LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sony Pictures said on Tuesday it will release "The Interview" to a limited number of theaters on Dec. 25, less than a week after it canceled the comedy's release following a devastating cyberattack blamed on North Korea.
The decision comes after hundreds of independent theaters said they wanted to screen the film, about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, which major theater chains backed out of last week owing to security concerns.
"We have never given up on releasing 'The Interview' and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton said in a statement.
"At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience."
Sony Pictures, which had said that a limited release of the $44 million film was out of question, came under pressure to release the movie after President Barack Obama said last Friday that the studio "made a mistake" by bowing to intimidation.
That rare public rebuke of a corporation fueled the debate over freedom of speech and whether Hollywood was engaging in self-censorship. Lynton put the blame on movie theaters and tried to establish his studio' commitment to the First Amendment.
The cyberattack, which began last month, crippled Sony Pictures' computer system and led to an embarrassing leak of internal emails and sensitive documents.
The hackers, operating under the moniker Guardians of Peace, made unspecified threats to theaters planning to show the film, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. They demanded that Sony cancel the film's release.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has pinned the cyberattack on North Korea, which had protested the film as far back as June. North Korea has denied it is behind the attack.
It was unclear how many theaters would be allowed to screen "The Interview" and if major movie chains that had decided not to open the film would join the group of authorized exhibitors.
Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was one of the first to say it was authorized to screen the film. A theater in Atlanta, the Plaza Atlanta, said on social media that it will also show the film.
Media outlets also reported that Sony Pictures had struck a deal for a video-on-demand release of "The Interview" on Dec. 25 as well. Reuters was not able to immediately confirm the reports.
An online petition launched by Art House Convergence, a de facto association of independent cinemas that pledged to screen "The Interview" if Sony chose to release it, had drawn more than 500 signatures from independent theater owners, programmers and operators.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Christian Plumb)