12/18/2014 10:41 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST

Steve Carell's North Korea movie from Guy Delisle novel scrapped after Sony hack

New Regency has reportedly pulled the plug on a Steve Carell movie set in North Korea after the unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures that a U.S. official has linked to the secretive state.

Carell was set to star in the thriller based on the graphic novel Pyongyang, by Quebec City-born cartoonist Guy Delisle​.

The story centres on a young animator who becomes accused of spying in the communist nation. Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski was set to direct.

Industry website Deadline Hollywood reported Wednesday that New Regency, a Fox-owned studio, had backed away from the film because Fox "declined to distribute it," said an unnamed spokesperson.​

Production was set to begin in March.

Carell hasn't directly commented on the decision, but the actor and star of the new movie Foxcatcher seemed to express his frustration in a Twitter message Wednesday, writing "sad day for creative expression, #feareatsthesoul." 

The security breach at Sony Pictures last month exposed a trove of sensitive documents, and escalated to threats of terrorism this week.

In a message released Tuesday, a shadowy group calling itself the Guardians of Peace pledged to target upcoming screenings of the comedy movie The Interview with 9/11-style attacks.

Sony Pictures cancelled the Dec. 25 theatrical release of the comedy, saying it made the decision after most exhibitors slated to screen the film decided not to amid the threats.

Canadian screenings scrapped

U.S. theatres weren't the only ones to react — all 17 Rainbow and Magic Lantern Theatres in Toronto cancelled screenings of The Interview for the holidays, after moviegoers were threatened.

A spokesperson told Ioanna Roumeliotis of CBC News that the cinemas aren't sure whether the decision will be reversed.

"After careful consideration of this unprecedented and complex situation, Cineplex Entertainment will postpone presentation of the Sony Pictures movie, The Interview," said Par Marshall, Cineplex's vice-president of communications and investor relations.

"Cineplex takes seriously its commitment to the freedom of artistic expression, but we want to reassure our guests and staff that their safety and security is our No. 1 priority. We look forward to a time when this situation is resolved and those responsible are apprehended."

A spokesperson for the entertainment company killed rumours of a video-on-demand release, saying Sony has "no further release plans for the film."​

Attack hits Sony's 'heart and core' 

U.S. investigators believe there is a connection between the Sony hack and the isolated communist nation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

The attack is possibly the costliest ever for a U.S. company, Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner, told The Associated Press.

"This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business and succeeded," she said. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of U.S. breach history."

Industry analysts predict the breach could cost Sony an estimated $170 million to $210 million US in lost revenues, proprietary information and potential lawsuits from employees whose data were disclosed.

- VIDEO | North Korean defectors speak out about hackers

Before the hackers struck, Sony was forecasting $8.1 billion in annual sales for its movie division out of total sales of $66 billion.