This summer, two films have been placed on the spotlight. One of them is Suicide Squad, a film that, despite its shortcomings in terms of narrative, is a decently entertaining comic book film. The other one is Paul Feig’s terrible Ghostbusters remake, in which he ruins a beloved film by pandering to social justice warriors. Consider this for a moment. When the Ghostbusters trailer was revealed, nearly everyone, including myself, absolutely hated it, while mainstream film critics, social justice warriors, and the film’s producers, sung praises of the film before it was even released, and tried to dismiss anyone who didn’t like it as a horrible sexist.
Meanwhile, Suicide Squad was denounced by the very same kind of people who defended the genuinely terrible Ghostbusters reboot (you know, the middle class “critics” I mentioned in the first paragraph). They accused Suicide Squad of being “sexist”, “racist”, and “insensitive”, all without any particular reason. Of course, while the critics spent their time flailing around and trying to convince people not to see Suicide Squad because they don’t like it, Suicide Squad has so far broken many box office records, and made well over its production budget within less than a week of its release, making $294 million at the time of this writing, against a bloated production budget of $175 million (it’s not enough if you count marketing costs, but at this rate, it’s getting there). Contrast that with Ghostbusters, which apparently opened to empty theatres, and only made $80 million within the first ten days since its release in July, and as of now has made $180 million against a budget of $144 million. That doesn’t sound bad, but if you account for the marketing costs, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters needs to make at least $300 million in order to break even, and given how unlikely it is that is, Ghostbusters is a box office bomb.
I think Hollywood should take two lessons from this. Firstly, it shows that film critics have virtually no influence on the public’s taste in films, though in my opinion, that should have been obvious. Critics usually pan action films and formulaic rom-coms, and yet they tend to make a killing in the box office. Secondly, it should show Paul Feig and other progressive directors that pandering to social justice warriors doesn’t work.
In my opinion, the failure of the new Ghostbusters film had nothing to do with its largely unfunny cast, and everything to do with its monumentally poor marketing strategy. The whole point of the marketing campaign was to get people to accept that Melissa McCarthy, Kirsten Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are the new Ghostbusters, but all the trailer did was convince people that it would be a howlingly unfunny disaster, and the mere fact that they had to play the sexism card in order to defend it made matters even worse. By contrast, Suicide Squad didn’t discriminate. Rather than trying to market the all-female cast as a sign of how “progressive” the film is supposed to be, the mission of Suicide Squad’s marketing campaign was to make it look edgy and stylish, or at least in the eyes of young teenagers. That film’s marketing campaign didn’t discriminate, because DC and Warner Bros. know that if they did, it would be commercial suicide, and the end result is Suicide Squad making far more money then Ghostbusters did.
You don’t need a degree in advertising to know that it isn’t wise to alienate your audience. Ghostbusters’ marketing, with its blatant attempt at pushing Paul Feig’s ideological agenda, pretty much killed the film’s chances of commercial success by alienating a huge chunk of the audience, namely the people who loved Ghostbusters when they were children and are now horrified at what the maker of Bridesmaids has done to it. How does that not alienate an audience? Add a dash of gender politics to the mix (courtesy of left-wing news outlets and left-leaning entertainment sites) and you make an already bad PR disaster cataclysmically worse.
The failure of Ghostbusters was entirely Hollywood’s fault, but then, what did they expect? They were trying to make a film specifically for third-wave feminists, progressives and social justice warriors. They’re the kind of people who, because the personal is political to them, will get up in arms other everything they don’t like, so no matter how hard you try, you can’t please them. Hell, you even had people complaining that Leslie Jones’ character was a racist stereotype of black people (and to be fair, she played an extremely stereotypical character). There is simply no profit in appealing to a demographic that cannot be pleased, and by trying to appease the unappeasable, what inevitably happens is that you alienate everybody else.
I would also blame Hollywood’s increasingly bloated budgets and increasingly extravagant expectations. With a production budget of $144 million, and a marketing budget of around $150 million (totalling $294 million), Ghostbusters would need to make a worldwide gross of around $300 million in order to break even, and if Paul Feig is to be believed, it would have to make upwards of $500 million in order to turn a sizeable profit. Even Suicide Squad, which easily outdid Ghostbusters within its first week, will need to make well over $350 million to turn a profit, because comic book films are now placed under higher expectations than ever before. That’s how Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can make $872 million worldwide, well above the combined total of its production and marketing budget (which would be around $415 million), can still be considered by Hollywood to be a disappointment.
I sincerely hope that Suicide Squad finishes its box office run as a success, because it would prove my point – that the progressive film critics have no real influence over whether a film is considered good or bad, or whether a film succeeds or fails. Meanwhile, I expect Ghostbusters to not only end its box office run as a failure, but I also hope that it serves a cautionary tale of how appealing to social justice warriors is a monumentally bad tactic. If after all this, Ghostbusters somehow gets a sequel, then I’ll know that Hollywood has truly gone off the deep end. Then again, I doubt that Hollywood ever learns from its mistakes.