Sony defends decision to shelve release of 'The Interview,' saying studio 'had no choice'

Sony Pictures Entertainment defended its decision Friday to shelve the comedy film "The Interview" in the wake of a massive hacking attack and threats against movie theaters, saying it had "no choice" but to cancel the Dec. 25 release.

The statement was released hours after President Obama, speaking at an afternoon press conference, said he believed the studio "made a mistake" in not releasing the film, the plot of which centers on a fictional assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film has ignited a debate about censorship, and the FBI has formally blamed North Korea for the cyberattack, which has included leaks of confidential data and unreleased movies, as well as threats against Sony employees.

"Let us be clear: the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it," Sony said in its statement. "Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice."

Sony's statement, however, comes several days after the studio told theater owners it would be supportive of their individual decisions on whether or not to show the film after hackers sent a message that threatened "11th of September"-style attacks against venues showing the movie.

In a message emailed to various reporters on Tuesday, hackers who call themselves "Guardians of Peace" sent a warning to people planning to attend screenings of "The Interview," and even warned people who live near cinemas to leave home, according to a report from Variety.

“Warning ... We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places 'The Interview' be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” the message said. “Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear.”

The studio on Friday said that it still hopes to release the movie, albeit on a "different platform."

Also on Friday, Michael Lynton, Sony's chief executive and chairman, pushed back against Obama's remarks, insisting to CNN that the company has "not given in and we have not backed down,” and said Obama, the media and the public “are mistaken” about the situation.

On Friday, hackers sent a new email to Sony Pictures Entertainment, calling the studio’s decision to cancel the film’s release a “wise” one and warned the studio not to distribute the film “in any form.”

According to The Associated Press, a person close to the studio confirmed the email and said it was sent to several employees of the company from Guardians of Peace.

The FBI has said it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the breach. On Friday, Obama vowed that the U.S. would "respond," to the attack, though he offered no details on what that response might entail.

He mocked the North Korean regime for launching an "all-out assault" over a satirical movie, but he also chided Sony for responding by shutting down the movie's release.

"I think they made a mistake," Obama said.

Obama said that if somebody can "intimidate" a company out of releasing a satirical movie, "imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.