Where Does the ‘Ghostbusters’ Franchise Go from Here?
I loved Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Your results with the film may vary, as I think how one relates to it is very much based on your love for the original. As someone who counts the first one as one of my all-time favorites, Afterlife resonated a lot with me. Directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, a filmmaker I love for movies like Juno (2007), Young Adult (2011), and especially Up in the Air (2009), Reitman brought the right amount of reverence in no small part due to his recently deceased father Ivan Reitman directing the first two movies.
Technically, the third installment in the main Ghostbusters continuity, the film focuses on Callie (Carrie Coon), mom to teenager Trevor (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), and neurodivergent tween Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). They move to a small town in Oklahoma to live on a rundown farm that Callie inherited from her estranged, late father. As Phoebe and Trevor begin to explore their new surroundings, they meet new friends like Podcast (Logan Kim), a new friend of Phoebe’s who, as his name implies, is obsessed with recording everything for a podcast he does; Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), a love interest of Trevor’s; and Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd, charming as ever), Phoebe’s goofy summer school teacher who is the one who eventually turns her on to the history and existence of the Ghostbusters.
It turns out that Callie’s estranged father was OG Ghostbuster Egon Spengler, originally played by the late Harold Ramus. As Phoebe later learns from a phone call with fellow Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon had cut ties with the Ghostbusters and moved to Oklahoma to stop a new threat from emerging. Now, it’s up to his descendants and their friends to do their part to stop it, featuring late-movie cameo appearances by Stantz, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) to help our heroes save the day. The film concludes with a touching homage to both Egon and Ramis.
Because of the movie’s success at the box office, Ghostbusters is now back in the zeitgeist in a way it hasn’t been in decades. Because of that, I’ve thought about some potential directions I’d like the franchise to go post-Afterlife. But before we get to that, it’s time to discuss a few things.
How did we get here?
At various points throughout the 1990s, the making of Ghostbusters III was rumored to involve such stars as the late Chris Farley, Will Smith, and Ben Stiller. In a script Aykroyd wrote entitled “Ghostbusters: Hellbent,” the Busters come out into a New York City that has been turned into the underworld of Hell, with permanent rush hour traffic and everyone speaking different languages, unable to understand one another. The whole thing is run by a central villain based on Donald Trump. In the 2000s, The Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg had a script that was gaining traction and momentum before ultimately falling through. For more about Ghostbusters III’s decades languishing in development hell, I highly recommend this comprehensive history video on the subject produced by YouTuber Supervoid Cinema.
And then there was the reboot. 2016’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call was more or less a remake of the original starring a new cast of similar SNL alum, like Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, alongside Melissa McCarthy in the lead roles. This movie was hugely controversial and divisive, resulting in hate campaigns and plenty of conversation as to the nature of why an all-female reboot was necessary.
Personally, I’m not particularly fond of the movie. It has its moments and it is possible for it to elicit a chuckle or two, but the humor is forced and awkward. It didn’t seem like Paul Feig, who succeeded at directing Bridesmaids, still one of the funniest movies ever made, as well as creating a favorite TV show of mine, Freaks and Geeks, even got what Ghostbusters was meant to be. It’s clear that he wasn’t as big a fan of the first movies so much as he thought of the material as “funny people run around making jokes while catching ghosts,” which is why the movie leans so improv-heavy. That’s certainly an aspect but doesn’t fully encapsulate why the concept has resonated for so long. Cameos from the stars of the original movie didn’t seem to disguise the fact that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of love for it.
It disappointed at the box office as well, potentially derailing the long-term plans of the new Ghost Corps production company that Columbia Pictures founded in 2015 to oversee the Ghostbusters franchise, at least until Afterlife began development around 2018.
Where does Ghostbusters go from here?
The great thing about Afterlife is that it introduced us to characters we like and opened the door to new possibilities set in the original Ghostbusters universe. Personally, I’d like to see any continuation of the story to feature the core Spengler family. Now that we’ve seen how they relate to the story told in the original films, my head dances with visions of Phoebe reading the oft-referenced Tobin’s Spirit Guide, or Trevor modifying a new, 21st-century edition of the Ecto-1 that Winston Zeddemore has purchased.
I’d be really excited about a sequel in which Phoebe has to navigate typical trappings of high school while Trevor is off attending college, and they both balance secret lives carrying on their grandfather’s legacy as the next generation of Ghostbusters. Do Callie and Gary end up together, or was Afterlife merely teasing what will in actuality be a rocky relationship? That’s what happened to Peter Venkman and Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) in Ghostbusters II, after all.
But unlike some of what I would like to see happen, I imagine the likeliest scenario will be Phoebe, Trevor, their mom, Podcast, Lucky, and Mr. Grooberson as supporting players in a larger story to be set in a sequel. As it seems like the supernatural threat in Oklahoma is quelled, I imagine the sequel to mostly deal with a new threat that will emerge somewhere else, and the Spengler family & co. will be called on to help around halfway through the movie. As successful as Afterlife was, I imagine and expect that its characters will be somewhat sidelined in a sequel in order to introduce even more characters for even more sequels. Regardless, I hope we get to see more of the Afterlife cast in future installments of the franchise further down the line.
