Brow Beat

Universal Cancels Upcoming Movie The Hunt After Presidential Tweetstorm

Betty Gilpin standing in front of a country gas station, holding a shotgun.
Betty Gilpin in The Hunt. Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures has canceled the release of its upcoming thriller The Hunt, which was previously scheduled to hit theaters on Sept. 27, Variety reports. The film, a “Most Dangerous Game” riff from director Craig Zobel and screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, features coastal elites hunting “deplorables” for sport. Universal had already put a hold on the film’s marketing in the wake of mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton—the trailer has scenes of civilians fleeing rifle fire and a point-of-view shot of a woman begging for her life before being shotgunned—but the last straw seems to have been an angry Twitter thread from Donald Trump on Friday, in which he alleged that Hollywood “is Racist at the highest level” and that The Hunt was “made in order to inflame and cause chaos.”

Whether or not Universal Pictures agrees with Trump about the filmmakers’ intentions, the company seems to have concluded that releasing a movie in which “deplorables” and coastal elites do their best to murder each other at this particular moment would indeed inflame and cause chaos. In an all-caps statement on The Hunt’s website, Universal announced that the film would not be released at this time and explained their thinking:

While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film. We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film. 

Naturally, Donald Trump didn’t come up with the idea of railing against The Hunt all on his own; as Slate’s Rhodes Murphy noted, Fox News has been on a tear about it for about a week. The introduction to a segment on Friday night’s Ingraham Angle, headlined “NBC Universal still planning to release The Hunt despite backlash,” gives a pretty good sense of the way a story like this gets incepted into the vast echo chamber that is our president’s skull: 

We were the first to tell you earlier this week about that NBC/Universal movie, and now they’re facing some backlash for moving forward with this controversial film The Hunt. The film is about wealthy liberals hunting and killing “deplorables” on a reserve. The studio pulled ads for the film after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, but a source told Fox News, “there are no plans to not release the movie,”—double negative—“No plans to move the release.” Will this be a decision they come to regret? Joining me now is actor Robert Davi.

Although it’s possible that executives at Universal were motivated by a genuine crisis of conscience over the content of The Hunt rather than fear of a conservative backlash, neither the film nor the political environment has changed that much in the past few weeks, so it seems likely that avoiding the president’s rage is a significant part of this. Although it may set a bad precedent for Universal Pictures to give Fox News veto power over the studio’s business, it’s clear that putting The Hunt in theaters at this moment would mean volunteering to serve as a punching bag in an ongoing campaign of distraction waged by vicious interests. And it’s equally clear that it doesn’t matter in the slightest what point, if any, The Hunt makes about the relationship between rich people on the coasts and poor people in the heartland: It’s obvious from the trailer that the films’ elites aren’t heroes, but Fox News will interpret the film in whatever way is most politically advantageous at the moment. Given those circumstances, it makes sense that the studio decided that the best way to win this game was not to play.

It’s not the first time Hollywood has delayed or canceled something because recent events rendered a film, TV show, or video game distasteful or politically toxic: Sept. 11, 2001, wreaked havoc on the entire entertainment industry, and a generation’s worth of television shows, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Mr. Robot, have had to cancel or reschedule episodes because of shootings. (The impossibility of finding a release window that doesn’t coincide with a mass shooting is an extremely dark running joke in a BoJack Horseman episode.) It’s not even the first time Fox News has manufactured a controversy that got the president all riled up over a movie he hadn’t seen: Trump was very concerned that there weren’t enough American flags in First Man. But it seems to be the first time that Fox and Trump have convinced a studio that it was easier to just not release a movie than to deal with their bullshit. Will this bold move help reduce the levels of bullshit in future cultural and political discourse? Joining us now is actor Robert Davi.