‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ achieves top position at the box office

Tracking ghosts is still a fairly lucrative business after almost 40 years.

Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, the latest attempt to revive “Ghostbusters” has drawn significant audiences to theaters, while the darling “King Richard,” like most pandemic-era dramas, is struggling.

With a reverence for nostalgia and a few high-profile cameos in its arsenal, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” opened above industry expectations with $44 million in ticket sales from 4,315 locations, according to studio estimates Sunday. Directed by Jason Reitman and starring Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace, the Sony film will be screened exclusively in theaters.

The first weekend for “Afterlife” actually lags behind Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, which had a $46 million opening in June 2016. Aside from the somewhat unpredictable movie habits of the pandemic era, the crucial difference is that “Afterlife” costs about half as much to make.

“It’s a really solid number,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “Part of that is the exclusive theatrical release. This shows that this brand is really powerful, even some 37 years after the original became a cultural phenomenon.”

The other high-profile offerings of the weekend didn’t go down too well. “King Richard,” the highly-rated drama starring Will Smith as the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, earned $5.7 million across 3,302 locations, missing its modest expectations by nearly half. The Warner Bros. movie was released simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters.

“It’s really a matter of having and having,” said Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “Obviously the avid moviegoers are starting to come back, but more casual moviegoers are more reserved.”

While traditional blockbusters have managed to attract a sizeable audience, dramas have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Most debuted in the $3 million range. One of the more successful launches was the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” which opened for $8.8 million.

But the prospects could be promising for “King Richard” with its 92% new rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a CinemaScore from the audience and a long runway to the awards season. In 2018, “Green Book” opened over the Thanksgiving weekend for just $5.5 million, but by the end of the prize season, it had raised $85 million.

Meanwhile, in A24 limited release, Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” had its best limited platform debut since February 2020 at $134,447 from five screens. In the film, Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of a man who takes care of his 9-year-old nephew.

The cash register is still a long way from where it was before the pandemic. The weekend leading up to Thanksgiving usually gets about $200 million in ticket sales, but this weekend will bring in about $83 million.

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