Zendaya-Led ‘Challengers’ Pushed to 2024 Amid Actors’ Strike, Scraps Venice Debut

The tennis romance will now open April 26

"Challengers" (Credit: Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Challengers,” starring Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, is the first major theatrical release to be delayed due to the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and penned by Justin Kuritzkes, the romantic melodrama set in the world of professional tennis was slated for a Venice world premiere on Aug. 30 and a theatrical release on Sept. 15. The MGM-distributed feature has now vacated both dates, TheWrap has learned, setting a new theatrical opening day for April 26, 2024.

Meanwhile, Edoardo De Angelis’ “Commandante,” a drama based on the true story of World War II Italian naval officer Salvatore Todaro, has been chosen as the new opening-night film at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival.

The shake-up highlights a new problem for Hollywood amid ongoing labor stoppages, namely that films like “Challengers,” which were depending on their top-billed actors to sell them, will now have to choose between a release date delay (and in some cases a change in awards season goals), or premiering star vehicles without the onscreen talent doing interviews, profiles or online videos.

“Challengers” is uniquely challenging since the core hook is watching three glamorous young movie stars play tennis and romance each other, which meant the core of the marketing campaign would be watching the trio be funny, sexy and clever amid the publicity marathon.

The new release date will place it right before the start of the summer movie season, where it will serve as likely counterprogramming alongside “Deadpool 3” or (pending that film’s completion) whatever else ends up in the early-May summer kickoff slot.

Zendaya has over 200 million followers across various social media platforms. She ranks 23rd among the most-followed people worldwide on Instagram. Whether or not online fandom translates to ticket sales, it’s sure as heck better to have Zendaya promoting your movie than not.

It remains to be seen if this means the release date delay floodgates are about to open. For what it’s worth, Disney just released a new trailer for “The Marvels” (due Nov. 10) and Lionsgate just dropped a new poster for “The Expendables 4” (due Sept. 22), both of which are the kind of ensemble-driven franchise films that seem most likely to be banking on celebrity-focused publicity efforts.