It’s impossible to be an ’80s kid and never watched one of the coolest movies of the entire decade, which is Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters. It had got to be the most talked-about movie experiences not only during the summer of 1984 but maybe of all-time that’s still being talked about now. If they made an original premise like this today, it’s hard to tell if it would’ve earned the same reactions today than it did 36 years ago. But if there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who are gonna call? Just a few guys who aren’t afraid of no ghosts.
What’s the Story: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) work at Columbia University, where they study in the paranormal. When they are kicked out and unemployed, they have created a paranormal investigation and elimination business called “Ghostbusters,” where they can exterminate ghouls and supernatural beings with their brains and proton-packs, running their service inside an old firehouse. As they find more ghosts in New York City after a very slow start, only they are the ones to call if any problems occur, especially when a gateway is unlocked that could destroy the city.
As someone who loves a movie that combines three of my favorite genres of sci-fi, comedy, and action, Ghostbusters is one of the first things to come to mind that has done it most memorably. This was made at the perfect time back then, where the causal moviegoers were in a good mood to have the best time possible watching at how genius an original comedy like this is. Now, I didn’t grow up watching this as I first watched it in my early teen years and just had a blast with what I experienced. All I had going for it was this preview for the DVD release along with the sequel and the iconic poster with the No-Ghost Sign. A sci-fi comedy like this should not have worked when the script is in front of you or to any studio, but it succeeded in every direction it took when Columbia Pictures had a massive hit on their hands.
Reitman was already in the zone with comedies after the positive buzz on his last two films Meatballs and Stripes, the latter also starred Murray and Ramis, but even with his later films, none of them can even compare to the cultural impact the film brought to the entertainment world. To know he had to film this a year before its release date to rank in that money, he made it possible. And that’s, in large part, to its screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis. The original story was unconventional from what we have as it was supposed to star John Belushi and would involve time traveling and capturing ghosts in outer space. Considering Aykroyd loves his obsession with strange things like aliens and ghosts in real-life, this is right up his ally. A story like this is something little kids might’ve thought up when they had to write a story for class, and it’s a cool story to explore involving ghosts and people who believe and specialize in the paranormal. But if you watched this as a kid, how fun must’ve been to be playing this with your friends and pretending to be these heroes. Though it’s funny, you’d be surprised how certain moments we see as scary when you look at it, especially the opening in the library and the terror dogs whenever they appear.
One of the best things that will never be said in a negative light is the performances and chemistry of its lead actors. There’s literally nobody else to picture the core trio than the brilliance of Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis because they worked so well with each other in every scene and you believe they were good friends when the cameras weren’t rolling. All three of them are different from each other in many ways. Imagine if Belushi was alive, and he starred alongside Eddie Murphy. A reality I would like to see.
There might not be a key character, but I always thought Peter Venkman was the one to pay attention to the most. Outside of his dramatic performances later on and everything else shows off his comedic chops, Murray’s performance in here is the funniest he has ever been in a movie. Ever. Why? Because even though he’s playing himself, he brings that dry wit and sarcasm to this character that it ends up being hilarious whenever he delivers his dialogue. With Aykroyd and Ramis as Ray and Egon, respectively, I love their characters as well when both take their job seriously while Peter is the opposite and both of them are practically the “heart” and “brains” of the team. By the end, we really care about every one of them.
And then when talking about the rest of the performances, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore is also great who’s in it for a big pay to believe in anything. I always thought of him as one of the more overlooked characters in the series; he doesn’t become part of the team until the middle of the movie. Nonetheless, he gives off a good impression as the fourth member. But there’s also Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett, who Peter’s love interest and becomes possessed by Zuul later on. She was great, and this was when she was recognized more for her performance in 1979’s Alien and hasn’t been seen as a comedic actress. Rounding out the cast was Annie Potts as the receptionist Janine Melnitz, and one of my favorite Canadian talents Rick Moranis (originally John Candy) as Louis Tully, Dana’s nerdy accountant neighbor who will always be at the door when he’s in the hallway.
Anytime where they have to do their job and get any ghosts are reported, it gets you very excited whenever they need to use their proton-packs to capture them. Just their first official case where they have to get this green, disgusting ghost called Slimer (voiced by Reitman) or “The Ghost of John Belushi,” inside the hotel, and that’s one ghost you don’t want to be around when all it does constantly eat. But by the end, they came, they saw, and kicked its a**.
The comedy in Ghostbusters will never fail to make me laugh, and you have to find the most cynical person in the world who thinks nothing in this is funny. Even though it came out in the ’80s, there isn’t that one joke that has aged poorly. It maintained more on the subtle side of a good joke without making it either forced or ruining the tone from the other genres it’s also pursing. The entire sequence with the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the only thing kept from Dan’s original script, stomping through the city during the finale is a weird concept that managed to be freakin’ funny anytime I think about it. Something like this could’ve gone in a dangerous direction, but it wasn’t.
Some quotable lines are too perfect to forget when thinking about this: “Don’t cross the streams.” “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say “YES”!” “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” And finally, “He slimed me.”
But with every great ’80s movie, there’s always a requirement to have the most catchy theme song to accompany it, which comes in the form of Ray Parker, Jr.’s titular song that will have people busting, and knowing it makes them feel good. It never gets old. This might be my favorite theme song from any movie that has actual lyrics because it’s so hard to resist dancing along to it. Yes, both this and “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News sounds very similar, but we should all agree both are fantastic songs. Elmer Bernstein’s score should also be given a shout-out for setting the right tone for any of the scenes when used.
Fun Fact: When watching Netflix’s The Movies That Made Us, the name “Ghostbusters” was already the name of a children’s television show run by the company Filmation. So, with the studio battling for the rights, they had to shoot certain scenes twice with the title we know now and “Ghostbreakers” just in case. Another name wouldn’t ring.
If there were any problems to be had with the film, I would argue about how some visual effects might look a bit dated now, especially when the terror dogs are moving in animation form, but that’s an element to push aside when you’re completely surprised with the practical effects used that still look exceptional today, especially when the budget was around $25 million. William Atherton as Environmental Protection Agency inspector Walter Peck was the type of jerk to be represented in the story. I didn’t find him to be the kind of villain to root against when he wasn’t threatening enough for the team to go up against. But aside from those things, this is easy to recommend, though I can see how little kids can get scared from watching it.
In the world of pop culture, it was a big deal with its merchandising and the popular cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters (Never watched it). Becoming the second highest-grossing movie of the year behind Beverly Hills Cop, it earned two Academy Award nominations: Best Original Song and Best Visual Effects. The franchise continued with the 1989 sequel Ghostbusters II, which is fine, and the polarizing 2016 female reboot directed by Paul Feig. You know what, it’s a good movie. Anybody who dares to call it one of the worst movies to come out is either sexist or completely exaggerating, to where they should grow up if you’re gonna win about women in the leads. But since Ghostbusters: Afterlife has gotten pushed back to next year, I’m not anticipating it, but I’m curious to see how Jason Reitman takes over the series. We shall see next March.
With its amazing performances, great visual effects, and simple story that’s enough to be entertaining, Ghostbusters is a lot of fun to watch repeatedly without thinking about it if’s going to age well, positioning it as one of the funniest comedies to come out. For someone who doesn’t think ghosts and other supernatural things are real, I just love how I can believe they can exist while watching. If you have never watched this in your life, stop what you’re doing, grab a box of Twinkies, and watch greatness for two hours.