Director Paul Feig ‘would love to prove the haters wrong’ about all-female Ghostbusters reboot

An online backlash against the remake of much-loved 1984 film is gathering momentum on the eve of the film’s release, but the vocal minority may be jumping the gun, says the film’s director

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 July, 2016, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 July, 2016, 1:11pm

On July 15, four jumpsuit-wearing paranormal fighters strap on their proton packs to duel with deadly screen spirits as the long-awaited Ghostbusters reboot finally hits cinemas.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and director Paul Feig will certainly be battle-tested: they’ve been fighting an even more insidious threat than any slime-spewing spectre.

Vocal internet haters have made their displeasure clear about the remake of the beloved 1984 original Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson.

After forgiving the critically drubbed Ghostbusters II in 1989, the discontent are upset that Feig is bringing a new version to the screen 30 years later. And a noticeable faction is put off that the new cast will consist of four female Ghostbusters.

Sure, there are entire legions who have made it clear they’re thrilled to see the Ecto-1 mobile roll again. But the internet outcry, from however an apparent minority, has dominated the Ghostbusters swirl long before anyone had seen a scrap of footage.

Backlash against all-woman Ghostbusters shows world’s enduring sexism

“I haven’t seen this level of hatred by an extremely vocal group before a movie came out or before anyone even saw it. It’s unprecedented,” says Alicia Malone, correspondent for the movie ticketing website Fandango. “There are some who don’t want their beloved Ghostbusters to be remade. But much of this hatred we’ve been seeing is toward an all-female cast. And it’s been really intense.”

I just want the most amount of people to come and have fun for this movie that was engineered strictly for people to have fun
Paul Feig

It all leads to the multimillion-dollar question: Can Ghostbusters and its ardent supporters overcome the haters and turn the comedy into a franchise hit for Sony (which has spent an estimated US$154 million on the production)?

“You can understand my frustration,” says Feig, speaking from a tour in Europe where he says audiences are loving the pre-release film screenings. “I’m trying to make a comedy movie that will make people happy and have fun. And it’s turned into the biggest political screed and mess because of a few people who are screaming loudly on the internet. It’s all very frustrating.

“I just want the most amount of people to come and have fun for this movie that was engineered strictly for people to have fun. I would love to prove this small group of haters wrong. It would be really nice.”

Feig says he felt the internet burn on October 8, 2014, when he tweeted that he was directing a new Ghostbusters and “yes, it will star hilarious women. That’s who I’m gonna call.” There were tweets of jubilation back. And there was apparent online anger.

“That was months before I announced who the cast was,” Feig says. “And there was an enormous wave of just anti-woman sentiment that came at that. But at the same time, there was a wave of people who are just not happy with the fact that we were going to remake the classic film.”

New from Twitter on the Ghostbusters film

That continued long before and after the casting announcement of McCarthy and Wiig, two alums of 2011’s Feig-directed comedy smash Bridesmaids, along with Saturday Night Live standouts McKinnon and Jones. In September 2015, a vacationing Feig “hit the wall with the haters” on Twitter, writing to one, “You’ve been ranting at me and my cast for months with misogyny and insults” and “GB is a positive force. Your negativity isn’t.”

This noise reached a crescendo with the first actual look at Ghostbusters when the trailer was released March 3. Scores of rowdy superfans had seen the trailer at Sony’s Los Angeles lot the day before and applauded madly, demanding Feig show the trailer again.

But instant online reviews – a weighty matter in the internet era – were mixed. “My movies never trailer well. It’s a fact of life,” Feig says.

The trailer was further criticised for casting Jones, an African-American, as a New York subway worker and only non-scientist among the female actresses.

Feig says he had originally imagined McCarthy for the subway role before casting Jones. “When that came up, I felt terrible that people were taking that away from it. I didn’t even think of it because I’m sort of comedy-blind,” he says. “When I was putting it together, it was like, who is going to be funny for the role?”

The boo birds came out in force, filling the YouTube trailer with thumbs-down votes (now at a staggering 919,000 compared with 263,000 thumbs-up). Feig points to the original haters for these scores.

We were screaming, cheering like we were at a sporting event at the end of it
Bill Murray on the new film

“This was an organised campaign, definitely organised, to drive up our dislikes, people who were angry with this movie,” Feig says. “It’s like ... Can everyone just wait until the movie comes out? I have the haters writing me telling me how bad my movie [stinks]. It’s like: ‘I don’t believe you’ve seen the movie. The trailer is not a movie.’ ”

Ghostbusters received a cavalry of support when Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson and Annie Potts – the salty original Ghostbusters receptionist turned up en masse last month with the new cast for a Jimmy Kimmel Live! episode devoted entirely to the new film. While all four originals (Ramis died in 2014) have cameos, Murray acknowledged that he, too, wondered “Oh, God, are they going to pull this thing off?” when he saw the movie the night before.

I really hope people will rise up and support this movie just as much to shout out the hatred
Alicia Malone

“This a tough movie ... with a lot of expectation,” Murray said.

But Murray, the patron saint of Ghostbusters, gave his vital blessing, saying, “We were screaming, cheering like we were at a sporting event at the end of it.” There was thunderous applause in the Kimmel audience.

Aykroyd, an executive producer, is bullish about the final box-office prospects, saying the internet backlash from the movie “is by men who don’t understand that we have three women on the Supreme Court. They don’t get it. They don’t understand that women can be Ghostbusters, too.

“If they are hardcore misogynists and against the women’s participation, they’ll stay home. It won’t affect us,” he adds. “There are going to be joyous families walking out and coming back again.”

Initial studio tracking released by The Hollywood Reporter suggests a less-than-enthusiastic debut of US$40 million to US$50 million for the opening weekend. It’s better than openings for Feig/McCarthy hits such as Bridesmaids (US$26 million) and 2015’s Spy (US$29 million). But Scott Mendelson, box analyst for Forbes.com, says the stakes and budget are simply higher for Ghostbusters.

Mendelson believes the film can build up from the initial numbers, have a strong opening and “decent legs”, despite coming up against Star Trek Beyond the next weekend. Part of the appeal will be people interested in seeing a movie fronted by women: “There are not many games in town for that,” he says.

The controversy itself will further compel fans to support the movie over the haters.

“Every time someone online complains about Ghostbusters, complaints at least partially rooted in cultural misogyny, it becomes more of an event for female and male movie-goers who want to see more movies like this and want to support this movie,” Mendelson says.

Malone is one fan who says she’ll be standing in line opening night to show her loyalty.

“I really hope people will rise up and support this movie just as much to shout out the hatred,” she says. “I think that could happen. I really hope it does it well, far more than I would hope for any other average remake. Success would be like ‘Take that, haters.’ ”