There’s a lot at stake with Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot from Sony (see “’Ghostbusters’ International Trailer”), including the estimated $144 production budget for the movie (according to Variety), marketing costs, future exploitations of the property such as a planned animated series (see “’Ghostbusters’ Animated TV Series”) and feature film (see ‘Animated ‘Ghostbusters’ Film”), and a broad licensing campaign that has rafts of Ghostbusters products hitting retail now and in the coming months (see “News Round-Up from Licensing Expo”).  But even as Target has Ghostbusters figures marked “Clearance” a week before the movie opens, and questions about the film’s marketing are raised, the first reviews look good.  How will the film perform at the box office, and will it move the merch?

Fans started to report seeing Ghostbusters action figures on clearance at Target last week, and we confirmed that at a Target in Madison, Wisconsin, ICv2’s home town, Ghostbusters figures were marked down 30%, with products previously marked $19.99 being sold at $13.98, $9.99 products at $6.98, and $2.99 products at $2.08.  With the film not due to open until this Friday, it appeared to be a remarkably early decision to begin discounting the figures.  While Target told the New York Post’s Page Six that the markdowns were an “error,” which the chain was “working quickly to address,” it’s not clear whether the mistake was marking down the figures, or marking them down so early.

Meanwhile, in its overview of the film’s marketing, Variety noted that strategies seemed to be shifting, with considerable uncertainty as to whether the film was going to open as big as hoped.  Marketing strategies have included fanning nostalgia for the 1984 original, downplaying the fact that a big-budget action comedy is being led by women, and a range of tie-in ads that feature men not in the film instead of the women starring in it.  Those include ads with Papa John’s owner John Schnatter, Kobe Bryant, and a man in a Progressive Insurance ad all dressed up as Ghostbusters.   

Early tracking has the film moving toward a $40 million open, a big number for a comedy, but not a big number relative to the film’s cost.  But that was before the film’s reviews started to hit, which review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has at 76% positive as of Sunday night.  That’s with 45 reviews counted, probably around a third of the number that will be written by the end of next week, but it’s a good indication that director Feig may have pulled it off again. 

Feig has three comedies led by women under his belt, and all have performed very well at the box office, and been well-reviewed.  Bridesmaids, released in 2011, had a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed around $288 million worldwide.  The Heat, released in 2013, had a 65% positive rating and grossed $230 million.  And 2015’s Spy grossed $236 million, with a 94% positive rating.   

But a Ghostbusters gross in that range will be considered a failure for a film with this budget, so it’s understandable that the studio (and Target) may be nervous.  There was no shortage of fan vitriol at the recasting of the film’s leads as women, although Sony studio chief Tim Rothman told Hollywood Reporter recently that he thinks the online bashing is “the greatest thing that ever happened,” asking, “Can we please get some more haters to say stupid things?”  Sony’s marketing strategy doesn’t seem to reflect the same level of confidence in the film’s positioning, so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.  We’re betting that Feig has made a good film, and that the gender of the lead characters is going to pull in more women than normally see an action film.  The size of the overall audience and their appetite for merchandise are more difficult questions, but we’ll know the answer soon enough.