By Jake Coyle – AP Film Writer

Ghost busting is still a good business.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” collected $45.2 million in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, March 24, handing Sony Pictures the studio’s first No. 1 film since last summer.

The opening weekend for “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” in 4,345 theaters, was nearly exactly the same as the $44 million launch 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 tick 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. After Jason Reitman took over directing duties from his father, Ivan Reitman, to helm “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Frozen Empire” is directed by Gil Kenan, co-writer of “Afterlife.”

The two sequels took “Ghostbusters” in a more family-oriented, albeit PG-13 rated, direction, with original cast members Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray returning in supporting roles. After the 2016 female-led “Ghostbusters” prompted a backlash, Sony rebooted the franchise.

The weekend’s other new wide release was “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.”

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 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.

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