The 2016 female-led reboot (not remake) of the Ghostbusters franchise by director Paul Feig was controversial from its announcement because of a not-small, deeply ingrained fanbase whose love of a movie was compounded by a deep fear of giving the franchise over to women.
The first trailer posted on the film’s YouTube page now sits at 20th on the list of Most Disliked YouTube videos with just over a million and the film’s IMDb page was bombarded with one-star ratings long before the film was released. People were upset by the very idea of this movie and that displeasure seemed to stem from sexism. The backlash made seeing the film a feminist action, which some people just wanting to see a dumb comedy didn’t feel comfortable ascribing to. Screencrush reports that at Vulture Festival in Los Angeles, Feig commented on why this hurt the film.
“I think it kind of hampered us a little bit because the movie became so much of a cause,” Feig said. Some of the comedy’s potential audience seemed scared off by the politicization of the film and the heightened extremes of people that thought it was the height of pandering and those that thought it was paving the way for a female-celebrating future. Feig opined that these people thought, “We don’t wanna go to a cause. We just wanna watch a f***in’ movie.”
The film, whose gender-swapped leads included Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones (featuring Chris Hemsworth as the office eye candy), received mixed-positive reviews and underperformed at the box office despite its relentless marketing. Some of this could almost certainly be attributed to the polarized media coverage the film garnered, as well as the digital vote-stuffing by dissenters. Feig mourns his film, lamenting that, “it was a great regret in my life that the movie didn’t do better, ’cause I really loved it. It’s not a perfect movie. None of my movies are perfect. I liked what we were doing with it. It was only supposed to be there to entertain people.”
Like it or not, movies always have more to them than brainless entertainment. Ghostbusters may not have been trying to helm a female-fronted film movement, but its high visibility and recognizable brand encouraged in-progress mirrors like that of the Ocean’s series and The Nice Guys. Feig’s reactions are unsurprising for a filmmaker whose creation was damned or praised before seeing the light of day, but in an increasingly polarized industry, being cognizant of these “causes” can certainly help films (box office smash Wonder Woman) as much or more than they damage.