What ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Faces at the Box Office After Months of Controversy

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Warner Bros./New Line’s “Don’t Worry Darling” is finally hitting theaters this weekend with a low break-even point and a good chance to turn a modest profit at the box office — but it also faces weak reviews and one of the most turbulent marketing campaigns in recent memory.

Independent projections have Olivia Wilde’s thriller starring pop star Harry Styles and Florence Pugh opening to $18 million to $20 million, with Warner Bros. projecting a $17 million start from 4,000-plus locations. With a reported budget of $20 million, it should be easy for this film to make back its money even with a marketing spend highlighted by a splashy premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

But how well it performs depends on a lot of unknown factors. Styles, who has had small roles in films like “Dunkirk,” is an unproven draw as a lead film star despite his massive popularity as a singer who first rose to prominence in the British boy band One Direction.

And a mere glance on search engines or social media shows how discourse surrounding “Don’t Worry Darling” has been more about the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding Wilde and the cast than anything about the film itself, and some of that wasn’t even within the control of anyone involved.

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The problems started with a blindside at CinemaCon in April, when Wilde was served with custody papers from her ex-partner Jason Sudeikis while onstage to present her film during Warner’s presentation. Questions about that incident were inevitably brought up as Wilde began doing interviews to promote her film, but that was only the beginning.

Then Shia LaBoeuf, who was initially cast opposite Pugh in the role ultimately played by Harry Styles, disputed that he was fired from the film and said that he had actually quit the project. Texts between the actor, who had also recently been sued by FKA Twigs for sexual battery, and Wilde then resurfaced appearing to support his claims.

The gossip culminated at the film’s Venice premiere, with reports that Pugh would have a minimal presence for the film’s press tour while rumors swirled online over tensions between her and Wilde during the shoot. The social media rumor mill only added more fuel to the fire, with a viral video claiming to show Styles spitting on co-star Chris Pine. The two rapidly shot down the accusation.

Perhaps all this might have been a good test of the adage that “all publicity is good publicity,” but buzz over a film’s backstage drama isn’t a guarantee of interest in actually buying a ticket. Reviews and word-of-mouth are still king, and “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t looking good in that department with a 36% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Compounding the problem is the strong reception for Sony’s “The Woman King,” which may be a more attractive option for anyone interested in going to the movies this weekend.

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Even if “Darling” beats projections and its better-received competition, it won’t be enough to end the ongoing box office drought. In fact, if “Darling” fails to open above $20 million, this will be the first September since 2001 — the year when the 9/11 attacks severely deflated moviegoing interest — in which no new film opened above that mark.

For both “Darling” and “The Woman King,” any box office success will be defined by the profit turned for their studios. That’s the case for the other major releases this weekend, including a re-release of 20th Century’s “Avatar” ahead of its sequel, “The Way of Water,” this December.

Those who buy a ticket to see “Avatar” on the big screen again — or perhaps for the first time as 20th Century hopes to attract a new generation of audiences who didn’t see the first film when it hit theaters in 2009 — will see it in a 4K High Dynamic Range remaster designed to enhance 3D viewing with brighter lighting and a higher frame rate. “The Way of Water” will also be offered in a 4K HDR format along with other premium formats like Imax, Dolby and standard 3D.

With a $2.84 billion global haul, “Avatar” is the highest grossing film in box office history before inflation adjustment, having taken that title back from “Avengers: Endgame” thanks to a Chinese re-release last year. This next re-release won’t do much to pad its lead over “Endgame,” but is projected to make $8-$10 million this weekend.

On the limited side, Neon’s “Moonage Daydream” will also go wide this weekend after grossing $1.22 million from an exclusive engagement on 170 Imax screens this past weekend. Only Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” has been able to earn a higher opening weekend gross from less than 200 screens since theaters reopened. The David Bowie documentary will expand to 600 screens this weekend in a test for the specialty market as it looks to turn festival releases into revenue for struggling arthouses.

For the record: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly said “Don’t Worry Darling” was Olivia Wilde’s first film as a director. Her debut film “Booksmart” was released in 2019.

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