Was ‘Ghostbusters’ Too Expensive to Launch a New Franchise?

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The comedy had a solid debut, but also carries an $144 million price tag

Ghostbusters Movie 2016

Sony claims that by arming Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig with proton packs and sending them out to battle the undead, the studio has successfully rebooted the “Ghostbusters” franchise. On Sunday, Sony marketing and distribution chief Josh Greenstein predicted more sequels to come.

“This is a restart of one of our most important brands,” he said. “We relaunched a 30-year-old property by making it both new and nostalgic.”

It’s true that internet trolls, horrified over the idea that the original ’80s all-male team was getting an estrogen injection, were foiled in their attempts to spew ectoplasm all over the film. But its $46 million debut isn’t exactly a blockbuster result. Indeed, the paranormal comedy’s launch exists in a nebulous region between hit and disappointment.

“The story isn’t told on this film,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It’s too soon to say they’ve relaunched this franchise.”

For most comedies, that kind of debut would be a triumph, but then again, “Ghostbusters” isn’t most comedies. The film carries a massive $144 million price tag, plus at least $100 million more in marketing costs. Insiders estimate that it will have to do at least $300 million globally to break even and substantially more than that to justify a sequel. To get there, the film will have to show some impressive endurance while fending off a crowded field of summer blockbuster hopefuls. It will also need to resonate with foreign crowds unfamiliar with the original 1984 comedy or its 1989 sequel.

In the short term, the decision to bring on McCarthy, Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, and pair them with director Paul Feig, turned out to be a shrewd one. The cast was the third-most cited reason that people went to the movie, according to comScore’s survey of ticket buyers. Moreover, the backlash around the film likely spurred audiences’ curiosity.

The problem is that the film cost too much — a fact that Sony’s film chief Tom Rothman seemed to grasp early on in the process. The reboot was greenlit under his predecessor, Amy Pascal, and one of Rothman’s first moves was to hack away at the budget, slashing roughly $15 million in production spending. It may not be enough.

So far, “Ghostbusters” earned a respectable $19.1 million in its first week of foreign release. Those grosses came from the United Kingdom and Australia — two English-speaking markets where U.S. comedies tend to perform better — as well as Brazil. It remains to be seen if the humor will translate to other regions. The big test will come over the coming weeks when the film opens in the likes of Russia, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan and Mexico.

Some underperforming films, such as “Warcraft,” have gotten a big assist from China this summer. Alas, that won’t be the case for “Ghostbusters,” which is expected to be rejected by the censors. China has an aversion to stories with ghosts, depriving the comedy of access to the world’s second-largest film market.

Even if “Ghostbusters” does gain traction overseas, it will have to grind it out stateside. The hope is that the film will play like previous McCarthy films, such as “The Heat” and “Spy,” which stuck around for the long haul, earning roughly four times their opening weekend grosses. “Bridesmaids,” which paired Wiig and McCarthy, ended with six times its opening weekend result. Most major films are lucky to do three times their debuts.

“It needs to continue being a crowd pleaser,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “That could be tough. Some people loved it, but some didn’t. The reaction has been pretty polarizing.”

The problem isn’t just that reviews were mixed. It’s that the competition is only going to intensify. Next weekend brings “Star Trek Beyond” and “Ice Age: Collision Course,” two well-established franchises that should bite into “Ghostbusters’” fanboy and family audiences. The following weekend offers up the raunchy comedy “Bad Moms” and “Jason Bourne,” both of which are tracking strongly. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to establish a foothold.

But that’s the mountain that “Ghostbusters” must summit if it wants to launch a new franchise. Now, it needs to claw its way to the top.

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