There's bad timing and then there's this.
Scandal 1: Hugh Grant and Nine Months
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What happened? On June 27, 1995, just 18 days before the release of Nine Months — a big summer comedy that 20th Century Fox had a lot riding on — its star, Hugh Grant, was arrested in Hollywood for receiving oral sex in a public place from a sex worker named Divine Brown.
Grant, who was dating fellow actor Elizabeth Hurley at the time, quickly released a statement: "Last night I did something completely insane. I have hurt people I love and embarrassed people I work with. For both things I am more sorry than I can ever possibly say."
How big of a problem was this for 20th Century Fox? Well, look at the movie's poster:
20th Century Fox Film Corp. / courtesy Everett Collection
The irony was that until Grant went cruising down Sunset Boulevard, the studio was ecstatic to have him in the movie. Nine Months was Grant’s first Hollywood comedy since becoming a star thanks to the British mega-hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, and fans were eager to see him again.
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Since Grant had already booked a number of major media appearances in the lead-up to the film's release, a decision had to be made: Should they cancel the appearances? Or have Grant face the music and hopefully not make things worse?
They decided Grant would keep the appearances, the first of which — on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno — became must-see TV. So many people tuned in, in fact, that The Tonight Show beat The Late Show with David Letterman in the ratings for the first time in a year. Leno got right to it, asking Grant, “What the hell were you thinking?”
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Grant, to his credit, didn't get angry or make excuses, saying, "I think you know in life what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it."
He had a similarly even-keeled response on Larry King Live, saying, "In the end you have to come clean and say 'I did something dishonorable, shabby and goatish.'"
In response, CNN wrote, "By apologizing publicly, Grant has taught celebrities facing scandals in the future a lesson in how to defuse a crisis."
The campaign to rehabilitate Grant's image (quickly) worked — Nine Months became the biggest comedy of the summer, grossing $138 million worldwide.
Grant, by the way, pleaded no contest to the crime and, after paying a fine, was placed on two years probation and ordered to complete an AIDS education program.
Scandal 2: Armie Hammer and Crisis
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What happened? On Jan. 10, 2021, a little more than a month before the Feb. 26 release date of the crime thriller Crisis, its star, Armie Hammer, started trending on Twitter. The reason? House of Effie, an Instagram account, had shared screenshots of DMs alleged to be from Hammer that were graphic, violent, and referenced cannibalism. “I want to eat you,” the disturbing DMs say at one point; “100% a cannibal” in another.
Three days later, Hammer addressed the controversy when he released a statement dropping out of Shotgun Wedding, a movie he was scheduled to make with Jennifer Lopez.
He wrote, “I’m not responding to these bulls–t claims, but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot, in good conscience now, leave my children for four months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic. Lionsgate is supporting me in this and I’m grateful to them for that.”
Crisis' writer/director, Nicholas Jarecki, had been feeling pretty good about his film's chances, as the initial reaction to it was positive, but then he got a text from a friend: “Why is Armie trending on Twitter?”
The controversy soon snowballed into a full-blown scandal as more women came forward with allegations of assault and abuse, and a finsta account of Hammer's was discovered full of unflattering posts, including ones boasting about his drug usage.
This was very, very bad news for a film that was already facing an uphill battle being released in the middle of a pandemic. Jarecki at first hoped that the now-ironically titled Crisis could proceed with a relatively normal promotional campaign, but it soon became clear that'd be impossible.
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He later reflected, “We had all this stuff lined up. … Little by little, all these things evaporated and all this press — they didn’t want to do a feature about Armie Hammer because let’s be honest, the story was Armie Hammer, cannibal. But the subtext of the story was Armie Hammer, sexual abuser. And now the further subtext, which now has become the text, is Armie Hammer, accused rapist.”
