The Hollywood Reporter revealed this week that Sony is looking at a $70 million loss for Ghostbusters, their reboot of the 1984 horror-comedy classic. The movie has been steeped in controversy ever since it was announced. To many fans, the choice to go with an all-female cast came across as a gimmick with little to justify it. After the backlash to the movie’s first trailer, Sony and its media allies decided to turn Ghostbusters into a political event film, claiming that its all-female cast was empowering to women. Basically, those who did not support the movie were misogynists.
Well, the results are in and Ghostbusters is a box office bust. As of August 12, the movie had made $182.8 million worldwide, including a domestic haul of $120 million. With a listed budget of $144 million (not including marketing costs), $182.8 million will not cut it because only half of the amount goes back to Sony.
Why did Ghostbusters fail? Was its failure due to extreme misogyny in the U.S. and around the world? I don’t think so. Here are a few reasons why I believe Ghostbusters failed (and none of them have to do with misogyny).
1. Studios Shouldn’t Remake Classics.
Once a movie attains “classic” or “iconic” status, a remake is almost certain to garner backlash from fans. Imagine if Hollywood tried to remake Back to the Future or Raiders of the Lost Ark. You better believe there would be backlash. Fans would already be against the remakes from the beginning. Some films are so iconic and memorable, that if Hollywood wants to remake them, they better have a good reason for doing so, beyond exploiting an existing brand for more money.
There have been remakes of other noteworthy movies over the past few years and all of them have failed (see the Total Recall and Robocop remakes). The Ghostbusters reboot didn’t offer anything or do anything better than the first movie did. The only thing “fresh” it offered was an all-female cast. That is not enough to justify a remake of an iconic film. After all, nobody can tell me that a Back to the Future remake starring Emma Stone and Amy Poehler would be welcomed by fans. So why did Sony expect Ghostbusters to get a reception that was any different?
2. Sony Alienated the Fan Base.
When Ghostbusters’ fans got upset with what they were seeing from the remake, Sony and the reboot/remake’s defenders said they weren’t making the movie for the “old fans,” but new ones (i.e., millennial girls). That is just nonsensical. The whole point of remaking a movie is because it has a built-in audience. A studio WANTS that built-in audience and they want to EXPAND that audience. That’s why Disney worked hard to get Star Wars fans on board for The Force Awakens and Paramount did the same for its rebooted Star Trek franchise.
Once Sony observed Ghostbusters fans didn’t like what they saw, they essentially told them, “Fine! We don’t need you anyways.” And, they went even further at times, running a promotional campaign that was built around branding detractors as misogynists. Who thought that would translate to box office gold?
3. Fans Wanted a Sequel, Not a Reboot.
The only reason we got a Ghostbusters reboot is because Dan Aykroyd—creator, writer, and co-star of the original—was unable to get a sequel made. For years he teased the possibility of a sequel, but for one reason or another he couldn’t make it happen. Then Harold Ramis (“Egon” in the original films) passed away, essentially burying any possibility of a true sequel.
Sony, however, struggling to find success at the box office, decided to cash-in on Ghostbusters’ enduring popularity. Instead of a doing a sequel-reboot like Disney did with The Force Awakens, they instead decided to do a complete reboot with a whole new cast and set in a whole new world. That is not what fans wanted and after years of sequel talk, it’s not hard to see why they were disappointed.
4. The Reboot Was Uninspired.
This is the big one. Yes, all of the factors above contributed to Ghostbusters’ failure, but the biggest reason for its failure is that it just wasn’t good enough. The movie lacked the originality of the 1984 classic. Frankly, there wasn’t much to separate the reboot from last summer’s Pixels. I didn’t get the impression that anyone involved with this movie were true Ghostbusters fans. Sure, they probably liked the original, but I doubt any of them treasured it the way J.J. Abrams (writer-director of The Force Awakens) treasured Star Wars growing up. I mean, the reboot/remake had the same passion and inspiration behind it as the Total Recall and Robocop remakes.
Before I conclude, I’d like to add that I’m not against remakes. Some of the best movies are remakes. Just look at 1959’s Ben-Hur or 1982’s The Thing. Both of those improved upon the original and are now considered classics in their genres. And, it’s not like audiences don’t like comedies starring women. Ghostbusters’ director Paul Feig’s own Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy are testaments to that. The failure of Ghostbusters had nothing to do with a misogynist movie-going audience. Instead, it had everything to do with a Hollywood studio wanting to cash-in on a popular brand by making an uninspired remake that was marketed all wrong to a fan base that didn’t want it in the first place.