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The Biggest Cinematic Controversies Of 2022 Explained

It wouldn't be a year in the film industry without some big controversies shaking everything up, would it? Just about everything might seem like a controversy to Film Twitter, but looking back on 2022, certain issues stand out as causing the biggest stirs and making the biggest impact. Some of these controversies deal with behind-the-scenes conflicts between the studios and the individuals making movies. Others are based on the content of the movies themselves and the reactions they inspired from both critics and the general public.

However you personally felt about the following 12 controversies, it seems fair to imagine that anyone who closely follows movie news felt something about these stories. This list will explain the facts of each case and why each was so controversial. Please note that this list is sticking to controversies that directly impacted how certain movies were seen (or not seen), as opposed to broader celebrity gossip with no direct movie-based connections.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars

The 2022 Academy Awards had a host of controversies, including some awards being presented before the actual ceremony, presenters dismissing animation as just for kids, new audience polls that got rigged with Twitter bots, and the expected arguments surrounding nominees. All those issues, however, have been all but forgotten compared to the big shocker people are still discussing almost a year later: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage.

Smith slapped Rock in response to the comedian, who was presenting the Best Documentary Feature award, making a joke comparing Jada Pinkett Smith (who has alopecia) to G.I. Jane. Will Smith was not asked to leave the theater after the altercation, and later that night, he won the Best Lead Actor Oscar for his performance in "King Richard," giving an awkward and emotionally charged speech.

Many felt the Academy failed to respond appropriately to the act of violence that night. When the Academy responded after the fact by banning Smith from attending for the next 10 years, others countered that there was some degree of racism or hypocrisy given how many celebrities who have committed worse acts are still allowed to attend (via Mercury News). Though he can't attend the ceremony anymore, Smith is still allowed to be nominated and even win. Apple released the Smith-starring drama "Emancipation" in hopes of it being an Oscar contender, but the film's own quality made that conversation a non-starter even without factoring in antipathy towards its star.

The lesbian kiss in Lightyear

Disney spent the year embroiled in political controversy relating to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill. The studio had donated to politicians who supported the bill and initially didn't speak out against the legislation, leading to protests within the company. When then-CEO Bob Chapek finally spoke out against the bill (via EW) and paused the company's political donations across the board, Republicans started attacking Disney as pushing a "woke agenda." Caught in the midst of the crossfire was the release of "Lightyear."

According to The Los Angeles Times, the "Toy Story" spinoff was always going to include a lesbian couple as minor characters, but there was initially pressure to avoid showing them kiss. After Pixar animators wrote an open letter criticizing Disney for censoring LGBTQ+ content in their films, the kiss was added back into the movie.

This blink-and-you-miss-it moment ended up generating huge headlines, getting the film banned in multiple countries and attracting significant homophobic anger. The queer representation in the film was ultimately not hugely different from any of Disney's other various "first gay characters" over the years, but the circumstances of its release somehow made this the one that got caught up in major controversy. Even "Strange World," another 2022 Disney cartoon that had an actual gay protagonist, didn't cause as much uproar, though that might be because the movie was seriously under-marketed and hardly anyone saw it.

Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt canceled

The merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery was one of the biggest news stories in entertainment in 2022. While the negative effects of that merger have been most visible on the TV side, one of the most shocking movie news headlines of the year came when the HBO Max "Batgirl" movie, staring Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon alongside Michael Keaton's return as Batman and Brendan Fraser as the villain Firefly, got canceled. The film was fully shot, and only needed to go through the standard additional shooting and post-production before being ready for release.

Many films get canceled in development, but this is the first time a $90 million movie was canceled after finishing principal photography. Making the situation even crueler was that the directors, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, received the news of the cancelation while they were celebrating El Arbi's wedding. Reportedly, the film's rough cut tested on par with "Shazam! Fury of the Gods," so the cancellation wasn't based on audience response. Rather, it seems that the movie was deemed too pricey for streaming but lacked enough spectacle for theatrical release, and was used as a tax write-down as a result.

Another HBO Max movie, the animated holiday special "Scoob! Holiday Haunt," was also used as a tax write-down and canceled right as it was finishing production. Several other animated projects weren't scrapped, but lost their deals with HBO Max and were shopped around to other streaming services.

