How to Talk About Ghostbusters Without Sounding Like a Jerk


As I've noted elsewhere, the discussion surrounding the reboot of Ghostbusters (1984) is pretty terrible because Ghostbusters (2016) has devolved into a front in the culture war and no culture war issue can ever be discussed with anything resembling decency. Allow me, then, to offer a few do's and don'ts for discussing the reboot without sounding like an idiot or a jerk.

Do highlight the mediocre gross in a smart way. Breathless stories about "empty theaters" on opening night that certain websites ran with are the worst form of anecdata: totally unverifiable and unquantifiable. Do not circulate those stories. Similarly, you should cast a critical eye on any story that suggests Ghostbusters (2016) was some sort of win at the box office. Forces on both sides of the cultural divide have been spinning the opening weekend gross as hard as they can to promulgate their preferred narrative.

Instead, look at the actual numbers, which are decidedly mediocre: Ghostbusters (2016) grossed $46 million in its opening weekend. This is only $5 million more than Independence Day: Resurgence, an opening that was (accurately) derided as a huge bomb. Ghostbusters (2016) isn't as big a debacle because director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy tend to have good multiples; their last three movies have done multiples around four, and their first, Bridesmaids, did a multiple over six. These are outrageously good figures.

That being said, there's good reason to be skeptical that Ghostbusters (2016) will hold similarly well:

"The more I ponder it, the worse this scenario plays out. Curiosity played a big factor in the $46 million debut and, as such, I doubt it will hold like a typical Feig comedy. In fact, I think it's going to drop big time when Star Trek Beyond and Ice Age: Collision Course open next week," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock.

"I know Sony is crowing about it being a great opening for a comedy, but the entire Ghostbusters legacy is what's at stake here, and it's not looking good. This was supposed to be a blockbuster," he continues. "Sony definitively did not launch a franchise, and seemingly they might be the only ones that don't know it. I know it's been a tough road for them, and I feel for them."

And, of course, comedies tend to fare more poorly overseas than do action films. So keep that in mind.

Here's a thing that backers of the reboot will say once the film passes $150 million or so at the box office: "Well, it's made money, so that's good." This is wrong. Do not be fooled by such statements. Ghostbusters (2016) reportedly had a budget of $155 million (knocked down to about $145 million after tax rebates and the such) and probably spent about $100 million on ads, as is customary for such tentpole features. Add in the cut that theaters take from ticket sales, and Ghostbusters probably has to gross in the half-billion range worldwide to turn a profit at the box office. (There are other ancillary streams that will help it in the coming months—VOD, DVD, sales to cable channels/streaming services, etc.—but it's hard to factor those in just yet.)

Anyway. Ghostbusters (2016) isn't a bomb, exactly (Batman Begins relaunched the Batman franchise despite grossing just $374 million worldwide on a $150 million budget). But it seems almost certain that Feig's film will not turn a profit at the box office alone and industry analysts are already questioning its cost and the franchise's future.

Do not harass the stars of the film with racist, sexist invective on social media. The treatment of Leslie Jones by alt-right trolls and their moronic ringleaders on Twitter was fucking disgusting and you assholes should all be ashamed of yourselves. I'm not going to repeat any of the slurs here; suffice to say that I think all these people should be banned from Twitter.

Do actually see the film before opining on it. Before the film was even released, folks were flooding Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB with negative user ratings. Now, I'm on record as believing that anyone who decides what movies they should see based on user ratings at IMDB should be put in reeducation camps because they're unfit for civil society. In other words, I don't put much stock in them. But you still look like an idiot if you complain about something you haven't seen based on ad campaigns or casting choices. Trust me, there's plenty to hate about this film if you bother going to see it. And if you don't? Let your lack of box office contribution be your statement.

Do not denigrate the original or its fans in order to make yourself feel better about the lackluster reboot. The most annoying thing about the reboot of Ghostbusters (1984) is the effort to recast it as "okay I guess but nothing special" so as to make the reboot no big deal. See, for instance, New York Times critics A.O Scott and Wesley Morris agreeing that "The old ‘Ghostbusters' isn’t that great to begin with." Sure, it was just one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time when it was released and has endured as a beloved object in the hearts and minds of millions because it was so meh. That's why Sony dropped $145 million (plus ads!) on rebooting it. That makes a lot of sense.

A more insidious version of this tic is the urge to denigrate fans of the original for being unsophisticated rubes. For instance, here's Richard Brody writing in the New Yorker: "The original ‘Ghostbusters' was, for the most part, junk, and I feel sorry for anyone whose childhood was in any significant way shaped by it and whose identity it informed." Okay, dick, thanks for chiming in. You're really helping out with the whole nerd persecution complex thing.

Do praise Chris Hemsworth's performance. Seriously, he's probably the only reason to go see Ghostbusters (2016).