After “The Secret Life of Pets” (Universal) stunned with its best-ever animated feature opening of $104 million last weekend, Sony’s “Ghostbusters” relaunch will challenge recent market trends.
“Pets” stood out among several under performing new releases after “Finding Dory” staked its claim at the summer’s biggest smash. Did it portend a late summer surge that could salvage an uneven season? If the long-awaited “Ghostbusters” remake takes in over $50 million — higher than anticipated — or even if it doesn’t take the top spot, the momentum would look sustained.
The all-female lead redo is among the most talked-about films of the year. That much of the talk— initial resistance to the casting concept, then reaction to the early trailer —has been negative has tempered expectations to below the(“22 Jump Street’s $57 million best opening benchmark for a live-action comedy over the past three summers. “Ghostbusters” might challenge “Neighbors” ($49 million) as the best non-sequel comedy opener over that period (though it doesn’t qualify as an original). It should best “Central Intelligence” ($35 million) as top opening for the summer among live-action comedies at least.
But as an example of a trend among successful films earlier this year using an established concept then embellishing it with fresh ideas—like well-received franchise variations “Deadpool” and “The Jungle Book”—this fits the mold. And justifies its massive $144 million budget before marketing, along with comedies like “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” with Melissa McCarthy leading the charge.
And last summer two similar comedies, “Spy” and “Trainwreck,” opened to about $30 million and wound up at $110 million. But their combined cost was little more than 2/3s of what “Ghostbusters” set back Sony. A smash here would not only continue signs of increased viability of female-centered films, it would be a breakthrough. The problem is it needs to be huge to justify the budget.
If “Ghostbusters” falls short of $50 million initially, apart from causing heartburn at Sony, it could slow down the mid-summer momentum and set back studio willingness to invest big budgets on films aimed at women. That’s a heavy burden for a film that still could gross more than any other comedy this summer and if it disappoints (on the basis of budget) might more have to do with it just being a misguided project from the start, at least at the level of financial commitment.
Other studios thought it should be given a wide berth. In a summer when three new wide releases is standard, only Brad Furman’s indie thriller “The Infiltrator” from Broad Green competes for attention. Opening Wednesday in 1,600 theaters, it features Bryan Cranston as a DEA special agent responsible for helping bring down Daniel Escobar. Cranston has made one of the more successful transitions from cable Emmy drama winner to film actor, including an Oscar nomination for “Trumbo” after supporting performances in “Argo” and “Godzilla.” This opens in about 1,000 fewer theaters with less advance attention than last September’s “Sicario.” which managed $12 million in its initial wide weekend on its way to $47 million. The weekend (with the hope that the two-day jump helps encourage word of mouth to supplement favorable if not great reviews) looks to end up around $3-4 million at best based on its $774,000 first day gross, good for only #9 for the day.
Likely, short of an unexpectedly large “Ghostbusters” showing, the repeat in first spot is “Secret Life of Pets.” “Minions” last year the same weekend dropped 56% off its stellar $115 million opening. “Pets” isn’t a sequel, making its initial showing of $104 million very impressive, so a smaller drop and a weekend total over $50 million is more likely.
The end result is likely to be a Top Ten shortfall somewhere below the $179 million seen last year. The difference will come from a weaker new film total. In 2015 “Ant Man” and “Trainwreck” combined opened to over $87 million, far more than is expected from “Ghostbusters” at the moment and “The Infiltrator.”
Only one new limited film looks to make an impact, Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society,” (our interviews with Allen and his cast here), which should score a New York/Los Angeles per theater average over $20,000. Produced by busy Amazon and released by Lionsgate, the film follows after six films with Sony Pictures Classics, who released two with openings in the same cities of over $100,000 PTAs. Last year’s “Irrational Man” was a low point: only $25,000 PTA in seven theaters and a national total of $4 million. It received mediocre reviews, as did his previous “Magic in the Moonlight,”with “Cafe” scoring higher critics rankings but not back at the level of Oscar contenders “Blue Jasmine” or “Midnight in Paris.”