Last month, WIRED put out an article called “It’s Time for a Scary Ghostbusters Movie”. And obviously, it’s right there in the name: the Ghostbusters capture ghosts; ghosts are usually scary; therefore, Ghostbusters can afford to be a little bit scarier. And while the supernatural horror elements have always been in play, what has always separated Ghostbusters from other run-of-the-mill sci-fi franchises is its humor. All four Ghostbusters movies have all been comedies (though interestingly enough, Afterlife might be the least comedic of them all), headlined by very funny people.
To keep that element going, I think the often-teased in-universe idea of the Ghostbusters franchising their business provides some cool opportunities. Since the action has only ever been set in either New York City or now Oklahoma, I propose something I call Ghostbusters Across America, checking in on individual franchise locations in cities all across the United States and eventually having them team up to stop a much larger threat. Does the Los Angeles location bust the ghosts of dead movie starlets? Is the big demon beast in Chicago actually Mrs. O’Leary’s cow that knocked over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire? Do ghosts continue to fight the Revolutionary War in Boston? Do ghosts continue to fight the Civil War in Atlanta?
Since the sensibilities of the comedians involved always matters to these movies, here are some names of very funny people I’d be very happy if they were included: Bill Burr, John Mulaney, Wanda Sykes, Lil Rel Howery, Jason Mantzoukas, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Bert Kreischer, and Kumail Nanjiani. And to keep with Ghostbusters’ roots in Saturday Night Live, I’d love to see what current and longest-tenured cast member ever Kenan Thompson, in particular, could potentially bring.
While an international focus didn’t do much for the similarly-supernatural-comedy franchise Men in Black, I believe there could be potential material to mine in a possible Ghostbusters International movie. I, for one, would be curious to see the Ghostbusters concept expand overseas, bringing in foreign voices to this tried-and-true comedic formula.
Things were not looking great for the Ghostbusters franchise in the late 2000s. The last movie had come out 20 years before, and development had stalled on a third one. It seemed like we’d never see that original cast of characters again. That is, until the release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, first released in 2009. The video game was actually written by Ramis and Aykroyd, making it the last Ghostbusters-related media Ramis would work on before his passing in 2014. Aykroyd has called the game “essentially the third movie,” and it’s easy to see why. He, along with Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray all reprise their roles in the game’s voice cast.
Additionally, the plot of the game is a direct follow-up to the first two movies, and features such classic ghouls as Mr. Stay-Puft, Slimer, and the librarian ghost from the first movie. You play as a new rookie recruit who joins the gang as they investigate the latest paranormal disturbances in New York, ultimately culminating in a confrontation with Ivo Shandor, a villain teased in the first movie but portrayed for the first time here. (J.K. Simmons would later play the character in a small cameo in Afterlife.)
I originally played the game for Nintendo Wii while I was in college, it’s one of the few games for that console I remember not only beating, but also really enjoying. My one gripe was that the Ghostbusters looked like cartoon versions of themselves. I recently played and beat a remastered edition of the video game for the Xbox One, and thankfully the Ghostbusters all look realistic. I’ve found the game to be as immersing and fun as it was years ago.
However, its story remains largely unknown to the general public, which got me thinking: the audio and story are already there. Does that mean there’s enough there for a potential animated adaptation of the game, similar to what Resident Evil has done with their CGI spin-off movies? You’d have to trim some of the fat off the dialogue, like when controls or new abilities are explained. Hell, cut the rookie character out altogether, and recast Alyssa Milano’s character Dr. Ilyssa Selwyn with a trendy modern actor. (Gal Gadot? Florence Pugh? Zoe Kravitz? Zendaya?) Yes, it would have to be animated, but to what extent the animation could go realistic or more cartoon-like is up to the filmmakers’ discretion.
But believe me when I say that I believe in the potential of this story, particularly as a last hurrah for that original main cast of four. I think moviegoers would flock to see something like that which also fills in some of the gaps between Ghostbusters II and Afterlife.
Afterlife still leaves us with a few dangling threads that future movies can pick up. We saw Dana Barrett in a brief cameo, but what happened to her son Oscar, the baby who was at the center of the events of Ghostbusters II? We also don’t know the fate of Louis Tully, the nerdy neighbor-turned-Keymaster-turned-Ghostbusters’ lawyer-turned-Ghostbuster memorably played by Rick Moranis in the first two movies. Afterlife really doubles down on the mythology of the antagonist god Gozer as established by the first movie, does that mean future follow-ups would tie into the sequel’s antagonist, Vigo the Carpathian?
The possibilities are endless as to where Ghostbusters goes from here. Personally, I could not be more excited. The important thing is that the filmmakers involved in these future productions take risks, but also try to stay true to what made the concept so appealing in the first place. At the end of the day, there’s only one answer to the tried-and-true question: “Who ya gonna call?”