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Online Success For 'The Interview' May Not Change Movie Distribution

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

People are still talking about "The Interview" for reasons other than the movie's plot or for its part in an international computer hack. After tallying receipts over the holiday weekend from the movie's unorthodox release, the industry is looking for lessons in the numbers. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Those numbers - they're very good, not far from analyst projections for Sony's original theatrical release. Fifteen million dollars in just four days online - it's Sony's biggest online release of all time. Add to that $3 million or so since Christmas from just a few hundred theaters.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: That's $18 million for a movie that a week ago, we were not even sure if it was going to be released at all.

SANDERS: That's Paul Dergarabedian, an industry analyst with Rentrak. He says as good as those figures are, "The Interview," with a back story that reads like a screenplay itself - it's an outlier. Dergarabedian says most of the time, films as big as "The Interview" are never released online before hitting theaters.

DERGARABEDIAN: I think this is a one-off for a really one- off movie. To think that in the future, a movie with this level of budget could be released in this way and have this kind of results - that's like expecting lightning to strike twice in the same place.

SANDERS: But even if this is a one-off, Gene Del Vecchio says big theater chains might be kicking themselves right now.

GENE DEL VECCHIO: If I were them, I'd be feeling that I should have gone along.

SANDERS: Del Vecchio is the author of the book "Creating Blockbusters." He says even though the big chains may have missed out on what might have even the most talked about movie of 2014, they're going to move on pretty quickly.

DEL VECCHIO: Long-term, those issues are sort of going to go away. You know, next week, it's a different film, a different situation. And they're going to be opening things with two and 3,000 theaters across the country.

SANDERS: Del Vecchio does say as the industry continues to grapple with online versus theatrical releases, it's important to remember that the same movie can offer different experiences in different venues, especially a comedy like "The Interview."

DEL VECCHIO: There's something about sitting in a theater and not having two people on a couch laughing, but having 500 people laugh. You get that rush of the crowd experience.

SANDERS: And ultimately, it's that rash that studios need, wherever the audience may be. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.