BOX OFFICE: ‘Frozen Empire’ collects a cool $45.2 million

NEW YORK -- Ghost busting is still a good business.

"Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" collected $45.2 million in ticket sales last weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, handing Columbia Pictures the studio's first No. 1 film since last summer.

The opening weekend for "Frozen Empire," in 4,345 theaters, was nearly exactly the same as the $44 million debut for "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" in 2021. "Afterlife" rebooted the franchise with a sequel built around the descendants (Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace) of Harold Ramis' Egon Spengler, along with Paul Rudd's seismologist Gary Grooberson.

Neither film has been a hit with critics, but audiences have been more receptive. "Frozen Empire" garnered a B+ CinemaScore from moviegoers, a bit down from the A- score for "Afterlife." "Frozen Empire" isn't assured of profitability, but it will hope for sustained business over spring break.

"Ghostbusters" films tend to make a low impact internationally. In 25 overseas markets, "Frozen Empire" added $16.4 million.

The latest "Ghostbusters" cost about $100 million to make. Jason Reitman took over directing duties from his late father, Ivan Reitman, to helm "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." "Frozen Empire" is directed by Gil Kenan, co-writer of "Afterlife."

Those two sequels took "Ghostbusters" in a more family-oriented, albeit PG-13 rated, direction, with original cast members Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, William Atherton and Annie Potts returning in supporting roles. After the 2016 female-led "Ghostbusters" prompted a backlash, Columbia rebooted the franchise.

Reitman has expressed his determination to preserve the legacy of his father's original classic, which opened when Ronald Reagan was still in the White House. "We all want another ride in the ('Ghostbusters') car," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2021. "We all want to see Indiana Jones put the hat back on. We want to see the DeLorean hit 88 again."

But the result for "Frozen Empire" suggests that such nostalgia goes only so far and the franchise could be reaching a point of diminishing returns as its core fan base grows older.

The No. 2 spot went to "Dune: Part Two," which continues to hold well. The Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi sequel starring Timothée Chalamet added $17.6 million in its fourth weekend of release, bringing the Warner Bros. release's domestic total to $233.4 million. Overseas sales are just as strong, adding up to a $574.4 million worldwide haul.

After two weeks atop the box office, Universal's "Kung Fu Panda 4" slid to third place with $16.8 million over its third weekend. The well-performing DreamWorks animated sequel is up to $133.2 million domestic. It debuted with $25.7 million in China, where the movies have historically been popular. When the 2008 "Kung Fu Panda" was released, its success partly inspired China to expand its own film production.

At No. 4 was the weekend's other new wide release "Immaculate," the horror film starring Sydney Sweeney as an American nun at a remote Italian convent. The film, released by Neon following a premiere at SXSW, debuted with $5.4 million on 2,354 screens. Sweeney's ascending star power helped make "Anyone But You" one of the most successful rom-coms in years. But "Immaculate," an independent production that cost less than $10 million make, isn't getting the same bounce.

"The movie features the popular Sydney Sweeney, but horror movies are not cast-driven," wrote David A. Gross for the consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. "They're driven by the hook: the evil doll, the wicked smile, the invisible or silent presence, the found footage, the possessed child. That's what terrifies the horror crowd. The hook is not completely clear here."

Tribune News Service reviewer Katie Walsh called "Immaculate" "goopy, gross fun, if not entirely terrifying" and audiences felt similarly meh, giving the film a far-from-immaculate C+ CinemaScore.

Rounding out the top five, Mark Wahlberg's inspirational dog drama "Arthur the King" took in $4.4 million in its second weekend, bringing its total to $14.6 million.

Among specialty releases, IFC Films' low-budget horror film "Late Night With the Devil" performed strongly, earning $2.8 million, the biggest opening weekend in the distributor's history.

Overall, however, the domestic theatrical business continues to remain sluggish. Last weekend's total box office came in 12% below the same weekend last year. To date, the cumulative box office for the year is running 9% behind the 2023 tally, a trend that analysts expect to persist throughout the year.

This week, "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" opens in wide release.

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