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As Paramount gears up for the December launch of Babylon, its big-budget prestige swing, the studio has to contend with headlines about its leading man, Brad Pitt. Instead of chatter about the star’s first awards hopeful since he won an Oscar for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the actor is facing accusations about a 2016 altercation on an airplane involving then-wife Angelina Jolie that have come to light amid a legal dispute over the French winery Château Miraval, which they had owned together.
A countersuit filed Oct. 4 by Jolie detailed the incident on a private plane during which Jolie says Pitt abused her and some of their children. The FBI launched an investigation over the incident in 2016 but declined to press charges, while a rep for Pitt stated that Jolie “continues to rehash, revise and reimagine” the altercation.
According to a THR/Morning Consult survey conducted Oct. 15 to 16 among a nationally representative sample of 2,211 adults in the U.S., the claims have not significantly damaged Pitt’s public image. There was, however, a slight change in opinion when respondents were informed of the claims. When first asked about whether respondents had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Pitt, 70 percent answered either “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable.” When asked a second time, after being prompted in the Morning Consult survey about Jolie’s abuse allegations directed toward Pitt, that combined number slipped to 65 percent.
Fewer women reported interest in seeing a film starring the actor compared with men, with 49 percent of women saying they were “somewhat” or “very” interested in seeing a film starring Pitt, compared with 56 percent of men. Breaking down responses by age, two-thirds of those 35-to-44 (66 percent) said they were “somewhat” or “very” interested in seeing a film starring Pitt, compared with 54 percent of those 18-to-34 and 50 percent of 45-to-64.
The perception of older audiences is important, considering the demo was seen as a driver behind the success of Pitt’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ($142 million domestic) and Bullet Train ($103 million domestic).
Paramount recently scheduled Babylon — which also stars Margot Robbie and has a run time of about three hours and an expected R rating — for a Dec. 23 wide release, moving it up from a Christmas Day limited release with a January expansion. It will now share theaters with Avatar: The Way of Water, which opens wide Dec. 16, and the animated Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody, both out Dec. 21.
Insiders note that Pitt remains a consistently bankable movie star and a direct path to a guaranteed green light, and the lawsuit and subsequent allegations will not change that. Still, the claims remain a more immediate “PR nightmare,” as one executive put it, that will likely lead to Pitt not being a major presence on the Babylon press tour. “You think Paramount is thrilled? No,” says one rival studio executive. “It could make press [for Pitt] hard, but the town will rally around Brad.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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