Mon
Oct 31 2011 7:30pm

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

Citizen Kane? The Godfather? Blade Runner? Keep ‘em. The best film ever made, hands-down, is Ghostbusters.

In 1984 I was seven, and I loved Ghostbusters so much I saw it three times in one week. Twenty-seven years later, I sat in a cinema watching a brand new digital projection, re-released for Halloween, knowing every line, every tick of Bill Murray’s face, every giant dollop of melted marshmallow.

But what makes Ghostbusters so enduring? The film spawned a huge franchise of toys, cartoons, and video games; and lines from the title song — like the instantly recognisable “Who ya gonna call?” — have entered the common lexicon. There’s clearly something different about this film, and here’s my list of ten things that not only make Ghostbusters great, but make it a film well deserving of its ongoing legacy.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

1. The setting

“I love this town!” cries Winston Zeddemore, the film’s pitch-perfect closing line. For a movie about a team that specialises in paranormal investigations and eliminations, there is a remarkable lack of creaky haunted houses. Setting the film in New York — one of the most recognisable cities in the world — is a stroke of genius, making it a thoroughly modern ghost story. Any visitor to Manhattan will have looked up at the Art Deco skyscrapers and marveled at their history and architecture, both of which play a vital role in the film.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

2. Science fiction versus the supernatural

Like the stereotypical haunted house, the traditional ghost hunting tools of bell, book, and candle are out. The Ghostbusters fight the forces of darkness with unlicensed nuclear accelerators and positron colliders, measuring psycho-kinetic energy with a handheld meter and storing the captured spirits in a high voltage laser containment grid. Even the ghosts themselves have classifications, from the free-roaming, vaporous, full-torso apparition at the New York Public Library to Slimer, a focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm or Class Five Full Roaming Vapor (“A real nasty one, too”). Dana Barrett’s apartment building was constructed as a superconductive psychic antenna, with a design resembling the telemetry equipment NASA uses to locate dead pulsars in deep space. Ghostbusters blends SF and the occult together, spawning something completely new and, quite possibly, inspiring a whole generation of 21st century paranormal investigators equipped with night vision goggles and EMF meters.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

3. The monsters

Only the apparition at the library bears any resemblance to a traditional spectre. The others are a mix of horror tropes, such as the zombie cab driver, and unique design, like Slimer and the Terror Dog forms of Zuul and Vinz Clortho.

4. The music

All great films have a memorable soundtrack, and Ghostbusters might have the most famous title track of all. Ray Parker, Jr.’s theme song continues to be heard to this day, while Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score, heavy with the Theremin-like sounds of the ondes Martenot, is instantly familiar.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

5. Bill Murray...

While the legend that Bill Murray ad-libbed his way through the entire film is certainly spurious, examination of the shooting script for Ghostbusters does reveal that the version of the film that made it on screen features a lot of Murray’s improvisation. Murray is a master of subtlety — just watch his face when Ray tells Venkman how much he paid for Ecto-1.

6. ...And the rest of the cast

Bill Murray’s superlative performance as Dr Peter Venkman may be one of the keystones of the film, but the rest of the cast are pitch perfect. Co-writer Harold Ramis only took the role of Egon after they failed to find a suitable actor, but his deadpan portrayal is now a classic. Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and William Atherton form a superb company.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

7. Ancient mysteries

There are tantalising hints of a deeper, darker history to events. The film’s primary threat, Gozer the Gozerian, a.k.a. Volguus Zildrohar, is a Sumerian god, worshipped by Ivo Shandor’s cult in the 1920s. And through the Keymaster we get a glimpse of the world’s ancient, Lovecraftian alt-history, learning a little about the rectification of the Vuldronaii and the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants.

8. Playing it straight

Ghostbusters may be billed as a comedy, and may be filled with wit and sparkle and terrific one-liners, but really there’s nothing funny going on. The dead are rising from the grave in ever-increasing numbers prior to an ancient god landing in Manhattan to destroy the world, belatedly heading the call of an insane occultist. Gozer’s final form — the 100-foot Stay Puft marshmallow man — is hilarious, but was simply an image plucked from Ray’s mind and its innocuous form soon proves horrifying.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: 10 Reasons Why Ghostbusters Has Such an Enduring Legacy

9. Quotability

Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s script is packed to the gills with lines worthy of quotation like no other movie: “Back off man, I’m a scientist”; “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria”; “Tell him about the Twinkie”; “When someone asks if you if you’re a god, you say yes!”; “There is no Dana, only Zuul”; “Listen! Do you smell something?” Take your pick!

