Badly timed movies that mirrored real-life events

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Betty Gilpin in The Hunt (Universal Pictures)

Universal Pictures cancelled the release of Blumhouse’s The Hunt, a politically-charged thriller from the studio behind Get Out and The Purge, following the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

Written by Damion Lindelof, directed by Craig Zobel and starring Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank, The Hunt revolves around a group of elites who decide to hunt ‘deplorables’ for sport, and was due to be released in America on 27 September. The first trailer, images and posters prominently featured guns.

"While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film," Universal announced via a statement.

It eventually came to cinemas earlier this month, and will land on digital earlier than originally planned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This isn’t the first time a film has accidentally captured the zeitgeist in an unfortunate manner.

Sex Tape

A couple's intimate moment was shared online in 2014's Sex Tape. (Sony Pictures)

In the summer of 2014, nude photos of several Hollywood stars including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst were leaked on the Internet in an unprecedented online security breach colloquially known as “The Fappening”.

What’s weird about the timing is that it all happened in the week preceding the U.K. release of Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape, which saw compromising footage leaked to the Internet following an online security breach.

The Monuments Men

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett in The Monuments Men (Sony Pictures)

Late in 2013, when Sony Pictures was preparing for the release of George Clooney’s WW2 caper The Monuments Men, news broke that around 1,500 pieces of art stolen by the Nazis had been recovered from a Munich apartment.

The period thriller told the true story of a team of American soldiers tasked with rescuing and preserving important art stolen by the Nazis as WW2 came to an end in Europe.

Read more: Thrones star criticises final season

The Munich art had been amassed by a German art dealer who, when tasked with selling the artworks Hitler deemed “degenerate” had instead kept them for himself. The dealer even dealt with the real-life Monuments Men when they returned art to him in 1950. Spooky.

“You could not ask for a more timely, topical or relevant discovery that corresponds to the events depicted in our upcoming film,” said Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer at the time.


Russell Crowe in Noah (Paramount)

Britain was battered by the weather in early 2014 with the Met Office blaming “an exceptional run of winter storms, culminating in serious coastal damage and widespread, persistent flooding.”

This biblical weather lasted right through to March and the States even endured a similar run of wet weather, which all weirdly coincided with the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.

In a final twist of serendipity, a screening of Noah was actually cancelled in Exeter because – you guessed it – the cinema had flooded.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom. (20th Century Fox)

This Nelson Mandela biopic had been in development since the release of his autobiography in 1995, but it took 18 years for the project to come together. Unfortunately, the South African hero never got to see the film - starring Idris Elba in the title role - as he fell ill before the film’s release.

The news of Mandela’s death aged 95 broke while the film was premiering in London in December, 2013. The film’s producer and star took to the stage as the credits rolled to inform the audience, which included Mandela’s two daughters Zindzi and Zenani, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, of the news.

The China Syndrome

Jane Fonda with a microphone in her hand and Michael Douglas holding a movie camera on his shoulder in a scene from the film 'The China Syndrome', 1979. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

This classic 1979 Michael Douglas thriller tells the story of a journalist who uncovers safety cover-ups at a nuclear power plant.

The “China Syndrome” of the title refers to a “worst case scenario” for nuclear meltdown where reactor components melt through their containment structures “all the way to China”.

Twelve days after the film was released, a partial nuclear meltdown happened at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania, which would end up being the worst accident in US nuclear power plant history.

Wag The Dog

Dustin Hoffman in a scene from the film 'Wag The Dog', 1997. (Photo by New Line Cinema/Getty Images)

Barry Levinson’s acerbic black comedy hit cinemas in 1997 a month before the outbreak of the sex scandal that threatened to ruin Bill Clinton’s political career.

The films sees a Washington spin doctor, played by Robert De Niro, trying to bury a Presidential sex scandal by creating a fake war with Albania.

Read more: American Crime Story to tackle Clinton scandal

OK, so we didn’t get a fake war in real life, but we did have the first public sex scandal involving a US President in office.

Wall Street

American actors Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas on the set of Wall Street written and directed by Oliver Stone. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Oliver Stone’s Platoon follow-up was a scathing indictment on the greed of stockbrokers but he could never have predicted the real-life Wall Street scandal that hit the papers just months before the film’s release.

In October 1987, stock markets around the world suffered a devastating crash, in what would come to be known as “Black Monday”.

This threw a spotlight onto the greed and corruption rife amongst Wall Street traders and a week after the film was released in December, a Gordon Gekko-like figure named Ivan Boesky was sentencing and fined for insider trading. Busted.

Gone Baby Gone

Titus Welliver and Amy Madigan as Lionel and Bea McCready in Gone Baby Gone. (Buena Vista)

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut tells the story of a pair of private investigators (one played by Affleck’s brother Casey) who are trying to track down a young girl abducted from her family.

Originally slated for release in the UK in December 2007, the film was pushed back to June 2008 due to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, while her family was on holiday in Portugal.

The film was similarly delayed in Malaysia due to the similarities to another child abduction that happened at the same time.

United Passions

Funded by Fifa, this hugely misjudged vanity project starring Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter, was meant to show the origins world football’s governing body in a positive light, and depicting the head of Fifa as a staunch anti-corruption campaigner.

However, the film was released in the wake of the 2015 Fifa corruption scandal that saw 9 Fifa officials indicted for corruption by the FBI. Blatter and since resigned as the president of Fifa and the film was both a critical and commercial turkey, taking just $918 in its opening weekend in the States.

“[United Passions] was a crap movie that I did for for money,” Tim Roth later told Yahoo Movies UK.

“Most actors, truly, never get to make a movie they’re proud of at all. We get to make a lot of movies we’re NOT proud of, but that [United Passions] would come pretty much top of my list.”

“But, it got my kids through college and it kept the roof over my head. It’s the right reasons, but the wrong movie.”

Beyond The Reach

Michael Douglas in Beyond The Reach. (Lionsgate)

In 2015, while the sad “Cecil The Lion” saga was playing out in Zimbabwe, a new thriller Beyond The Reach was being released into cinemas featuring Michael Douglas playing a ruthless millionaire game hunter with dubious morals.

It may seem like the release of Beyond The Reach was a cash-grab, riding off the back of the death of the much-loved animal who killed by a ruthless millionaire game hunter, but it actually was just poor timing on behalf of the distributors.