Universal's The Hunt: Explaining The Recent Controversy And Cancellation

The Hunt Betty Gilpin being detained

It hasn’t been long since the controversy surrounding Universal’s The Hunt led to the film’s original September 27th release getting cancelled. Nevertheless, there has been more than enough history and decision-making from that situation to sate anyone who’s curious about this particularly troublesome Hollywood to examine in great detail.

While many other films over the years have had their releases postponed, if not straight up cancelled, Craig Zobel's The Hunt happens to be a project that landed itself as one of the most glaring cases of "wrong place, wrong time." That’s ultimately what landed this film into cinematic limbo, with the chances of The Hunt emerging in full looking like a highly questionable possibility. For now though, let’s take a look at the chain of events that spelled the end for The Hunt’s current theatrical prospects.

The Hunt Glenn Howerton shooting the finger gun

The Development Of The Hunt (March 2018 – April 2019)

Depending on who you talk to, The Hunt started with a rather incendiary title: Red State vs. Blue State. While Universal supposedly debunked those claims, as well as some other polarizing information that was spread about the film, The Hunt was still a bit of a firebrand around the studio. It was already a risky acquisition at the studio in March of 2018, and the supposedly controversial political overtones were a going concern with some at Universal.

After all, this was a project that was supposedly passed on by rival studios, so there was already a bit of worry. Other parties at Universal weren’t so concerned though, as they felt The Hunt’s finished product would speak for itself, in terms of its satire and supposed political leanings. The film was scheduled to shoot between February 20th and April 5th of 2019, and with the film in the can, all that was left to do was to market it to the public and see how it might be received, boasting stars like GLOW's Betty Gilpin and The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz.

The Hunt teaser title card for The Manor commercial

The Hunt Starts Its Marketing Campaign (July 15 - July 30)

In terms of the marketing materials that were released for The Hunt, there’s not too much that Universal put out there l before the ultimate cancellation of the campaign. July 15th kicked things off with a fake commercial for The Manor, also known as the central location to the film’s action. Much like The Purge before it, Blumhouse and Universal teased the audience with an immersive look into the violent world they were about to explore on the screen.

The next step was the unveiling of The Hunt's poster and a full trailer, both of which dropped on July 30th. If there was anything political pertaining to The Hunt, it wasn’t shown in the trailer. The marketing department was pretty good at hiding any of the alleged bias, as it felt like the movie was a simple “the rich hunt the poor” thriller, again kind of like The Purge. Marketing prowess or not, trouble was already brewing for the film’s release campaign, and soon it would come to a dramatic head.

The Hunt Betty Gilpin making a concerned face

Real Life Tragedy Strikes Close To The Hunt’s Release Date (July 28, August 3-4)

Three mass shootings in the United States made the release of The Hunt seemed like an instantly doomed formula for failure. The Gilroy, Dayton, and El Paso shootings occurred within days of each other, and each inspired more growing concerns for Universal potentially releasing a film that was already accused of being politically charged into a world that seemed full of its own real-life crises.

Death threats eventually found their way to Universal executives, and it was all but certain The Hunt wouldn’t see the light of day when real life politics were thrown into the mix of sentiment against the film. In a couple of tweets, President Donald Trump would eventually joined the fray, as he indirectly decried the film as one of the Hollywood projects that incited real life violence. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the film was about to suffer some supposed setbacks within the industry itself.

The Hunt Betty Gilpin and Ethan Suplee walk down the railroad armed

Test Screenings Allegedly Signal Trouble For The Hunt (August 6)

According to a report from THR, The Hunt was screened for two test audiences, one of which took place on August 6th, and the response was logged as uncomfortable at best. The worries over the film’s political content were apparently rightfully raised, and on top of the political pressure that was mounting, Blumhouse’s movie looked more and more controversial by the minute.

If one takes Universal’s statement on the film as more of a truthful source of feedback, that wasn’t the case. Just as they debunked the film’s previously reported title of Red State vs. Blue State, the same statement pushed aside concerns that the test screenings rejected the film. In fact, they stated that The Hunt racked up some of the best audience feedback that Blumhouse had seen in its entire history.

The Hunt Glenn Howerton pointing out a problem on a jet

Marketing For The Hunt Is Pulled By Universal (August 6)

The first sign of trouble for The Hunt came during the same day as that most recent test screening for the film, with Universal deciding later that night to totally pull the marketing campaign. At this moment in time, a release was still possible, and at the very least it looked like getting delayed to some other point on the box office calendar might be possible.

But anyone could have realized that, despite the lack of outright cancellation of The Hunt, it would take some sort of miracle for it to even appear on a slew of theater screens at any point in the near future. Universal had a difficult situation on its hands, and removing the marketing was a temporary measure at best, and proved to be the end of the road. It wouldn’t take too much longer after that for the matter to be settled once and for all.

The Hunt Hilary Swank smirking in the kitchen

Universal Cancels The Release Of The Hunt (August 10)

On August 10th, just four days after The Hunt’s marketing campaign was cancelled by Universal, and just weeks after the real life tragedies that sparked these concerns had occurred, the studio officially cancelled its plans to release the Blumhouse film into theaters. While obviously being respectful to those that made the film, the studio stated that thoughtful consideration had led them to pull the plug on the film entirely.

Normally, that’d be the end of the story, leaving The Hunt to potentially sink into obscurity and trivial infamy, which is where it currently stands. That’s not the final chapter written in the film’s history though, and while Universal may be done with it, Blumhouse still sees The Hunt as a potential theatrical release. It’s not just anyone that’s saying this though, either, as that comes from Jason Blum himself.

The Hunt title card

There’s Still A Chance For A Release Of The Hunt (August 16)

As Blumhouse’s namesake and producorial powerhouse, Blum hasn’t allowed the controversial firestorm surrounding The Hunt to dampen his spirits on the film’s prospects. In an interview days after its cancellation, the producer went on record as still thinking that the movie could have a chance to be seen by audiences. While Jason Blum still stands by The Hunt, he admits he’d do things a little differently if he could do it all over again.

That same interview with Vulture noted that Blum would do something different in terms of the film’s marketing, rather than altering the actual film’s content itself. Never intending to drum up real-world controversy on purpose with this or any of The Purge films, Blumhouse’s chief dream-maker sees an opportunity to make some different choices in selling his edgy thriller.

Those choices might present themselves at some point, depending on how The Hunt can be positioned in terms of marketing. Another possibility might involve this project getting recut/reshot in order to be presented in more of a state acceptable to potential distributors. And, of course, the streaming/digital platform release is always an option, as this modern world has shown us.

The shelving of The Hunt hasn’t killed Blumhouse’s box office game, as they do have Don’t Let Go debuting in theaters this weekend.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.