The Sony Corp unit on Wednesday released "The Interview," which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as agents assigned to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, through online video platforms such as Google's YouTube and Microsoft Corp's Xbox Video.
Sony had canceled the movie's release last week after leading U.S. movie theater chains said they would not run it because of security concerns. Hackers had previously broken into Sony's computer systems, dumping hundreds of sensitive internal documents onto the Internet and warning the company against showing the film.
But after widespread criticism, including from President Barack Obama and Hollywood leading man George Clooney, the studio opted for a limited release online on Wednesday and in independent movie theaters on Thursday.
"You can watch The Interview RIGHT NOW at https://www.seetheinterview.com ! Free Speech." actor Jonah Hill tweeted to his more than 4.5 million followers.
On Twitter, the movie's release represented to some a test of civic duty as much as of comic sensibilities.
"Now that "The Interview" is available for viewing, would it be unpatriotic to take a pass?" David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Obama, said on Twitter.
As of 4:15 pm EST, or more than three hours after the movie had been released online, 10,671 visitors to YouTube had given the film a "thumbs up" versus 822 with a "thumbs down." The 989 reviewers on Google Play gave the movie an average of 4.7 stars out of 5.
Critical reviews of "The Interview" have been more mixed. On the website Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates reviews from film critics, 54 percent of 35 reviewers rated the movie a positive "fresh."
"Watching "The Interview" is torture from almost start to finish," the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern said in his review. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf)