Someone at the Houston Press wrote a story today which is headlined, “Ghostbusters Remake Now Officially Not a Flop.” Here’s the lede:
This past weekend the controversial reboot of Ghostbusters finally brought in more money than it cost to make, topping $158 million in total worldwide box office receipts, putting to rest any notions that it would be a flop by not making back its $144 million budget.
The rest of the story is more nuanced than the headline but it’s clearly intended to be a thumb in the eye of those who said this film would be a flop. The piece closes, “In short, by every reasonable definition of success, Ghostbusters is one. Period. The end.”
Well, no. Not really.
Ghostbusters has a reported production budget of $144 million and a print and advertising budget rumored to be around $100 million (it may be much more). So, at a minimum, the distributor needs to rake in about $250 million at the box office to break even.
But here’s the thing the author of the Houston Press piece seems to have momentarily forgotten. The distributor only collects about half of the money that comes in to the box office. The exact amount varies from film to film and depends on which weekend we’re talking about but, in general, the distributor takes a little more than half of the box office (this piece from 2011 says 55%). The figure is slightly less overseas so 50% is a good rule of thumb.
What this means is that in order to make back all the money spent producing and advertising the Ghostbusters reboot, the film needs to make around $500 million at the global box office. As the Houston Press piece notes, the director of the film has said as much:
As opening day approaches, Feig can’t help but think about the stakes of making a $150 million movie. “A movie like this has to at least get to like $500 million worldwide, and that’s probably low,” he says. “But the thing I care about most is the industry looking for an excuse to say, ‘See, a tentpole can’t be carried by female leads’ ” — three of whom are over 40. “I cashed in all my chips,” he says. “I had to use every chip to make this happen. And if this doesn’t work, I will probably have to go back to movie jail.”
Presently, Ghostbusters has taken in $106 million domestically and $51 million overseas. But the film is already slowing down significantly. It initially opened in 4000 theaters but that dropped to 3,000 last weekend. This coming weekend it will drop even further and the film is unlikely to take in no more than about $6-7 million. The film may drag on in some theaters for another month but the take will drop to under a million per weekend. Overall, it will pull in maybe $125 million domestically.
Foreign ticket sales often outpace domestic sales for big action spectacles like Captain America: Civil War. However comedies tend to be more language dependent and don’t necessarily translate as well overseas. For instance, the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck made $110 million domestic but only $30 million overseas. Ghostbusters is more of a spectacle film and is already doing better than that but it’s also apparently not being shown in China. The real difference is that Trainwreck’s production budget was $110 million less than Ghostbusters so it likely broke even or made a modest profit.
The bottom line is that the Ghostbusters reboot will likely make $200 million but the theaters will keep about half that money. So the distributor will get about $100 million back on a total $244 million investment. That’s not a success.
And as much as some seem invested in the idea that this was all the result of a plot by the patriarchy to damage the move there’s another explanation: It wasn’t that good. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film scored 73% will all critics but only 59% with top critics. But more importantly, the audience score sits at 58%. That’s not horrible. It’s not the worst film you’ll see this summer but, politics aside, it’s not thrilling audiences.
Of course there are other income streams for films like this. Rentals, toys and DVD sales can be big money makers. The Houston Press author is probably right that the real value of this Ghostbusters reboot will be in terms of a resurgence of sales and licensing of the earlier, better films.
Ghostbusters has a big hole to climb out of to break even. It doesn’t seem destined to be even a modest money-maker, but you never know what a highly motivated studio accountant might be able to manage.