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Students rush to see “Don’t Worry Darling” at Princeton Garden Theater after media controversy

<h6><a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Djkeddie">Djkeddie</a> / Wikimedia Commons</h6>
Djkeddie / Wikimedia Commons

Princeton students turned out at the Garden Theatre this weekend in numbers unmatched by any other showing this year to see the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Movies Committee’s showings of “Don’t Worry Darling.” 

The film was directed by Olivia Wilde and features Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in leading roles. Over the past few months, controversies over the film’s production have elicited mass media attention.

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The Garden Theatre showings of “Don’t Worry Darling” were among the largest turnouts in the committee’s recorded history. On Friday, the theater showed the film on one screen and hit full capacity, with 180 students in the audience. USG Movies Committee member Will Rehm ’24 reported that the theater’s doors were closed by 9:45pm and over 50 students had to be turned away.

This popularity did not wane for the film’s second night: the Saturday night show had approximately 230 student attendees across two screens, as the theater adjusted to the high demand. According to Charlie Roth ’25,  another committee member, a showing of “Dune” in fall 2021 was the only other USG-sponsored title to exceed 200 attendees since 2019.

Roth is a news writer and data editor for the ‘Prince.’

Chris Collier, the theater’s executive director, noted that while the kind of student turnout drawn by “Don’t Worry Darling” is rare, it is not totally unprecedented. He referenced the showing of “The Batman” last March as another “big title,” and recalled that when the theater showed “La La Land” several years ago, both of the establishment’s theaters were filled on three consecutive nights.

Collier attributed these films’ success to major budgets and Oscar buzz. However, the Movies Committee’s head, Addele Hargenrader ’24, said that students were particularly drawn to “Don’t Worry Darling” for different reasons.

The psychological thriller was first embroiled in scandal when a source leaked to People that Wilde initiated an extramarital affair with Styles on-set. Subsequent scandals included allegations that Styles spit on Chris Pine during the film’s premiere, public disagreements between Shia LaBoeuf (who was originally cast as Styles’ character) and Wilde over the circumstances of his leaving the production, and Pugh’s absence from press events.

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Hargenrader shared that the Movies Committee had been receiving student requests for “Don't Worry Darling” for months.

Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the film collected $19 million in its opening weekend from North American theaters. 

“I 100 percent think people are showing up because of the controversy,” said Hargenrader.

Hannah Gabelnick ’26, who attended the Friday night showing, said that she wanted to see the film after following the drama surrounding it online. She recalled seeing a TikTok that criticized Wilde’s statement that the film was about “female pleasure” given the non-consensual sex scenes featured.

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“TikTok comments said don’t watch this movie,” she said, “and I wanted to see what it’s about.”

Hargenrader echoed Gabelnick’s sentiments about the quality of the film itself.

“From what I’ve heard, and what the members have heard — reading critic reviews and stuff — the movie is not very good,” Hargenrader said.

Shravan Suriyanarayanan ’26, who attended the Friday night showing, was critical of the acting in the film. 

“If there was a different actor for Harry [Styles], it would have been better,” he said.

Audience reactions during the screening reflected similarly negative judgments of the film. During both Friday and Saturday nights’ showings, student attendees reported loud laughter in the audience during some of the thriller’s most serious, dramatic scenes. 

The USG Movie Committee hosts showings every Friday and Saturday at the Garden Theatre as well as Outdoor Movies on a biweekly basis. Its budget for the Fall 2022 semester is $22,000. 

Tess Weinreich is an assistant News editor and features contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at tw7353@princeton.edu.

Nandini Krishnan is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at nandinikrishnan@princeton.edu. 

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