So, we’re almost seven months past the, uh, “event” that was Ghostbusters 2016, and all of the attendant drama tying in pretty much every pop culture debate around sex and race that we’ve had for the past few years. There were comments that the movie was terrible, that the movie was great, that the movie would flop, that the movie would soar and revitalize the franchise, and so on and so forth. So, with enough history behind us to judge, let’s look at how it did:
Ghostbusters grossed $128.3 million in North America and $100.8 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $229.1 million. With a production budget of $144 million, as well as a large amount spent on marketing, the studio stated that the film would need to gross at least $300 million to break even. Before the release, director Paul Feig stated “A movie like this has to at least get to like $500 million worldwide, and that’s probably low.” The Hollywood Reporter estimated the film’s financial losses would be over $70 million. A representative of Sony found this loss estimate to be “way off,” saying: “With multiple revenue streams […] the bottom line, even before co-financing, is not even remotely close to that number.” According to Variety, sources familiar with the film’s financing estimate the total loss to be about $75 million, of which, due to co-financing with Village Roadshow, Sony would lose about $50 million. Sony insiders have projected, along with co-financing, a total loss of about $25 million. Bloomberg News estimated the film lost $58.6 million. As of August 2016, sources such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal had begun calling Ghostbusters a box office bomb. The film’s performance contributed to Sony taking a $1 billion writedown in January 2017.
Not all that well, it seems. There was originally talk about a sequel being guaranteed, and then that it was up in the air, and finally that there wouldn’t be one. Reviews, in general, were mixed. There was at least in general a sense that women reviewers rated it higher than male ones, which might still be the case. That being said, even the good reviews tended to praise the Social Justice elements and almost lament that the movie itself wasn’t that good, which might explain the gender gap: women who have always wanted to see themselves as Ghostbusters loved that part of it, while men who didn’t have that emotional connection just saw a lackluster movie. (And women who’ve always wanted to think of themselves as Ghostbusters should watch “The Real Ghostbusters” and associate with Janine).
So, for all of the discussions of it and all of the controversy … Ghostbusters 2016 turned out to be a disappointment both critically and financially. I think that the controversy hurt the financials, actually, because I know that after reading all of the debate I had no interest in seeing the movie, especially considering the defenses from the Social Justice side of how inclusive it was and how it seemed to pander to them, and while I am not a Gamergater I am clearly not them either. I imagine there are a number of people who on reading the defenses thought that it was going to be very Social Justice preachy and had no interest in going to a COMEDY of all things that was going to preach at them. That might not have been fair, but again, given what the defenders praised about it it doesn’t seem like it’s that unfair either.
At the end of the day, Feig at all and Sony went about this completely the wrong way. When they got potentially sexist push back, they embraced and fed it in, it seems, a way to generate publicity either for the Social Justice cause or for free attention and advertising. But all that that did was leave a bad taste in pretty much everyone’s mouths. Those solidly on the side of Social Justice would come out to see it anyway on defiant principle, and those on the Gamergate side would avoid it out of principle, but the people in-between — like me — would wonder why they’d even bother to go see something like that. The controversy wasn’t one of “I want to see that for myself” but instead of “Two sets of people who don’t think like I do screaming stupid things at each other”, which does not encourage people to get involved. It wasn’t the car crash, and it wasn’t the explicit sex scene. Instead, it was the author tract. Author tracts don’t get people into the seats to watch a movie.