DC movie shakeups

The cancellation of "Batgirl" is merely the most extreme example of the drama that continues to surround Warner Bros.' DC superhero movies. Former DC Films president Walter Hamada left the company in October (via Deadline), to be replaced by James Gunn and Peter Safran. The pair are responsible for developing a 10-year plan to allow the DC Universe to compete with Marvel Studios, a difficult task considering all the pieces they're inheriting.

"The Flash," which got delayed to 2023, was supposed to serve as a partial continuity reset, but it's unclear how much its change of direction will actually stick in the new DC universe. The film's lead actor, Ezra Miller, has had tons of disturbing legal troubles this past year, yet was brought back in to take part in reshoots (via IGN), casting the production in a particularly negative light.

Henry Cavill made a big return to the role of Superman in a "Black Adam" mid-credits cameo, but with "Wonder Woman 3" reportedly canceled and Jason Momoa rumored to be retiring from the role of Aquaman following "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" (via The Hollywood Reporter), there is speculation the whole "Snyderverse" cast, including Cavill, might be replaced. "Black Adam," one of the few DC movies released in 2022, has also been the subject of additional debate over whether the film is a financial success or not, with star Dwayne Johnson strongly arguing it was a hit despite conflicting reports (via Gizmodo).

Visual effects artists criticize Marvel

Whether you love or have been disappointed by Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there's been a noted increased in complaints about the inconsistent quality of the special effects. These quality control issues are not due to any lack of talent at the effects studios, but are the result of poor planning on Marvel Studios' behalf that leads to extreme overwork for the effects artists. These problems are an issue throughout the film industry, not just with Marvel movies and shows, but this year, several reports have singled out Marvel as the worst offender.

Exposes from Vulture, io9, Defector, CNET, and others, including interviews with effects artists have all pointed to the same problems: rushed production schedules, constant micromanaging demands for changes late in production, and effects houses underbidding each other just to get work. Unlike other professions in Hollywood, effects workers generally aren't unionized, making attempts to address these systemic problems even more difficult.

Blonde's many controversies

"Blonde," director Andrew Dominik's adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' novel about a fictionalized Marilyn Monroe, belongs on any list of 2022's most divisive movies. Even before it screened for anyone, there were questions about the movie: Was fictionalizing Monroe's real-life trauma disrespectful? What was the deal with that NC-17 rating? Did it really need to be almost three hours long? Would it be, as Dominik told Collider while still developing the film in 2016, "one of the 10 best movies ever made"?

Even those who liked "Blonde" can safely say the answer to that last question is "no." While initial reactions at its Venice Film Festival premiere leaned positive, by the time the film hit Netflix, it was already "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes. Ana de Armas' portrayal of Monroe earned praise and a Golden Globe nomination, but many found the film surrounding her performance exploitative and offensive.

One particularly controversial aspect of the film was a scene in which Monroe has a conversation with an unborn fetus she's about to abort. There's no evidence that the real Monroe ever had an abortion, and this fictionalized scene was criticized by Planned Parenthood (via Variety), among others, as being anti-abortion propaganda. Dominik's comments in interviews, such as dismissing "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" as being about "well-dressed whores" (via IndieWire), certainly didn't make the film any less controversial.

Did Terrifier 2 go too far?

If you need evidence that controversy can sell a movie, look no further than "Terrifier 2." A low-budget sequel to a slasher film that nobody had even heard of doesn't sound like the formula for a hit, yet director Damien Leone's latest film about the silent, demonic Art the Clown (played by David Howard Thornton) made $11.5 million at the global box office against a budget of only $250,000.

How did the film attract so much interest? As reported in Entertainment Weekly, a huge chunk of that interest came from reports that the graphic violence was so intense that it was making people faint and vomit! Leone said he was expecting walkouts, but didn't want people to get actually physically hurt because of this movie. Did "Terrifier 2" go too far with its gore? That's up to the audience to decide, but enough of them wanted to find out to turn this into the year's most unexpected hit.

The People's Joker pulled from festivals

The world premiere of "The People's Joker" at the Toronto International Film Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience — and if worst comes to worst, it might be the only time anyone ever sees the film publicly. This mixed-media "Batman" parody about a transgender clown exploring her identity in Gotham's underground comedy circuit, directed, co-written by, and starring Vera Drew, was threatened with legal action by Warner Bros. shortly before its premiere. The festival decided to go ahead with the premiere screening but cancel all other showings, and the film was pulled from all the other festivals it was screening at.

