“Don’t Worry Darling” Overcomes Bonkers Press Tour to Top Box Office

In spite of a profoundly messy promotional tour, Olivia Wilde‘s Don’t Worry Darling pulled in $19.2 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend, enough to top the domestic box office.

The performance, based on 4,113 theaters, was in line with expectations for the psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, which had seen its projected box office ping-pong between $16 million and $20 million in the lead up to its release. The madness behind the scenes of Don’t Worry Darling began when Wilde was served custody papers while presenting the film at CinemaCon in Las Vegas and growing to full spectacle status during its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. The lesson, says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, may be that there’s truly no such thing as bad press.

“Controversy, or behind-the-scenes drama, only serves to heighten the awareness and raise the profile of a movie,” adds Dergarabedian, who covers the film and TV industries for Comscore. If Pugh hadn’t caused a frenzy by missing Don’t Worry Darling‘s Venice press conference—or if social media hadn’t become consumed by the now-debunked theory that Styles had spit on co-star Chris Pine? “I don’t think the movie would be on the radar” for a lot of potential moviegoers, he says.

Don’t Worry Darling brought in $30 million worldwide, a strong start for the Warner Bros. film, which was made for around $35 million. Though Wilde caused a bidding war when she shopped Don’t Worry Darling following a successful directing debut on booksmart, box office expectations for the title have always been measured. After all, it’s an R-rated adult thriller being released at a moment when the best box office performers are nearly always superhero movies and projects based on existing IP.

Still, there was one audience segment that was expected to turn out for the film: fans of Styles, the former One Direction singer who has released three solo albums, including Harry’s House, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released in May. And it does appear that those fans turned out for the film, which had an audience that was 66% female and 16% under 18.

One of the biggest obstacles Don’t Worry Darling had to overcome in recent weeks was actually the lackluster critical reaction. The film has a 38% score from 224 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and vanity fair‘s Richard Lawson called it “neither triumph nor disaster.” Audiences have been mostly kind, though ticket sales fell 9% between Friday and Saturday. The movie has an 81% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and a B-on Cinema Score. And younger fans seemed to enjoy the film the most, with the under-18 set giving it an A-.

Much of the initial hand-wringing about the press tour for Don’t Worry Darling centered around reports of a feud between Wilde and Pugh, who appeared reluctant to promote the film (or sing the praises of her director) on social media. But as if to put a cap on the whole episode, just as the film was making its way to theaters, the actress posted two photo carousels on Instagram documenting her time on set. She even included one of herself from her with Wilde.

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