Several high-profile controversies, dozens of behind-the-scenes articles, and an unceasing wave of Chris Pine memes later, Don’t Worry Darling is finally a movie in movie theaters that people can actually see. The 1950s period thriller, which focuses on a young couple in a mysterious California company town, stars Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Pine and Olivia Wilde, who’s also in the director’s chair.
Don’t Worry Darling has been at the epicenter of industry gossip due to rumors of on-set tension, Pugh’s lack of involvement in the film’s press run, and controversy around the male lead role, which had originally gone to Shia LaBeouf, who Wilde claimed to have fired only for the controversial actor to provide evidence that seemed to disprove that.
In an article published on September 23, Vulture spoke to film industry executives about how they project the film will do at the box office following its bizarre press campaign. An executive the outlet spoke to dubbed its financial estimates “schizophrenic,” while another said that pre-release tracking boomeranged from $16 million up to $20 million around its Venice Film Festival premiere, which gave us the Pine memes, spitgate, and some heavily-dissected quotes from Wilde, before subsequently falling back around the $16 million mark. “Their campaign keeps changing,” one executive told Vulture. “‘It’s a thriller!’ No, just kidding. ‘It’s a romantic drama!’ Kim Kardashian liked it on Instagram. The audience is like, What the fuck is going on?”
The Vulture piece also includes a new piece of information from somebody who was purportedly on the Don’t Worry Darling set that lends credence to the widely held belief that there was tension between Pugh and Wilde. The source said that the actress was frustrated that her director would disappear for long stretches on-set, ostensibly to spend time with Styles, who she began dating while they were filming. That culminated in a “screaming match” between Pugh and Wilde, which forced one high-level Warner Bros. decision-maker to attempt to broker peace between star and director. (There are rumors that Pugh was supposed to make a cameo in Wilde-ex Jason Sudeikis’ hit show Ted Lasso, too, which would add another level of intrigue.)
Per Deadline, the movie netted $3.1 million in Thursday previews, a harbinger of a weekend in the $20-$26 million range. Another Deadline piece highlighted that Styles’ fan base would be key to the movie’s success, and that the movie has had a bigger social media impact than tonally similar pictures. Sources in the Vulture story wonder if his fans could create negative word-of-mouth if they’re disappointed that he isn’t in the film enough, leading to a second weekend box office cratering.
Critical response to the film has been muted, with reviewers praising the look of the film and Pugh’s central performance, but arguing that Styles’ performance didn’t match the film’s intense moments and that its ideas around feminism and gender roles have too broad a target. Outlets like The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly have praised the film, though, stressing that viewers should engage with it despite the negative press maelstrom.
I’s possible that the combination of star power and tantalizing dysfunction will push Don’t Worry Darling to strong box office returns. Imagine if they greenlight a sequel.