Raunchy comedy "The Interview" -- a movie about a fictional plot to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un which has enraged Pyongyang -- opened in US theaters Thursday, a move its star attributed to public pressure.
Its future had been in doubt after entertainment giant Sony said it was canceling the release following an embarrassing cyber attack on its corporate network and threats against moviegoers.
Star Seth Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg made a surprise appearance at one of the first showings in Los Angeles just after midnight, when they thanked moviegoers and theaters for pushing to get the film out.
"We thought this might not happen at all," Rogen told a cheering crowd, according to a video posted on YouTube. The theater was near Rogen and Goldberg's homes, the men said.
"The fact that it's showing here and that you guys all came out," Goldberg said, "is super fucking exciting," Rogen finished.
"We just really wanted to say thank you. If it wasn't for theaters like this and for people like you guys, this literally would not be fucking happening right now," the Canadian actor added.
Many of the biggest US movie theater chains had gotten cold feet about showing the film after anonymous online threats, prompting Sony to pull the film.
The United States has blamed the Sony cyber attack on North Korea, and President Barack Obama has threatened reprisals.
- Free speech -
But Sony came under fire from Obama and free speech advocates for canceling the release, and some 300 independent theaters so far have offered to show the film.
The madcap, irreverent R-rated comedy was also available online for US and Canadian viewers starting Wednesday.
"After discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country -- however silly the content might be," Google chief legal officer David Drummond said in a blog post.
The movie was being distributed on Google's YouTube for a $5.99 rental fee, on the Google Play app for Android devices and on a dedicated website, seetheinterview.com.
On vacation in Hawaii, Obama, who had previously called Sony's move a mistake, told reporters he was "glad it's being released."
A bawdy, expletive-laden tale full of sexual innuendo and scatological humor, the film starring Rogen and James Franco is a silly, low-brow romp about a CIA plot to assassinate Kim.
The film depicts how girl-chasing, hard-partying, always fashionable tabloid TV presenter Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer (Rogen), score an exclusive interview with the leader of the world's most reclusive state.
That is when the CIA steps in and presents them with a plan to kill Kim.
Despite initial doubts, Skylark eventually learns the truth about the regime's brutality, and he sets out to take down Kim by exposing him as a liar during his live interview.
"It has always been Sony’s intention to have a national platform on which to release this film," Sony Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton said in a statement Wednesday.
"It was essential for our studio to release this movie, especially given the assault upon our business and our employees by those who wanted to stop free speech."