Encore

High Spirits

''Ghostbusters'' technology remembered -- The special-effects comedy scared audiences silly when it premiered 16 years ago

A giant marshmallow is stomping Central Park West! Slime- spewing ghouls are spooking little old ladies at the New York Public Library! Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver are going at it like rabid demon dogs! Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

And none too soon. When Ghostbusters premiered on June 8, 1984, Columbia Pictures hadn't had a hit since 1982's Tootsie, and its summer was in the hands of four dudes who looked like they'd have trouble exterminating a cadre of cockroaches. Indeed, Roberto C. Goizueta, the then chairman of Coca-Cola (which owned Columbia at the time), said, ''When I came out of Ghostbusters, I thought, Gee, we're going to lose our shirts.''

But producer-director Ivan Reitman claims he knew they were sitting on an ectoplasmic gold mine: ''It was one of those movies that parents could take kids to, that teenagers could go to, that adults, whatever their ages, could go see.''

Dan Aykroyd originally wrote the script with himself and John Belushi in mind as ghost fighters in outer space. After Belushi's 1982 death, Bill Murray, another Saturday Night Live alum, stepped in, and then Murray's Stripes co-conspirators Harold Ramis and Reitman hopped on board. They retooled Ghostbusters as a sort of Exorcist spoof: Aykroyd, Murray, and Ramis — along with Ernie Hudson — play scientists who use nuclear-powered zappers to rid New York City of a horde of supernatural invaders.

From the get-go, the movie possessed audiences, grossing $23 million in its first week, a studio record at the time. Assisted by Ray Parker Jr.'s Oscar-nominated theme song, Ghostbusters — which cost $30 million — earned $239 million domestically, outsliming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Beverly Hills Cop to become 1984's top movie. It remains the third-highest-grossing comedy ever, and while other F/X-heavy funny pics have attempted to hike the trail it blazed, they've met with wildly varying degrees of success (e.g., Men in Black and Howard the Duck).

The Ghostbusters franchise, on the other hand, endured as an animated series, The Real Ghostbusters, which debuted in 1986. And although 1989's Ghostbusters 2 wasn't as big a hit (it made $113 million in North America), Aykroyd has reportedly written a Ghostbusters 3 script. But Reitman doesn't think it'll ever get off the ground: ''I think [Aykroyd] wanted to continue more than any of us. For us it was a great experience that didn't necessarily have to be repeated. Until there's a real compelling creative reason, I doubt if it will be.'' In the meantime, if there's something strange in your neighborhood, you're on your own.


Time Capsule: June 8, 1984
At the movies, Gremlins scares scores of kids right into toy stores. In music, the soundtrack to Footloose (starring Kevin Bacon) spends its seventh week atop the Billboard chart, while Deniece Williams' ''Let's Hear It for the Boy,'' is the No. 1 single. In bookstores, John Updike's Wiccan tome The Witches of Eastwick is a best-seller. And in the news, the Republican National Committee chairman predicts a close race between President Reagan and Walter Mondale. Five months later, Reagan wins by the largest electoral vote total in history.

Originally posted Jun 09, 2000 Published in issue #544 Jun 09, 2000 Order article reprints
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