LOS ANGELES — Universal Pictures has canceled the September release of “The Hunt” in the wake of recent mass shootings, intense scrutiny from conservative media and tweets by President Donald Trump seen as alluding to the film as a movie “made in order … to inflame and cause chaos.”
“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,” a Universal representative said in a statement Saturday. “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.”
The film’s cast is led by “GLOW” Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts and Ike Barinholtz as strangers who wake up in a clearing and realize they are being hunted for sport. Oscar winner Hilary Swank also stars. Directed by Craig Zobel (“Compliance,” “Z for Zachariah”) from a script by Nick Cuse and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof and produced by Lindelof and Blumhouse’s Jason Blum, it was scheduled to be released Sept. 27.
A source close to the project confirmed that any decision about when — or on what platform, theatrical or streaming — “The Hunt” may be released in the future remains up to Universal.
The studio had already pulled back on marketing for the film following recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. A broadcast ad slated to air on ESPN was pulled last weekend, according to the Hollywood Reporter. On Saturday, Universal announced its decision to halt the film’s planned nationwide release altogether.
The first trailer for “The Hunt” debuted in July, depicting Gilpin’s character leading a group of blue-collar “normal folk” who fight back against captors hunting them in an elaborate game orchestrated by moneyed elites.
But outrage over the film did not reach a crescendo until last week, when the movie became a hot topic across “Fox News” networks with hosts including “Fox Business” hosts Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs and “Fox News’” Laura Ingraham. At least one pundit diverted blame over recent national tragedies from Trump to violent Hollywood movies.
“The left wants to wring its hands over the political divisiveness in our country, and yet they promote a movie that exacerbates that division,” conservative pundit Pastor Robert Jeffress said on Dobbs’ show. “And then we hear them lamenting, rightly so, about these horrific tragedies in Ohio and Texas. Yet they want to blame President Trump’s rhetoric, they want to complain that there are not enough laws in place when this is a chief component of all of that, and that is the devaluing of human life that you see in the glorification of violence in a movie like this.”
Trump’s comments slamming “liberal Hollywood” as “racist at the highest level” followed the midweek spike in conservative media criticism, as detailed by The Hollywood Reporter. In tweets he referenced “the movie coming out” but did not refer specifically to “The Hunt” by title.
“Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate!” he said Friday in a series of two tweets. “They like to call themselves “Elite,” but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order … to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!”
Trump further criticized Hollywood the same morning at the White House. “We’re going to be very tough with them. They’re treating conservatives very unfairly,” Trump said, according to Variety. “Hollywood is racist. What they’re doing with the kind of movies they’re putting out, it’s actually very dangerous for our country. What Hollywood is doing is a tremendous disservice to our country.”
“The Hunt” would have marked the latest “social thriller” released by Universal in partnership with Blumhouse, the company behind the hit “Purge” and “Insidious” horror franchises as well as Jordan Peele’s Academy Award-nominated debut “Get Out,” this year’s “Us” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” which won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay in February.