Movies

The Gamble of Ghostbusters 3

By  · Published on April 23rd, 2015

Ghostbusters 3 is a project that we’ve been covering for 7 years. This was back when The Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky were going to write the script. This was back when Harold Ramis was still alive. This was also before a self-imposed moratorium on Ghostbusters 3 stories lasted for nearly 4 years of wheel-spinning non-development that somehow produced new “news” on a monthly basis (which we refused to write about).

Thus, it’s difficult to figure out whether my personal level of fatigue and disinterest is clouding my ability to judge whether the general public truly, genuinely, dedicatedly wants a third installment to the franchise with fresh players. It’s difficult to know for sure, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

With that as the backdrop, two things caught my eye this week about Paul Feig’s reboot of the franchise.

The first was the revelation that the budget will be $154m (which is actually down from the original $169m). Many smart pundits took the information as a sign that new Sony head Tom Rothman was taking exactly zero prisoners in his attempt at salvaging the many-layered disaster of 2014. That’s also not a surprise. Rothman was, for better and worse, a beast when he lead Fox to towering financial success in the 2000s. A micro-manager whose profit margins were the best in the business.

However, my takeaway from the news was that we’re getting a $154m Ghostbusters movie.

To put that into perspective, the first Ghostbusters cost $30m, which is an inflation-adjusted $70.2m. Ghostbusters 2 cost an inflation-adjusted $72.9m. Put both those budgets together, and they’re still lower than the reboot’s.

Which, okay, that makes sense. This is 2015, and we’re playing with blockbuster stakes. Everything’s bigger now, and busting ghosts needs to be taken to a Jurrasic Park level apparently. Sony believes in (or desperately needs) this franchise working, so they’re going to invest in making it not just a movie, but an event. That also makes it a bigger gamble. Sony is shelling out a lot of money into this as a potential nostalgia-factory, banking on Feig, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones to knock one right past the parking lot.

What’s interesting is the budgets for other Feig movies (which happen to feature McCarthy and Wiig). Bridesmaids was $32.5m, The Heat was $43m, and while I don’t know the budget for Spy, it’s likely to be both higher because of its globe-trotting action film structure and still lower than that absurdly high Ghostbusters 3 number. The point is that Feig is used to making 1984-Ghostbusters-sized movies, and now he’s making an ensemble comedy that’s Iron Man-sized.

Part of the reason the budget for G3 is so big is the prowess of the names attached. Feig and McCarthy have made a lot of money for studios, and they’re commanding $10m and $14m respectively. Which they’ve earned. They’re really good at making funny movies that please large amounts of people. The thing is, with a $154m budget, Sony has committed Ghostbusters 3 to making $375m worldwide simply to break even after the theater’s share and what will almost assuredly be an event-sized P&A campaign. It’s playing unequivocally in the big leagues.

To a certain extent, that’s disheartening. Not because I don’t trust Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold and company. Not because the movie doesn’t have the potential to be great.

It’s because I have an antique sensibility that says if a scrappy mid-budget comedy with a giant marshmallow villain can be a hit, the threequel shouldn’t need double the budget. It brings a franchise about charm, one-liners and sarcasm into the realm of spectacle. It makes me wonder why an IP like this couldn’t be made for $80m – or even $100m – and still become a globally grossing phenomenon. Bridesmaids made $288m worldwide as an original property with relative unknowns in the lead, and now that same team has an internationally-known property sandbox to play around in. Multiplying that budget by 5 for Ghostbusters 3 seems like it’s being shoved into the only blockbuster, high stakes mold studios know.

All that to say that the original Ghostbusters has more in common with Bridesmaids than it does with Iron Man.

Which brings us to the second thing that caught my eye. Back when Variety first reported about Eisenberg and Stupnitsky being hired on in 2008, Dan Aykroyd lamented that the project had had trouble getting off the ground because “so much gross was pledged to the participants that it was next to impossible for the studio to make any money on a third installment.” That was for him, Murray, Ramis and Hudson. Oh, how times have changed.

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