This year’s fall films are starting to fall like dominoes. One of the season’s buzziest movies, Challengers, has been postponed for wide release by studio MGM; it will no longer open the Venice Film Festival as previously planned, either. This marks a dramatic shift for the Zendaya-led love triangle, as director Luca Guadagnino won the best-director prize at Venice for his last film, Bones & All, and the planned September 15 theatrical release for Challengers was intended to seize on the excitement of its splashy Lido premiere. With Zendaya and costars Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist unable to promote the film—either at Venice, for junkets, or on social media—due to guidelines around the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, the decision was made by the studio to wait the disruption out. Challengers will now be released on April 26, 2024.
“After thoughtful consideration with our partners, and given the parameters that SAG-AFTRA has outlined for its membership, we have made the difficult decision to withdraw Challengers from this year’s Venice International Film Festival,” an MGM/Amazon Studios spokesperson tells Vanity Fair in a statement. “We look forward to celebrating the film when we can do so with our ensemble cast, director Luca Guadagnino, and the filmmaking team at a later date.”
This move is likely to make waves in the industry and lead to more fall movies with awards hopes (and curated marketing campaigns that rely on star power) postponing their releases. Over the last week, Vanity Fair has heard from a variety of studio and individual representatives taking a “wait and see” approach on how the strike will impact the promotion and visibility of certain titles, especially as it’s become clear that an agreement will not be reached quickly. There’s been some hope that studios would continue to debut their films at fall festivals despite the likely lack of talent attendance. Guadagnino backing out of Venice, his hometown festival, indicates this may not be the case.
Vanity Fair can also confirm that Problemista, A24’s upcoming surreal comedy helmed by and starring Saturday Night Live alum Julio Torres, is now undated after previously being scheduled for an August 4 theatrical drop. This follows the postponement of Lionsgate’s White Bird, which was also originally slated for August. While other titles are expected to stay firm in their planned releases over upcoming weeks—they may even welcome the sudden removal of some competition—looking deeper into fall, there are some serious warning signs that more delays may be on the horizon.
In September, Searchlight Pictures has Poor Things, the new film from the arthouse favorite Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), which will rely greatly on the star power of Emma Stone to get folks in the seats. Focus Features will release Drive-Away Dolls, the solo directorial debut of Ethan Coen, with Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in the lead roles; it was expected to be festival-bound. Focus also has My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, an anticipated sequel whose main selling point is the reunion of its original beloved cast. Searchlight and Focus did not immediately respond to Vanity Fair’s inquiry for comment. Studios worked hard to complete interviews with talent before the strike was called earlier this month, but especially looking into the fall, only so much could be done.
The Venice Film Festival is still slated to open on August 30, with films including Michael Mann’s Ferrari, which Neon recently picked up for distribution, and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla among the titles strongly rumored to make world premieres there. Telluride and Toronto’s festivals, which carry some overlap but premiere several major fall films themselves—usually including top awards players—begin shortly thereafter. Venice’s lineup will be announced on Wednesday, and the scramble is on not only to find a new opener, but to determine a final slate—with more dominoes likely to fall.