I didn't see the new Ghostbusters movie (and I probably won't bother until it comes to free-to-air television) for the single, simple reason that its trailer didn't hook me. Sorry.
There's been much media discussion as to whether failing to see Ghostbusters - or not liking it if you do see it - somehow makes you a bad (perhaps politically suspect) person. In reaction, there's been much crowing in some quarters about its failure at the box office.
Well yes, it has been something of a failure at the box office, but a reality check is needed here. On a budget of $144 million it has made over $124 million in the American domestic market. It has made an additional $84 million in "foreign" markets, adding to $208 million so far. It's still being shown in cinemas, so its first-release global cumulative result may end up being around $220 million. Some earnings may not yet have been reported; but otherwise, even $220 mill. may be out of reach.
That's certainly too low for a movie with such a budget. It's undoubtedly disappointing to the studios involved. But it's far from the worst result in recent times. Compare, say, last year's disastrous Fantastic Four. Let's not even think about how the new Ben Hur is going. Because it has failed mainly in the foreign markets, where the profit percentage for studios on the box office is lower than in the US, Ghostbusters has arguably done about as well, overall, as Alice Through the Looking Glass ($294.5 milllion globally, but only $77 million of it in the domestic market, on a budget of $170 million).
Of course, so many factors go into the profit and loss on these movies that it is difficult to know in any specific case what is needed for one of them to make an eventual profit. One estimate that I read for Ghostbusters was $300 million globally to break even, though I have also seen a claim that the studio thinks this figure is too high. A blockbuster movie may have received all sorts of subsidies and deals that we don't know about, it will have associated merchandising, there can be theme park attractions tied in, novels and comics tied in, and on and on. It will eventually go to Blu-ray and DVD, and there will be television rights. It can also attract interest in other movies belonging to the franchise, acting as an advertisement to gain them more Blu-ray sales, more television broadcasting, more rentals, and so on. As studio executives have been pointing out, this all affects the bottom line of whether the effort was worth it. On the minus side, advertising costs can be as high as actual production costs.
My rough rule of thumb is that a big-budget Hollywood movie probably needs to make at least twice its production budget in its global total... but that is very rough.
In all, Ghostbusters has seemingly been a commercial failure - significantly enough to make a sequel unlikely any time soon - but not a total commercial disaster. Many big-budget movies end up like that. To some extent, it's a crap shoot for the studios when they invest large sums of money.
As for where it all went wrong, note again the American-versus-foreign box office. The performance in the domestic market is really not all that bad. Many big budget movies fall below their budget figure with their American box-office earnings, but make up for it somewhat with good takings in foreign markets. When you dig into the foreign figures for Ghostbusters, it also doesn't seem to have done all that badly in other English-language markets. Its big problem to date has been its very poor performance in non-English-speaking markets.
Compare X-Men: Apocalypse. In the domestic market it made "only" $155.5 million on a budget of $178 million. That's not good, though again it's probably not disastrous. The negative reaction of the critics doubtless kept attendances down, as, no doubt did certain perceived weaknesses (much as I loved this movie). But anyway, it's comparable to Ghostbusters' American performance, considering their respective budgets. It's not all that bad.
However, unlike Ghostbusters, X-Men: Apocalypse performed credibly in foreign markets. It clawed in $120 million in China alone, and it looks as if it's going about as well as can be expected in Japan, where it's still playing. So far it has over $385 million from the foreign markets, and its eventual global total will be close to or around $545 million. That's surely a disappointment for Fox, but probably only a minor one; it will be some two-and-a-half times what Ghostbusters eventually makes globally.
So, here's a big difference. X-Men: Apocalypse made that large figure that I mentioned in China, while Ghostbusters was actually banned in China (the authorities there don't like ghosts) and so made nothing. Again, Ghostbusters pretty much failed in large markets such as Russia and Brazil. It is currently going head to head with X-Men: Apocalypse in Japan. The X-Men are not all that big in Japan, so there may not be that much difference in how the two movies perform there when their runs are over, but X-Men: Apocalypse should eventually get $10 million. Overall, the X-Men and their battles have translated pretty well, yet again, to the Asian markets in particular.
The significant failure of Ghostbusters stems from a combination of somewhat disappointing (but not in themselves disastrous) results in the domestic market, lack of access to China, and the (seeming) fact that its humour doesn't translate well outside of English-speaking countries. That's a prosaic explanation, but it seems about right to me.
[All figures in US dollars, of course.]
