By Frank Pallotta
NEW YORK (CNNMoney – Jan. 21, 2015) — Remember when “The Interview” was almost scrapped by Sony Pictures? Well in little less than a month, the film has hauled in $40 million through on-demand rentals and another $6 million in theaters.
And now it’s coming to Netflix.
On Tuesday Netflix announced that, starting on Saturday, the scandalous Seth Rogen comedy will be available to its subscribers in the United States and Canada.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it gives Sony another revenue stream as the studio aims to break even with the movie.
The production budget for “The Interview” was about $44 million — so with the combined $46 million from on-demand and theatrical sales, the studio can now celebrate that it’s surpassed that total.
But it still has a ways to go. Sony has to split the revenue from rentals and ticket sales with the distributors.
Furthermore, the marketing budget for the movie was at least $20 million. (Some Hollywood news outlets have reported even higher estimates.)
Sony still has some time to recoup those costs, though. On top of Tuesday’s Netflix news, it is working on an international distribution plan, and it is releasing the movie on DVD and Blu Ray in the United States next month.
The studio announced the $40 million figure on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Netflix announcement. The revenue comes from 5.8 million online rentals and purchases of the movie, both through online stores like YouTube and through cable and satellite providers’ systems.
“We always said that we would get the movie to the greatest audience possible,” Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, said in a statement. “Achieving over $40 million in digital sales is a significant milestone.”
Significant is right.
This time last month, both the film and Sony were under attack from cyber-criminals who threatened violence against movie-goers if “The Interview” — a comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — ever came out.
Movie theaters pulled out of their plans to screen the movie; Sony then cancelled the film outright; President Obama and some in Hollywood publicly criticized the cancellation; and Sony reversed course a week later, releasing the film to a small number of theaters and a big number of digital distributors.
Ever since the Christmas Eve release, “The Interview” has been scrutinized for what it says — or does not say — about the future of movie distribution.
Big theater chain owners say Sony still could have made a lot more money the traditional way, with a wide release in thousands of theaters.
Patrick Corcoran, the top spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners, wrote in a blog post last week that the movie is a Rorschach test: “Those inclined to believe that simultaneous theatrical and home release is inevitable… see a ‘game changer.’ Some, like me, see a blot.”
He argued that “the only game changed here was just how much money Sony left on the table.”
Corcoran also speculated that Sony only pocketed 60% of the revenue from on-demand rentals, with distributors like YouTube and Comcast keeping the rest.
Sony has declined to comment on the specific financial terms.
But it is continuing to make the movie available to, as Lynton put it, “the greatest audience possible.”
“The Interview” will come out in a number of theaters in the United Kingdom and Ireland on February 6, according to the movie industry web site SlashFilm — foreshadowing a possible unveiling of the movie in other parts of the world.
And it is due to be released on DVD and Blu Ray in the U.S. on February 17.