Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ivan Reitman|
|Produced by||Ivan Reitman|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$295.7 million|
Ghostbusters is a 1984 American supernatural comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. It stars Bill Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis as, respectively, Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler, a trio of eccentric parapsychologists who start a ghost-catching business in New York City. The film also stars Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, and features Annie Potts, William Atherton, and Ernie Hudson in supporting roles.
Based on his own fascination with spirituality, Aykroyd conceived Ghostbusters as a project for himself and John Belushi. The protagonists would travel through time and space to combat a host of demonic and supernatural threats. Following Belushi's death, and with Aykroyd's concept deemed financially impractical, he was paired with Ramis to rewrite the script to set it in New York City and make it more realistic. Ghostbusters was the first comedy film to employ expensive special effects. There was concern about the budget it would require, and little faith in its potential for box office success. On an approximate $25–30 million budget, filming took place between October 1983 to January 1984, on location in New York City and Los Angeles, and on sets at Burbank Studios, Los Angeles. Competition for special effects studios among various movies in development at the time meant that part of the budget was used to co-found a new studio under Richard Edlund. He used a combination of practical effects, miniatures, and puppets to deliver the ghoulish visuals.
Ghostbusters was released on June 8, 1984, to critical acclaim and became a cultural phenomenon. It was well received for its deft blend of comedy, action, and horror, and Murray's performance was repeatedly singled out for praise. The film earned $282.2 million during its initial theatrical run, making it the second-highest-grossing film of that year, and the highest-grossing comedy of all time at that point. It was the number-one film in theaters for seven consecutive weeks and was one of only four films to gross more than $100 million that year. Further theatrical releases have increased the total gross to approximately $295.7 million, making it the most successful comedy film of the 1980s. In 2015, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Its theme song, "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr., was also a number-one hit.
With its effect on popular culture, and a dedicated fan following, the success of Ghostbusters launched a multi-billion dollar multimedia franchise. This includes the popular animated television series The Real Ghostbusters (which itself spawned a media franchise), its sequel series Extreme Ghostbusters, video games, board games, comic books, clothing, music, books, food, toys, collectables, and haunted attractions. Ghostbusters was followed in 1989 by a sequel, Ghostbusters II, which fared less well financially and critically. Repeated attempts to develop a further sequel had ended following Ramis's death in 2014. A 2016 reboot, also called Ghostbusters, was released to mixed reviews and financial failure. A second, direct sequel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is scheduled for release in 2021.
Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler are scientists at Columbia University investigating the paranormal. Following their first encounter with a ghost manifesting at the New York Public Library, the dean fires them and dismisses the credibility of their research. In response, they create "Ghostbusters", a paranormal investigation and elimination service. They convert a disused firehouse, develop high-tech equipment to capture and contain ghosts, and convert a combination car into the "Ectomobile" to support their business.
Seeing their television ad, a skeptical cellist, Dana Barrett, is initially dismissive but reluctantly calls them after a paranormal encounter in her kitchen. Recounting the event, she describes opening her refrigerator and seeing a creature that utters a single word: "Zuul." Venkman reassures her and becomes romantically interested, while Ray and Egon research her claims. Business is slow until they are hired to remove a ghost from the Sedgewick Hotel. There, Egon warns the group never to cross the energy streams of their proton pack weapons, as this could cause a catastrophic explosion. They capture their first ghost and deposit it in a special containment unit in the firehouse.
Soon their business booms as paranormal activity increases across New York City. To cope with demand, they hire a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore. Suspicious of their operation, Walter Peck, an Environmental Protection Agency inspector, asks to evaluate their equipment but leaves after Venkman insults him. Privately, Egon warns the team the increase in supernatural activity is becoming dangerous and their equipment is at risk of failing under the stress.
Venkman meets with Dana. He shares that Zuul was a demigod worshiped as a servant to "Gozer the Gozerian," a shape-shifting god of destruction. He convinces Dana to discuss her case further over dinner. However, when Dana returns home, she is supernaturally assaulted and possessed by Zuul. In a nearby apartment, a nearly identical entity manifests, then chases and possesses her neighbor, Louis Tully. Venkman arrives and finds the possessed Dana/Zuul claiming to be "the Gatekeeper." Louis, also possessed, is found by police officers and claims he is "Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster of Gozer." The Ghostbusters agree they need to regroup but keep the pair separated.
Peck returns with law-enforcement and city workers to have the Ghostbusters arrested and orders the deactivation of their ghost containment system. Stressed beyond capacity, the shutdown causes an explosion that releases the captured ghosts, and the Ghostbusters are detained. Louis/Vinz manages to escape in the confusion and makes his way to the apartment building where he meets Dana/Zuul. In jail, Ray and Egon reveal that Dana's building is the true source of the supernatural increase. The architect was a genius and cult leader of Gozer-worshippers, who designed it to channel ghosts for the purpose of ending the world. Faced with chaos in the city, the Ghostbusters convince the mayor to release them over Peck's protests.
On the apartment building roof, Dana/Zuul and Louis/Vinz open the gate between dimensions and transform into supernatural creatures just as the Ghostbusters arrive. Gozer, in the form of a woman, arrives, and Ray attempts to reason with her first. When this fails, Gozer attacks, forcing the Ghostbusters to attempt to trap her, but she disappears. Her disembodied voice demands the Ghostbusters "choose the form of the destructor." Raymond inadvertently recalls a beloved corporate mascot from his childhood, and Gozer reappears in the form of a giant, "Stay Puft" marshmallow man that proceeds to attack the city. Egon tells the team to ignore his earlier advice and cross their proton energy streams at Gozer's portal. The resulting explosion destroys Gozer's marshmallow man form, banishes it from this dimension, and closes the portal. The Ghostbusters rescue Dana and Louis from the wreckage and are welcomed on the street as heroes.
- Bill Murray as Peter Venkman
- Dan Aykroyd as Ray Stantz
- Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett
- Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler
- Rick Moranis as Louis Tully
- Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz
- William Atherton as Walter Peck
- Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore
In addition to the main cast, Ghostbusters features David Margulies as Lenny Clotch, Mayor of New York, Michael Ensign as Manager of the Sedgewick Hotel, and Slavitza Jovan as Gozer (voiced by Paddi Edwards). The film also features astrologist Ruth Hale Oliver as the Library Ghost, Alice Drummond as the Librarian, Jennifer Runyon and Steven Tash as Venkman's psychological test subjects, Playboy Playmate Kymberly Herrin as a Dream Ghost, Timothy Carhart as a violinist, and Reginald VelJohnson as a police officer. Roger Grimsby, Larry King, Joe Franklin, and Casey Kasem cameo as themselves, the latter in a voice-only role. Kasem's wife Jean appears in the film as the tall guest at Louis' party. The film also features appearances by porn star Ron Jeremy, and a young Debbie Gibson. Director Ivan Reitman provided miscellaneous ghost voices, including that of Slimer.
Ghostbusters was inspired by Dan Aykroyd's fascination with and belief in the paranormal. This was inherited from his father (who wrote the book A History of Ghosts), his mother (who claimed she had seen ghosts), a grandfather (who experimented with using radios to contact the dead), and a great-grandfather (a renowned spiritualist). In 1981, he read an article on quantum physics and parapsychology in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, which gave him the idea of trapping ghosts. Aykroyd was also drawn to the idea of modernizing the comedic ghost films of the mid-20th century made by teams like Abbott and Costello (Hold That Ghost (1941)), Bob Hope (The Ghost Breakers (1940)), and The Bowery Boys (Ghost Chasers (1951)).
Aykroyd began writing the script and intended to star in it himself with Eddie Murphy and his friend and fellow Saturday Night Live (SNL) alumnus John Belushi, before Belushi's accidental death in March 1982. Aykroyd recalled that moment, saying: "I was writing a line for John, and [producer and talent agent] Bernie Brillstein called and said they just found him … We loved each other as brothers." He turned to another SNL former castmate, Bill Murray, who agreed to join the project, albeit without an explicit agreement, which is how he often worked. Aykroyd pitched his concept to Brillstein as three men who chase ghosts, even providing a sketch of the "Marshmallow Man." He likened them to normal pest control workers, saying that "calling a Ghostbuster was just like getting rats removed."
After his successes with Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979), and Stripes (1981), Aykroyd felt Ivan Reitman was the logical choice for director. Reitman said he had been told the film's basic concept while Belushi was still a prospective cast member, and that it took place in the future with many groups of intergalactic ghostbusters. He felt it "would have cost something like $200 million to make." Aykroyd's original 70- to 80-page script treatment was more serious in tone and was intended to be scary. It contained the Ghostbusters' logo and elements such as the Marshmallow Man that were in the finished script.
Reitman met with Aykroyd over lunch at Art's Delicatessen in Studio City, Los Angeles, and explained to him that his current treatment would be impossible to make. He suggested setting it entirely on Earth would make the extraordinary elements more humorous. He felt if they focused on realism from the beginning then the existence of the Marshmallow Man would be believable by the end. Reitman also conceived the idea of detailing the Ghostbusters' origins working at a university before starting their business, saying "this was beginning of the 1980s: everyone was going into business." Following lunch, Reitman and Aykroyd walked to Burbank Studios to meet with Harold Ramis. Reitman had worked with him on Animal House, Meatballs, and Stripes, and believed he could better execute the tone he intended for the script than Aykroyd. Reitman also felt Ramis should portray a ghostbuster; after he read the script Ramis joined the project immediately.
Despite the script requiring considerable changes, Reitman pitched the film to then–Columbia Pictures executive Frank Price in March 1983. Price recounted finding the concept funny but the project itself controversial, as comedies were seen to have a ceiling on profitability. The film would require a big budget due to the special effects and a cast whose fame continued to grow thanks to Saturday Night Live. Reitman said they could work with $25–$30 million (different figures have been cited). Price agreed as long as the film could be released by June 1984. Reitman later admitted he made up the figure, basing it on three times the budget for Stripes, which seemed "reasonable." This left thirteen months to complete the film, with no script, effects studio, or filming start date. He hired Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross as associate producers, having collaborated with them previously. Columbia's then-CEO Fay Vincent sent his lawyer Dick Gallop from New York to Los Angeles to convince Price not to pursue the film, but Price disagreed. Gallop returned to head office reporting that Price was "out of control."
Several titles were considered for the film since "Ghostbusters" was legally restricted by the 1970s children's show The Ghost Busters owned by Universal Studios. Some options included "Ghoststoppers," "Ghostbreakers," and "Ghostsmashers." Fortunately, Price had parted ways with Columbia early in Ghostbusters' production and became head of Universal Pictures, at which point he allowed Columbia to have the title. Columbia paid $500,000 plus 1% of the film's profits for its use. Given Hollywood's accounting practices, however, the film technically never made a profit for Universal to be owed a payment.
Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman began reworking the script, first at Reitman's office before sequestering themselves and their families on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Aykroyd had a home there, and they worked day and night for about two weeks in his basement. He was understanding about the reworking of his script. He considered himself a "kitchen sink" writer who created the funny situations and paranormal jargon, while Ramis refined the jokes and dialogue. They wrote separately and then rewrote each other. Many scenes had to be cut, including an asylum haunted by celebrities, and an illegal ghost storage facility in a New Jersey gas station. Their initial, full script draft was completed when they left the Vineyard in mid-July 1983, with a third and near-final draft ready by early August. When Murray later flew to New York after the filming of The Razor's Edge to meet Aykroyd and Ramis, he offered little input on the script or his character. Having written for Murray multiple times before, Ramis said he knew how to handle his character's voice.
It was decided early on that Ramis' character would be the brains of the Ghostbusters, Aykroyd's was the heart, and Murray's was the mouth. Aykroyd drew inspiration from Hollywood archetypes, he said: "Put [the characters of Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz, and Egon Spengler together, and you have the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man." Aykroyd's concept called for the Ghostbusters to have a boss and be directed into situations. Ramis preferred they be in control "of their own destiny" and make their own choices. This led to the development of more distinct identities for the three central characters: Murray as the cool, modern salesman; Aykroyd as the honest, enthusiastic technician; and Ramis as the intelligent, factual, and emotionless Egon. Ramis was inspired by the cover of a journal on abstract architecture for Egon's appearance. It featured a man wearing a three-piece tweed suit, wire-rim glasses, with his hair standing straight up. He took the character's first name from a Hungarian refugee he attended school with and the surname of historian Oswald Spengler.
The most difficult part of the writing was determining the story's goal, who the villain was and their goal, why ghosts were manifesting, and how a towering Marshmallow Man appeared. The Marshmallow Man was one of many elaborate creatures in Aykroyd's initial treatment, originally intended to emerge from the East River only twenty minutes into the film. It stood out to Reitman but concerned him because of the relatively realistic tone they were taking. While this process was occurring, Reitman was searching for a special effects studio for the film, eventually recruiting Richard Edlund in the same two-week span.
Casting Bill Murray was considered essential to Ghostbusters' potential success, but he was known for not committing to projects until the last minute. Price agreed to fund The Razor's Edge (1984), which Murray had co-written and was starring in. His rationale was that if it failed it would lose very little money, but he hoped the gesture would secure Murray's commitment to Ghostbusters. Apart from the three main stars, Joe Medjuck was largely responsible for casting the other roles. Ernie Hudson went through about five auditions for the character of Winston Zeddemore, and had to wait a month before learning he had the part. According to him, in an earlier version of the script his character, Winston, had a larger role as an Air Force demolitions expert with an elaborate backstory. Excited by the part, he agreed to the job for half his usual salary. The night before shooting began, he was given a new script with a greatly reduced role; Reitman told him the studio wanted to expand Murray's part. Aykroyd has said he wanted Eddie Murphy for the role, having worked with him on Trading Places (1983), although Reitman refuted this. Gregory Hines was also considered for the part.
Julia Roberts auditioned for the role of Dana Barrett, but it was Sigourney Weaver who attracted the filmmakers' attention. There was some resistance to casting her because of the generally serious roles she played in Alien (1979) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982). Weaver revealed her comedic background, developed at the Yale School of Drama, and began walking on all fours and howling like a dog. It was her suggestion that Dana become possessed by the demonic dog, Zuul. Reitman said this solved issues with the last act by giving the characters personal stakes in the events. Weaver also changed the role from that of a model to a musician, saying she can be kind of strict, but "you know she has a soul because she plays the cello."
John Candy was offered the role of Louis Tully. Reitman recalled it was a few days before Candy called him back to say he did not understand the character. Candy suggested portraying Tully with a German accent and multiple German Shepherds, but the filmmakers felt there were already enough dogs in the film. They and Candy passed on the casting. Reitman was already aware of Rick Moranis from their work together in Toronto and sent him the script. He called Reitman back about an hour later and accepted the part, saying he understood the character completely. Moranis developed many aspects of his character, including making him an accountant, and ad-libbed the lengthy speech at Tully's party. Sandra Bernhard was offered and turned down the role of Ghostbusters' secretary Janine Melnitz, which went to Annie Potts. As she arrived for her first day of filming, Reitman rushed Potts into the current scene. She quickly changed out of her street clothes and borrowed a pair of glasses worn by the set dresser. Her character ended up wearing the glasses throughout the film, provided to her by the dresser before each scene.
William Atherton was chosen for the role of Walter Peck after appearing in the Broadway play Broadway alongside SNL alumna Gilda Radner. The role was described to Atherton as akin to Margaret Dumont's role as a comedic foil to the Marx Brothers. Atherton said, "It can’t be funny, and I don’t find [the Ghostbusters] in the least bit charming. I have to be outraged." The role of the Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian was originally intended for Paul Reubens, envisioned as a business-suited architect. Reubens passed on the idea, and it went to Yugoslavian actress Slavitza Jovan. The role changed to one inspired by the androgynous looks of Grace Jones and David Bowie. Paddi Edwards was uncredited as the voice of Gozer, dubbing over Jovan's strong Slavic accent.
Principal photography began in New York City on October 28, 1983, on a budget of approximately $25–$30 million. During the first day, Reitman brought Murray to the set, still unsure if he had read the script. On a separate day, the crew drove around the city filming spontaneous scenes at iconic locations, including one shot at Rockefeller Center where the actors were chased off by a real security guard; it appears in the film. A scene was shot in Central Park West with extras chanting "Ghostbusters" before the name had been cleared. This prompted associate producer Joe Medjuck to contact the studio urging them to secure permission to use the word as the title. As Reitman was working with comedians, he encouraged improvisation, adapting multiple takes to keep cast inserts that worked, but directing them back to the script.
Filming on location in New York lasted for about six weeks, finishing just before Christmas. Reitman was conscious they had to complete the New York phase before they encountered inhospitable weather in December. At the time, choosing to shoot in New York City was considered risky. In the early 1980s, many saw the city as synonymous with fiscal disaster and violence, and Los Angeles was seen as the center of the entertainment industry. In a 2014 interview, Reitman said he chose New York because "I wanted the film to be…my New York movie."
The building at 55 Central Park West served as the home of Weaver's character and the setting of the Ghostbusters' climactic battle with Gozer. The art department added extra floors and embellishments using matte paintings, models, and digital effects to create the focal point of ghostly activity. During shooting of the final scene at the building, city officials allowed the production to close down the adjacent streets during rush hour. This affected traffic across a large swath of the city. Gross remarked that, from the top of the building, they could see traffic queuing all the way to Brooklyn. At various points, a police officer drew his gun on a taxi driver who refused orders; in a similar incident, another officer pulled a driver through his limo window. When angry citizens asked Medjuck what was being filmed, he blamed Francis Ford Coppola filming The Cotton Club. Aykroyd encountered science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, a man he admired, who complained: "You guys are inconveniencing this building, it's just awful; I don't know how they got away with this!" Directly next to 55 Central Park West is the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which is stepped on by the Marshmallow Man.
Other locations included New York City Hall, the New York Public Library, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Tavern on the Green (where Louis is cornered by the demonic dog), Columbus Circle, and Firehouse, Hook & Ladder Company 8 in the Tribeca neighborhood used as the Ghostbusters' headquarters. Columbia University allowed its Havemeyer Hall to stand in for the fictional Weaver Hall, on the condition the university not be identified by name. The Irving Trust Bank on Fifth Avenue served as the bank where Aykroyd's character takes out a third mortgage to provide the Ghostbusters' startup money.
Filming moved to Los Angeles, resuming just after Christmas and before the New Year. Despite its New York City setting, most of Ghostbusters was filmed on location in Los Angeles or on sets at the Burbank Studios. Location scouts searched for buildings that could replicate the interiors of buildings being filmed in New York. Reitman tried using the interior of Hook & Ladder 8, but was unable to take it over long enough because it was an active fire station. Interior firehouse shots were taken instead at the decommissioned Fire House No. 23 in downtown Los Angeles. The building design, while common in New York, was a rarity in Los Angeles. An archival photograph of an active crew in Fire House No. 23 from 1915 was hung in the background of the Ghostbusters' office and appeared in the film.
As the film used practical effects, they needed skilled technicians who resided mainly in the city, and soundstages that, at the time, were non-existent in New York. While filming took place in the main reading room of the New York Public Library (they could film only early and had to be out by 10:00 am), the basement library stacks were represented by the Los Angeles Central Library as Reitman said they were interchangeable. The stacks were destroyed in a 1986 fire, and the area now serves as space for storage and shipping. The Millennium Biltmore Hotel stood in for the scenes set at the fictional Sedgwick Hotel. Principal photography concluded at the end of January 1984, after between 55 and 62 days of filming.
The short production schedule and looming June 8, 1984, release date meant that Reitman was editing the film while shooting it. There was often time for only a few takes. Reitman sometimes found filming an effects-laden film frustrating, as the special effects had to be storyboarded and filmed in advance; there was no option to go back and film new scenes. As Gross described it: "[Y]ou storyboard in advance, that's like editing in advance. You've got a scene, they're going to approve that scene, and we're going to spend nine months doing that cut. There's no second takes, no outtakes, there's no coverage. You can cut stuff, but you can't add stuff. It made him (Reitman) so confined that it really bothered him."
One of the deleted scenes involved a segment at "Fort Detmerring" where Aykroyd's Ray has a sexual encounter with a female ghost. The scene was intended to introduce a love interest for Aykroyd. The feeling was it was extraneous to the fast-moving plot, however, so Reitman used the footage as a dream sequence during the mid-film montage instead. Editor Sheldon Kahn sent Reitman black-and-white reels of sequences during filming. They not only allowed him to make changes, but he considered they also helped him understand how to better pace the film. Kahn completed the first full cut of the film three weeks after filming concluded.
The Ghostbusters score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and performed by the 72-person Hollywood Studio Symphony orchestra at The Village in West Los Angeles, California. It was orchestrated by Bernstein's son Peter and David Spear. Bernstein had previously scored several of Reitman's films including Animal House and Meatballs. He was hired before filming had begun or all the cast had been signed. Reitman wanted a grounded, realistic score. He did not want the music to tell the audience when something was funny. Bernstein used the ondes Martenot (effectively a keyboard equivalent of a theremin) to produce the "eerie" effect. Bernstein had to bring a musician from England to play the instrument because there were so few trained ondists. He also used three Yamaha DX7 synthesizers. In a 1985 interview Bernstein described Ghostbusters as the most difficult score he had written. He found it a challenge to balance the film's varying comedic and serious tones. He created an "antic" theme for the Ghostbusters he described as "cute, without being really way out." He found the latter parts of the film easier to score, aiming to make it sound "awesome and mystical."
Early on Reitman and Bernstein discussed the idea that Ghostbusters would feature popular music at specific points as well as Bernstein's original score. This included "Magic" by Mick Smiley (played during the scene when the ghosts are released from the Ghostbusters headquarters. Bernstein's main theme for the Ghostbusters was later replaced by Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters." Bernstein personally disliked the use of these songs, particularly "Magic", but said "it’s very hard to argue with something like ["Ghostbusters"], when it is up in the top ten on the charts."
Music was required for a montage in the middle of the film, and "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News was used as a temporary placeholder because of its appropriate tempo. Reitman was later introduced to Parker Jr. who developed "Ghostbusters" with a similar riff to match the montage. There were approximately 50 to 60 different theme songs developed for Ghostbusters by different artists before Parker Jr.'s involvement, though none was deemed suitable. Lewis was approached to compose the film's theme, but was already committed to work on Back to the Future (1985).
During the film's thirteen-month production, all the major special effects studios were working on other films. The largest, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), had been booked for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Return of the Jedi (1983). The remaining studios were too small to work on the approximately 630 individual effects shots needed for Ghostbusters. At the same time, special effects cinematographer Richard Edlund planned to leave ILM and start his own business. Reitman convinced Columbia to collaborate with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which also needed an effects studio, to advance Edlund $5 million to start his own company, Boss Film Studios, and purchase the necessary equipment. According to Edlund, lawyers used much of the setup time finalizing the contract, leaving only ten months remaining to build the effects studio, shoot the scenes and composite the images. The Boss Film Studios' team were split to complete work on Ghostbusters and MGM's science-fiction film 2010. The $5 million effects came in at $700,000 over budget. The strict filming schedule meant most of the effects shots were done in one take. Gross oversaw both the creation of Boss Film Studios, and the hiring of many conceptual artists including comic book artists Tanino Liberatore (whose work went unused) and Bernie Wrightson (who helped conceive several ghost designs), and storyboard artist Thom Enriquez, whose designs contributed to the "Onion Head ghost."
Edlund previously worked on the supernatural horror film Poltergeist (1982). It served as a reference for the ghost designs in Ghostbusters. Gross said it was difficult to balance making the ghosts seem like a genuine threat while fitting the film's more comedic tone. Special effects artist Steve Johnson sculpted the gluttonous, slimy, green ghost then known only as the "Onion Head ghost" on set due to the puppet's unpleasant smell. Now commonly known as "Slimer," it was not called that until after the film's release when it was given the name in 1986's The Real Ghostbusters. The Slimer design took six months, and approximately $300,000 to develop. It went through many variations, which Johnson blamed on executive interference through micromanagement, constant adjustments and conflicting notes on how to modify each detail. He said: "In the beginning they asked for a 'smile with arms' but before I knew it … 'give him 13% more pathos, put ears on him, take his ears off, less pathos, more pathos, make his nose bigger, now his nose is too big, make his nose smaller … Make him more cartoony, make him less cartoony."
The day before his deadline, Johnson learned Aykroyd and Ramis had wanted Slimer to be an homage to John Belushi's likeness. With that information and a series of Belushi headshots, Johnson took at least three grams of cocaine and believed that Belushi's ghost was visiting him to provide encouragement. It was during this episode that he sculpted the final Slimer design that appears in the film. Aykroyd admitted the character was inspired by Belushi, particularly his body. Ramis said the comparison was not malicious, explaining that Belushi was the person most likely trip over a coffee table and knock a bookcase over. The model had three interchangeable faces for larger expressions, while smaller features like blinking were controlled by cables and rods by a team of puppeteers. Smaller, egg-size models were made for less animated movements like flying around the ceiling of the Sedgewick Hotel ballroom. The full-size Slimer puppet was performed by Mark Wilson, who wore the foam rubber suit reinforced with spandex while being filmed against a black background. As Wilson's movement was restricted by the puppet's cables, the camera was moved around him to simulate movement.
Aykroyd tasked his friend, referred to as the Viking, with designing the Marshmallow Man, asking for a combination of the Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy in a sailor hat. The Marshmallow Man was fabricated and portrayed by actor and special effects artist Bill Bryan, who modeled his walk on Godzilla. There were eighteen foam suits, each costing between $25,000 and $30,000; seventeen of them, worn by stuntman Tommy Cesar, were burned as part of filming.  Bryan had to use a separate air supply due to the foam's toxicity. There were three different heads for the suit, built from foam and fiberglass, with different expressions and movements controlled by cable mechanisms. The costume was filmed against scale models to finish the effect. The effects team were able to find only one model of a police car at the correct scale. They bought several and modified them to represent different vehicles. The water from a burst hydrant hit by a remote-controlled car was actually sand as the water did not scale down. The "marshmallow" that rains down on the crowd after it is destroyed was shaving cream. After seeing the intended 150 pounds (68 kg) of shaving cream to be used, Atherton insisted on testing it. The weight knocked a stuntman down, and they ended up using only 75 pounds (34 kg). The cream acted as a skin irritant after hours of filming, giving some of the cast rashes.
Johnson also sculpted the Zombie Cab Driver puppet. The Zombie Cab Driver was the only puppet shot on location in New York City. Johnson based it on a reanimated corpse puppet he had made for An American Werewolf in London (1981). Johnson and Wilson collaborated on the Library Ghost, creating a puppet operated by tens of cables running through the torso that controlled aspects such as moving the head, arms, and pulling rubber skin away from the torso to transform it from a humanoid into a monstrous ghoul. The original Library Ghost puppet was considered too scary for younger audiences and was repurposed for use in Fright Night (1985). The Library catalog scene was accomplished live in three takes, with the crew blowing air through copper pipes to blow the cards into the air. These had to be collected and reassembled for each take. Reitman used a multi-camera setup to focus on the librarian and the cards flying around her and a wider overall shot. The floating books were simply hung on strings.
Randy Cook was responsible for creating the quarter-scale stop-motion puppets of Gozer's minions Zuul and Vinz, the Terror Dogs, when in motion. The model was heavy and unwieldy. It took nearly thirty hours to film it moving across a 30-foot stage for the scene where it pursues Louis Tully across a street. For the scene where Dana is pinned to her chair by demonic hands before a doorway beaming with light, Reitman said he was influenced by Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). A rubber door was used to allow distortion as if something was trying to come through it, while grips concealed in a trapdoor beneath the chair, burst through it while wearing demonic dog-leg gloves. Made before the advent of CGI, any non-puppet ghosts had to be animated. It took up to three weeks to create a second of footage. For Gozer, Slavitza Jovan wore red contacts that caused her a great deal of pain; she wore a harness to move around the set.
Technology and equipment
Hardware consultant Stephen Dane was responsible for designing most of the Ghostbusters' iconic equipment, including the "proton packs" used to wrangle ghosts, ghost traps, and their vehicle, the Ectomobile. The equipment had to be designed and built in the six weeks before filming began in September 1983. Inspired by a military issue flamethrower, the "proton packs" consisted of a handheld proton stream firing "neutrino wand" connected by a hose to a backpack said to contain a nuclear accelerator. Dane said that he "went home and got foam pieces and just threw a bunch of stuff together to get the look. It was highly machined but it had to look off-the-shelf and military surplus."
Following Reitman's tweaks to the design, on-screen models were made from a fiberglass shell with an aluminum backplate bolted to a United States Army backpack frame. Each pack weighed about 30 pounds (14 kg) with the batteries for lighting installed, and strained the actors' backs during the long shoots. Two lighter versions were made, a hollow one with surface details for wide shots, and a foam rubber version for action scenes. The fiberglass props were created by special effects supervisor Chuck Gaspar, based on Dane's design. Gaspar used rubber molds to create identical fiberglass shells The neutrino wand had a flashbulb at the tip, giving animators an original point for the proton streams. The production used fake walls laced with pyrotechnics to practically create the damage of the Ghostbusters proton packs. The PKE meter prop was built using an Iona SP-1 handheld shoe polisher as a base, to which lights and electronics were affixed. The technology was designed not to be overly fancy or sleek, emphasizing the characters' scientific backgrounds combined with the homemade nature of their equipment.
The Ectomobile, was in the first draft of Aykroyd's script, and he and John Daveikis developed some early concepts for the car. Dane developed fully detailed drawings for the interior and exterior and supervised the transformation of the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance conversion into the Ectomobile. According to Akyroyd, the actual vehicle was "an ambulance that we converted to a hearse and then converted to an ambulance." Early concepts featured a black car with purple and white strobe lights giving it a supernatural glow, but this idea was scrapped after cinematographer László Kovács noted that dark paint would not film well at night. It also had fantastic features such as the ability to dematerialize and travel inter-dimensionally. Two vehicles were purchased, one for the pre-modification scenes. Dane designed its high-tech roof array with objects including a directional antenna, an air-conditioning unit, storage boxes and a radome. Because of its size, the roof rack was shipped to Manhattan on an airplane, while the car was transported to the East Coast by train. Sound designer Richard Beggs created the distinctive siren from a recording of a leopard snarl, cut and played backward.
Sets and logo
In the script, Aykroyd described the Ghostbusters clothing and vehicle as bearing a No symbol with a ghost trapped in it, again crediting his friend the Viking with the original concept. The final design fell to Michael C. Gross, who had volunteered to serve as art director for the film. As the logo would be required for props and sets, it needed to be finalized quickly, and Gross worked with Boss Film artist Brent Boates who was also working as a creature design consultant for the film. Boates drew the final concept, and R/GA animated the logo for the film's opening. According to Gross, two versions of the logo exist, with one having "ghostbusters" written across the diagonal part of the sign. Gross did not like how it looked and flipped the diagonal bar to read top left to bottom right instead, but they later removed the wording. According to Gross, this is the correct version of the sign that was used throughout Europe. The bottom left to top right version was used in the United States as that was the design of the No symbol there.
Medjuck also hired John DeCuir as production designer. The script did not specify where Gozer would appear, and DeCuir painted the top of Dana's building with large, crystal doors that opened as written in the script. The fictional rooftop of 55 Central Park West was constructed at Stage 12 on the Burbank Studios lot. It was one of the largest constructed sets in film history and was surrounded by a 360-degree cyclorama painting. The lighting used throughout the painting consumed enough power the rest of the studio had to be shut down, and an additional four generators added, when it was in use. Small models such as planes were hung on string to animate the backdrop. The set was built three stories off the ground to allow for filming from low angles.
The first three floors and street-front of Dana's building were recreated as sets for filming, including the climactic earthquake scene where hydraulics were used to raise broken parts of the street. Broken pieces of pavement and the road were positioned outside the real location to create a seamless transition between the two shots. DeCuir said: "They had one night to dress the street. When people went home early in the evening everything was normal, and when the little old ladies came out to walk their dogs in the morning, the whole street had erupted. Apparently, people complained to the New York Police Department and their switchboard lit up." For the scene where Dana's apartment explodes outwards, Weaver stood on set as the explosion happened. Similarly, the scene of Weaver rotating in the air was done on set using a body-cast and mechanical arm concealed in the curtains, a trick Reitman learned working with magician Doug Henning.
Pre-release and marketing
The film was first screened for test audiences on February 3, 1984, with unfinished effects shots to determine if the comedy worked. Even at this point, Reitman was still concerned audiences would not react well to the Marshmallow Man because of its deviation from the realism of the rest of the film. Reitman recalled that approximately 200 people were recruited off the streets to view the film in a theater on the Burbank lot. It was during the opening librarian scene that Reitman knew the film worked. Audiences reacted with fear, laughs, and applause as the Librarian Ghost transformed from a lady into a monster. The fateful Marshmallow Scene was met with a similar reaction, and Reitman knew he would not have to reshoot any scenes. The screening for fellow industry members fared less well. Price recalled laughing as the rest of the audience sat deadpan, rationalizing that an industry audience wants failure. Murray and Aykroyd's then-agent Michael Ovitz recalled an executive telling him, "Don’t worry: we all make mistakes," while Roberto Goizueta, then-chairman of Columbia's parent, The Coca-Cola Company, said: "Gee, we're going to lose our shirts."
In the months before its debut, a teaser trailer was released focused on the "No ghosts" logo, helping the icon to become recognizable far in advance, and generating interest in the film without mentioning its title or its stars. A separate theatrical trailer for the film contained a functional toll-free telephone number with a message by Murray and Aykroyd waiting for the 1,000 callers per hour it received over a six-week period. They also appeared in a video for ShoWest, a theater-owner convention, to promote the film. Columbia spent approximately $10 million on marketing, including $2.25 million on prints, $1 million on promotional materials, and $7 million on advertising and miscellaneous costs including a $150,000 premiere for a hospital and the hotel costs for the press. Including the budget and marketing costs, it was estimated that the film would have to make at least $80 million to turn a profit.
The premiere of Ghostbusters took place on June 7, 1984, at the Avco Cinema in Westwood, California. The film received a wide release on June 8, 1984, in 1,339 theaters. During its opening weekend in North America, the film earned $13.6 million—an average of $10,040 per theater. It finished as the number one film of the weekend, ahead of horror-comedy Gremlins ($12.5 million), released the same weekend, and the action-adventure film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ($12 million), which was in its third week of release. The gross increased to $23.1 million during its first week, proving a hit for the studio, which had not had one since 1982's Tootsie (in which Murray also appeared). It broke the studio's own record at the time set by Tootsie. The film remained number one for seven consecutive weeks, grossing $146.5 million, before being ousted by musician Prince's film Purple Rain in early August. It became the second highest-grossing film of the year behind Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The film briefly regained the number one spot the following week before spending the next five weeks at number two, initially behind Red Dawn and then the thriller Tightrope. It was again the number one film for one week in mid-September and ultimately remained one of the top three grossing films for sixteen straight weeks. It began a gradual decline and fell from the list of the top ten grossing films by late October. It left cinemas in early January 1985 after thirty weeks. Ghostbusters had quickly become a hit, surpassing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as the top-grossing film of that summer. By the time it left cinemas it had earned $229.2 million, making it the second highest-grossing film of 1984, about $5 million behind Eddie Murphy's action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop ($234.8 million) which released in mid-December. Its box office gross made it the highest-grossing comedy film of its time, replacing Animal House, a title it held for six months before being replaced by Beverly Hills Cop.
Columbia had negotiated 50% of the box-office revenues or 90% of gross after expenses, depending on whichever was higher. Since the latter was the case, the studio received a 73% share of the box office profit, an estimated $128 million. The main cast members each received percentages of the gross profits or net participation of the film. While figures do not exist for all involved, a 1987 report estimated that Murray alone had earned between $20–$30 million from his share. Detailed box office figures are not available for territories outside North America, but it is estimated to have earned approximately $53 million, bringing Ghostbusters' worldwide total to $282.2 million. That year saw the release of several films that would later be considered iconic of the era, including: Gremlins, The Karate Kid, The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Romancing the Stone, and The NeverEnding Story. This was the first time in box office history that four films, including Ghostbusters, grossed over $100 million.
Ghostbusters was re-released in North America in August 1985, earning a further $9.4 million over five weeks, raising the film's theatrical gross to $238.6 million, surpassing Beverly Hills Cop to become the most successful comedy of the 1980s. A restored and remastered version of the film was released to celebrate Ghostbusters' 30th anniversary, playing for three weeks beginning in August 2014, at 700 cinemas across North America. The film grossed an additional $3.5 million, bringing the theatrical total to $242.2 million. The film has also received very limited re-releases for special events and anniversaries. Combined with available figures for territories outside of North America, the film has earned an estimated $295.2 million worldwide. Adjusted for inflation, its North American lifetime total is $576 million. According to box office tracker Box Office Mojo's own calculations, based on estimated admissions and average ticket prices in 2019, Ghostbusters has sold the equivalent of $641.2 million worth of tickets, making it one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
Ghostbusters opened to generally positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, citing it as a rare example of successfully combining a special effects blockbuster with "sly" dialogue. Ebert noted the effects existed to serve the actors' performances and not the reverse, saying it is "an exception to the general rule that big special effects can wreck a comedy." He also cited Ghostbusters as a rare mainstream film with many quotable lines. Gene Siskel enjoyed the characters interacting with each other and praised Murray's performance in particular, saying his comedic sensibilities compensated for "boring special effects". He was critical of Hudson's late addition to the plot as Winston Zeddemore and the character's lack of development, saying it makes "him appear as only a token box office lure."
Richard Schickel similarly praised Murray, and the grace of Aykroyd and Ramis in allowing Murray to outshine them. Schickel considered Murray's character Peter Venkman a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop fully his patented comic character." He said the effects appear somewhat "tacky" and serve as a comic commentary on ghost films. Ultimately he believed praise was due to all involved for "thinking on a grandly comic scale." Dave Kehr countered that Aykroyd and Ramis were "curiously underutilized," but appreciated Murray's deadpan line readings. Kehr said Reitman is adept at improvisational comedy, but lost control of the film as the special effects gradually escalated.
Arthur Knight appreciated the relaxed style of comedy saying while the plot is "primitive," it has far more style and finesse than would be expected of the creative team behind Meatballs and Animal House. He singled out editors Sheldon Kahn and David Blewitt for creating a sustained pace of comedy and action. Despite "bathroom humor and tacky sight gags" Peter Travers said Ghostbusters was "irresistible nonsense," comparing the film to the supernatural horror film The Exorcist, but with the comedy duo Abbott and Costello starring. Travers appreciated how Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis worked together.
Joseph Gelmis described the Ghostbusters as an adolescent fantasy, comparing their firehouse base to the Batcave with a Fireman's pole and an Ectomobile on the ground floor. He said the film works as a collaborative effort between the three main Ghostbusters, particularly Murray, who dismisses the serious situations to keep them comedic. Deseret News' Christopher Hicks praised Reitman's improved directing skills, and the crew for avoiding the vulgarity found in their previous films, Caddyshack and Stripes. He felt they reached for more creative humor and genuine thrills instead. Hicks singled out Murray saying he "has never been better than he is here." He noted that Murray, Ramis and Aykroyd "wanted to be like the Marx brothers of the 80s." He complained about the finale, claiming it lost its sense of fun and was "overblown," but found the film compensated for this, since it "has ghosts like you've never seen".
On a more critical note, Janet Maslin said that Murray's talents were in service to a film lacking wit or coherence. She noted many of the characters had little to do, leaving their stories unresolved as the plot began to give way to servicing the special effects instead. For Maslin, Ghostbusters worked during the small ghost-catching scenes, but was out of hand during the apocalyptic finale. However, she did praise Weaver's performance as an "excellent foil" for Murray. Variety said Ghostbusters mistakenly had top comedians but often had them working alone, calling it a "lavishly produced" film that is only periodically impressive. Variety also singled out Murray for his "endearing" physical comedy and ad-libbing. Newsweek's David Ansen enjoyed the film, describing it as a teamwork project where everyone works "toward the same goal of relaxed insanity"; he called the film "wonderful summer nonsense". Pauline Kael had problems with the chemistry among the three lead actors. She praised Murray, but felt that other actors did not have much material to contribute to the story; she concluded, "Murray's lines fall on dead air."
Ghostbusters was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1985: Best Original Song for "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr. (losing to Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from The Woman in Red), and Best Visual Effects for John Bruno, Richard Edlund, Chuck Gaspar and Mark Vargo (losing to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
That same year, the film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (losing to Romancing the Stone), Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Murray (losing to Dudley Moore in Micki & Maude), and Best Original Song for Parker Jr., (losing again to "I Just Called to Say I Love You"). "Ghostbusters" went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Original Song, and Edlund was nominated for Special Visual Effects (losing again to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). It won Best Fantasy Film at the 12th Saturn Awards.
Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on August 11, 1984, two months after the film's release, and remained there for three weeks. It spent a total of 21 weeks on the charts. The theme is estimated to have added $20 million to the film's box office gross. Directed by Reitman, the "Ghostbusters" music video was number one on MTV, and features cameos by celebrities including: Chevy Chase, Irene Cara, John Candy, Melissa Gilbert, Ollie E. Brown, Jeffrey Tambor, George Wendt, Al Franken, Danny DeVito, Carly Simon, Peter Falk, and Teri Garr. None of the actors were paid for participating, but did so as a favor to Reitman. Shortly after the film's release, Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr, for plagiarism, alleging he had copied the melody (primarily the bassline) from Lewis' 1983 song "I Want a New Drug". The case was settled out of court in 1985 for an undisclosed sum and a confidentiality agreement that prohibited discussing the case. According to Parker, Jr. there were several lawsuits at the time, because "when you sell that many records, I think everybody wants to say that they wrote the song." Parker, Jr. later sued Lewis for breaching the confidentiality agreement in a 2001 episode of VH1's Behind the Music, where he reasserted that Parker, Jr. stole the song. Regarding his case against Lewis, Parker, Jr. said, "I got a lot of money out of that." In 1984, the filmmakers were also sued by the makers of Casper the Friendly Ghost for $50 million and the destruction of the film. They alleged the Ghostbusters logo was based on their character Fatso. The case was decided in Columbia's favor.
Murray left acting for four years following the release of Ghostbusters. He described the film's success as a phenomenon that would forever be his biggest accomplishment and, compounded by the failure of his personal project The Razor's Edge (1984), he felt "radioactive". He chose to avoid making movies until 1988 when he appeared in the Christmas comedy film Scrooged. Murray was paid $6 million to star in it; his multi-year absence had increased his audience draw and his fee. Art Linson said that aside from Eddie Murphy, Murray's was the only other name that could sell $10 million worth of tickets in the opening three to four days. Scrooged even traded on Ghostbusters' popularity in its marketing, using the tagline that Murray was "back among the ghosts". In a 1989 interview, Reitman said he was upset at the "little respect" he felt Ghostbusters received and that his work was not taken seriously, believing many dismissed it as just "another action-comedy".
Hudson for his part looked on the film fondly and with lament. He regretted the marginalization of his character from the original script, as many of Winston's major scenes were passed to Murray. He felt Ghostbusters did not improve his career as he had hoped, or been promised, and in some cases, it had cost him roles. Hudson turned to television after Ghostbusters appearing in several shows. He considered his experience had taught him how to adjust when things did not go his way. In a 2014 interview, Hudson said: "I love the character and he's got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there. I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating—kind of a love/hate thing, I guess." As for Atherton, based on Murray's ad-libbed insult of "dickless", he claimed that even in the mid-1990s, fans would still refer to him as such on the streets to his ire.
Ghostbusters has been analyzed as an era-appropriate example of Republican or Libertarian ideology, in particular Reagan era economics popularized by then United States President Ronald Reagan. Reaganomics focused on limited government spending and regulation in favor of a free market provided by the private sector of entrepreneurship, profit motives, and individual initiative.
Analysts point to the film's premise of a small private business obstructed by an arrogant, incompetent bureaucrat (Walter Peck) from a government agency (the Environmental Protection Agency). It is because of this interference that the Ghostbusters' ghost containment unit is compromised, unleashing spirits upon the city and triggering Gozer's arrival. Indeed, when Peck arrives to shutter the Ghostbusters, Egon affirms "this is private property". In this sense, it is Peck, not Gozer, who represents the film's true villain. Others note that after losing their jobs at the university, Aykroyd's character is upset because their public sector funding required little of them. He had worked in the private sector where, "They expect results."
The Washington Examiner notes that it is the private sector that arrives to combat the increasing supernatural activity in New York, for a fee, while the government is incapable of doing anything. As Vox notes, the mayor, a government representative, is motivated to release the Ghostbusters to defeat the godly threat after being reminded that their success will save the lives of "millions of registered voters", a cynical view of an official who is motivated mainly by what will allow him to retain his position. Both Aykroyd and Reitman have confirmed these are intentional allusions. Reitman, in particular, considers himself a "conservative-slash-libertarian".
Ghostbusters was released on VHS in October 1985, in competition with the home release of Beverly Hills Cop. Paramount had scheduled the film for release the day before Ghostbusters. In response, Columbia moved Ghostbusters' release a week earlier. Removed from direct competition, it was predicted to sell well, though it was expected the equally popular Beverly Hills Cop would do better, given its $29.95 price compared to Ghostbusters $79.95. Columbia developed a $1 million ad campaign to promote the VHS release. It was the tenth bestselling VHS during its launch week. The purchase of rights to manufacture and sell cassettes was estimated to have made a further $20 million for Columbia. A then-record 410,000 initial VHS units of the film were ordered (exceeded a few months later by Rambo: First Blood Part II's 425,000 unit order). By February 1986, it was estimated to have sold 400,000 copies and earned $32 million in revenue, making it the third best-selling VHS of 1985, after Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (425,000 units, $12.7 million) and Beverly Hills Cop (1.4 million units sold, $41.9 million).
The film was released in 1989 on LaserDisc, a format then experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Ghostbusters was released as a one-disc CLV version, and a two-disc special edition CAV version featuring deleted scenes, a split-screen demonstration of the film's effects, the screenplay, and other special features. In a 1999 interview for the first DVD release of the film, Reitman admitted that he had not been involved in the LaserDisc version and had been embarrassed by the visual changes that "pumped up the light level so much you saw all the matte lines", highlighting flaws in the special effects. Ghostbusters was also the first full-length film to be released on a USB Flash Drive when PNY Technologies did so in 2008.
Blu-ray disc editions were released to celebrate the film's 25th, 30th, and 35th anniversaries in 2009, 2014, and 2019. They featured remastered 4K resolution video quality, deleted scenes, alternate takes, fan interviews and commentaries by crewmembers and actors including Aykroyd, Ramis, Reitman, and Medjuck. The 35th-anniversary version came in a limited edition steel book cover and contained unseen footage including the deleted "Fort Detmerring" scene. Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" received special edition vinyl record releases, one as a glow in the dark record—the other a white record presented in a marshmallow-scented jacket. A remaster of Bernstein's score was also released in June 2019, on CD, digital, and vinyl formats. It includes four unreleased tracks, and commentary by Bernstein's son Peter.
Following its release Ghostbusters was considered a phenomenon and highly influential. The Ghostbusters's theme song was a hit, and Halloween of 1984 was dominated by children dressed as Ghostbusters. It is considered one of the first blockbusters and is credited with refining the term to effectively create a new genre that mixed comedy, science fiction, horror, and thrills. Ghostbusters also confirmed that the merchandising success of Star Wars (1977) was not a fluke. A successful, recognizable brand could be used to launch spin-offs, helping establish a business model in the film industry that has since become the status quo. Once Ghostbusters' popularity was clear, the studio aggressively cultivated its profile, translating it into merchandising and other media such as television, extending its profitable lifetime long after the film had left theaters.
Entertainment industry observers credit Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live with reversing the industry's negative perception of New York City in the early 1980s. Weaver said: "I think it was a love letter to New York and New Yorkers. Central Park West, and Tavern on the Green, and the horses in the park, and the doorman saying, 'Someone brought a cougar to a party'—that's so New York. When we come down covered with marshmallow, and there are these crowds of New Yorkers of all types and descriptions cheering for us as a New York—it was one of the most moving things I can remember." It is similarly credited with helping diminish the divide between television and film actors. Talent agent Michael Ovitz said before Ghostbusters television actors were never considered for anything but minor roles in film.
Lasting critical reception
Ghostbusters's positive reception has lasted well beyond its release, and it is considered one of the most important comedy films ever made. On its 30th anniversary in 2014, The Hollywood Reporter's entertainment industry-voted ranking named it the seventy-seventh best film of all time. That same year, Time Out rated Ghostbusters five out of five, praising Reitman's direction, Murray's performance, the script, the special effects, and the soundtrack, describing the film as a "cavalcade of pure joy". It is listed in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which says:
Big-budget special effects and comedy are cleverly interwoven in this fantasy adventure ... it is Murray’s Dr. Peter Venkman, with his character’s sleazy charm and cockiness, who steals every scene ... and that is an impressive achievement indeed when you consider that his special effects costars include a gigantic, stampeding marshmallow man intent on reducing Manhattan to a pile of sugary rubble that would steal the movie away from a less skilled comic talent.
Ghostbusters is considered one of the best films of the 1980s, appearing on several lists based on this metric, including: number two by Film.com, number five by Time Out, number six by ShortList, number 15 by Complex, and number 31 by Empire. It was unranked by Filmsite. The film also appeared on several media outlets' best comedy film lists—ranked number one by Entertainment Weekly, number four by IGN, number 10 by Empire, number 25 by The Daily Telegraph, and number 45 by Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes also listed the film number 71 on its list of 200 essential movies to watch. Others have named it one of the best science-fiction films, best science-fiction comedies, and best Summer Blockbusters.
In 2001, the American Film Institute ranked Ghostbusters number 28 on its 100 Years...100 Laughs list recognizing the best comedy films. In 2009, National Review ranked Ghostbusters number 10 on its list of the 25 Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years list, noting the "regulation-happy" Environmental Protection Agency is portrayed as the villain and it is the private sector that saves the day. In November 2015, the film's screenplay was listed number 14 on the Writers Guild of America's 101 Funniest Screenplays. In 2017, the BBC polled 253 critics (118 female, 135 male) from across 52 countries on the funniest film made. Ghostbusters came ninety-fifth. Contemporary review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes offers a 97% approval rating from 72 critics—an average rating of 8.14/10, which provides the consensus, "an infectiously fun blend of special effects and comedy, with Bill Murray's hilarious deadpan performance leading a cast of great comic turns". The film also has a score of 71 out of 100 on Metacritic based on eight critical reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Ghostbusters had a significant impact on popular culture and is considered a highly influential film, credited with inventing the special-effects driven comedy. Its basic premise of a particular genre mixed with comedy, and a team combating an otherworldly threat has been replicated with varying degrees of success in films like Men in Black (1997), Evolution (2001), The Watch (2012), R.I.P.D. (2013), and Pixels (2015). In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Reitman responded: "It’s an honor to know that a movie that begins with a ghost in a library now has a spot on the shelves of the Library of Congress."
In 1984, the Ghostbusters phenomenon was referenced across dozens of advertisements for everything from airlines to dentistry and real estate. The "-busters" suffix became a common term used at both local and national stages, being applied to topics like the United States national budget ("budgetbusters"), agriculture ("cropbusters"), B-52s ("nukebusters") sanitation ("litterbusters"), or Pan American Airlines ("pricebusters"). Similarly, the "no ghosts" logo was modified to protest political candidates like Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale to Mickey Mouse by striking Disney workers. Other contributions to the cultural lexicon included "Who ya gonna call" from Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters", and Murray's adlib of "this chick is toast" against Gozer to imply that she was finished or doomed over the scripted line of "I'm gonna turn this guy into toast". This is thought to be the first historical usage of "toast" as a slang term.
Ghostbusters quickly developed a dedicated fan following that has continued to thrive in the years since. Despite its mainstream success, it is considered an example of a cult blockbuster—a popular film with a dedicated fanbase. It is popular globally, inspiring fan clubs, fan-made films, art, and conventions. Fans dressed as Ghostbusters occasionally burst into the main reading room of the New York Public Library. The 2016 crowdfunded documentary Ghostheads follows various fans of the series and details the impact it has had on their lives, interspersed with interviews from crew including Aykroyd, Reitman, and Weaver. Memorabilia from the film is popular, with a screen-used Proton Pack selling for $169,000 at a 2012 auction. In 2017, a newly discovered ankylosaur fossil was named Zuul crurivastator after Gozer's minion.
Describing why Ghostbusters' popularity has endured, Reitman said "kids are all worried about death and... ghost-like things. By watching Ghostbusters, there’s a sense that you can control this, that you can mitigate it somehow and it doesn’t have to be that frightening. It became this movie that parents liked to bring their kids to — they could appreciate it on different levels but still watch it together."
Ghostbusters was turned into a special-effects laden stage show at Universal Studios Florida, that ran from 1990 to 1996, based mainly on the film's final battle with Gozer. The 2019 Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida will host a haunted maze attraction featuring locations, characters, and ghosts from the film. The film has also been referenced across a variety of media including film (Casper (which featured Aykroyd as a Ghostbuster), Zombieland, Ex Machina, and Ready Player One), television (Stranger Things), and video games (Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and Planet Coaster). The celebratory parade at the film's denouement inspired the ending of the 2012 superhero film The Avengers, showing the world celebrating the eponymous team's victory.
Developing merchandise for a film was still a relatively new practice at the time of Ghostbusters' release, and it was only following the success of Star Wars merchandise (which had earned $2.6 billion by 1989) that other studios attempted to duplicate the idea. The unexpected success of Ghostbusters meant that Columbia did not have a comprehensive merchandising plan in place to fully capitalize on the film at the peak of its popularity. They were able to generate additional revenue, however, by applying the popular "no ghosts" logo to a variety of products. Much of the merchandising success came from licensing the rights to other companies based on the later success of the 1986 animated spin-off The Real Ghostbusters. Indeed, merchandise based directly on the film did not initially sell well until The Real Ghostbusters, which on its own helped generate up to $200 million in revenue in 1988, the same year the Ghostbusters proton pack was the most popular toy in the United Kingdom. A video game of the same name was released alongside the film and was considered a success. The film also received two novelizations, Ghostbusters by Larry Milne (released with the film), and Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular by Richard Mueller (released in 1985). "Making Ghostbusters", an annotated script by Ramis, was released in 1985.
In the years since its release, Ghostbusters merchandise has included: soundtrack albums, action figures, books, Halloween costumes, various LEGO and Playmobil sets including the Ecto-mobile and Firehouse, board games, slot machines, pinball machines, bobbleheads, statues, prop replicas, neon signs, ice cube trays, Minimates, coin banks, Funko Pop figures, footwear, lunch boxes, and breakfast cereals. A Slimer-inspired limited-edition citrus-flavored Hi-C's Ecto Cooler drink first released in 1987, was one of the more popular items, and did not cease production until 2001. The Slimer character became iconic and popular, appearing in video games, toys, cartoons, sequels, toothpaste, and even on juice boxes. There have also been crossover products including comic books and toys that combine the Ghostbusters with existing properties like Men in Black, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and World Wrestling Entertainment.
Sequels and spin-offs
The film's success spawned the Ghostbusters franchise, comprising animated television shows, film sequels, reboots, video games, music, and a wide variety of merchandise. The film was initially followed by the 1986 animated television series The Real Ghostbusters (later renamed Slimer! and The Real Ghostbusters). It ran for 140 episodes over seven seasons across six years, and itself spawned a spin-off Slimer-centric sub-series, comic books, and merchandise. It was followed by a sequel series with 1997's Extreme Ghostbusters. A film sequel, Ghostbusters II, was released in 1989. It earned a then-record-breaking non-holiday opening weekend gross of $29 million, and one day opening gross of $10 million, with an estimated two million more people watching the film during its opening weekend than Ghostbusters. Ultimately it earned less than the original's total gross and received a less positive critical reception.
Despite the sequel's relative failure, the name recognition and popularity of the actors and their characters meant a third film was still pursued. The concept failed to progress for many years as Murray was reluctant to participate. In a 2009 interview, he said:
We did a sequel and it was sort of rather unsatisfying for me, because the first one to me was ... the real thing. and the sequel ... They’d written a whole different movie than the one [initially discussed]. And the special-effects guys got it and got their hands on it. And it was just not the same movie. There were a few great scenes in it, but it wasn't the same movie. So there's never been an interest in a third Ghostbusters, because the second one was disappointing ... for me, anyway.
In the years that followed, Aykroyd continued his attempts to develop a sequel throughout the 1990s to the early 2010s. In 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released, featuring story produced in consultation with Ramis and Aykroyd, and the likenesses and voice acting of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Hudson, Potts, and Atherton. Set two years after Ghostbusters II, the story follows the Ghostbusters training a recruit (the player) to combat a ghostly threat related to Gozer. The game was well-received, earning award nominations for its storytelling. Aykroyd has referred to the game as being "essentially the third movie". Ghostbusters: The Return (2004) was the first in a planned-series of sequel novels before the publisher went out of business. Several Ghostbusters comic books have continued the original group's adventures across the globe and other dimensions.
Following Ramis's death in 2014, Reitman chose to no longer serve as director for a potential third film. He decided that the creative control shared by himself, Ramis, Aykroyd, and Murray was holding the franchise back and negotiated a deal with Columbia to sell the rights; he spent two weeks convincing Murray. Reitman refused to detail the deal but said that "the creators would be enriched for the rest of our lives, and for the rest of our children’s lives". He and Aykroyd set up a production company called Ghost Corps to continue and expand the franchise, starting with the 2016 female-led reboot Ghostbusters directed by Paul Feig. It starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon as the titular Ghostbusters. Before its release, the film was beset by controversies. After its release it was considered a box office bomb with mixed reviews. A second, direct sequel to the original two films was announced in January 2019, with Reitman's son Jason serving as director. Titled Ghostbusters: Afterlife and written by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan, the sequel is scheduled for a 2021 release.
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