For moviegoers who lined up at a Merrick movie theater to see "The Interview" on Christmas Day, it wasn't so much for the entertainment. It was a statement about free speech.
Three small theaters on Long Island were among more than 300 nationwide Thursday to show the comedy whose debut was almost derailed by computer hacks, terrorist threats and condemnation by North Korea.
The intrigues turned what many critics called a so-so film into a national event.
At Merrick Cinemas, several dozen people lined up for the first showing at 12:30 p.m. Many said they were there as a matter of principle.
"I had to do it," said Andree Marshall of Long Beach, a former World Trade Center worker who survived the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Why would I let them dictate what I'm going to see?"
Peter Kremelberg, 66, of Seaford, a Vietnam veteran, said he felt "free and independent just by coming here today."
After viewing the movie, Kremelberg said he "wouldn't recommend it" but was glad "to be part of the experience of seeing it."
Island Cinemas in Mastic and Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington also screened the film Thursday.
"The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as television journalists assigned by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The North Korean regime called the film "an act of war" and threatened retaliation earlier this year. Last month, Sony email accounts were hacked -- an embarrassing episode U.S. authorities later linked to the North Korean government.
The hackers last week promised a "bitter fate" to those who went to see the film on its opening day and recommended people who lived near theaters "keep yourselves distant from the places at that time."
Major theater chains backed away and Sony pulled the film -- a decision criticized by President Barack Obama as a "mistake." Starting Wednesday, the film became widely available for a fee through online streaming services.
Susan Kimmel, of Merrick, said she was proud her neighborhood theater and other independent venues showed the film. "I think that's the right thing to do," she said. "We shouldn't cave to such baseless threats and terror tactics."
Herbert Kaplan, 44, of Bellmore said news stories piqued his curiosity. "I'm not expecting much from the movie," he said, "but I just wanted to be up to date on pop culture."
Leonard Ross of Long Beach said he saw the film in order to make a statement in support of free speech. He posed for a picture outside the theater on his way out.
"I don't like the idea that someone would take away our right to see a movie," he said.
Ross liked the film.
"I don't think Mr. Kim would enjoy seeing it," he added. "And I definitely don't think he'd want his people to see it."