Busting ghosts is still a fairly lucrative business after almost 40 years.
Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, the latest attempt to revive Ghostbusters drew a sizeable audience to theatres, while the awards darling King Richard, like most dramas in the pandemic era, is struggling.
With a reverence for nostalgia and a few high-profile cameos in its arsenal, Ghostbusters: Afterlife opened above industry expectations with $44 million in ticket sales from 4,315 locations, according to studio estimates Sunday. The Sony movie directed by Jason Reitman and starring Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace is playing exclusively in theatres.
Afterlife’s first weekend is actually trailing that of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, which had a $46 million opening in June 2016. Aside from the somewhat unpredictable pandemic-era movie going habits, the crucial difference is that Afterlife cost about half as much to make.
“It’s a really solid number,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “Part of that is the theatrical exclusive release. This shows that this brand is really powerful even some 37 years after the original became a cultural phenomenon.”
The weekend’s other high-profile offering didn’t fare as well. King Richard the well-reviewed drama starring Will Smith as the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, earned $5.7 million from 3,302 locations, missing its modest expectations by almost half. The Warner Bros film was released simultaneously on HBO Max and in theatres.
“It really is have and have nots,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros head of domestic distribution. “Clearly the avid movie goers are starting to come back, but more casual movie goers are more reluctant.”
Although traditional blockbusters have managed to draw decent audiences, dramas have disproportionately struggled during the pandemic. Most have debuted in the $3 million range. One of the more successful launches was the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect which opened to $8.8 million.
But the outlook could be promising for King Richard with its 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, A CinemaScore from audiences and long awards season runway. In 2018, Green Book opened on Thanksgiving weekend to only $5.5 million, but by the end of awards season it had grossed $85 million.
Meanwhile, in limited release from A24, Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon had the best limited platform debut since February 2020 with $134,447 from five screens. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as man looking after his 9-year-old nephew.
The box office is still far from where it was pre-pandemic. The weekend leading into Thanksgiving usually gets around $200 million in ticket sales, but this weekend will net out around $83 million.
At this point, the 2021 North American box office could net out with around $4 billion. In 2019 it was $11.4 billion. And there are still some major movies on the horizon in December, like West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Matrix Resurrections.
“Thanksgiving and the holidays are usually a really good time at the box office. The marketplace every week is a building block in that road to recovery for movie theatres,” Dergarabedian said. “These last six weeks are going to be critical. This is a final push.”