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Even the ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Box Office is Nostalgic for the Original

We compare the debut of the new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie to others in the franchise and consider the potential for a sequel.
ghostbusters: afterlife
Sony Pictures
By  · Published on November 23rd, 2021

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we focus on the opening box office attendance numbers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, King Richard, C’mon C’mon, and more.

Whether you love or hate Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the reason might be due to fan service. Maybe you love the new movie for all the ways it references the original 1984 Ghostbusters. Maybe you find that the sequel’s nostalgic pandering keeps it from being its own thing. Regardless, the funny revelation after the actual figures came in Monday is that coincidentally, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is even mimicking the first movie’s box office in various measures.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife wound up grossing $44 million in its opening weekend, which is a so-so amount for a theatrically exclusive franchise installment in the midst of a continuing pandemic. The more notable figure at play, however, is the per-screen average. Ghostbusters: Afterlife grossed $10,198 at each of its 4,315 locations. Looking back at the debut weekend of Ghostbusters 37 years ago, that movie had a near-identical per-screen gross of $10,140.

Of course, the original Ghostbusters opened on only 1,339 screens, which makes the two movies actually a lot different in terms of their spread. The per-screen attendance for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, based on a current average price of $9.16, comes out to an estimated 1,113 people. As for the first movie, the number of moviegoers per screen back then was roughly 3,018. Nearly three times as many. That’s based on an average ticket price in 1984 of $3.36.

Ghostbusters Franchise Box Office

Now let’s look at the overall box office attendance. While Ghostbusters: Afterlife‘s gross of $44 million seems much greater than the original’s opening gross of $14 million, they both did similar business when you look at ticket sales. At the going rate in 1984, the first movie sold an estimated 4 million tickets. Comparatively, the new sequel sold around 4.8 million tickets. How many more seats would have been filled for Ghostbusters with four times as many screens? We’ll never know.

Here’s how the other Ghostbusters movies did in their opening weekends: Ghostbusters II landed on 2,410 screens in 1989 and grossed $29.5 million while the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (a.k.a. Ghostbusters: Answer the Call) did $46 million over 3,963 screens. The attendance based on the year’s ticket average comes out to 7.4 million people for the first follow-up. And 5.3 million for the 2016 movie. Their per-screen averages were roughly 3,080 people and 1,342 people, respectively.

RankMovie TitleOpening Weekend Box Office AttendancePer-Screen Opening Weekend AttendanceDomestic Total Box Office AttendanceRotten Tomatoes ScoreMetacritic ScoreCinemaScore Grade
1Ghostbusters II (1989)7.4 million3,08028.3 million53%56A-
2Ghostbusters (2016)5.3 million1,34214.8 million74%60B+
3Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)4.8 million1,1134.8 million63%45A-
4Ghostbusters (1984)4.04 million3,01868.2 million97% 71N/A

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Box Office vs. Expectations

Another number that Ghostbusters: Afterlife matched is the forecast box office figure from last week. According to Box Office Pro, the sequel was set to gross $44 million, and that’s exactly what the movie did. The site focused on the near-center of a range of $35 million to $55 million. Late last month, however, Box Office Pro predicted Ghostbusters: Afterlife would gross at least $45 million and as much as $65 million. And in mid-November, that was lowered only to a range of $40 million to $60 million.

What caused the lowering expectations for the movie? Well, early reviews posted to Rotten Tomatoes in early October were mostly positive, and as more and more critics have seen the sequel, the reception has fallen. As seen in the chart above, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is barely in the red — as in a fresh Tomatometer rating, that is. And on Metacritic, the new movie is actually shown as being the worst-reviewed of the franchise with a 45 score.

For the Fans, Not the Critics

The good thing is that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a hit with fans for the most part. The critics may like the 2016 Ghostbusters better, but opening-night moviegoers polled by CinemaScore graded Ghostbusters: Afterlife higher (A-) than the reboot (B+). Those faithful fans who also have a soft spot for Ghostbusters II will appreciate the fact that that first sequel also received an A- grade via CinemaScore back in 1989. Even with its ending as cheesy as it is.

