Broward County

Controversial ‘The Interview’ opens to crowds at drive-in theater near Fort Lauderdale

Gabrielle Florez, 19, and brother, Gregory, 17, and their family from Winter Haven, get ready Thursday for the 7 p.m. showing of ‘The Interview’ at The Swap Shop near Fort Lauderdale.
Gabrielle Florez, 19, and brother, Gregory, 17, and their family from Winter Haven, get ready Thursday for the 7 p.m. showing of ‘The Interview’ at The Swap Shop near Fort Lauderdale. Miami Herald Staff

Hundreds flocked to the Swap Shop Drive-In Movie Theatre near Fort Lauderdale on Christmas night to check out The Interview, the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco film many chains refused to exhibit after hackers threatened to bomb theaters showing it.

“When we saw the trailer we knew something was going to happen,” said Gregory Florez, 17, who drove down with his family from Winter Haven to see the movie as a Christmas night outing. “We are not about to be ruled by some other nation. This is a testimony to what America truly is.”

“Everyone makes fun of our president. It’s nothing more than satire,” Gregory said. “They shouldn’t threaten an entire nation because of a movie.”

The Interview, a $44 million film production financed by Sony Pictures, was set to open in more than 3,000 theaters nationally on Christmas Day. But hackers, who call themselves “Guardians of Peace,” managed to leak hundreds of private e-mails, documents and other sensitive materials from the company’s computers. In addition to the private documents, several other Sony films including Annie, Fury and Still Alice were pirated and made available online.

The comedy, which centers around Rogen (who also co-wrote and co-directed the movie) and Franco playing celebrity journalists tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was pulled by larger theater chains including Regal Cinemas and AMC because of the threat by North Korean hackers. But more than 300 individual theaters across the nation — including the Swap Shop, just outside Fort Lauderdale and Tropic Cinema in Key West — agreed to show the film.

Sony originally called off releasing The Interview, but after criticism from President Barack Obama, the company reversed its decision, also making the movie available on Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and a separate Sony website.

Cars started lining up before the gates opened at 5:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. screening, the first of nine showings on three screens Thursday night. The Interview runs throughout the weekend.

The Swap Shop, at 3291 Sunrise Blvd., opened a half-hour earlier than usual to accommodate people in line.

Bob Katz of Deerfield Beach arrived alone at 2:30 p.m to find out the gates weren’t open yet. He was one of the first to get a spot in front of screen No. 12.

“This is about freedom of speech,” said Katz, 56. “I think the North Korean people should hire some comedians because they need to laugh more.”

Katz said it was his first time at a drive-in since 1988 and he “felt like a kid.”

The smell of popcorn filled the air as a man in a golf cart drove around selling concessions. Some people sat on the hoods of their cars waiting before the movie. Others got creative and pulled the seats out of their vans to rest against the rear of their vehicles.

Swap Shop owner Preston Henn himself worked the screening, driving a golf cart to check the crowd.

Henn said he didn’t expect any trouble. “I wouldn’t be here if I was concerned,” said Henn, adding the Swap Shop hired extra undercover security officers “for crowd control.”

The Swap Shop’s 13 screens can accommodate more than 1,000 cars, Henn said.

Swap Shop manager Alen Wilson said Christmas night screens are generally busy, but Thursday business was better than usual. “The movie selling tonight is The Interview.”

Sony Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton said in a statement released Tuesday that the company has “never given up on releasing The Interview.”

Said Henn: “This was really good PR for the movie, because now everyone wants to see what the big deal is about it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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