Hammer soon dropped out of all promotion for the film — no surprise. But the rest of the cast could still do promotion, right? Not so fast. While media outlets were interested in interviewing costar Gary Oldman...they insisted he agree to answer questions about Hammer before coming on (despite the fact Oldman only met Hammer once at a dinner to kick off filming).
The situation also made it difficult for Crisis' other costars to promote the film. Evangeline Lily, for example, understandably felt awkward sharing a poster with her face next to Hammer's, so she ended her caption with "(and proud to be in this poster with #GaryOldman. 😍) ." Unfortunately, her snub of Hammer turned into a minor story itself, refocusing attention on the scandal instead of the film.
Despite all this, the movie was released as planned on Feb. 26. So how did it do, you ask?
As it turns out...OK. It only grossed $1.1 million at the box office, but was the highest grossing independent film of its opening weekend. (And you have to remember box office grosses were very suppressed due to the pandemic.)
Even better? It became iTunes' most rented film on March 9 and stayed there for eight days.
So, in the end, while the scandal surely put a damper on the film's prospects, it also probably encouraged a few lookie-loos to check it out.
Scandal 3: Felicity Huffman and Otherhood
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What happened? On March 12, 2019, federal prosecutors announced the results of an investigation into a criminal conspiracy where rich parents paid millions of dollars to a man named William Rick Singer, who fixed entrance exams, bribed college officials, or did whatever else he had to do to get their kids into prestigious colleges like Stanford, USC, and Yale (regardless of how thin their academic resumes were).
This was a massive story that you absolutely couldn't escape, and a big reason why was because two of the parents charged with crimes were famous actors: Full House/Fuller House star Lori Loughlin, and the Emmy Award–winning star of Desperate Housewives Felicity Huffman. Huffman was charged with paying $15,000 to have someone take the SAT test for her daughter — and get a top score.
For the filmmakers of the mom-themed comedy Otherhood costarring...Felicity Huffman, this was disastrous news and even worse timing. The film was scheduled to be released just five weeks later on April 26.
Netflix and director Cindy Chupack were left in the same quandary as the people behind the previous two films — exactly what the hell were they going to do? In mulling over their options, one idea rose to the top: pushing the release date.
Sure, Nine Months and Crisis kept their original release dates and things worked out (at least to some degree), but this situation might be different considering just how large this scandal was and how upset many parents were to see a mother abuse the admissions process like this.
Speaking of mothers...they might be the reason NOT to delay the release. You see, Otherhood was "a valentine to mothers" in the words of Chupack, and Netflix long ago planned this release date — two weeks before Mother's Day — to tie in with the holiday.
How mom-themed was the movie? Well, look at this graphic from the trailer, where the "m" falls off the word "motherhood," leaving just "otherhood."
In the end, Mother's Day be damned, a decision was made to move the release date to Aug. 2. Chupack later mused, “It was just unclear exactly what the fallout of all of that was going to be. It just felt like it was too close, and it was too much of a distraction. It felt like no one would watch the film.”
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The delay, it seems, was the right move. The movie was viewed by more than 29 million people, Netflix announced, making it their ninth most viewed original film of the year.
As for Huffman, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and 14 days in prison. She reported to prison on Oct. 15 and was released on the Oct. 25, four days early.
Scandal 4: Louis C.K. and I Love You, Daddy
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What happened? Early in the day on Nov. 9, 2017, The Orchard — the distributors of Louis C.K.'s comedy/drama I Love You, Daddy — abruptly canceled the United States premiere that was due to happen that night at New York's Paris Theatre, citing "unforeseen circumstances."
Later in the day, it became clear what those "unforeseen circumstances" were when the New York Times released an article where five women detailed sexual misconduct by the comedian/filmmaker. There had been rumors for years that Louis C.K. masturbated in front of women (usually colleagues), and this article confirmed it with on-the-record accounts.
One woman recounted how, once he sat down in her room, he asked if he could take out his penis — a request she laughed off. “And then he really did it," she told the Times. "He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”
This bombshell came just eight days before the film was scheduled to be released, so The Orchard — which acquired the distribution rights for $5 million — had to figure out what to do a whole lot faster than the other movies on this list.
