So, the first Ghostbusters Reboot reviews are in, and they are…odd. Mostly I’ve seen five stars reviews and zero star ones. This is either the best or worst movie ever. I find both unlikely, and while I’m betting it is closer to the bottom than the top, I suspect even in genre films, it will be sitting on top of many worse films—after all, this is the year of Batman v Superman. It is hard to take any of these extreme reviews seriously and I suspect more than the quality of the film is in play.
The problem with Ghostbusters is that no matter what happens, the results will be bad. That’s because films affect other films. The success or failure of any big budget films is often more important for what it does to other films than for its own quality. One film can crush a career, kill a studio, star a trend, or kill an idea for years to come. Everyone remember Michael Myers? He was on top of the Hollywood pile. Then The Love Guru came along. Notice multiple studios spending tons of time, effort and money to create shared universes? That’s The Avengers effect. After The Road Warrior we had a decade of wild men in the desert flicks. Alien was followed by over a hundred bug in a bottle films. The music in Pirates of the Caribbean has meant since then that no amount of bombast is too much. Harry Potter split its final movie, and we got extra Twilight and extra Hunger Games films. Batman Begins gave us a pair of depressing Superman movies, and the Fantastic 4, along with other depressing superhero flicks. Let’s not even think about the sludge pit The Blair Witch Project left in its wake. And that’s a minor rundown.
Hollywood is as filled with prejudices as any place else, but the main one is money. Hollywood likes it. And they learn lessons very quickly on how not to lose it and what’s the best way to make more, and those lessons are always of the form “do that thing that made money and don’t do that thing that lost money.”
Which brings me back to Ghostbusters, something that could only cause harm. It’s just about out, and those reviews leave it up in the air what will happen. But lets look at the extremes.
If Ghostbusters fails, then MRAs will claim victory. They are already working on hiding good reviews on Redit. There is no time when MRAs claiming victory is a good thing. Culturally, that’s a mess. But sticking with film, that will make money-men less likely than they already are to invest in female-led movies. Any movement in the direction of actual female representation in film that has been happening (and it hasn’t been much), will be slowed even more, and if another flop comes along, we could see years of before anyone starts moving in the right direction again.
On the other hand, what if it is a success? Well, then things are bad as well. Many original ideas never make it to the screen because the money men won’t take a chance when they could instead fund a reboot or a sequel. It’s a painful ride through cinema history to see how many times a director will explain that the reason he made the crap movie he made was because no one would back his real project. And with the huge sums going to big films now, this is getting worse. For quite a few years, reboots and sequels meant money, so that’s what we got. But lately we’ve gotten a string of big budget sequel and reboot flops or underperformers: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. And this is having an effect. The talk in Hollywood is they may have overplayed the sequel and reboot hand—with things like the MCU being a special case. There has been serious movement as money began looking for the next big thing. But it’s only started, and one success—one success that has everyone’s eyes on it, could kill that, and stick us back in the muck. And few films have more eyes on it than Ghostbusters. So, even if it is a great film (and my guess is…no), it will be an artistic disaster if Ghostbusters is a success.
There’s also the issue of a success meaning that Melissa McCarthy’s career will grow, instead of implode—the second being my choice as she is spectacularly unfunny, but that’s a minor issue.
Will the reverse positive effects come into play as well? That is, will its success lead to greater representation for women and will its failure put a nail in sequels and reboots? I doubt it. It may have a minor inpact in those areas, but only very minor. My guess is the only women who will show up more in movies if this is a success are Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. And if it fails, the train is already on the tracks to pull back on sequel/reboots, thanks to Alice and the others just keeping it on track. Ghostbusters could derail it, but probably add little fuel.
Think that a movie can’t have that much effect? Well, we’ll see when we get Kristen Wiig in Scarface and Justin Bieber in Full Metal Jacket. Now if you don’t worry about film as art, but only as entertainment like a rollercoaster, then how much Ghostbusters is going to screw up artistry and representation may not mean much to you. But then I’m not sure why you are paying attention. But for those of us that do care about film as art, this is, unfortunately, a big deal. Ghostbusters is far from the only film that could screw things up—I’ve already spoken a good deal about BvS and the failure of The Neon Demon is in no one’s best interest—but it is the film of the moment.