Drew is still seeking a distributor ready to take a chance on the film, and has reedited it since the premiere. In a year when parody films like "The Mean One" have been able to play in theaters while messing around with copyrighted characters, there should be a solid fair use case for Drew's distinctive appropriation of DC mythology. But it seems "Batgirl" isn't the only Bat-movie Warner Bros. doesn't want released.

Don't Worry Darling drama

Most of the discussion surrounding Olivia Wilde's sci-fi thriller "Don't Worry Darling" had very little to do with the film itself — which was generally considered unremarkable at best – and everything to do with gossip about drama behind the scenes. We know a few things to be facts: Florence Pugh did the absolute bare minimum of promotion for the film. Wilde did not fire Shia LaBeouf, whose role was recast with Harry Styles, and in a leaked video acknowledged that LaBeouf made Pugh uncomfortable while calling the latter "Miss Flo." Wilde and Styles started dating while making the film, and Wilde was served papers from her ex-husband Jason Sudeikis at CinemaCon.

There are other things we may never know for sure. There have been so many conflicting reports as to whether or not Pugh and Wilde feuded on set, or whether or not Styles spit on Chris Pine at the film's premiere in Venice, that the truth is up for speculation (perhaps there will be a tell-all book someday). This tabloid fodder proved more exciting than the movie itself: all the controversy seemingly helped sell the movie, which wasn't exactly a smash but ended up as one of the more successful adult-oriented non-franchise films at the 2022 box office.

The discourse on the box office failure of Bros

The 2022 box office has had serious ups and downs, with the many downs being of particular concern for any film that wasn't a huge action spectacle. From "Strange World" to "She Said," the fall season was especially packed with movies that, despite good reviews, failed to even come close to breaking even. Of all the season's box office failures, however, the most controversial flop might be "Bros."

Making under $15 million at the worldwide box office on a $22 million budget, "Bros" was sold heavily on its historic status as the first gay romcom — with a cast of mostly LGBTQ+ actors — to be released theatrically by a major studio. In a now-deleted tweet, star and co-writer Billy Eichner said (via NBC News), "Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore, etc., straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn't show up for Bros." Such low box office numbers, however, would seem to indicate that gay people also didn't show up either.

Perhaps the fault was bad marketing, which spent more time emphasizing the film's importance than its quality and humor. Some speculated that the romcom genre itself was no longer a force in theaters. This theory was somewhat challenged by the success of "Ticket to Paradise" a few weeks later, but that film had megastars George Clooney and Julia Roberts selling it, and Eichner is not nearly such a mainstream draw.

Bob Iger replaces Bob Chapek

How's this for a franchise reboot: in November 2022, Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 2005 to 2020, returned to his former post, ousting his replacement CEO Bob Chapek after just two years. His return was surprising, but from the sound of things welcome, as many Disney shareholders and employees had serious issues with how Chapek ran the company.

Fortune cites Chapek's changes to Disney's film distribution and theme parks, conflicts with stars and other executives, the "Don't Say Gay" controversy, and dropping stock prices as factors which led to this sudden shift in leadership. Two of Chapek's controversial actions immediately before his ousting included saying that adults don't want to watch animated films (via Collider) and announcing a hiring freeze and layoffs (via CNBC). After all of Chapek's disappointments, the social media response to Iger's return was generally ecstatic, with "Frozen" voice actor Josh Gad tweeting about the news, "I don't think I've ever been so happy."

The Whale fatsuit controversy

There have been a number of divisive films in the 2022 awards season, but "The Whale" has quite predictably become the most controversial of them all. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter, the film stars Brendan Fraser as Charlie, a 600-pound English teacher mourning the death of his boyfriend and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) while suffering from severe health problems.

Even the film's title, which technically refers to Charlie's beloved novel "Moby Dick" but sounds like a fatphobic insult, seems tailor-built for controversy. There's been a lot of goodwill towards Fraser's comeback as a leading man, and the actor received lengthy standing ovations at film festival screenings. But whether it was appropriate to cast him in this particular role, which required an elaborate fatsuit and heavy prosthetics, is a subject that has caused some debate.

While Fraser's performance is one of the few aspects of this movie to be widely praised, the script and especially the directing have been accused of treating his character as a freak show. The filmmakers have talked extensively (via THR) about wanting to present Charlie in an empathetic light, and the material has some personal significance for Hunter (via Vox), who has struggled with rapid weight gain and depression. Your mileage may definitely vary on how successfully their good intentions play out, but many commentators consider it an exploitative failure.