Box Office Wrap Up.
Despite taking second, Ghostbusters beat early estimates. Unfortunately, foreign markets may doom its prospects.
This weekend we saw several surprising developments. The Secret Life of Pets had a spectacular hold on its second week, retaining the top spot. That is great news for Illumination Entertainment. They now have two bankable animated hits, Despicable Me and Secret Life, with which to challenge Pixar and Dreamworks. The animation market is white hot and now that three studios all have legitimate properties, expect the action to come fast and furry-ous. That’s an animal pun.
Second place went to Sony’s reboot of Ghostbusters. The bad news is that Ghostbusters failed to unseat its rival for the top spot. The good news is that it made quite a bit more than the studio was projecting. Solid reviews and a B+ Cinemascore may keep this film earning over the long haul. Even Rotten Tomatoes has it at a fresh 73%. People may have been scared off by all the controversy and review embargo bullpucky, but now that its tracking well, it has a chance. That brings us the other bad news…
Ghostbusters is DOA internationally. The film has been out for a week before even hitting US markets. It currently has made a ghostly 20 million from those markets. That is horrendous. It has had a full week in the UK and done nothing much. Some big hitters like Russia and France are still lined up, but not for another month. Japan is giving it a limited release. The thunderclap of doom is that China has banned the film.
The Red Curtain Call
China is big potatoes lately. Warcraft is undoubtedly getting a sequel thank almost entirely to its Chinese profits. Marvel movies have made incredible sums there, and have started to shift filming and plot just to appeal to that market. Not having China in your portfolio is like deciding to skip a US release. It’s suicide. And vengeful spirits are partly to blame here.
China has an embargo against films that show ghosts in a “realistic film.” Last year’s Crimson Peak also found itself gnashing its teeth and rattling its chains outside of the lucrative Chinese market. The reason is actually pretty damn fascinating.
In China, ghost stories are culturally important. Some of the greatest works of literature there deal with supernatural themes, and there are several holidays in the books (still celebrated) that honor the dear departed. The problem is that in a repressive culture, anything can be perceived as a threat. Ghosts especially. The evil ghost has become a tried and true metaphor for corrupt government officials in China, so they get a disapproving glare from the censors. Doesn’t matter what your ghost is actually meant to mean, if it’s evil, Beijing is going to shut that shit down.
Leading up to the Beijing Olympics (another horror show!) the government banned all horror movies. All of em. Though the ban has lightened, ghosts are still not acceptable. China has said that Ghostbusters got the nix because the film just isn’t interesting to Chinese audiences, but the details are damning. Ghostbusters is full of bumbling incompetent officials that glibly lie to the public to protect the status quo. I’m sure that has nothing at all to do with why it is being singled out…
Back to the Wrap
OK, Chinese history done. The other wide release this week, The Infiltrator, fell flat on its face. I can’t say that the genre is prone to major earnings, but 5 million on your debut is just dreadful. Sicario, Blow, and Traffic all managed 12+ million on their wide expansion. Black Mass made 22 million. For a drug enforcement drama, The Infiltrator has just got narc’ed.
This is likely the last week Independence Day will make the top ten, and its US take has been pretty iffy. What will save this film (and probably make a sequel happen) is that its making 70% of its 330 million dollars overseas. Or as we call it, the new normal.
Overall the box office was down 16% from last year. You can see below that pretty much the top two films had 75% of the revenue, leaving everyone else scrambling for the popcorn under the seats.