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Universal Leans into ‘The Hunt’ Controversy, Will Release ‘Most Talked About Movie of the Year’

Universal knows there's no such thing as bad publicity for its film about 1 percent liberal elites hunting conservatives. They could turn it into an event film.

Betty Gilpin in "The Hunt"

“The Hunt”

Universal Pictures

Days after 32 people were killed in mass shootings in Ohio and Texas last August, banners for “The Hunt” were dismantled on the Universal lot as conservative media and President Donald Trump took aim at the film. It was bad timing for the satiric thriller, centered around a group of liberal elites who hunt conservatives for sport, which was set to be released the following month. It appeared the studio had pulled the movie.

But now, months later and a comfortable distance away from those tragedies, Universal is leaning into the controversy: The studio announced Tuesday “The Hunt” will be get a wide release on March 13 and unveiled a trailer and poster referring to the hoopla: “the most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.”

An adaptation of Richard Connell’s 1924 classic man-versus-nature story “The Most Dangerous Game,” the film drops 12 American strangers in a clearing, rudderless and unaware that they’re being, literally, hunted for sport by one-percent elitists. The Craig Zobel-directed movie stars Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, Betty Gilpin, and Hilary Swank.

It’s produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, known for its low-budget horror movies, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” and Best Picture nominees “Whiplash” and “BlacKkKlansman.”

The poster’s reliance on a wall of text (including Fox News quote “shows Hollywood for what it really is, demented and evil”) with only a picture of a pig shows Universal is hopeful the right-wing pushback has hand-delivered every marketing executive’s dream: an event film. Rather than just dump the movie on a streaming platform and ride out the controversy, the studio’s choice to move forward with a theatrical release is a vote of confidence that theaters not only can help deliver more buzz for this movie, but also a profit.

The irony is that the filmmakers are already pushing a narrative that’s somewhat counter to the marketing blitz. Blum and writer Damon Lindelof told Variety Tuesday the media got it all wrong and the time to release it is now.

“It just feels right,” Blum said. “And as more and more people start to see it, we’ve gained confidence in the fact that this is not a dangerous movie. This is not a provocative movie. This is not a divisive movie. I think the big shift between now and then is that more people have seen it and they’ve responded positively.”

And on the marketing strategy, Blum said:

“We have a very, very different trailer and poster which acknowledges the journey that we’ve been on. So we’re putting the movie out into the world in a very, very different way than we did the first time around. I’m not worried. With any movie you release, you’re concerned about how the talk will negatively or positively impact the release of a movie. So this movie is no different.”

Another piece of the marketing plan? Universal tweeted the trailer today with #DecideForYourself.

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