Friday, August 26, 2016
Thursday, August 25, 2016
I'm back! I had a great week-long trip to Melbourne, and managed to catch up with lots of dear friends (no need to list to them - they know who they are). Jenny and I seem to have brought back some Melbourne weather, dammit; and as the afternoon goes on today, a sniffle that I had on the road is turning into a nasty cold. I think I might have to take this evening off. But - oh well! - it was great to see so many of my best buddies. Pity I couldn't have stayed a bit longer and caught up with even more friends and colleagues, but you can't do everything. Onward!
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Magneto is now more an anti-hero than an outright villain, and Rachel is not really villainous even though she has a mean streak. But they'll do for today's purpose.
[If you're not a fan of all the arcane X-Men continuity, you need to know that Rachel Grey is the time-travelling daughter of Jean Grey and Cyclops, from a dystopian future. She has a similar set of powers to her mother, but something of an edgier personality, having endured a future Holocaust-like situation. Magneto is, of course, in the comics, a Holocaust survivor who has been rejuvenated to his physical prime. I like the fact that Cullen Bunn, the writer of the tie-in series, has delved into old continuity to recall that these two always got along. The decades of layered continuity inevitably mean that casual comics readers will find a lot of stuff puzzling ... like why Rachel Grey seems older than the current version of Jean Grey running around. But oh well... Meanwhile, I simply like this well-composed, classic style panel.]
Saturday, August 20, 2016
With Gawker having finally been destroyed this week, here is a link to my ABC Religion and Ethics Portal article on the subject of Hulk Hogan's lawsuit. Published back in June, the piece is entitled "Threat to Free Speech? Why I Don't Stand with Gawker."
A large sample:
A large sample:
Governments can restrict the exchange of opinions and ideas, and they frequently strive to do so. Agencies of the State wield frightening powers, including the power to imprison and sometimes even the power to kill, and this should make us especially anxious to keep them under control through public sentiment, constitutional restrictions, and whatever other effective means we can find. We should be very wary of government censorship.And as a bonus, in case you missed it - my piece at The Conversation, republished on this blog - about an earlier Gawker disaster.
In fact, I go further in opposing campaigns to suppress opinion and discussion through the use of "merely" social power. Boycotts, public shamings, the practice no-platforming speakers and campaigns to have individuals fired for their opinions can all be used to disrupt even quite powerful opponents. Worse, they can intimidate less-powerful opponents into silence.
Perhaps these tactics cannot be prohibited by law: we may run into unwanted paradoxes if we try to ban certain kinds of speech - such as calls for boycotts - because they are used to punish other kinds of speech. All the same, we should criticise the contemporary tactics of suppression and punishment, and we can resist the temptation to indulge in them ourselves.
All in all, there are good reasons to support the free exchange of opinions and ideas, and to resist state censorship. But does this entail that we must defend all speech, no matter how extreme, that invades the privacy of individuals? Must we view Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, with its initial courtroom verdict in his favour, as an unacceptable kind of state censorship?
When we're thinking about such issues, it can be helpful to wonder what the great liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty (1859), might have thought. Mill was not an infallible seer, but his work remains useful for debates about individual liberty and freedom of speech.
Mill was concerned with what he called a "liberty of thought and discussion" about topics of general importance. As he well understood, the absence of state censorship of opinions is one requirement to achieve a society with this kind of liberty. Thus, he opposed governmental censorship, but he would also have opposed social actions aimed at suppressing disliked opinions, such as organised boycotting of people for their social, moral, religious, or political views.
At the same time, it's clear enough from Mill's body of work that he did not expect us to put up with damaging lies about individual citizens. Almost certainly, he would not have supported Gawker-style violations of personal privacy.
In my own case, I advocate the legal right and practical ability of artists, authors and ordinary people to express themselves frankly and fearlessly. I worry whenever I see ideas, opinions, and cultural productions (such as literary and artistic works) interpreted unfairly or censoriously. This distorts and hinders, rather than assists, the search for truth.
Whenever I can, I'm happy to be charitable, but I can't find much to say in Gawker's favour. Gawker Media and its chic defenders cannot seriously claim that gutter-level journalism, such as publication of the Hogan sex tape, needs protection to enable liberty of thought and discussion. No intellectual or cultural purpose was advanced by publishing the tape. Instead, Gawker engaged in a hurtful, damaging, contemptuous, and unjustified attack on an individual. Even free speech advocates can support narrowly framed laws to protect us from the worst such attacks.
Legal solutions frequently have problems: laws that restrict speech are often plagued by vagueness, scope creep and expansive interpretations. But even when the law is not a good solution - which remains to be seen with cases like Hogan's - we can repudiate organisations that engage in serious kinds of defamation or brutal invasions of personal privacy. Our liberty of thought and discussion does not require these smears and invasions, and it may even be hindered by them.