Ivan Reitman: Why We’re Still Talking About ‘Ghostbusters’ 30 Years Later
Ghostbusters would go on to earn $229,242,989, and become the second highest grossing movie of 1984 (Beverly Hills Cop managed to out-earn it by about $5.5 million). In 1989, five years after the original film was released, a sequel — Ghostbusters II — hit theaters. Though reviews were mixed, it earned $112,494,738 at the box office, which was enough to make it the seventh highest grossing movie of the year.
None of us wanted to do a sequel right away. Bill has always been tough about everything that he’s done; I think he has a complex sense of what he wants to do as an actor. There was always a sense that doing sequels was kind of selling out, so there wasn’t the kind of energy going into that that there is in Hollywood today. We never got around to doing a sequel for five years. I’m really proud of the second movie — I just saw it again and I really liked it. It didn’t get particularly good reviews. It was successful, financially, but less successful than the first one. I pushed it into a much more personal story. I loved the sequences between Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray and what’s probably their baby, Oscar, although it’s not made clear in the screenplay.
I think Bill Murray’s work with the baby was so lovely and his relationship with Sigourney. Probably the movie was a little too soft and a little too optimistic — I mean, it ends with everybody singing “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” It was all about New York was getting nastier and that required people to use the best part of themselves and make the good vibes push out the bad. So you suddenly have a bunch of New Yorkers singing on New Year’s Eve in Manhattan.
Keep in mind, this was in the era when you’ve got Tim Burton’s Batman, which was very dark. The zeitgeist of the country was totally different. So this friendly, more personal, sort of character-based Ghostbusters was something of a disappointment for people who were into bigger and better. But I thought it was cool. I thought it was the movie we wanted to make. I think when people look at it again, they suddenly find it way funnier than they remember it. I’ll stand by that.
It didn’t take long for people to start talking about the possibility of a third film, with all of the original cast and crew. And they got pretty close to seeing that happen.
Aykroyd, Ramis, and I worked on another draft of the film with two other writers, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. We had a very good script that was a more traditional sequel idea. It was the passing of the torch from the original Ghostbusters to a new group led by Oscar, the little baby in the second movie. Bill Murray’s character, Venkman, dies pretty early in the film and his ghost is a very major character in the film. Bill actually got a lot to do even though he wasn’t a human anymore.
The studio loved the script but, in the course of writing it, Harold Ramis got very sick and died about a year later. In that process, Bill was very skeptical about doing another Ghostbusters and made himself quite unavailable. I realized, once Harold passed away, that it was going to be really impossible for me to do another one because I didn’t want to do one without Harold. And getting Bill to say yes to the five movies we’ve done together has always been difficult … I could see, suddenly, that that wasn’t the way to go. So I withdrew as the director.
The interesting business side of the whole thing was that Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, and myself really owned control of the movie. Nothing could be done without our unanimous approval. It’s probably one of the reasons that nothing got done for 20 years. Trying to get unanimity among four very creative and individualistic people is frankly impossible. We just let it go until we started working on the [new film]. It was done because the studio decided they would try to entice us into it by paying for a draft and hoping that we would get it done.
What I tried to do was make a business deal in which we all gave up this ultimate control and sold it to the studio so that they could continue. I always felt that there was a future for Ghostbusters. It’s such a wonderful idea and there was an opportunity for it to expand into other films and into other things … Once that happened, the studio was open to other filmmakers trying to make it.