Will ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ storm affect Olivia Wilde’s career?
October 1, 2022
If you’re a director with a movie about to open in two days, it’s safe to say you don’t want to be answering questions on a late-night talk show about whether one of your stars spat on another. Just ask Olivia Wilde.
By the time Wilde’s 1950s-inspired psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” finally hit theaters last week, its marketing campaign had become an exercise in disaster management. For months leading up to its release, the internet churned with feverish gossip about an alleged on-set feud between Wilde and Florence Pugh; a dispute over the circumstances of Shia LaBeouf’s exit from the project; rumors about Wilde’s romance with star Harry Styles; and, yes, forensic analysis of a viral video that some believed showed Styles expectorating on Chris Pine at the film’s Venice International Film Festival premiere.
For Wilde, who made a strong directing debut with the acclaimed 2019 comedy “Booksmart” and has lofty ambitions as a filmmaker, the lingering stink emanating from “Don’t Worry Darling” could be cause for worry, fairly or unfairly.
“Men are given lots of second chances — women are not,” says Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, a nonprofit that advocates for gender parity in the film business. “I wish we lived in a time where people judge you for what’s on the screen, versus, you know, who you’re sleeping with. There are so many other movies directed by women winning awards — a woman has won the [Golden Lion] at the Venice Film Festival three years in a row. But we’re still talking about Spitgate.”
While the No. 1 opening for “Don’t Worry Darling” got the film off to an impressive start, a deeper dive into the box office numbers reveals signs that it could struggle to hold onto its audience in the weeks to come.
The opening appeared to be front-loaded with enthusiastic Styles fans: Women comprised 66% of the audience, according to Warner Bros., which released the film, with more than half under the age of 25. As the weekend progressed, “Don’t Worry Darling” suffered a bigger-than-expected drop between Friday and Sunday, causing projections to fall from as much as $22 million down to $19 million.
Audiences gave the film a B-minus CinemaScore, suggesting that poor word-of-mouth could prove a drag on its theatrical prospects going forward. (Under-25 viewers were more positive, giving the film an A-minus.)
“You had this storm of controversy swirling around the movie leading up to its opening, and I don’t know that it boosted the box office in a huge way but it certainly, in my estimation, did not hurt the box office,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Now the question will be, how does it play over the long haul? I’m sure it’s going to wind up being one of the most watched movies when it eventually arrives on the small screen because of the curiosity factor. So I think it will wind up being a profitable endeavor for the filmmakers and the studio.” (The film is expected to hit HBO Max in November.)
Indeed, given the relatively modest $35-million production budget, Warner Bros. should emerge from the fiasco of the “Don’t Worry Darling” press tour unscathed. Whether the fuss will result in lasting reputational damage to Wilde’s career, however, remains to be seen.
No matter where the film winds up financially, there’s little doubt that Wilde will go into her next project carrying some unwanted baggage from the “Don’t Worry Darling” media circus. Silverstein says she’s concerned that the media feeding frenzy around the film could not only impact Wilde but could lead to collateral damage for other female directors as well.
“I’ve heard that other women directors are kind of upset because they worry that women will be set back,” Silverstein says. “You know, there’s this concept that every woman’s success doesn’t breed anything, but every woman’s failure ruins it for everyone. We have to get over that.”
Looking ahead, Wilde had been slated to direct “Perfect,” a biopic about Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug, but she stepped back from the film recently, saying she needed a break. Wilde has other projects in the works, including a feature documentary about the famed L.A. roller-skating rink Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace and, most intriguingly, a secret Marvel Studios project that is rumored to be centered on Spider-Woman. In terms of acting, Wilde has just one film in the pipeline: a supporting role in director Damien Chazelle’s upcoming period musical, “Babylon.”
Speaking to Variety recently, Wilde remained mum about the Marvel project. (“I can’t confirm whether that is what that is,” she said coyly.) But she did express her hope that more women will be given the reins on major studio tentpoles; to date, only five women have ever been entrusted to direct films with budgets of over $100 million. “I do feel very passionately that if more female filmmakers are trusted with bigger budgets, we will see box office successes that will then inspire more female-directed films to get greenlit,” Wilde said.
Dergarabedian believes Wilde is likely to weather the storm just fine.
“She’s going to continue to make movies, and people are still going to work with her,” he says. “I’m sure lessons will be learned from this situation that will be used moving forward. But I think it only raises her profile, and whether you have a positive or negative view, you want to work with people that have a high profile.”
In the end, that could be the real lesson of “Don’t Worry Darling”: In Hollywood, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. All other speculation is just spitting in the wind.