Kyle Davies, Paramount's president of domestic distribution, places a lot of the blame on the whitewashing controversy surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson as protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese woman who's placed into a "perfect" powerful cybernetic body that resembles that of a white Westerner.
"We had hopes for better results domestically," Davies told CBC News. "I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You've got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it's based on a Japanese anime movie. So you're always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That's challenging, but clearly the reviews didn't help."
But while "Ghost in the Shell" received some withering criticism from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, Deadline suggested an array of other possible reasons for the film's poor performance, including the high cost of securing the rights to the original manga, a lack of executive oversight and mixed reviews that painted the film as "cold, boring, thoughtless, and the same old same old next to ... 'The Matrix' and 'Blade Runner.'"
What remains to be seen now is what impact the film's financial failings will have on casting and development decisions in the wider entertainment industry going forward. Will studios take the lesson that they need to cast more Asian actors in Asian roles or that big-budget live-action manga adaptions are too niche to succeed with a mainstream audience?
Produced for an estimated $110 million, "Ghost in the Shell" has earned $21.9 million in North America and $62 million worldwide as of Tuesday. The film, which is already screening in more than 50 international markets, opens this weekend in China and Japan.
Directed by Rupert Sanders, “Ghost in the Shell” also stars Pilou Asbæk, Beat Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Kaori Momoi, Rila Fukushima, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara and Tuwanda Manyimo. The film is in theaters now.