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The Blockbuster Hit That Was 1984’s Ghostbusters

“Who ya gonna call?”

For fans of movies that ruled the box office in the 1980s, there’s no answer other than “Ghostbusters.”

In 1984, the comedic prowess of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ivan Reitman, and Harold Ramis collided in a comedic tour-de-force that became cinematic gold. Columbia Pictures surprisingly gave the green light to Ghostbusters based on Reitman’s pithy pitch: “Ghost janitors in New York.”
And just like that, a movie about the paranormal was underway, and over-the-top profits were about to be realized.


A Movie That Had More Than A Ghost Of A Chance Of Being Made

According to movie legend and lore, Aykroyd’s paranormal family history influenced the Ghostbusters storyline and characters. Reportedly, Aykroyd grew up in a family of parapsychologists, including a great-grandfather who was a noted “psychic investigator” known for conducting séances with mediums in the family barn. His predilection for the paranormal was passed on to Aykroyd’s grandfather, who applied his expertise as an engineer for the Bell Telephone Company to make a “ghost” radio.

Aykroyd leaned on his family’s experience with the paranormal when developing the Ghostbusters movie. He originally envisioned Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, and legions of ghost fighters waging battles across space and time. When Aykroyd initially pitched his idea to Reitman, the writer/director burst his bubble, informing him that such a film would require a budget exceeding $300 million. From that point on, the movie was whittled down to a more manageable concept.

Photo: CinemaPhoto/Corbis

The Best Laid Plans…

Aykroyd’s dream casting was not to be: The death of John Belushi and the ascendance of Eddie Murphy as a megastar forced Aykroyd to rethink his original plans. Before Murray and Ramis were cast, several other actors, including Chevy Chase, Michael Keaton, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Walken, and John Lithgow, were all considered for ghostbuster roles. John Candy was originally slated to assume the role of Louis Tully but was passed over for the part when he insisted that he be considered the star of the movie and that his character be portrayed as a German who kept dozens of dogs. Sigourney Weaver ended up being the only original casting choice; she nailed her audition by barking like one of the Hounds of Hell to prove that she could act possessed.


Special Effects That Were More Charming Than Effective

Much of the charm that suffuses Ghostbusters derives from its endearing physicality rather than state-of-the-art, dazzling special effects. Digital enhancements and CGI didn’t play a prominent role in what was eventually seen on screen.


For example, the Godzilla-like character of Mr. Stay-Puft, who was a cross between the Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy, was created by a real actor who stuffed himself into a large, puffy, voluminous suit. When the character of Walter Peck eventually gets squished by the remnants of Mr. Stay-Puft, the movie crew planned to cover the actor William Atherton with 500 gallons of shaving cream; Atherton expressed serious reservations about the plans. The crew instead tried dropping 75 pounds of shaving cream onto his stunt double, which knocked him to the ground. In the end, the scene was completed using just 50 pounds of puffy cream.


And More Special Effects

Even Slimer, the churlish green ghost which haunts the Sedgewick Hotel, was no stranger to simple special effects. In one scene, a single peanut that had been spray-painted green served as Slimer. As animation supervisor Terry Windell observed, his team was “totally serious about making it stupid.”