Why Ghostbusters 2016 Went Bust

Posted: September 15, 2016 in Entertainment, Needless Things
Tags: , ,
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(Okay, a bit past its prime as a topic, but this was being written before the Dragon Con coverage on the site started. Besides, from conversations I heard at Dragon Con it’s still a topic of discussion in fandom.)
I think I’ve seen more post-mortems on this film than just about any other. Most of them blame the downfall of the film on its more militant critics, but I’m not sure about that. So what caused a film like this to go bust?

It’s, to me, actually a quite interesting question. It’s also a question I’m seeing addressed in a lot of print and electronic articles, and that in and of itself should very likely be seen as a part of the film’s problem. Yes, I understand that there’s a bit of unintentional humor in stating what I just did in an article meant to discuss why the film failed, but there is a reason I cite it as a part of the problem.

Look over the dead husks of failed films that seemingly represent the majority of box office releases in between late 2015 and now that are littering the cinematic wasteland. There really are a lot of bug buzz and critical darling films from this period of time that have failed. Some simply died financially at the box office (Jem and the Holograms failing to make back half of its incredibly small $5 million budget even after worldwide box office was factored in) while others (Spectre) reportedly succeeded at the box office but failed financially due to the insanity of the studio system’s money machine. Very few of the films in this time period have gotten the post-mortem treatment in as many places that Ghostbusters. Again, that may be a component of one of the two main problems the film faced.

Part of the reason so many people are writing and talking about why the film failed is because the 2016 Ghostbusters stopped being just a movie quite some time before its box office debut. The film, in large part because of the people behind it, had the misfortune of becoming an agenda and a movement rather than just being a film, of becoming a cause rather than just entertainment. Agenda films don’t always do very well at the box office; especially in recent years.

Now, some people will automatically blame this on the “haters” and “Ghostbros” who attacked the film. I think this charge is overblown and gives the more obnoxious members of that group way too much credit. This is the age of the internet and, even worse, of social media. This is the age of obnoxious trolls being the biggest jackasses they can be on a number of topics and in a number of places in order to create noise and give the appearances of being bigger and more numerous than they actually are. Besides, not every idiot trolling the net was actually going to skip seeing it.

The best thing to do would have been to largely ignore them or maybe diminish them with humor before ignoring them and moving on. Instead, the people connected to the film seemed damned near determined on making the idiot trolls as big of a deal as anything else about the movie before its release.

We’re not talking about just fans and social media denizens here. Again, emphasizing it a bit, it was actually the people connected to the film and to the film’s marketing that were making the trolls a big deal. They even filmed a segment for insertion into the actual movie where the Ghostbusters are reading the comments of various real online trolls who were attacking the film and let it be known before the film’s release that the segment had been filmed and placed into the movie.

They were given even more attention as reviewers either addressed the “haters” and “Ghostbros”/“Ghost Bros” in their headlines and reviews or made the early reviews more agenda oriented than being reviewing the film oriented. Quite a few headlines looked quite a bit like this one.

“Our ‘Ghostbusters’ Review: Girls Rule. Women Are Funny. Get Over It.”

The problem with the many headlines along the lines of this one are twofold.

First, the point it’s making looks ridiculous. It’s also likely annoying and off-putting to some in what it seeks to imply. We already knew that women were funny. We’ve been lining up at theaters to make comedies starring funny women big box office successes for decades now. We’ve seen pop culture institutions declare actresses like Sandra Bullock “America’s Sweetheart” and “America’s Darling” over her popularity and largely for her more comedic roles. As just one example of knowing women are funny dating back 36 years now, 9 to 5 was a female lead driven comedy that’s considered a comedy classic. It’s hardly a new idea by any stretch of the imagination that women in film can be funny or that funny women can anchor a film’s pop culture and box office success.

Second, it backs the feeling that the film was more about an agenda than being an entertaining night at the movies. That is going to turn off a segment of the audience, and not just the segment that promoters of the film wanted to lump into the “haters” group. Again, the smartest thing to do by the people connected to the film and the people supporting the film would have been to ignore the idiot trolls, stop fighting with them in public, stop elevating their status, and concentrate on just promoting the film as something that was meant to be entertainment.

This was not helped by “fans” declaring that you couldn’t be a good feminist if you didn’t see this movie and support it at the box office. Yes, that was said out there even to the point of such “fans” declaring it was irrelevant if the movie was good or bad, you just had to spend your money on it at the box office or you weren’t a real feminist. I saw this on social media and I knew people who said it outside of the strange world of the internet. Saying that someone isn’t a good person or a “real feminist” for saying something doesn’t look like a good film isn’t going to win you any supporters. It’s just going to make them bull up and dig in their heels on the matter.

But, again, it likely wasn’t a huge amount of potential audience getting turned away in these groups. The actual, diehard haters who actually had no intention of seeing it because of female leads and the people getting turned off by the smell of agenda over entertainment were likely a small blip when the overall potential audience is looked at. Certainly, every bit would have helped given the film’s lesser than desired performance- especially where the crowds that were turned off unnecessarily are concerned -but the major money at the box office is more often than not the casual moviegoer and not the hardcore members of fandom. 

Honestly, people I know outside of the bubble of fandom were only barely aware of most of the controversy around the film, or at least were unaware until it became the rallying cry of the people supporting the film. Even then, most of the casual fans I knew could have cared less about the idiocy on display from either side. All they cared about was whether or not the film looked good enough to risk a theatrical experience on that- with the price of tickets, snacks, and drinks -can cost upwards of $50 for a family of three these days. It’s here that the film’s failure was most likely sourced. Ghostbusters likely failed due to the same mundane and, in some cases, foolish reasons that so many other films before and after its release failed.

One thing that Ghostbusters was a victim of was a laughably bad ad campaign. The first trailer released to tease the movie had people who were looking forward to the film’s release- both the all-out anticipation crowd and the fingers crossed crowd -wondering if the ad team were inept or even against the film’s success themselves. It was an unappealing jumble of images that failed to hook most people and included narration that actually confused some people over whether the film was a sequel to the previous two films or the reboot it was originally promoted to be. The fact that a fan cut trailer dropped on YouTube within days of the official teaser’s release that was largely seen as a much better teaser was a bad sign with regards to the ad department’s ability.

Later ads were better, but many were just as bad. This was compounded by things like the sneak peek snippets put out for public consumption. Ideally, things like that should have a point to them. At best, they should also have something that feels like a beginning, middle, and end point to the scene being shared. The idea is to hook potential viewers. The Ghostbusters ad team put out a sneak peek that was the equivalent of white noise. It looked nice(ish) but said nothing about the film to potential viewers other than it used really pretty CGI and a whole hell of a lot of it. 

This has not been unique to Ghostbusters by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an observation that also has nothing to do with gender. One of the biggest complaints before and after the release of John Carter was the abysmally bad ad campaign. Indeed, John Carter even had the same issue with fan cut trailers almost instantly popping up behind the release of the official trailers that did a far better job of selling the film’s merits than any three of the official trailers.

Simple fact- If you don’t hook the casual audiences at large and convince them to pry open their wallets for an ever more and more expensive night out at the movies, you get a large chunk of your potential audience deciding to take a pass entirely or deciding to wait until streaming.

Streaming… That’s another issue altogether. I shouldn’t need to go into it here. We’ve all seen enough discussions about how the multiple other ways we can see movies these days factors into the decisions by many to see a film in the theaters or to wait it out. You have to sell a movie as a theatrical must-see experience to the casual audiences these days or you get diminished box office.

Ghostbusters fought another fight that’s an uphill slog with audiences these days. Crack open a list of movies released theatrically in the last ten years. It’s going to be an impressively large list; quite a bit larger than you likely remember it being. One of the things you’ll see a lot of on that list is underperforming to flat out failing films that fall under the following categories- reimaginings, remakes, and reboots.

There is of late a seemingly large chunk of the casual movie-going audience that has a kneejerk dislike or disinterest for films that fall under those categories. Some succeed, but most either just got by at the box office or flat out failed. Plus, we are talking about a film that was building on a franchise consisting of a dearly loved original film (a huge problem when creating a reboot or remake) and a second film that’s seen even by many fans as a something of a disappointment.

As far as a case of reading the tea leaves badly might go, this alone might have made it a bad case for a remake/reboot. As it was, another hill the film had to climb was being a remake/reboot after years of announcements teasing a possible third film in the franchise with all or most of the original cast. No, there was no way it was happening. Between Bill Murray’s now legendary levels of reluctance- so great there was at one point supposedly lawsuit talk over it at Sony -to the death of Harold Ramis; creative differences, outside events, and fate absolutely killed the chances of ever seeing such a movie hit the big screen.

Still, despite the issues with Murray and having creative issues seemingly rearing their heads every other week, it was only as far back as December 2012 that Dan Aykroyd had been saying in interviews that they were working on a script and hoped to soon move into production on a third film in the franchise. An unfortunate strike against the film that (again) had nothing to do with the gender of the cast was likely being released after so many years of a teased original cast sequel that was still being teased such a relatively short a time ago. Fans can be very fickle about what they want and when they want it. There were probably a lot of Ghostbusters fans who wanted a new Ghostbusters film, it just wasn’t this Ghostbusters film that they had their hearts set on for so long.

The studio money game was also a large factor in its failure. The film had a budget of $144 million. It certainly did not look like all of that money made it up onto the screen. This felt like a movie that could have been made for less and still been as good. Still, factoring in the overseas take and even taking into account the percentage of the totals that went to other pockets; the film’s total worldwide take of $225 million should have been at least a small success even if it failed to recover its budget at the domestic box office.

Except you’re now fighting the idiocies of studio math and budgeting. According to the film’s own director, Ghostbusters was going to have to make $500 million to be profitable. Why? In part because that number we all see as box office totals doesn’t all go to the studio. In larger part because the studio spent a small mint on the advertising budget: a cost separate from any film’s announced budget.

That’s a studio practice that’s damaged more films than just Ghostbusters of late. Batman v. Superman made around $872 million worldwide on a $250 million budget. Looks like a mega winner, right? Thing is, the studio spent so much additional money on the various facets of the ad campaigns and other aspects of the total hype machine that the film actually underperformed. At the time of this writing, Batman v. Superman is on track to earn the studios less money after box office, Blu-Ray and DVD, and merchandising is factored in than Man of Steel did despite earning around $200 million more at the box office.

Spectre suffered the same fate. It was in its budget and box office numbers similar to Batman v. Superman. It was also similar in the fact that extra money spent on it ate up much of its box office earnings. Depending on the source for the number, it was said that Spectre had to earn anywhere from $650 to $750 million at the box office just to break even. It topped out at around $880 million. It earned its money back, but the studio- as it did with Batman v. Superman -spent its money in anticipation of returns greater than $1 billion worldwide. As foolish at it seems to sane minds that a studio would take even films like those and spend like they expected them to easily break $1 billion at the box office, the same can be said of setting up Ghostbusters to have to make $500+ million at the box office just to begin to be a success.

Look at the top fifteen films Ghostbusters shared box office space with on its opening weekend. Out of those films, The Legend of Tarzan, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, The Purge: Election Year, Central Intelligence, The Infiltrator, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Shallows, Sultan, The Conjuring 2, Now You See Me 2, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople all made roughly the same domestic box office gross or much less with some even raking in less worldwide. Twelve of the other films in the top fifteen films the weekend Ghostbusters came out earned about the same or less, being saved in some cases by much smaller film and ad budgets. In the meantime, due to many of the same issues that hurt Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne struggle to be profitable hits for their studios despite worldwide box office takes of $318 million and $390 million.

Taking a film that was a continuation of a franchise where the second film performed roughly $100 million under the original film and setting it up so that it had to earn more than $500 million at the box office would have been foolish enough. Doing so in an era when few films but the tent pole wonders and the occasional family hit like Finding Dory perform close to that was beyond foolish. This was a film that should have been more modestly budgeted and, taking a page from Deadpool’s forced creativity due to lower budgets, made to think up a better ad campaign for less money.

Why else did Ghostbusters go bust? Despite the desire of the troll crowd to declare credit for its failure and the desire of the agenda crowd to blame haters and an anti-woman sentiment by audiences, it failed largely for the same reason that most of the films released every year failed. The reasons range from the mundane to the idiotic, and their overall effect far outweighed what little impact either of those sides had in killing off its box office. It was fighting the stigma of being a remake or reboot, and it did that under what was likely the worst timing for fans who were still nursing the sting of the more or less recent loss of a hyped original cast third film. It suffered from an excruciatingly bad ad campaign. It was the victim of an idiotic studio money system.

Ghostbusters went bust for the same reasons that so many other films fail. It wasn’t helped by the faction of haters, the equally bad faction of supporters, or the cast and crew seemingly deciding to hype those factions and the controversy around them almost more than they seemed to want to hype the film’s actual quality. But the lion’s share of the damage to the film’s success was in all likelihood done without their help.

The Hollywood studio system is doing a fine job hurting itself all on its own. The Hollywood studio system’s bad choices, idiotic spending habits, and inability to figure out how to properly market most films these days is leaving theaters with more flops than smashes. Year after year now for quite a few years we’ve seen articles discussing the fact that Hollywood is facing a more and more precarious situation with regards to the ratio of box office failures and profitable films.

And, hey, crucify me for saying this if you must, but, on top of all of that, it was at best just an okay film that probably would have done even worse at the box office if it hadn’t been supported by some of the crowd that saw it more as an agenda/crusade than just a night out at the movies. 

Really, there’s very likely nothing more to it than that. Ghostbusters was a mundane film, and it died a mundane death that was aided and abetted by an ever more idiotic studio system tripping over itself at every opportunity to screw up its own chances of success. Giving any real credit to the “haters” and the “trolls” is giving them way too much credit as well as giving the idea of their strength to topple films at the box office more credence than it deserves. 

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in the third person to be very strange.

 

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