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Sony axes 'kill Kim' film release

Sony Pictures has cancelled the Christmas Day release of The Interview after hackers threatened terrorists attacks and North America's biggest cinema chains pulled the film from its screens.

In a statement tonight, Sony said it was cancelling The Interview release "in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film".

The studio, which has been shaken by hacker leaks over the past several weeks, said it respected and shared in the exhibitors' concerns.

"We are deeply saddened at 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," the statement said. "We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

Earlier Regal Cinemas, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark Theatres - the three top multiplex chains in North America - announced that they were postponing any showings of The Interview, a comedy about a TV host (James Franco) and producer (Seth Rogen) tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park).

Regal said it was delaying The Interview ''due to wavering support of the film ... by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats".

Sony had offered cinemas the option of bowing out, and when so many of them did - other chains included ArcLight Cinemas, Cineplex Entertainment and Carmike Cinemas -, it left Sony little choice for the release of The Interview.

The seriousness of the threat made in messages posted online by the hacking group that calls itself Guardians of the Peace, is unclear. The Department of Homeland Security said there was "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theatres", but noted it was still analysing messages from the group.

The warning prompted authorities in New York and Los Angeles to address measures to beef up security.

The FBI is investigating the identity of the hackers, but suspicion has centered on North Korea, which previously issued warnings over The Interview.

Sony did not say what its plans for The Interview now are, or whether the film's release could potentially happen at a later date. Conjecture has centred on the possibility of an unprecedented on-demand release that would distribute the film without risk to cinema operators. No wide-release studio film has ever been first released on VOD, out of protection of the cinema business.

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