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“Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek Beyond” and the Cost of a Sequel

by  in Movie News Comment
“Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek Beyond” and the Cost of a Sequel

Almost a month after its theatrical debut, headlines are still being written about the failure of Sony’s “Ghostbusters” reboot. The latest hubbub bouncing around online is that the film will end its theatrical run with a disappointing box office haul — so disappointing that plans for a live-action sequel will be shelved and Sony will instead aim its proton packs at snaring itself an animated feature. That’s incredibly disappointing news, especially because it gives the year’s most fraught film a bummer of an ending.

Except “Ghostbusters” wasn’t a bomb. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that “Ghostbusters'” domestic box office haul is right in line with plenty of other major releases this year, and the contentious reputation it earned from the angriest corners of the Internet is — sadly — coloring how those figures are being viewed. And when you look at the performance and reception of a movie like “Star Trek Beyond,” a weird double standard emerges.

First, any talk about “Ghostbusters” should be placed squarely within the 2016 context: this has been a bummer year for blockbusters across the board. If you look at the top 20 grossing films of 2016 (so far) on Box Office Mojo, you’re gonna see very few legitimate domestic hits. The top 5 are unimpeachable in terms of cultural impact and box office success, as is “The Secret Life of Pets.” But “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “The Legend of Tarzan” and “Independence Day: Resurgence” all came and went in the U.S. with little longevity. And in addition to “Ghostbusters,” the reaction to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” have brought a new level of ugliness to online discourse amongst genre movie fans. This summer, disagreements about movies have led to actors being harassed, the launch of angry petitions and rumored shakeups at major studios. To put it bluntly, “Ghostbusters” is far from the only movie that had a tough time this year, either at the box office or with online antagonists.

With that context in mind, though, this fact is undebatable: “Ghostbusters” cost $144 million to make, and it’s made over $180 million worldwide. Box office experts have told The Hollywood Reporter that the film will most likely top out at around $225 million. But reports say that that’s not successful enough to warrant a sequel.

So here’s where “Star Trek Beyond” comes in.

The latest Trek film nabbed a follow-up before the sequel even opened. That happens in Hollywood nowadays; sequels get greenlit before movies open all the time. Then, “Star Trek Beyond” opened in theaters and had an okay opening weekend. “Star Trek Beyond” opened domestically with $59.2 million, which is a bit of a step down from “Star Trek Into Darkness'” $70M opener back in 2013. And both of those are down from 2009’s “Star Trek,” which opened to $75.2M. “Star Trek Beyond” had an opening weekend that barely ranks in the top 10 opening weekends of the year. “Ghostbusters” has the twelfth biggest opening weekend of the year. Talk of a “Star Trek” sequel hasn’t diminished at all, but “Ghostbusters'” future is now uncertain. (It’s worth pointing out that “Star Trek” and “Ghostbusters” come from two different studios — Paramount and Sony, respectively — and their metrics for success are undoubtedly different.)

Based on raw numbers, “Ghostbusters” has, so far, been more successful than “Star Trek Beyond.” Looking at the two films’ first 18 days in theaters (as “Beyond’s” only been out 18 days as of this writing), “Ghostbusters” recouped 74.92% of its budget. “Star Trek Beyond” has only earned back 69.7% of its $185M price tag. If you expand out to include their worldwide earnings in that timespan, “Star Trek’s” at 95.79% and “Ghostbusters” is at 100.15%. The two film’s day-by-day domestic runs shockingly parallel, and while “Star Trek Beyond” started out stronger, it’s now running neck-and-neck with “Ghostbusters” — and the ‘busters’ haul even beats it on some later days.

We can expand this domestic box office comparison out to the other movies surrounding “Ghostbusters” in the top 2016 grossers list: “Star Trek Beyond,” “Central Intelligence,” “Legend of Tarzan,” “The Angry Birds Movie” and “Jason Bourne.” Taking into account the first 11 days of each movie’s theatrical run (since “Jason Bourne’s” run is only 11 days old, again, at the time of this writing), “Ghostbusters” has outperformed both “Tarzan” and “Star Trek” when it comes to making its money back. It’s even come close to matching “X-Men: Apocalypse.” And “Ghostbusters” earned more in that 11-day span than “Central Intelligence,” “Tarzan” or “Angry Birds” managed.

So if the measure is making back its budget, “Ghostbusters'” domestic run has done a better job of that than a few of its competitors this summer. But international box office is the reason we’re likely to get another “X-Men” and another “Star Trek” and — even though American moviegoers don’t seem to want it — another “Tarzan.” While it’s still too early to see how “Star Trek Beyond” will shake out overseas, and even “Ghostbusters” has yet to open in a few key international markets, “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Legend of Tarzan” have done pretty well worldwide. Did you know “Apocalypse” is the third highest-grossing X-Men film worldwide? Probably not, because it left the conversation in the States a while ago. And “Tarzan’s” earned 63% of it’s total haul outside of America, bringing it to $335.5M. “Ghostbusters'” worldwide chances were hurt when the film failed to get released in China, thanks to a one-two punch of the film being deemed “inaccessible” to audiences and featuring subject matter (like ghosts) that China has banned.

“Ghostbusters” did its job of making its production budget back, but odds are Sony wanted it to clear $300M due to the hefty marketing expenses. “Ghostbusters” was everywhere for a few weeks this summer, and that costs money. But the toys are selling and Sony downplays rumors of them taking a $70M (Variety puts the loss closer to $50M) hit because that figure doesn’t take into account all the revenue generated by non-movie “Ghostbusters”-related products.

“Ghostbusters” didn’t dominate the box office this summer like “Finding Dory” or “Captain America: Civil War,” but it performed right in line with plenty of other moderately successful films. And if “Star Trek Beyond” gets a sequel despite it’s similarly lackluster performance, then “Ghostbusters” should too. Or at least “Ghostbusters” deserves to receive the same kind of speculation and pats on the back that “Star Trek Beyond” is getting.

Articles have been written about Star Trek’s film future, saying that it should stop trying to be a $200M budget tent-pole action-bonanza and go with a smaller budget — one that’s easily recouped.

So I’m going to take the time here to make the same case for “Ghostbusters.” Give the second “Ghostbusters” film a budget in line with the original’s cost (which, adjusted for inflation, is around $69M). Don’t go for a big budget because you’re counting on getting released in China and you want to dazzle international audiences with spectacle. The moments fans remember from “Ghostbusters” are the personal moments, the moments of ridiculous comedy between four fully-realized Ghostbusters (and also Kevin). Heck, lean more on practical effects and utilize some of that 1984 “Ghostbusters” charm. If the “Star Trek” film franchise can get another chance, then so should “Ghostbusters.” This movie, this iteration of the franchise, is so needed, the importance of it cannot be overstated. “Ghostbusters” is a sign of progress, a step in a positive and more inclusive direction — and the world came out to see it.

And if this doesn’t sway naysayers, then maybe “Ghostbusters” and “Star Trek” should combat their similar box office worries by teaming up. Just rename the “Star Trek” movie-verse the “Kevin Timeline” and reveal that Chris Hemsworth’s doofy assistant is somehow also Captain Kirk’s father. “Star Trek: Wrath Of Zuul,” anyone?

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