One of the more curious things about this week was the acknowledgement by Sony that Ghostbusters, Paul Feig’s remake of the seminal ’80s classic, was most likely going to be a money loser. Projected to cost the company in the high eight figures, the story was an interesting one to see develop over social media over the last week. THR reported on a $70 million loss looming for Sony, and the first massive flop of Paul Feig’s career, and the story was oft-discussed everywhere on the web.
I had been holding off on discussing the film as a failure or success until the numbers were close to being finished at the box office. Too often the story was about things that weren’t about the film; it’s obnoxious to see people rally around a film for any other reason than it’s quality. It’s similar to ardent fans of Red State many moons ago; they paid so much to see the film (and the Q&A with Kevin Smith after) that saying “this wasn’t that good” or that maybe Smith needed a better editor would be sacrilege.
People had too much invested in the film being good (or bad) that objectivity went out the window for a large portion of people who write on film. It was what I called the “Miss Ellen” test any number of times. People who declared that the trailer “smashed the patriarchy” and went on Twitter tirades about “man babies who hate women” disliking the trailer shockingly gave the film stellar reviews.
Some people had so much invested into they couldn’t outright say “this isn’t a good film” (if they felt it) because all their defenses of the film would’ve proven to be for naught. They were trapped into writing about how amazing it was, et al, because they had so much invested in defending it. It was the same way with Mad Max: Fury Road not too long ago. A noticeable chunk of people who liked that film almost had to, by default, because of the outrage that followed its first trailer too.
Ghostbusters (2016) wound up becoming a polarizing film prior to its release for all the wrong reasons.
The fact that it flopped wasn’t a huge surprise to me; a bad trailer and a marketing campaign that didn’t quite know which audience to go after screamed “this is going to lose a lot of money” to me early and often. It was sad because I was genuinely excited when this film was announced. Going through everything a number of things stood out as things that were getting lost in the big picture of a flop big enough to damage a lot of careers.
1. Not getting into China is what kept the film in the red.
Warcraft was an intergalactic level failure in nearly every part of the world that mattered … but made such a killing in the Communist country that it didn’t lose that much money. It was still in the red but not as bad as many people thought because it made an ungodly amount at the Chinese box office.
China right now is critically important to Hollywood.
It has become such an important market that not getting in for a major release can be the singular difference of being profitable or not. Paul Feig’s film not getting in to China effectively made America its biggest market and failing to perform here ruined Sony’s long term plans.
With all the shenanigans involved in the film the crazy thing is it was basically one market away from being in the black before DVD release. If it makes $100 million in China the film gets within spitting distance of breaking even. China not taking Ghostbusters made it that much more important for the big domestic haul that never happened.
2. Instead of trying to defend their film, verbal punches got thrown.
You know the exact way you concede an argument early on? By insulting people who disagree with you. The more ridiculous the insult the worse you’re arguing. And that was what the Ghostbusters camp effectively did once the first trailer dropped.
It was nothing but insults, generalizations and attacks that only fueled the troll-inspired hate towards the film. Anyone on the fence wasn’t given any motivation to see the film, either, as any sort of dislike towards the film seemed to automatically be followed by “you’re a sexist” and such.
3. DVD sales won’t save this film from losing money.
DVD sales have cratered for Hollywood en masse for any film that isn’t a massive hit; being able to sell more than two million units was a given for a studio release a decade ago and now a film has to cross the $250 million market at the domestic box office to pull that off.
It’ll sell well, most likely, but don’t expect this film to have a sequel greenlit based on a massive sale of DVDs.
4. One failure won’t affect any of the principals involved
Paul Feig has been oddly radio silent since the film’s release, after months of being on the offensive, but it’ll take more than one flop to seriously affect his career. Same with the film’s cast, as well. One flop can do a lot to a career but there’s enough blame to go around, and enough excuses to be made that Ghostbusters won’t crater anyone creatively. Most likely Sony will hang this on the head of Amy Pascal more than anyone else; it’s always easier to label the large portion of the blame on someone no longer there.
Coupled with Sony’s disaster of a past two years this won’t be something that hinders anyone’s career in any major way. Pascal is an easy scapegoat and she’ll take the lion’s share of the blame for the interference, et al, that caused the film to flop on that sort of macro level. She’s the one that spearheaded the pushing out of Ivan Reitman, etc, and it’ll be easy to blame her for the film being set up to fail. McCarthy, Feig, Wiig, et al, aren’t going to feel the consequences unless they have another massive flop on the level of Ghostbusters.
This was a film that Tom Rothman inherited and wound up trimming by a reported $15 million, which prevented it from winding up a nine-figure loss on the ledger. In the macro scheme of things it’s something that can be blamed on a prior administration and moved on from on almost all fronts.
5. Ghostbusters isn’t even close to the biggest flop of 2016, either.
While it lost an ungodly amount of cash, and is certainly in the running for biggest flop of the year, it’s a distant contender in the race. It’s just the highest profile because of the national conversation about all the accoutrements surrounding the pre-release.
It’ll wind up being like Waterworld, known for being a massive flop when the numbers dictate otherwise.
6. Sony’s attempts at universe building have wound up failing spectacularly.
Spider-Man was supposed to have his own universe as a counter to the MCU, with an ungodly amount of films being set up through The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that wound up never happening. Ghostbusters was supposed to be the start of the GCEU as well. Both wind up being massive failures, enough that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wound up flailing so poorly that Sony went back to Marvel and is working with them to develop the web-slinger from the ground up one more time.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is looking more like a happy accident the more studios try to force expanded universes upon us, it seems. Sony can’t quite get it right and Warner seems to be succeeding despite people en masse not really liking what they’re doing.
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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters (2016), Monday Morning Critic