Save This! The Ghostbusters franchise

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Welcome to Save This! Where we delve into everything from franchises, actors, filmmakers, characters and more, which have hit a wall, burnt out or otherwise meandered onto a path that deviates from their full potential or former glory. We examine where they began, where they went wrong and finally, offer some solutions to get them back on track. Let's SAVE THIS!

GHOSTBUSTERS began as the brainchild of Dan Aykroyd, fascinated by the paranormal and looking for a vehicle that he and his THE BLUES BROTHERS co-star John Belushi could star in.  Aykroyd, for his part, had been born into the paranormal, as his family had long been fascinated with it and passed it on to him. To this day, Aykroyd holds séances at his farm and his father even published a book called The History of Ghosts. To say it’s in his blood would be an understatement.

Now, the original idea was much different than what the film eventually became; a darker tale with elements of time, space, and inter-dimensional travel, while battling large, ferocious ghosts.  The “Ghostbusters” in question were more S.W.A.T.-like in nature, rather than scientists, but still with the comedy charm of the old Bowery Boys ghost films.  Once Ivan Reitman became involved the story was brought down to a modern-day setting and refined to fit a realistic budget for this first-of-its-kind spectacle comedy.

The end result was a gamble that paid off in spades. The franchise was born with what many consider a “perfect comedy” that starred some of the best comedians of the era, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis, as well as co-stars Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts, all under the direction of Reitman. It’s since rocketed to pop culture superstardom. I mean, who doesn’t know about the Ghostbusters? It’s birthed a lukewarm sequel, an animated series, comic books, videogames and merchandising galore. The only thing missing, really, was a continuation of the legacy with the principle stars.

For years we were teased with the possibility of a third film that would reunite the cast for another ghostbusin’ adventure, but numerous script and commitment issues stalled the franchise at every turn. Bill Murray, who is famous for his last-minute attachment to projects, was simply not moved by the treatments for the third film, which included a version where his Peter Venkman was a ghost and another version where they fought ghosts in an alternate dimension of Manhatten, called “Manhellton.” Murray didn’t bite and ultimately the cast grew too old (and “too fat” according to Murray) to zip back into the jumpsuits and fight evil spirits again. The passing of Harold Ramis in 2014 was the final nail in the coffin for the franchise originals ever reuniting again for a proper third act.

Sony finally announced in 2015 that it would do a reboot of the series, this time under the direction of comedy director Paul Feig. Then came the bombshell that would rock Internet message boards and social media in general; the cast would be all-female. Feig's justification was simply that “My favorite thing to do is work with funny women.” While many championed the decision as a movement in equality, it seemed to do more harm than good at the box office, as many felt that it was more gimmick than a genuine move to honor the original legacy, while reinventing a languishing franchise.

The 2016 reboot starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth was, for all intents and purposes, a misfire. While it had the best of intentions, most agreed that it simply didn’t measure up to what made the original GHOSTBUSTERS special and did very little in reinvigorating the franchise on the whole. Certainly the all-female casting controversy didn’t help matters and even with a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes the film still failed to bring in the kind of numbers the studio anticipated for such a big investment, making less than it’s budget domestically. Having franchise original, Dan Aykroyd, lash out at the film didn't help either and the vitriolic fanbase reactions (just for the trailer alone) made for some hefty negativity that followed the film everywhere it went. With that, the plans for a sequel or any subsequent spinoffs were put back in limbo, while the studio attempted to figure out just what to do with this tricky franchise.

Ivan Reitman has assured that “multiple” new films are in development, potentially outside the scope of New York, including an animated one (supposedly from the POV of the ghosts), as well as more comics and a VR game. Reitman said: “We jumped into an animated film [after the last movie] and we are developing live-action films. I want to bring all these stories together as a universe that makes sense within itself. Part of my job right now is to do that.”

So, once again the franchise seems to be at a crossroads and the question becomes not only HOW to continue it, but also IF people actually care enough to see it continue. As nostalgia tends to guide our overarching feelings for films like GHOSTBUSTERS one has to wonder if there’s a way to truly recapture that lightning in a bottle. The 2016 film seemed to attempt just that, struggling to find a balance between homage and originality, leaning mostly on the former. Indeed, the remake has many shades of the original, while lacking in its own true voice.  I found it to be entertaining enough, but none of the characters stuck with me. Is it my own nostalgia that inhibited that or was it simply not strong enough to establish its characters?

And therein lies the ultimate dilemma of the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise. Until it establishes its own unique voice with a cast of new characters we genuinely love, any follow-on films will likely befall the fate of the 2016 film, living in the shadow of the original. So, what’s the solution?  Trust me, Sony, Reitman and anyone hired to work on the series is struggling with that dilemma now and surely they’ve thought of anything I could toss out here…right? Well, I’m gonna try anyway.

