Sony officially cancelled the theatrical release of The Interview on Wednesday, responding decisively to the turmoil following a message posted a day earlier by a hacker group calling itself "Guardians of Peace," which evoked the September 11th attacks and warned theatergoers to stay away from the movie.
"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release," the film studio said in a statement. "We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers."
From a communications standpoint, Sony was put in a unique, perhaps uncharted position as the December 25 release of The Interview approached. On one hand, if the studio released The Interview and something terrible did happen at a theater that screened it, the company would be fed to the wolves. No amount of public relations finessing would be able to combat that kind of incident.
On the other hand, if the studio pulled the plug on the movie, they'd be showing weakness, an unpopular characteristic in business and especially in Hollywood.
Now that the movie has been pulled, Sony is left to deal with those who perceive that the decision was made out of fear. Aaron Sorkin and Judd Apatow have called the decision "an attack on free speech," and Steve Carrell, via Twitter, lamented it as a "sad day for creative expression." President Obama has acknowledged the situation as well, telling ABC News that people should continue to go to the movies.
Is caving in a PR strategy? In Sony's case, it may be the best of two bad options. For a company that has been publicly besieged, Sony is picking its battles carefully, and its decision to pull The Interview puts some sort of finality on at least one part of the trouble. The question to ask now is if the hackers, after having gotten what they wanted, will put an end to the leaks.
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