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.