough film, based on the work of Hubert Selby, Jr., was unabashed in its depiction of drugs’ effects. Each of the four principal characters suffers, brutally, for his or her addiction, culminating in one character’s psychotic break, another’s amputated arm, and a third’s descent into prostitution. The film’s miserabilist outlook, graphic sex, and body-horror imagery are as effective an antidrug campaign as exists.
Requiem for a Dream, 2000 Artisan Entertainment The 2004 presidential election was ugly to an unprecedented degree, with attacks on John Kerry’s service from the right’s Swift Boat Veterans for truth and this documentary-length Molotov cocktail tossed at George W. Bush from director Michael Moore. Moore, who’d previously been booed at the 2003 Oscars for an anti-Bush speech, mixed together insinuations about voter fraud in Florida and ties between the Bush and bin Laden families into an antiwar statement. In its sheer provocation and palpable anger, it was the perfect film for its polarized time; the fact that it was received very differently by audiences of different political persuasions seemed somehow apt. Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004 Lionsgate This film, depicting the torture and eventual death of Jesus, was one of the biggest hits of all time. But it hadn’t necessarily had a clear path to acclaim; pre-release, the film was pilloried for perceived anti-Semitism. As audiences flocked over the weeks preceding Easter, some criticized director Mel Gibson for an excessively violent and sadistic vision of Jesus’s death. The Passion of the Christ, 2004 Newmarket Sacha Baron Cohen’s depiction of a Kazakh immigrant interacting with real people stateside showed America in a terrible light; it was hilarious, painful viewing. But for months after the film’s release, questions over just how fair Borat, 2006 Borat had been to its participants persisted. And Baron Cohen’s career continued to push boundaries of taste, with subsequent movies lampooning gay men ( Bruno) and Sub-Saharan African heads of state ( The Dictator). 20th Century Fox More Must-Reads From TIME Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets Meet the 2024 Women of the Year East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does Column: The New Antisemitism The 13 Best New Books to Read in March Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time