Universal Cancels Release of ‘The Hunt’ Movie


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LOS ANGELES—Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures said it canceled the release of its thriller “The Hunt,” after President Trump and other conservatives called the movie inappropriate in the wake of two mass shootings and said its plot could incite violence.

The movie, made by Blumhouse Productions, had a story line that seemed designed to stoke political divisions in the country. It followed a team of jet-setting elites who hunt “normal folk” from states like Florida and Mississippi for sport.

“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,” a Universal spokesman said Saturday.

It had been scheduled for release on Sept. 27. There are no current plans to release the film in theaters at a later date or send it straight to home video, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Decisions to cancel movie releases are rare in contemporary Hollywood.

Sony
Corp.

’s Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled the release of its satirical comedy “The Interview” in 2014, after hackers believed to be in North Korea launched a cyberattack on the studio in retaliation for the film’s depiction of leader Kim Jong Un. Major exhibitors told Sony they wouldn’t show the movie, citing security concerns.

After significant pushback—including from President Obama—Sony reversed course, but the movie still mostly played on digital services and in independent cinemas.

Other movies have been delayed following acts of terrorism. The Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie “Collateral Damage” was postponed following the Sept. 11 attacks, and a remake of the thriller “Death Wish” was rescheduled following a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

With a modest budget of $15 million, “The Hunt” is the latest release from Blumhouse, a horror-movie company that has become critical to Universal’s release strategy, thanks to inexpensive, socially relevant releases like “Get Out.” One of its most popular franchises, “The Purge,” recently had an installment titled “Election Year” that featured neo-Nazi characters.

Universal’s move risks alienating writers and directors in Hollywood, considering Sony’s decision to cancel “The Interview” was called an act of self-censorship by some in the creative community.

Walt Disney
Co.

’s ESPN stopped plans to air television ads for “The Hunt” last weekend, following the back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, the first sign that the movie may have been problematic.

A few days later, Universal suspended its marketing campaign for the movie, including television advertisements on major networks. Some conservative media outlets criticized the movie for a narrative that appeared to glorify Americans killing fellow citizens, and parent company Comcast for its public silence on the matter.

Mr. Trump also took a swipe at the movie industry on Friday, tweeting that “Liberal Hollywood is Racist” and that “The Hunt” was “made in order to inflame and cause chaos.”

Mr. Trump himself has been under fire from Democrats who say his rhetoric and warnings of an immigrant invasion have helped fan the flames of white supremacy and ultimately contributed to race-based violence.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Write to Erich Schwartzel at erich.schwartzel@wsj.com

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