Sony’s much maligned, female centric Ghostbusters reboot was the center of attention this weekend as insiders and trackers were keeping a close eye on the controversial movie’s box office performance. But while everyone was watching what could be the most talked about movie in years, Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s animated blockbuster The Secret Life of Pets snuck past the supernatural comedy to claim box office supremacy for the second weekend in a row.

After destroying everything in its path last weekend with a 104 million dollar opening, Pets fended off Ghostbusters with an estimated 50.6 million dollar performance in its second weekend. Still the preferred choice for family summer entertainment, The Secret Life of Pets has grossed over 203 million in North America and has given Universal a shiny new franchise to go along with their Minions/Despicable Me cash cow (which will continue with next summer’s Despicable Me 3).

While all the scrutiny on Ghostbusters is probably unfair to Pets, it has allowed the animated hit to fly its gravy train under the radar. Between Pets and Finding Dory (which held onto the fourth spot this weekend) animated movies have held the number one spot at the North American box office five weekends in a row. Who says kids don’t have purchasing power?

Still, while Ghostbusters opening of 46 million may seem underwhelming it’s stronger than predictions made just a few weeks ago. Ghostbusters currently owns the third highest live action opening of the summer (behind Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Age of Apocalypse), but its debut still poses more questions than it answers. Tracking predictions made in June had Ghostbusters opening with around 30 million, which would have driven a stake through the franchise’s heart. Then after the film pulled in a healthy 3.4 million in Thursday night showings, Sony adjusted their own projections and believed it would open somewhere between 40 and 45 million. Yet while the final number exceeded Sony’s outlier, it’s worth noting that after Thursday non-Sony insiders thought it might hit 50 million, so it fell short of those predictions.

Here’s the good news. 46 million represents a record for director Paul Feig and all the leading ladies save Kristen Wiig (whose top debut was last October’s The Martian). And movies aimed at female audiences (particularly those starring McCarthy) tend to have strong legs, often tripling and sometimes quadrupling their opening weekend numbers. Most of the summer’s big bullets have already fired and Ghostbusters has three weeks before it has to try and co-exist with Hollywood’s next big release, Suicide Squad. Reasonable reviews and good word of mouth has helped counter the online vitriol (which is still going on) and it may just find an audience with young girls looking for something with a little more bite than standard summer animated fare.

Now for the bad news. The first hurdle Ghostbusters faces on an already uphill battle is its hefty price tag. It’s 144 million dollar price tag, to be precise. Ghostbusters will have to play the long game just to break even and while big summer features can often rely on a strong overseas performance to balance the spreadsheet, Ghostbusters may not have the benefit of a Chinese presence (China’s government run censorship board has strict rules governing foreign content that includes the supernatural). Missing out on the second largest movie market on the planet will make turning a profit exceedingly difficult. And while most of summer’s big tent pole releases have already hit the market, next weekend is one of the busiest on the schedule, with three new sizeable titles hitting theatres.

Meanwhile the online haters have shifted their strategy from bashing the movie to smearing it and doing everything they can to convince others not to see it. How Ghostbusters fares over the next few weeks (and its prospects for a sequel) will prove very interesting indeed.

Believe it or not, there were some other movies people could see this weekend. The Legend of Tarzan continues a healthy performance by passing the 100 million mark with an extra 11.2 million this weekend (though Tarzan’s 180 million dollar production budget could keep it in the red-a potential omen for Ghostbusters). Breathing down the King of the Jungle’s neck in fourth place was Finding Dory, which collected another 11 million. Last week Dory became 2016’s top grossing movie (so far) and became Disney’s top animated performer (not a bad week). For an encore, this week Dory overtook Shrek 2 to become the highest grossing animated movie in North American history. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates cruised to fifth place with another 7.5 million, bringing its ten-day total within two million of its 33 million dollar production budget.

The Purge: Election Year brought in another 6 million to bring its surprising total to 71 million. Purge only cost Universal 10 million to make so the third film in the hyper violent trilogy has studio accountants laughing all the way to the bank. Central Intelligence continues to be one of the summer’s hottest performers, placing seventh with an extra 5.3 million and pulling it’s total over 117 million against a 50 million-production cost. This week’s surprise entry is the Bryan Cranston indie The Infiltrator, which snared the eighth spot on this weekend’s list with 5.2 million. Infiltrator managed that feat on just 1600 movie screens, meaning it had the third highest per screen average in North America (higher then power players like Dory and Central Intelligence).

A pair of summer bombs round out this weekend’s top ten, with Disney’s The BFG coming in ninth. BFG added a little over 3.7 million to its embarrassingly low 47 million take and it will be lucky if it manages to make 50 million domestically. Considering it set Disney (and Walden Media) back 140 million to make, it qualifies as this summer’s biggest box office disappointment. That comes as little consolation to Independence Day Resurgence, which hasn’t managed to hit the 100 million mark in nearly a month. Resurgence currently has 98.5 million in its final hurrah in the top ten. By this time next week both BFG and Resurgence will be memories.

Next weekend is a blitzkrieg of new releases, with a little something for everyone. Star Trek Beyond, the animated Ice Age: Collision Course and the horror Lights Out will all look to begin carving up the top ten next week.

Shayne Kempton

Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment









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