‘The Hunt’: An Exhaustive History

The controversial film’s long road to open season, explained

This Friday, Universal/Blumhouse’s The Hunt will finally arrive in theaters. The road leading to the theater for this loose adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game has been fraught with controversy and political turmoil. Here’s  an extensive timeline of the context surrounding the film’s development, cancellation and eventual release.

Jan. 19, 1924: Collier’s publishes Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game. The story centers around a big-game hunter who winds up on an island as another hunter’s prey.

The Most Dangerous Game

2000: Jason Blum founds Blumhouse Productions, a genre film and TV production company with a Hammer Films/Roger Corman business model: Make ‘em on the cheap, release ‘em wide, reap in the profits.

Nov. 2014: Hackers attack Sony, publishing a lot of corporate emails online. Sony then pulls its North Korean satire film The Interview from distribution after several theater chains refuse to show the movie because of a fear of North Korean terror attacks if the movie hits theaters. U.S. intelligence forces say North Korea is behind the hack; the Dear Leader denies it. This is one of the few times a film studio has pulled a movie from studios because of real-life events.

Sept. 9, 2016: U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton calls supporters of her opponent Donald Trump “deplorables”at a fundraiser event in New York:

“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

The noun becomes a meme and a badge of honor for Trump supporters almost instantly. It becomes a “sick burn” insult for liberals and the media cycle exhausts it almost instantly.

Nov. 8, 2016: Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Pundits on both sides say this the most divided America has ever been. (Ever? Really?)

May 2018: Universal exec Donna Langley acquires a script from Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse that’s a loose adaptation of Connell’s short story about two warring factions of humans hunting each other. The studio fast-tracks the script, giving it an $18 million budget, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Feb. 20, 2019: Shooting commences in Louisiana for Universal/Blumhouse’s The Hunt. It stars Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, Justin Hartley, Ike Barinholtz and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

April 5, 2019: Shooting ends for The Hunt.

 July 2019: Universal/Blumhouse releases the first teaser trailer for The Hunt. It gives nothing away but leans heavily on fall/hunting imagery, like a sign that says “Hunting at the Manor.” Its intended release date is Sept. 27, 2019.

The Hunt

July 28, 2019: A lone 19-year-old gunman opens fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif., killing himself and three others and wounding 17 more. Authorities find no motive.

Aug. 2019: Universal/Blumhouse releases the first full-length trailer for The Hunt. In this one, we learn that the 12 folks being hunted are so-called “deplorables” and “MAGA types” being tracked down by “elites.”

Aug. 3, 2019: A lone 21-year-old gunman opens fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and wounding 24 others. The FBI believes the shooter’s “manifesto” proves the shooting was racially motivated and rooted in white nationalism. As of this writing, they are still investigating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism.

Aug. 4, 2019: Thirteen hours after the last shot is fired in El Paso, a lone 24-year-old gunman opens fire at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and wounding 17 others. Police shoot and kill him less than a minute after he fires his first shot. He was reportedly a self-described “Leftist” and Antifa supporter.

Networks start to pull The Hunt ads out of their weekend rotation.

Aug. 6, 2019: A Hollywood Reporter article about the ads details some of the more shocking moments of The Hunt’s script, like this exchange:

“Did anyone see what our ratfucker-in-chief just did?”

“At least The Hunt’s coming up. Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables.”

Aug. 7, 2019: Universal/Blumhouse issues the following statement about its decision to halt its marketing campaign for the film in the wake of three mass shootings within a week:

“Out of sensitivity to the attention on the country’s recent shooting tragedies, Universal Pictures and the filmmakers of ‘The Hunt’ have temporarily paused its marketing campaign and are reviewing materials as we move forward.”

Aug. 7, 2019: FOX News publishes an article based off of the Hollywood Reporter article, slamming Hollywood for even thinking of making the film, calling it “sick” and “awful.” The article claims that The Hunt’s working title was Red State Blue State. The film’s director later debunks this claim.

Aug. 8, 2019: #Discourse around The Hunt reaches a fever pitch when The Ingraham Angle devotes a segment to the film.

Aug. 9, 2019: President Donald Trump tweets about The Hunt twice without mentioning it by name, causing conservative backlash to the film:

“Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! 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!”

Aug. 10, 2019: Universal/Blumhouse cancels the release of The Hunt:

“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. 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.” 

Aug. 19, 2019: Director Craig Zobel tells Variety he believes the film has been misrepresented in the media

“I wanted to make a fun, action thriller that satirized this moment in our culture — where we jump to assume we know someone’s beliefs because of which ‘team’ we think they’re on… and then start shouting at them.”

Feb. 11, 2020: Universal/Blumhouse releases a new, revamped and final trailer for The Hunt. This one ends with a smirking HIlary Swank saying, “You actually thought we were hunting humans for sport?” and “You wanted it to be real, so you decided it was.”

The new release date is Friday, March 13, 2020. The new tagline is “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.”

The Hunt

This movie is a giant troll job. If it doesn’t effectively “satirize this moment in our culture,” it doesn’t matter. The story surrounding its release already has.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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