The challenge of promoting “Challengers” during the SAG-AFTRA strike upended its planned fall launch.
Director Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” will no longer have its world premiere for the opening night of the 2023 Venice Film Festival. The film, starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, was previously announced to screen out of competition on August 30 to kick off the 80th annual festival.
The festival will instead open with “Comandante”, directed by Edoardo De Angelis, however, the festival announced on Friday. “’Challengers’, the previously announced film by Luca Guadagnino, will not participate in the Festival following a decision taken by the production.
IndieWire has reached out to MGM/Amazon Prime Video reps to confirm if “Challengers” will still hit theaters as scheduled on September 15, but that seems unlikely.
“In the frame of period cinema, in which Italian cinema has invested considerable production resources, Edoardo De Angelis’ film resonates with unequivocally contemporary echoes”, declared the director of the Venice Film Festival, Alberto Barbera. “The true story of Commander Salvatore Todaro, who saved the lives of enemy sailors who survived the sinking of their merchant ship – endangering the safety of his submarine and his men – is a strong reminder of the need to put the values of ethics and human solidarity before the brutal logic of military protocol. I thank the author, the producers Nicola Giuliano and Pier Paolo Verga, and Paolo Del Brocco with Rai Cinema for having accepted our invitation to inaugurate the 80th Venice Biennale Film Festival”.
Meanwhile, the sultry film “Challengers” follows Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a tennis prodigy turned coach who oversees the career of her husband Art (Faist). But when Art ends up on a losing streak, he’s forced to play against his childhood best friend and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend (O’Connor), sparking a tense love triangle with queer undertones. The film is written by Justin Kuritzkes and produced by Zendaya and Guadagnino, as well as Amy Pascal and Rachel O’Connor.
The changing date of the premiere of “Challengers” was first reported by Disk, which claimed that Guadagnino was interested in delaying the release of the film because lead Zendaya could not promote it during the strike. Zendaya reportedly received a $10 million salary for the film, due in part to her red carpet presence and social media following.
“I’m so excited for audiences to see my new film ‘Challengers’ at the Venice Film Festival. It’s a bold, modern story of youthful energy, love, and power,” Guadagnino said in a press release (via Expiration) upon the announcement of the film’s debut in Venice. “Zendaya, Josh and Mike are totally original and fresh, bringing a new energy like you’ve never seen before. I can’t wait for the Lido audience to dance to the tune of Trent (Reznor) and Atticus (Ross)’s soundtrack at the opening night of the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival. As a director, it’s a dream come true and I am grateful to Alberto and the entire Venice family for this wonderful recognition for the film”.
Guadagnino’s “Bones and All” premiered at the festival last year. The author previously revealed that the cast of “Challengers” trained for three months with former pro tennis player Brad Gilbert, who served as a consultant on the film.
“I think those three characters in that movie are wonderfully complex and really screwed up people that I love very much. And a sports movie, why not?” the Oscar winner previously told IndieWire. “It’s hyperkinetic and I make movies, so that’s great.”