Survey: How ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Scandals Shaped Consumer Reactions

Photo collage of Shia Labeouf, Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles and Florence Pugh
Illustration: VIP+; Getty Images; Adobe Stock

The drama behind the scenes of the new film “Don’t Worry Darling” may have exceeded the onscreen drama, but that doesn’t mean all the controversy propelled its success at the box office last weekend.

An exclusive new Variety Intelligence Platform survey conducted with consumer insights firm Maru Group found some indication that the new Olivia Wilde-directed thriller was helped only so much by the exhaustive coverage of its stars in the lead-up to the film’s release — everything from Harry Styles allegedly spitting on Chris Pine at the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere to Florence Hugh objecting to Styles’ on-set romance with Wilde. The survey of 1,515 U.S. consumers ages 18 and up was fielded Sept. 23, just before “Darling” arrived in theaters stateside.

Most of those surveyed claimed the controversies didn't impact their interest in the film, though 29% admitted that it did. Very few said it turned them off of seeing it entirely. 

While recent headlines of entertainment news have been rife with tales of all the behind-the-scenes contretemps, the number of survey respondents who had no recognition of the film by its title was nearly twice as many as those who did recognize the film’s name. It’s a testament to the fact that even the most sensational entertainment news doesn’t necessarily loom that large. 

But of those who had heard of the film, those who wanted to see it were nearly three times as many as those who didn't and twice as many as those who weren't sure. That doesn’t necessarily mean all the hullabaloo was responsible for the interest — a megastar artist like Styles has his own fervid fan base, for instance — but it was likely a factor in the healthy $19.1 million “Darling” collected at the North American box office in its opening weekend.

Of those who were aware of the myriad controversies surrounding the film, no particular controversy got significantly more attention than another, though Florence Pugh's reported resentment toward the Wilde-Styles romance was far and away the least known. 

And more fans were aware of all the controversies than those who didn't know about any one or two of them. 

Most respondents said the controversies will not negatively impact their interest in Wilde's future work, though just over a quarter said they would. 

A slight majority found all the criticism of Wilde to be sexist, noting the apparent double standard between a female director getting attention for her perceived behavior and her male counterparts, who have been getting a pass regarding the same behaviors since the early days of Hollywood.

Asked if the all the tabloid headlines were "publicity stunts," slightly more were unsure than those who replied yes or no. Again, Hollywood mythmaking may be a factor here given decades-old tales of publicists orchestrating all sorts of fake drama in order to drum up interest in a film.

As Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote recently, "Part of the addictive fun of 'Don't Worry Darling: The Offscreen Diaries' is that it's been a juicy backbiting celebrity saga in which nobody actually did anything too wrong."

There's little question "Darling" put to the test the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. While all the scandals clearly generated a ton of earned media for the movie, the debate will rage on as to whether that was a good thing.