For The Orchard, the question wasn't how they could salvage the release of I Love You, Daddy, but whether it was even releasable. After all, November 2017 was the dawn of the "Me Too" era, and the person at the center of this sexual misconduct scandal was not just the film's star, but its writer and director as well.
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Costar Chloe Grace Moretz made her thoughts on the situation clear when she stopped promoting the film two weeks earlier after learning about the allegations. She was later asked by the New York Times if she thought the film should be released, and she responded, "No, I don’t think it should be. I think it should just kind of go away, honestly. I don’t think it’s time for them to have a voice right now."
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The final nail in the coffin of I Love You, Daddy, though, was the movie itself. For starters, it was an homage to the films of Woody Allen (especially Manhattan), which, considering the situation, was...not great. But it got worse.
In the movie, there's a 68-year-old man (played by John Malkovich) who is rumored to be a pedophile, a fact Louie C.K.'s character willingly dismisses. Later, the rumored pedophile pursues and starts a relationship with a 17-year-old (Moretz). Finally, in the nail in the nail in the coffin, a character pretends to masturbate in front of others for an extended period.
Considering all of that, it's probably no surprise that it took The Orchard just one day to release the following statement on Nov. 10: “The Orchard will not be moving forward with the release of I Love You, Daddy.”
In December, Louie C.K. bought the film's global distribution rights back from The Orchard. As of January 2022, the film has still not been released.
Scandal 5: Lana Turner and Another Time, Another Place
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What happened? A little more than a week after Lana Turner attended the 1958 Academy Awards where she was nominated for Best Actress, she got into an argument with her boyfriend, mobster Johnny Stompanato. This argument was one in a long line of fights between the couple, as Stompanato was hot-headed and frequently abusive. Earlier in the year, for example, Stompanato violently choked Turner when she forbid him from visiting the set of her film, Another Time, Another Place.
The couple's fight on April 4, 1958 was even more intense than usual, though, and when Stompanato threatened to kill Turner, the movie star's 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl, feared for her mother's life. She grabbed a knife from the kitchen to defend her mother, and ended up stabbing the mobster. He died at the scene.
The case became a massive media sensation, and when an inquest was held on April 11 to determine what happened, hundreds of reporters crowded the courtroom. After four hours of testimony, the jury declared it a justifiable homicide, clearing Turner and her daughter of any wrongdoing.
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Though Turner was cleared, public opinion of the scandal was all over the place. She was supported by many, but also criticized for having "put on a performance" at the inquest. Unfounded rumors also spread that she really killed Stompanato and had her daughter take the blame.
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Now, because all of this happened ahead of the scheduled release of Turner's Another Time, Another Place costarring Sean Connery, Paramount had to play the now-familiar "What the heck do we do now?" game. Their decision? Not to push back the film, but to MOVE IT UP!
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That's right — Paramount believed the media maelstrom would increase interest in the film, and they wanted to capitalize on it.
In retrospect, moving up the release date was likely a mistake, as the film was a box office dud. It might have failed regardless of when it was released, though, as it received lackluster reviews. Either way, movie fans would warm up to Turner again as her next film, Imitation of Life, was one of the biggest hits of 1958.
How the makers of these films chose to navigate these scandals — and how the public responded — really seems to have depended on when the scandals happened. This seems especially true of the pre- and post-internet eras.
For example, Hugh Grant was able to pretty much undo his scandal and save his film with just a couple of charming TV appearances. In the internet era, though, it's unlikely that cheating on his long-term partner with a sex worker would go so swimmingly.
Similarly, would Paramount have been able to get away with so cravenly pushing up the release date of Another Time, Another Place in hopes of financially capitalizing on Lana Turner's tragic situation? I doubt it — the backlash would have been swift, forceful, and RT'd over and over.