Box Office: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Targets $20 Million Debut as Off-Screen Drama Fuels Interest

Is it true that, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

“Don’t Worry Darling,” a movie that’s been largely overshadowed in recent weeks by relentless off-screen controversies, will test that adage as it debuts in 4,000-plus North American theaters over the weekend.

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The Warner Bros. film, directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, is expected to generate $17 million to $20 million in its opening weekend, suggesting that behind-the-scenes drama isn’t dinging initial ticket sales. It may even be lifting them. Some independent tracking services indicate that inaugural returns could reach as high as $25 million, but anywhere in the high teens would be a solid start for “Don’t Worry Darling,” which cost $35 million to produce.

Reviews for “Don’t Worry Darling” haven’t been too enthusiastic (the movie has a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes), but that likely won’t matter to Harry Styles fans, who are eager to watch the pop sensation in his first major film role. According to tracking, pre-sales have been strong with his core fanbase, women between the ages of 17 to 24.

The lead-up to “Don’t Worry Darling” has been riddled with tabloid fodder, including but not limited to Wilde, while showcasing the film’s trailer at the industry convention CinemaCon, getting publicly served custody papers on stage; Shia LaBeouf (who was initially hired for the role that eventually went to Styles) disputing — with receipts — Wilde’s claim that he was fired from the set; and Pugh all but entirely stepping back from promotional efforts amid rumors of tension with Wilde.

On screen, the drama centers around Alice and Jack (played by Pugh and Styles), a newlywed couple who live in the quaint, experimental utopia called Victory — with killer midcentury modern homes and furnishings that would make Don Draper’s pulse race. As the 1950s-set film progresses, Alice becomes increasingly suspicious that her husband’s hyper-secret company may be hiding disturbing secrets. Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine round out the cast.

In Variety’s review, chief film critic Owen Gleiberman praised the “tasty dream visuals” and “pop ambition,” writing “‘Don’t Worry Darling’ should have no trouble finding an audience. “But,” he acknowledges, “the movie takes you on a ride that gets progressively less scintillating as it goes along.””

Though “Don’t Worry Darling,” as the only new nationwide offering, will lead domestic box office charts with ease, Disney’s re-release of “Avatar” looks to successfully bring in audiences, as well.

Tacking is not readily available for re-releases, but advance ticket sales indicate that “Avatar” could rack up $8 million to $10 million from 1,800 3D theaters over the weekend, a sizable result for a 13-year-old movie, even if that movie happens to be the highest-grossing global release in history. It’s also a positive sign for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” director James Cameron’s decade-in-the-making sequel that’s due in theaters in December.

At the very least, the re-release means that movie operators have their 3D glasses in stock for Cameron’s grand return to Pandora.

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