10. The special effects

Ah, the Stay Puft marshmallow man. You didn’t think I was going to leave him out, did you? I’m quite happy to claim that the shot of the famous monster walking through the streets of New York is on the best pieces of special effects photography seen in cinema. Model work has obvious limitations, but full credit here to the visual effects team, who lit and filmed the model sequence perfectly.


Adam Christopher is a New Zealand-born SF author, now living in the UK. His debut novel, Empire State, is out from Angry Robot books in January 2012.

13 comments
Ashe Armstrong
1. AsheSaoirse
This article deserves Janine yelling, "WE GOT ONE!"
Cain S. Latrani
2. Cain S. Latrani
The soundtrack. Yes, in fact, earlier tonight, I heard the famous Ray Parker Jr. song on Hawaii Five-O. Just recently, a brief version of it was played on Castle to Beckett saying, at castle's urging, "I ain't afraid of no ghost."

Enduring does not begin to describe this film. It is a masterful classic, and I can honestly say, I've never met anyone who hasn't seen it, and loved it.
M F
3. Madeline
Quotability! You re-watch this movie, and it's like Shakespeare with the number of lines that turn up and leave you saying, "Oh, THAT'S where that came from!"
Marcus W
4. toryx
I agree with everything except Bill Murray. I know he's now iconic as Venkman but from the time the movie first came out all the way to now, watching Bill Murray is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard for me. He's the one thing I dislike about the movie and I dislike him so much that I almost can't like the movie at all.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast almost make up for him.
Chin Bawambi
5. bawambi
Ghostbusters - seriously? Fun movie but no more enduring than Sahara.
Ashe Armstrong
6. AsheSaoirse
@5 Bawambi? Sahara? As in the movie that I vaguely remember seeing come out a few years ago? That I don't ever hear people talk about? That doesn't have a firmly entrenched place in pop culture? Hm, good point.
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
Considering that my kids were both born more than a decade after this was released & they still recognize the characters & the story - especially at a time where movies last 3 weeks at the theater and are promptly forgotten by a generation with a youtube-influenced 10-minute attention span - I have to agree: Ghostbusters rocks!
Cain S. Latrani
8. Jeff S.
"But if I'm right - Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters." The political mindset summed up in one line.

See also Ghostbusters 2 - "But, I'm a voter. Aren't you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt?"
JD N
9. orokusaki
Agreed on every point! Great article. Hands-down, one of my favorite movies. Probably a tie between Ghostbusters and Back to the Future.

I used to run around the house yelling, "This chick is TOAST!" I currently have been known to say, "Back off man; I'm a scientist" on more than one occasion. Because I am, and I often say ridiculous things that I justify with that claim.

@toryx, Bill Murray totally makes this movie. Not to discredit the rest of the cast (and Ernie Hudson needs more love, in my opinion; I love him in everything he's been in since Ghostbusters), but most of the best lines come from Venkman. Often, I'll find that movies I didn't like when I watched them the first time, I like a lot more with the right people, to appreciate what I missed before. Dumb & Dumber is my prime example: hated it the first time; love it now.
Marcus W
10. toryx
orokusaki @ 9:

I agree that Venkman had some of the best lines but that's the difference between the character and the actor. I enjoy Venkman's lines a lot more when they're offered by anyone else, male or female. Bill Murray, though? Watching him say those words is like wearing a shirt after I've had my hair cut and feeling all the shorn little hairs scratching the nape of my neck. Eesh.

I'm perfectly aware that it's just me. I have the exact same problem with Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. I have no allergies except when it comes to bad (IMO) comedians.
JD N
11. orokusaki
@toryx, haha, your description is clear as a bell; nice imagery. There are few things worse than a bad comedian.

...well, there's lots of tragic things worse than a bad comedian, but if I may quote Statler and Waldorf, "it's like a kind of torture to have to watch the show!"
Cain S. Latrani
12. Zardoz67
Not a patch on Gremlins ;-)
Cain S. Latrani
13. euphbass
I absolutely love this film, and I love the title song, but it's *suspiciously* similar to Huey Lewis And The News' song "I Want A New Drug". There were lawsuits and settlements, but it was pretty acrimonius by the sound of it. Have a listen to them both - you'll be surprised!

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment