The Long And Slimy Road From "Ghostbusters" To "Afterlife"

·16 min read

For those of us who have anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife since the first trailer was released in December 2019, the arrival of the horror-comedy reboot has been long overdue.

Celeste O'Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim, Mckenna Grace in Ghostbusters Afterlife

However, the COVID-19 pandemic was only one of the many bumps in the road for the franchise, which has been haunted by problems in one form or another since even before its gestation.

Here's a look back at the history of the Ghostbusters franchise.

Kimberley French /© Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

1975: The Ghost Busters, a children’s sitcom about detectives investigating ghostly crimes starring Larry Storch, Bob Burns and Forrest Tucker, debuts on CBS.

(L-R): Spencer (Larry Storch), Kong (Forrest Tucker) and Tracy (Bob Burns) on "The Ghost Busters"

The series lasted 15 episodes before it was canceled. The series is largely unrelated to the Ghostbusters franchise with the exception of nearly affecting its title during its development, but deserves notation as a footnote in the franchise’s history nevertheless.

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During this time, Saturday Night Live premiered on NBC, which launched its cast members, including Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, into comedy stardom soon thereafter.

John Belushi, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Elliott Gould, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris during 'happy trails' on SNL
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1977: Bill Murray joins the cast of Saturday Night Live, replacing the departing Chevy Chase.

Bill Murray behind the Weekend Update desk

He, too, becomes a beloved comedy star in the years that follow.

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1978: John Belushi stars in Ivan Reitman’s Animal House, cementing his status as a viable film star.

John Belushi holding a goblet of beer in Animal House
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1979: Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi all exit from Saturday Night Live to pursue further film opportunities, including the filming of The Blues Brothers.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the Blues Brothers on Saturday Night Live.
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1980: Associate producer Jean Doumanian takes over Saturday Night Live from Lorne Michaels. The entire cast leaves in solidarity, including Bill Murray, while a new cast headed by Eddie Murphy is recruited.

Eddie Murphy, Robin Duke, Joe Piscopo, Christine Ebersole, Mary Gross, Tim Kazurinsky, Tony Rosato
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This same year, Murray collaborated with film sketch performer-turned-filmmaker Harold Ramis in Caddyshack, which became a massive financial success.

Bill Murray and a gopher in the movie Caddyshack
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1981: Dan Aykroyd, a longtime believer in the paranormal, reads an article on quantum physics and parapsychology, which inspires him to modernize the comedic ghost films of yesteryear.

Dan Aykroyd on SNL with a "Telepsychic" sign behind him

He begins to plan what would become Ghostbusters, starring himself, Belushi and Murphy, who has become the clear standout on Saturday Night Live.

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During this time, Murray and Ramis team again as co-stars in the comedy film Stripes, also directed by Ivan Reitman. The film is another massive success, and helps introduce mainstream American audiences to co-star John Candy.

(L-R) John Winger (Bill Murray) and Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) in "Stripes"
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1982: John Belushi dies from an accidental drug overdose during the development of the Ghostbusters script.

Dan Aykroyd as Eliot Ness, John Belushi as Rico during "The Untouchables" skit on February 21, 1976.

Undeterred, Aykroyd negotiates for Murray to take his place and Reitman to become attached as the director. Reitman describes the 80-page treatment as “scary and more serious in tone,” and incorporates more science fiction elements. Reitman eventually convinces Aykroyd to bring Ramis onto the project as a co-writer and co-star.

In this same year, Eddie Murphy finds more critical and commercial success in his film debut, 48 Hrs.

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1983: Reitman meets with Columbia Pictures executive Frank Price, who agrees to the film’s exceptionally large budget (estimated to be $25-30 million, which translates to nearly $80 million today) as long as the film could be delivered in 13 months, though the film had no script, effects or production start date.

director Ivan Reitman, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, 1984

Throughout the year, Aykroyd, Reitman and Ramis work on multiple drafts of the script while Murray pursues dramatic work in The Razor’s Edge. They trio also eventually recruit ILM alumni Richard Edlund to handle their special effects. Eddie Murphy was also no longer considered for the project, as his success propelled him toward his own starring vehicle, Beverly Hills Cop.

Casting commenced for Ghostbusters: Sigourney Weaver boarded the project after impressing Reitman with her audition while Ernie Hudson was eventually cast in the film as Winston Zeddemore after five rounds of auditions. John Candy was initially earmarked for the role of Louis Tully, but did not understand the part and declined the role. Reitman later offered the part to Rick Moranis, with whom Ramis had worked on the Canadian sketch series SCTV. Paul Reubens was likewise offered the role of Gozer the Gozarian when the character was envisioned as an evil architect, but ultimately passed.

Filming began in New York City on Ghostbusters in October 1983, lasting six weeks before continuing production in Los Angeles until the end of January 1984.

Columbia Pictures / ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

1984: With the film’s release date looming, Reitman opted to begin post-production during filming, and the first cut of the film was completed in February of 1984.

(L-R): Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray on the set of "Ghostbusters"

Elmer Bernstein composed the film’s score while the studio began to search for artists to develop the Ghostbusters theme song, including Huey Lewis and Lindsey Buckingham. Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song was eventually selected.

The film first received a test screening shortly after completion, which received a stellar reaction, while industry screenings at the studio did not fare as well. Columbia Pictures would subsequently utilize a $10 million marketing campaign that would focus on familiarizing audiences with the now-iconic Ghostbusters logo.

Columbia Pictures / ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ghostbusters would release to $13.6 million as the number one film in its opening weekend in June 1984. In its first week, the film grossed more than $23 million.

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, 1984

Ghostbusters would remain the number one film in the United States for seven consecutive weeks, losing the number one spot to Purple Rain in August before temporarily regaining the lead in the following week. By the end of 1984, the film had accrued nearly $230 million at the box office, bested only by Beverly Hills Cop by $5 million. The film was a massive critical success as well.

The Ghostbusters theme song was a smash hit as well, spending three weeks in the number one spot of the Billboard Hot 100. As a result of the similarities to his song “I Want a New Drug,” Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism, a case that was settled out-of-court the following year. Harvey Cartoons also sued Columbia Pictures, alleging the Ghostbusters logo was a copy of Fatso from Casper, The Friendly Ghost, though the court eventually sided with Columbia in the case.

Ghostbusters’ popularity inspired a number of video games based on the property released for various consoles between 1984 and 1987.

© Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

1985: In an effort to overtake Beverly Hills Cop as the highest grossing comedy (at the time), Ghostbusters was re-released in the U.S. and Canada in August 1985.

Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson.

The film earned another $9.4 million over five weeks.

In October 1985, Ghostbusters was released on VHS, which resulted in more than $32 million in additional revenue in the subsequent months.

Following the failure of The Razor’s Edge and the immense popularity of Ghostbusters, Bill Murray took a sabbatical from acting, appearing only briefly in 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors until his leading role in Scrooged in 1988.

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1986: Spurred on by the massive success of Ghostbusters, an animated series titled The Real Ghostbusters, debuted on ABC in 1986.

cartoon of ghostbusters

Highly successful, the series ran for 140 episodes over the course of seven seasons. The Real Ghostbusters also inspired myriad merchandising options, including an arcade game, comic books and various other collectibles.

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1987: Though Columbia Pictures had initially wanted to pursue a sequel to Ghostbusters, various roadblocks kept the sequel from moving forward, from the studio’s reluctance to approve a more expensive follow-up to the hesitation of franchise co-creators Reitman, Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis.

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Ernie Hudson attend the premiere of the movie Ghostbusters in 1984

Murray’s commitment on Scrooged also forced development to delay while disagreements on the script caused a rift between the principal cast and crew.

In 1987, Columbia Pictures executive David Puttnam announced Ghostbusters II would enter production later in the year, despite not having a script. Dawn Steel was later appointed as the president of Columbia Pictures in that same year, but was tasked with ensuring the sequel got off the ground. Eventually, a production start date was pushed to Summer 1988 as talent deals were negotiated.

Additionally, the popularity of Slimer on The Real Ghostbusters inspired the release of Hi-C’s Ecto Cooler, a beverage that became equally as popular and continued to be produced until 2001.

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1988: Ghostbusters II filmed in New York City and Los Angeles between November 1988 and March 1989, with Reitman coming straight off of the production of Twins onto the film.

(L-R): Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray on the set of "Ghostbusters II"

The principal cast returned for the sequel while Peter MacNicol, Max von Sydow, Kurt Fuller and Wilhelm von Homburg joined the cast.

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1989: Test screenings of Ghostbusters II result in tumultuous reactions, resulting in the filming of a new ending and extensive reshoots following principal production.

Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson in1989

During this time, the film began to shape a more hip-hop influenced soundtrack, featuring an updated version of the theme song featuring Run-DMC and two songs from Bobby Brown. Meanwhile, Randy Edelman was hired as the film’s composer and ILM was chosen to handle the film’s special effects.Moreover, the original Ghostbusters was released on LaserDisc, which is now a major collector’s item although maligned by Reitman for visual changes implemented for the format.

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Ghostbusters II was released in June of 1989, opening to a $29.5 million weekend gross.

The film would eventually obtain $112.5 million in North America and $215 million worldwide. Ghostbusters II did not receive the critical or fan acclaim as the original but was ultimately widely successful. The film received a VHS release in November 1989, where it became a boon to the rental marketplace.

The film would eventually obtain $112.5 million in North America and $215 million worldwide. Ghostbusters II did not receive the critical or fan acclaim as the original but was ultimately widely successful. The film received a VHS release in November 1989, where it became a boon to the rental marketplace.

Columbia Pictures / ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

1990: With Ghostbusters fever riding high, the franchise was extended into an immersive, special-effects laden stage show at Universal Studios Florida, which operated from 1990 to 1996, at which point its license expired.

screenshot from video of universal studios show

The show transformed over the years, including a pre-show that involved Louis Tully and audience interaction, and at one point, the show utilized some of the largest working animatronics in the world.

Despite many industry experts perceiving Ghostbusters II as a failure compared to the original film, development proceeded on a potential third entry for years, though Murray’s reluctance to return to the franchise frequently stifled any progress. Throughout the 1990s, Aykroyd attempted to produce a sequel with a new cast titled Ghostbusters III: Hellbent, in which the Ghostbusters would go to a version of Hell resembling Manhattan. According to Harold Ramis, the film was hoping to attach Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and Chris Farley among the new cast for this iteration.

Alfred DiBlasi / youtube.com

1995: Dan Aykroyd appears as his Ghostbusters character Ray Stantz in Brad Silberling’s Casper, marking the only time a primary Ghostbusters character appears in a film outside of the franchise.

dan aykroyd in Casper
Universal Pictures

1997: A follow-up series to The Real Ghostbusters, Extreme Ghostbusters, debuts on BKN six years after the finale of the former series.

Slimer, Garrett Miller, Kylie Griffin, Eduardo Rivera, Roland Jackson, Egon Spengler, 1997

Featuring the voice talents of Billy West, Alfonso Ribeiro, Tara Strong and Maurice LaMarche, Extreme Ghostbusters was cancelled after 40 episodes while the cast of The Real Ghostbusters reprised their roles for the series’ two-part finale.

©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

1999: Dan Aykroyd completes his screenplay for Ghostbusters III, but lack of involvement from the original cast keeps the film in development hell.

Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase during 25th Annual NATO/ShoWest Convention

In the years that follow, Aykroyd enlists in sitcom writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky to pen a new draft of the film.

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2006: Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, makes his feature film directorial debut with the biting satire Thank You for Smoking.

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) in "Thank You For Smoking"

The film is a critical success and makes waves on the independent film marketplace, spurring Reitman to follow with similar small-scale dark comedies, such as Juno and Up in the Air, for both of which he is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.

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2008: Revived interest in Ghostbusters begins to arise as development on Ghostbusters: The Video Game is made public and Sony announces plans for another film in the Ghostbusters franchise, potentially without the original cast.

ghostbusters video game

IDW announces a line of official Ghostbusters comic books for release in 2011.

Meanwhile, Aykroyd announces that Ghostbusters III will still happen with Eisenberg & Stupnitsky’s script in tow while publicly displaying interest in bringing aboard Judd Apatow as a producer and Seth Rogen to star. There is no public information as to whether there was any movement at all regarding Apatow or Rogen’s involvement.

Atari

2009: Ghostbusters: The Video Game is released on multiple gaming platforms, for which Aykroyd, Hudson, Murray and Ramis all provided their voice talents and likenesses.

ghostbusters video game

The game was a massive critical and commercial success, and momentum was gained for the possibility of bringing the original Ghostbusters cast back for one last film.

Atari

2012: Jason Reitman touches upon his father’s legacy with his star-studded LACMA Live Reads in December 2012, which sees Seth Rogen reading as Peter Venkman, Jack Black reading as Ray Stantz, Rainn Wilson reading as Egon Spengler, Phil LaMarr reading as Winston Zeddemore and Kristen Bell reading as Dana Barrett, to name a few.

photo of the reading

The reading makes headlines and is incredibly well-received.

Jonathan Leibson / WireImage

2013: Unconfirmed online reports begin hitting media outlets that the Eisenberg & Stupnitsky draft had undergone another rewrite, with the current iteration of the script having been offered to Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.

a ghostbusters t-shirt

Not long after additional unverified reports that all three actors passed on the respective script, a 2009 draft of Eisenberg & Stupnitsky’s screenplay leaks online in what many believed to be the death knell for that iteration of the project.

Later in 2013, Reitman teamed with Etan Cohen and Dan Aykroyd to develop a new script while Reitman received pressure from Columbia Studios to bring in a younger director for the sequel.

Exciting Films Productions / WireImage

2014: In a tragic turn, Harold Ramis passes away in February.

harold ramis at a movie premiere

Shortly before his passing, Ramis and Murray, who had not spoken since the production of Groundhog Day, made amends. Following Ramis’ passing, Ivan Reitman convinced Aykroyd, Murray and Ramis’ family to sell their creative control of the Ghostbusters franchise so that Columbia could move forward with a reboot.

In celebration of Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary, the film and its sequel receive a 4K restoration and remaster. The 4K-remastered Ghostbusters is given a limited theatrical release across North America in August 2014, during which time it garners an additional $3.5 million at the box office. Both Ghostsbuster films are released on Blu-ray soon thereafter.

Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Around this time, Sony and Columbia Pictures announced that a new Ghostbusters film would film in 2015 with Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig at the helm with an all-woman lead cast and no connection to the existing Ghostbuster canon.

Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Feig, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in the first promotional still for "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call"

The announcement was controversial in Ghostbuster fan communities, which soon became plagued with misogynistic rhetoric bashing the production.

©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Co / Everett Collection

2015: Ghostbusters (2016) officially cast Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the new stars of the franchise in January 2015.

  ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Co / Everett Collection
©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Co / Everett Collection

In March 2015, Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd announced the establishment of Ghost Corps, a collective dedicated to expanding the Ghostbusters into a cinematic universe with additional announcements regarding television projects and merchandising opportunities to come.

Dan Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman

The first film in the company’s docket would be a male-centric Ghostbusters connected to Feig’s film, directed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Joe and Anthony Russo. The film would star Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, the latter of whom was announced as a producer.

In June 2015, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters entered principal photography while the Russo’s Ghostbusters would ultimately dissolve soon thereafter. Filming would conclude in September 2015.

The United States Library of Congress notably selected Ghostbusters for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2015, describing the film as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Lester Cohen / WireImage

2016: Ghostbusters, now with the subtitle Answer the Call, was released to theaters in July 2016. With a budget of $144 million, the film eventually earned $128.3 million in North America and $100.8 million internationally, leading to a disappointing worldwide total of $229.1 million.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in Ghosbusters

While the film received positive acclaim from critics, the online backlash against the film, its steep promotional budget and its lack of international appeal led to the film’s financial failure.

In November 2016, Paul Feig disclosed that a sequel to Ghostbusters: Answer the Call would not be moving forward, though he defended the film’s quality and the franchise’s viability. In the same month, Reitman would break the news that an animated television series titled Ghostbusters: Ecto Force would debut in 2018, and that an animated Ghostbusters film would be developed shortly. As of 2021, neither of these projects have come to fruition.

Columbia Pictures / ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Co / Everett Collection

2019: In January 2019, Sony announces that a Ghostbusters film that would serve as the canonical third film in the franchise would be moving forward with Jason Reitman recruited as the film’s director and co-writer alongside Monster House filmmaker Gil Kenan.

ivan reitman at a ghostbusters premiere

Ghost Corps would produce the film for a Summer 2020 release with Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, Weaver and Annie Potts returning to their respective roles.

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Between March and July 2019, Ghostbusters: Afterlife would assemble its cast, including Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon, Annabelle Comes Home’s Mckenna Grace, Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, Selah and the Spades’ Celeste O’Connor and Anchorman’s Paul Rudd. Filming is completed between July and September 2019.

Ivan Reitman (second from left), director Jason Reitman (left of center, in profile), Finn Wolfhard (hands on hips), Logan Kim (right of center, striped shirt), and the Ecto-1

In September 2019, Universal Studios locations in Hollywood and Florida open a haunted maze attraction based on the original Ghostbusters in light of its 35th anniversary. The attraction marks the franchise’s return to the Florida park following the closure of Ghostbusters Spooktacular in 1996.

Kimberley French /© Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic forces Ghostbusters: Afterlife to shift release dates, relocating to March 5, June 11 and, ultimately, November 19, 2021.

Paul Rudd, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray step onstage at the GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE World Premiere
Theo Wargo / Getty Images for Sony Pictures

2021: Ghostbusters: Afterlife finally hits theaters on November 19, 2021.

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife"

The film received a warm critical reception and a solid audience response, propelling the film to a stronger-than-projected $44 million opening weekend.

Though no official announcement has been made yet, director Jason Reitman has indicated that there have been discussions of a sequel moving forward.

Everett Collection
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