Looking for an easy way to fight the patriarchy this weekend, other than waiting for a bunch of men to Pokémon Go themselves off the edge of a cliff? Buy a ticket to Ghostbusters. When it comes to diversifying Hollywood, your dollars matter much more than usual over the next few days.
Since Paul Feig’s all-female reboot of the 1984 classic was announced, a small yet vocal group of angry misogynists have derailed the film’s rollout, spamming social media and launching a coordinated effort to make its trailer the most disliked in YouTube history. These crackpots are not representative of the larger viewing public, but they do represent a more extreme version of the ingrained sexism in Hollywood. As we know from experience, if Ghostbusters flops, one narrative will engulf all others, like a tidal wave of ectoplasmic slime smothering all rational voices: Women movies bad! Women no funny! Women box-office kryptonite! Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts!
Ghostbusters faces an uphill battle to be considered a success. The film cost $144 million, pricey for a comedy, so the studio will be hoping for a $50 million opening weekend (with low-end predictions around $39 million to $41 million). Opening weekend shapes the story about a film’s fate, which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to drawing more viewers in down the road. While some films gain “legs” over time, usually by favorable word of mouth, Ghostbusters will be expected to start strong, given the fact that it’s part of a much-hyped franchise with major brand recognition. If the numbers are middling come Monday, it may be too late.
This wouldn’t matter much if the only thing at stake was Ghostbusters sequels. But female-led blockbusters in Hollywood are still such a rarity, and the view that audiences won’t watch movies helmed by women so pervasive, that every female-led film is seen as a litmus test for every future one. (Particularly a major action-comedy tentpole like this one.) If Ghostbusters flops, nobody will point to the weak script or an excessive budget. They’ll look to the one factor that deviates from the Hollywood norm: the gender of the stars fronting it.
“A movie like this has to at least get to like $500 million worldwide, and that’s probably low,” Feig told New York’s Jada Yuan. “I cashed in all my chips. I had to use every chip to make this happen. And if this doesn’t work, I will probably have to go back to movie jail.”
A Ghostbusters “failure” would hurt the film’s stars, too: Unlike their male counterparts, actresses are blamed when their movies don’t do well. After Aeon Flux bombed in 2005, Charlize Theron was barely allowed near a blockbuster for almost a decade. Around the same time, a planned Black Widow movie was reportedly shelved, with studios citing a glut of unsuccessful female-led action films (like, six).* In an email from the Sony leaks, Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter cites Cat Woman, Elektra, and Supergirl (which were all terrible) as seeming “evidence” that female-led films don’t do well. (The Hunger Games, Maleficent, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road, Fifty Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect, Gravity, The Heat, Bridesmaids, etc., apparently don’t count.).
Do you want Paul Feig to go to movie jail, or do you want more blockbusters with female leads? Do you want a Kate McKinnon spinoff, or Jessica Chastain as a superhero, or Priyanka Chopra as Bond? Do you want trolls to have the satisfaction?
You know what you have to do. Get out there and see some ghosts this weekend.
*This post has been corrected to remove a remark allegedly made by former Warner Brothers president of production Jeff Robinov. The remark was never substantiated.