First off, to continue a decades old franchise today, it’s going to rest completely on the characters. They need to relate to modern audiences, have signature traits and be made up of actors that best personify those traits. Hiring a bunch of funny people isn’t enough. Holing up and banging out the characters and story beforehand is key, even if developing them with actors in mind. That’s fine, but don’t rest on their delivery alone. Give them something to chew on, just as Aykroyd and co. made the “Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man” models for Venkman, Stantz and Spengler. Make them stand out. Make them memorable. Give them a defining voice.

Secondly, don’t gimmick cast. We can go round-and-round on this, but I think social media and message boards have covered the gamut on the controversy. Bottom line, we don’t need four female, four males, four white people, four black people, or any standardized gimmick mix to sell another Ghostbusters film. If you want to try for diversity then you need to be diverse. What we need is four (or more) talented people. It doesn’t matter what color their skin is or what gender they identify as. What matters is that they’re talented, funny and fit the characters that are written on the page. White males, black females, Asian males, Hispanic females, Indian males, whatever. Seek out great talent and mix it up. If you want it to be three white guys and one black guy again, then go for it (although the SJW universe will likely crucify you online). Personally, I think a healthy mix is necessary, for all reasons imaginable. Channing Tatum, Anna Kendrick, Aziz Ansari, Ali Wong, Hannibal Buress, Aubrey Plaza, Keegan Michael Key, Ellie Kemper, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pratt, Jonah Hill, Donald Glover, Dev Patel, Randall Park, Anna Faris, Ryan Reynolds, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Stone, etc., etc. I could go on forever, but you could take any of those names, slap them on a prize wheel and spin your way to a great cast for a GHOSTBUSTERS film.

Now, you could go the route of casting really big names as well, but keep in mind that the original was a film that elevated the cast, who were mostly TV names from SNL with a few comedies under their belt, but not big-time megastars. You cast Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer and Zac Efron in a GHOSTBUSTERS movie and you end up with personalities overshadowing the film itself (and bringing their own blend of baggage to boot). While we love the actors that inhabited the original roles, it was the characters they played that made us love the film (and love them more as actors as a result). Stunt casting with big names is both distracting and, more importantly, expensive.

Lastly, the series needs some reinvention. We don’t need a retread of the formula. Take it in a new direction. Introduce some new ideas. It shouldn’t just be another riff on floating apparitions all over New York City with a race against time to trap them all and save the city. There’s a movie on Netflix called SPECTRAL that kind of got dumped and it reminded me a lot of a more straightforward, modern-take on GHOSTBUSTERS (it's almost a "What if Michael Bay directed Ghostbusters" actually). It has some unique and fun ideas, even if lacking in execution. Even if not a successful venture, it still presented something new and interesting and provides a realm of possibility that GHOSTBUSTERS could venture into.

Give us characters with backstory, with signature traits, with memorable names and personalities that get us invested in them. Then, drop them into the paranormal realm, band them together, shake things up and see what happens. Maybe one character is a ghost hunter on TV whose show just gets canceled. Another could be a legitimate scientist that’s somehow proven that ghosts exist, but is shunned from the community for doing so. Another could be a military character that worked in clandestine paranormal operations. One of them could be a clairvoyant who has lived with these experiences their entire life. Look, I’m doing your job for you, Sony. Bottom line, there’s a mountain of material to draw from that doesn’t revolve around carbon copies of everything that came before.

Reitman spearheading the property feels like the right fit, but bringing in a filmmaker that isn’t just good at comedy, but also the balance of it with character and vision is also a must. I think it would best fit some emerging talent at that, perhaps Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Jordan Peele, Dan Kwan/ Daniel Scheinert (SWISS ARMY MAN), Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Matt Ross (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC) or Tim Miller, amongst others. Or, some established talent, like Evan Goldberg, Nicholas Stoller, Greg Mottola, Edgar Wright (shit, could you imagine?), Taika Waititi, Phil Lord & Chris Miller, David Gordon Green, Brad Bird, again, amongst many others. Bottom line, the series needs a talent that can grasp all aspects of the genre, while injecting their own sense of energy, skill and vision. That’s not to sell Feig short, who did exactly what he’s good at for the 2016 film, it just didn’t take as well. He’s a talented director otherwise and simply had better luck with other films, such as SPY and BRIDESMAIDS. The franchise just needs someone with a different palate.

So, in saving the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise there are many options. I can’t imagine anything I’ve presented here as never crossing the minds of Sony execs, Aykroyd or Reitman at one point or another, but the hope is that they’re heeding at least some of these ideas to shepherd in a fitting continuation of this series. Character before performer, a reinvention of story and finally a filmmaking team that can help make those two things come to life in a new and exciting way that pays just enough homage to nostalgic viewers, while making the franchise viable for the next generation. It’s harder than it sounds, of course, but keeping those principles in mind feels like the thing that could very well SAVE the GHOSTBUSTERS.

What do YOU think? Is this a franchise worth saving? If so, what are YOUR ideas to bring it back from the dead?


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