After being hyped for nearly a year, Ghost in the Shell was practically dead on arrival at the U.S. box office this weekend. Despite opening in 3,440 theaters nationwide on March 31st, Ghost in the Shell only grossed $19 million in its opening weekend, finishing behind both The Boss Baby, which also premiered March 31st, and Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which is in its third week of showings. So why did Ghost in the Shell perform so badly, especially given the amount of promotion Paramount Pictures pumped into the film, and with such beloved source material?
In part, it was that beloved source material which proved to be the film’s downfall. Throughout its production, Ghost in the Shell faced harsh “whitewashing” criticisms from fans of the original manga and anime. The filmmakers chose to mostly ignore the thoroughly Japanese culture of the original in favor of a more “international” flavor to the movie, which included casting caucasian actors in primary roles, including Scarlett Johansson in the lead part of Mira Killian/Motoko Kusanagi. In addition, there was extreme backlash from fans on Twitter after the film was released. Without revealing too much for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, there is a plot twist near the end of the movie which seems specifically contrived to explain the casting choices.
In addition to disappointing fans of the original Ghost in the Shell franchise, the live-action movie faced a market which traditionally isn’t kind to anime remakes; Astro Boy, Speed Racer, and Dragonball Evolution also fared poorly at the U.S. box office. Despite the $110 million budget, star-powered cast and PG-13 rating, not much could save Ghost in the Shell once the critics got ahold of it. The consensus seems to be that while the visual effects and score were impressive, and Johansson put in an admirable performance that exemplifies why she is so in-demand as an action star, overall, the live-action Ghost in the Shell was a hurried, lifeless, hot mess of a film. The New York Times review summed it up nicely: “Enjoy these [opening] credits because they offer some of the more arresting, inventive images in this visually cluttered yet often disappointingly drab movie.”