Last week, Universal Pictures opted to cancel the release of its satirical horror movie, The Hunt. The movie’s premise, an adaptation of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, saw rich elites hunting a group of ‘deplorables’ for sport. Obviously, the movie was a thinly veiled swipe at Trump and his supporters. But two mass shootings in the span of 24 hours and an offhand Tweet about the movie by Trump himself sealed The Hunt’s fate. But this isn’t the first time real tragedies have been blamed on movie violence and resulted in release delays, title changes, and outright cancellation. In this edition of The Chopping Block, we take a look at a few other movies that courted controversy by skirting too closely to real atrocities.
The Good Son (1993)
On the surface, The Good Son doesn’t seem too controversial. For all intensive purposes, it’s just a 1990s updating of The Bad Seed. In fact, the most shocking thing about the movie was probably seeing Home Alone’s Macauley Culkin playing a psychopathic middle-schooler. But across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom was shocked in February 1993 by the brutal murder of two-year-old James Bulger by two 10–year-old boys. Public outrage turned to violent media. Efforts were made to link the murder to Child’s Play 3. And the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) banned The Good Son prior to its fall release. With its child-on-child violence, the BBFC deemed the movie’s content too sensitive.
Teaching Mrs Tingle (1999)
In the latter half of the 1990s, Williamson was a hot property in horror. His screenplays for Scream, Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Faculty played a role in re-igniting the genre. But his one – and only – directorial effort was a victim of bad-timing. Originally titled Killing Mrs Tingle, Williamson’s story of high school students seeking revenge on a cruel teacher, was to release in the spring of 1999. Following the Columbine shootings on April 20, however, the movie’s premise and title weren’t looked on very favourably. As a result, the studio pushed the released date to late August and changed the title to Teaching Mrs Tingle. Getting buried in late summer all but ended the movie’s box office prospects. It probably also didn’t help that Teaching Mrs Tingle wasn’t a particularly good movie.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Earshot
Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a game-change for television. Funny, episodic, and emotional, Buffy pushed a lot of boundaries with its story. But when you push against taboos, sooner or later, you inevitably draw some flak. Season 3 episode, Earshot, was originally scheduled to air in late April. Briefly, Earshot saw Buffy cursed with the ability to hear what people were thinking. Initially overwhelmed by the voices in her head, Buffy catches one lonely voice planning to shoot his peers from a school tower. Not surprisingly, the storyline was just too raw for audiences a week removed from the Columbine Shootings. Earshot was delayed until September.
Based on William Shakespeare’s Othello, Tim Blake Nelson adapted the Bard’s tale to a high school setting. Miramax originally planned to release O in April 1999. But like other movies on this list, the Columbine Shootings changed Miramax’s mind. O’s tragic and violent story, played out by teens, too closely mirrored the real tragedy. Yet unlike the other movies delayed in light of the mass shooting, O was shelved or quite some time. In fact, O didn’t see the light of day until 2001.
Phone Booth (2003)
Director Joel Schumacher has a mixed filmography. On the one hand, Schumacher gave us 80s classic, The Lost Boys. Conversely, he also directed Batman and Robin. His thriller, Phone Booth, is a return to form and something of a forgotten but underrated movie. Unfortunately, Phone Booth hit a nerve for Americans still unnerved by 9/11. The movie’s story of an unseen sniper targeting an arrogant publicist trapped in a New York City phone booth was a well-paced, tense thriller. Nonetheless, the movie’s original release date fell too closely to the very real 2002 DC Sniper case. Twentieth Century Fox moved the movie to 200.
Death Wish – Eli Roth
The original Death Wish was a product of its time – rising crime rates and urban decay. In 2018, a movie about a disgruntled, middle-aged white man shooting up poor neighbourhoods wasn’t just outdated. It was tone deaf. Originally scheduled for release in November 2017, MGM delayed Eli Roth’s remake after the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting. It didn’t help. Three weeks prior to the movie’s new March release, America suffered another mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. To what extent these tragedies impact Death Wish’s box office is difficult to estimate. Yet it’s not difficult to believe that many film-goers weren’t enthusiastic to watch a movie celebrating gun violence.