40 Years Later, ‘Ghostbusters’ Proves To Be A Lightning-In-A-Bottle Original That Can’t Be Replicated

June 2024 marks the 40-year anniversary of Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters. Starring Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Dan Aykroyd as Ray Stantz, Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler, and Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore, the film captured the hearts of fans around the globe with its spooky premise and comedic characters that felt ripped out of the pages of a comic book. From the belongs-on-a-t-shirt logo to the Taylor-Swift-could-never-do-this theme song, there’s no getting around the cultural significance of this movie as it’s a multi-generational joy that never gets old – no matter how many times the VHS tape gets worn out.

Despite this pop-culture achievement, every film in the franchise that came afterward struggled to make a mark. Each sequel and reboot tried to re-bottle the magic of the original movie, but failed dismally (with only Ghostbusters II being worthy enough of touching the proton pack, but only a little). But why can’t that feeling, that pure euphoria, be rediscovered? 

Ghostbusters is about the team coming together – not the ghosts

Columbia Pictures

Putting on Ghostbusters for a rewatch, what’s clear is that Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston aren’t traditional heroes. Each of them has their own quirks and mannerisms, but they are the furthest thing from action protagonists. They are everyday men and that’s what makes their feats much more memorable. They beat the odds, prove the naysayers wrong, and become heroes in the end.

Once they start doing it over and over again, though, it becomes less special. Suddenly, they are well-equipped and experienced to battle ghouls, knowing all the tricks of the trade and how to contain these monsters. They are no longer amateurs here; they are the experts. This takes away the interest from them as characters and places the intrigue on the supernatural threats. When filmmakers do that, it’s where it becomes too cartoony – and for that, The Real Ghostbusters already exists for fans who want a monster-of-the-week animated series.

What made Ghostbusters special is witnessing how they banded together to make this “business” work. It was never about the ghosts (or Zuul, despite what the internet will tell you); this was about four guys making a wacky idea work and establishing themselves as icons for the working-class person. It’s the epitome of the American dream – but with Slimer.

The 2016 reboot didn’t work

Sony Pictures

Paul Feig’s gender-swapped Ghostbusters reboot isn’t a terrible movie by any means, despite how much the cartoon avatar social media trolls will beat their chests and proclaim it to be “dA wOrZt tHiNg eVa!!!” In fact, it holds a number of funny jokes and gags, while Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin Beckman is the quiet MVP of the film. The problem with 2016’s Ghostbusters is that it’s labeled Ghostbusters but doesn’t contain Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons without the Simpsons.

While Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates, Kristin Wiig’s Erin Gilbert, Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann, and Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan have their own story of how they form the team, this is a deliberate cash-in on the Ghostbusters franchise and everyone saw right through it. If the filmmakers had changed the name of the movie and a few minor details, it’s likely the reception would have been different. After all, no one can copyright the idea of ghost-busting – just take a look at the 1975 live-action series known as The Ghost Busters as an example. Instead, Feig’s film made the cardinal mistake of rebooting a fan-favorite property and ignoring the core of what made it special: The original team. Phew! Starting to sound like a broken record here.

The Afterlife and Frozen Empire formula ran out of steam fast

Sony Pictures

After the failure of the 2016 reboot, a decision was taken to bring back the original cast – bar Ramis who had sadly passed away – and pass on the baton to the next generation in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. While the film does its best to pay tribute to the past and include the original team in the mix, it turns into fan service rather fast and feels about as wise as the person who made the ill-fated Team Knight Rider

Afterlife‘s sequel, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, is more of the same, as it takes the new team to New York and tries to establish the next chapter in the Ghostbusters legacy. Even more tragic is how the original team falls further into the background than before. And much like the other films – bar the original – the most compelling part of the movie becomes the supernatural threat and not the protagonists. Sound familiar?

Again, this all comes back to 1984’s Ghostbusters and what makes it connect with audiences to this day. There are tons of films out there about ghouls and goblins – with probably better special effects too – but this was never the story hook in the first place. Ghost-busting is secondary to the characters, despite the deceitful title. Peter summed it up perfectly in the film, saying: “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass.” What more is there for him and his pals to do? Unless the franchise has something important to say about them once again, it’s best to leave well enough alone here.

About the author

Sergio Pereira

Sergio is an entertainment journalist who has written about movies, television, video games, and comic books for over a decade and a half. Outside of journalism, he is an award-winning copywriter, screenwriter, and novelist. He holds a degree in media studies and psychology.