- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - There was no sign of fear at Atlanta’s Plaza Theater among the sell-out crowd at Sony Pictures’ movie “The Interview” on Christmas afternoon.

If anything, the controversy and threats surrounding the movie made for a more-festive party - a friendly wait outside despite the cold, beer and cocktails to wash down the popcorn once the doors opened and a patriotic sing-along before the opening credits.

“This is way more fun than it would have been,” said Jim Kelley of Atlanta, who waited outside with his daughter, Shannon, who explained their annual father-daughter trip to the movies. The elder Kelley added, with mocking sarcasm, “This is almost dangerous, like we’re living life on the edge.”

Plaza co-owner Michael Furlinger was ecstatic with the turnout. “This has that Star Wars feel to it, with all the camaraderie,” he said.

Sony initially pulled the comedy that depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after hackers infiltrated the entertainment giant’s internal network and threatened moviegoers with violence, prompting large theater chains to cancel their screenings. But executives relented and approved screenings at about 300 independent theaters, along with a broader online release that began Wednesday night.

Furlinger embraced the turn of events Thursday as he bounded from greeting patrons at the door to instructing new employees manning the concession stands of the 75-year-old venue, Georgia’s oldest continually operating movie theater.

“Do we have ‘God Bless America’ ready to go downstairs?” he yelled before opening the front door. Hours before, he’d welcomed FBI agents who swept the building. “That was the protocol nationwide,” he said. He voluntarily hired an off-duty police officer for additional security. “But I don’t think there’s any real threat,” he said.

As people streamed in, several thanked Furlinger for showing the film. Others left disappointed, having come without tickets only to learn that all five Thursday shows were sold out. The theater has multiple daily screenings scheduled through New Year’s Day.

“You just don’t see this atmosphere at the movies much anymore,” he said. “This has just worked out great for us.”

Matthew Avins and Jessica Duffy, visiting from Australia, were among those without tickets. “We wanted to see what it was like today,” Avins said, explaining that they’d buy tickets for a future show if they couldn’t get in Thursday.

Standing third in line an hour before doors opened, Melissa Gatza, of Norcross, said she would have paid to see the Seth Rogen-James Franco film no matter what. “We’ve been on pins and needles since we saw the trailers,” she said. While she dismissed Sony’s handling of the movie as “a bunch of hooey, the biggest publicity stunt you could come up with,” she said the hullabaloo added to her experience.

Furlinger wondered if the large theater chains would continue to refuse to show the movie in the coming days.

“Wait till they see how much money the Mom and Pops are making,” he said. “Let’s see then if they hold their positions.”

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Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.

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