And if we discount the audience scores for the 2016 Ghostbusters, which are definitely manipulated by angry masochists, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has the greatest divide between the professionals and the fanbase. At the moment, the audience ranks the new movie highest of the four installments. That’s the case on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, anyway. Current IMDb rankings have the latest and the original tied, while Letterboxd reviews give the first movie the lead.

After Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Is the box office and/or the fan reception enough for Sony to continue the franchise right away? Ghostbusters: Afterlife certainly ends with a follow-up in mind. Some have even said the new movie is nothing more than a setup for what would come next. “We have ideas moving forward,” director Jason Reitman told Mike Ryan at Uproxx, teasing another sequel. Apparently, Reitman has a lot to explain about matters that relate to Ghostbusters II — which is “definitely canon,” he says.

Would Ghostbusters: Afterlife II just be a nostalgic rehash of elements from the 1989 movie, though, similar to the issue critics have with the new movie and its relationship to the original? So far as we know, the villain from Ghostbusters II isn’t a part of Reitman’s plans for the next movie. After professing to Polygon his fondness for the Vigo the Carpathian character he admitted, “I have no idea when or if he will be resurfacing.”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife co-writer Gil Kenan is also excited about moving forward with the new characters, though he also acknowledges the continued interest in what we’ve seen before. In an interview with GameSpot, he said of sequel plans:

“We have lots of ideas about how this story can develop. We are so excited by Trevor, Phoebe, Lucky, and Podcast. We feel like we really know their characters, and we’ve seen audiences start to fall in love with them. There are lots of surprising ways that the future and the past can grow together, side-by-side and separately. And we’ve had long conversations about how that can happen. But we’re totally excited by the fact that by the end of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, audiences are invested in a new set of characters as worthy companions to the pantheon of ghostbusting.”

King Richard, C’mon C’mon, and More

In other box office news, King Richard underperformed with an audience of 590,000. The biopic about the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams was also available same-day on HBO Max. And adults interested in such dramas are still more likely to stay home if they can. They were satisfied with the choice, too. Reportedly, most subscribers tuning in watched the movie all the way through without pausing or bailing. Those seeing it in theaters liked it, too, giving it an A grade via CinemaScore.

Meanwhile, Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, Joaquin Phoenix’s first movie since winning the Oscar for Best Actor, posted the best per-screen numbers, by a lot. Debuting on just five screens over the weekend, the black-and-white road movie sold around 15,000 tickets. This comes out to 3,000 people at each location. That’s the best per-screen average of 2021 so far, toppling The French Dispatch‘s record, and the best since Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s debut last December.

Other per-screen successes this week, indicating that crowds are growing in places like NYC and LA, include the documentary The First Wave, a tough but essential watch chronicling hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Spring 2020. Also, the Romanian comedy Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, which didn’t just appeal because of its title. The film also won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival this year. And it’s a submitted contender for the Best International Feature category at the Academy Awards.

Box Office Attendance for November 19 - November 21, 2021

RankMovie TitleWeekend AttendancePer-Screen AttendanceTotal Domestic AttendanceStudio
1Ghostbusters: Afterlife4.8 million1,1134.8 millionSony Pictures Entertainment
2Eternals1.2 million29814.9 millionWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
3Clifford the Big Red Dog0.9 million2443.7 millionParamount Pictures
4King Richard0.6 million1790.6 millionWarner Bros.
5Dune0.35 million14010.7 millionWarner Bros.
6Venom: Let There Be Carnage0.32 million12522.6 millionSony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
7No Time to Die0.302 million12516.9 millionMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
8The French Dispatch0.109 million1361.5 millionSearchlight Pictures
9Belfast0.1032 million1770.4 millionFocus Features
10Ron's Gone Wrong0.1028 million682.4 million20th Century Studios

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.