LOS ANGELES - Hackers invoked the 9/11 attacks Tuesday in their most chilling threat yet against Sony Pictures, warning cinema-goers not to see a film which has angered North Korea.
There were growing signs that the threat may work, as Sony left it to theatre managers to choose whether to show "The Interview," while an industry expert forecast that many would decide it wasn't worth the risk.
"Will theatre owners balk at booking the film? It's actually highly possible," analyst Jeff Bock at box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP.
"No one wants another scenario like what happened with 'The Dark Knight Rises' shooting in Colorado," he said, referring to the July 2012 Aurora shooting, in which a gunman killed 12 and injured 70 others.
Sony made no official comment, but a source familiar with its thinking said that the decision whether to show the film "is with theatre owners, partners whom we support."
But the stars of the movie, James Franco and Seth Rogen, have cancelled all promotional appearance related to the film, according to industry media.
At least one chain, Carmike theatres based in Georgia, said they will not show the movie, according to Variety. Two other major chains, AMC and Regal Theatres, did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The 9/11 threat -- which was downplayed by US authorities -- came as lawyers filed two class action suits against the embattled studio, claiming it failed to protect employees' data, stolen in a huge cyber-attack three weeks ago.
In a new statement cited by US media, the so-called GOP (Guardians of Peace) hacking group announced the start of a "Christmas gift," including leaked emails from Sony boss Michael Lynton.
Specifically, it warned movie-goers against seeing the comedy about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Pyongyang has denied being behind the threats and hacking.
"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 latest statement said, again in broken English.
"Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear," added the statement.
And it warned: "Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)"
A red-carpet premiere was held in Los Angeles for the film last week, while another one is scheduled in New York on Thursday.