Paramount Pictures’ sci-fi thriller Ghost in the Shell is reportedly projected to lose at least $60 million, following a lousy $18.6 million take at the domestic box office in its March 31 opening weekend.
According to a breakdown of the film’s precarious financial situation by Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro, Ghost in the Shell — starring Scarlett Johansson — was supposed to launch a multi-movie franchise for DreamWorks and Paramount. But the confluence of a year-long casting controversy with “whitewashing” claims spreading online, poor reviews, and a flawed post-production plan all combined to doom the picture, and now a Ghost franchise may never happen.
The futuristic film, based on the popular Japanese manga comic of the same name — sees Johansson play Major Motoko Kusanagi, the cyber-enhanced human leader of the Section 9 task force charged with eliminating the world’s most dangerous criminals.
Some experts told Deadline the film’s production budget of $110 million was much too high for a film whose content and characters are enjoyed by such a niche market.
“This is the amount of money you spend on a sequel, not an obscure piece of IP that only a few fanboys know about! Maybe you spend $35M or $40M on this and make a stylized art house film,” one film financier told Deadline.
Johansson’s scheduling conflicts also reportedly delayed filming, which drove up production costs.
But perhaps the biggest negative factor for the film was Johansson’s casting. The production came under heavy fire on social media last April, with claims that producers had “whitewashed” the original source material’s Asian protagonist by casting Johansson in the role.
While the casting controversy may have turned away white American moviegoers, some data suggests that Asian American ticket-buyers weren’t bothered by Johansson’s casting.
“Of the Asian Americans who watched Ghost, 93% gave it a good, very good or excellent rating, which isn’t that far from Caucasians, Hispanics (both 97%) and African Americans (94%),” Deadline reports, using Screen Engine/ComScore’s PostTrak audience poll data.
Still, word-of-mouth in pre-production can be crucial to a film’s success — and the buzz can bleed into the film’s post-release reviews, which moviegoers increasingly look to before deciding which films to spend their money on.
Paramount apparently believes the whitewashing controversy and online backlash played a big role in Ghost’s low Rotten Tomatoes ratings score, which was posted in the days before its world premiere. The negative reviews may have contributed to turning audiences away.
Ghost’s box office blunder isn’t really indicative of the strength of sci-fi thrillers at the box office. But Paramount’s big-budget gamble has apparently failed.
Through Tuesday, April 4, Ghost had collected just $21.9 million at the domestic box office and $40.1 million in international sales for a global total of $62 million, according to Box Office Mojo.