The film “Don’t Worry Darling” had ingrained itself in popular culture far before the movie’s actual release in theaters on Friday, Sept. 25. The film exceeded all expectations on its opening weekend by earning $19.2 million in ticket sales and soaring to No. 1 at the box office, surpassing the movies “The Woman King” and the re-release of “Avatar,” which featured cinema giants Viola Davis and James Cameron respectively. While the success of Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart,” undoubtedly drove a portion of the enthusiasm about her second film, speculation about the behind-the-scenes drama of “Don’t Worry Darling” made the film an internet sensation.
In early 2020 the stars slotted to feature in the film were Florence Pugh as housewife Alice, Shia LaBeouf as her successful husband, Jack, and Chris Pine as Frank, the main antagonist of the film. By September, it was revealed that LaBeouf had “exited the film due to a scheduling conflict.” However, after the news broke that LaBeouf’s ex-girlfriend FKA Twigs sued him for abuse, Wilde shared in an interview that she actually fired LaBeouf due to his co-star Pugh’s alleged complaint that his actions made her “uncomfortable.”
Wilde further explained her decision by describing his acting style as containing “an intensity that can be combative,” but he denied any “combative” behavior. In fact, LaBeouf countered Wilde’s accusations by again reinforcing the formerly accepted reason that he could not rehearse with the cast due to his schedule, and even provided receipts in the form of text messages from Wilde virtually begging LaBeouf to stay.
In a now infamous video message, Wilde said, “You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us … if she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope? Will you let me know?” While Wilde’s choice of words may support her story that LaBeouf did in fact make his co-stars (at the very least, Pugh) uncomfortable, they directly contradict her story in the Variety interview in which she bravely chose “Miss Flo” over him.
After LaBeouf left “Don’t Worry Darling” in September 2020 (whether he quit or was fired, the jury’s out), pop sensation Harry Styles took his place as Pugh’s lover Jack in the film. While Styles’ fame stems from his time in the iconic One Direction and his three successful solo albums released after the band’s break-up, he also broke into the acting world with his role in the incredibly successful war movie, “Dunkirk,” which was nominated for 34 awards and won eight in 2018.
The stars seemingly aligned for Styles’ involvement in “Don’t Worry Darling,” as not only was Warner Bros. actively searching for new roles for the star, but the cancelation of his tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to commit to the project. Although LaBeouf claimed the role of Jack long before Styles came aboard, Wilde claims that it was him all along in her mind. In her Variety interview, Wilde explained, “We found the perfect Jack, and luckily, it’s kind of magical that it ended up being our first choice.”
Soon after the final cast was established for “Don’t Worry Darling,” Wilde and her long-term fiancé, actor Jason Sudeikis, split up. In an interview with GQ, Sudeikis confirmed that the pair called off their engagement in November 2020 for reasons he admitted to not fully understanding, explaining, “I’ll have a better understanding of why in a year… and an even better one in two, and an even greater one in five.”
Although the former couple is adamant about the lack of drama leading to the relationship’s demise, the drama found its way into the split when Wilde was infamously served divorce papers while actively presenting a film at CinemaCon in 2022 (What film was it? You guessed it: “Don’t Worry Darling”). Spokesmen for Sudeikis insisted that he “had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered … and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner.”
Additionally, the seemingly boring, realistic reasons for the split were called into question when Pugh’s lack of press for the movie spurred a multitude of rumors searching for an answer as to why. One salacious theory was that Pugh was unhappy with the relationship that sparked between Styles and Wilde that supposedly began in January 2021, just months after her split with Sudeikis. One source claims that “Miss Flo” was uncomfortable seeing the couple “all over each other,” especially because the source also claims that Wilde and Sudeikis were still together when Styles and Wilde first got together. Wilde explicitly denied accusations of the alleged affair, but the speculation still attracted attention.
Following another source’s statement that Pugh and Wilde had “several disagreements personally and professionally,” the internet went wild when she did not attend the film’s press day at the Venice Film Festival in 2022. Again, Wilde attempted to shoot down rumors by praising Pugh and insisting her schedule conflicted due to filming the new “Dune” movie, but when she did attend the film’s premiere, the rumor mill had a field day asserting that Pugh refused to make eye contact with Wilde, stood away from her in pictures and even alleged in a now-viral clip from the premiere that Styles spit on co-star Pine. In a post following the premiere, Pugh’s stylist appeared to add fuel to the fire by captioning a photo of Pugh’s (stunning) look on the red carpet “Miss Flo,” directly quoting Wilde’s video sent to LaBeouf.
All things considered, the incredible performance of “Don’t Worry Darling” at the box office is not surprising. Despite disappointing reviews from critics, turnout for the film has been immense. Intrigue regarding Styles’ performance, love for Pugh and excitement to see Wilde’s sophomore film alone may have led to modest success at the box office, but the salacious claims surrounding the film’s production undoubtedly spurred curiosity among moviegoers who wanted to see the product of such drama on the big screen.