In the 1990s and 2000s, plans were afoot for a Ghostbusters III – but for various reasons, they didn’t quite pan out.
In the last six years or so, there have been two theatrically released Ghostbusters films, a reboot and legacy sequel. However, if things had turned out differently in the intervening 30 years, we would have seen a Ghostbusters 3 fronted by the original actors as Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore. So let’s dig into that.
In 1984, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ screenplay for Ghostbusters, refined with director Ivan Reitman, resulted in what was at the time the highest grossing comedy in history.
A sequel followed, though instead of rushing it out to capitalize on the popularity, they took their time, releasing the film five years later, in 1989. There were behind the scenes reasons here, with the regime at Columbia Pictures and the key Ghostbusters creatives not exactly seeing eye to eye. Bill Murray was reluctant to return too, and it took a change of studio head to ultimately break the impasse.
When it arrived, Ghostbusters II didn’t match the financial or critical success of the original (it was a film that Columbia urgently needed when it did come out, to reverse its commercial fortunes), though it has been reassessed over the years as worthy sequel. And there was a plan for another movie after it.
In all discussions about Ghostbusters 3, it was Aykroyd who pushed the hardest for another movie. Plans were put in place almost immediately for a follow up for the early 1990s, but, as the years went by, no news was forthcoming.
Going back to the original for a minute, one consequence of Ghostbusters was the huge amount of merchandising income, whether it was video games, clothing, or really anything they could print ‘Who you gonna call?’ on, not to mention Ray Parker Jr’s number one hit song Ghostbusters, the now iconic theme tune to the franchise (a sidenote for those interested, Parker was successfully sued by Huey Lewis for lifting the melody from his 1984 hit I Want a New Drug. When Lewis spoke publicly about the lawsuit some years later to VH1 show Behind The Music, Parker Jr. successfully sued Lewis for breaching the confidentiality agreement)
The result of all this was that in 1986, between production of the two films, an animated spin off series was launched called The Real Ghostbusters. The cast included Scooby Doo veteran Frank Welker and comedian Arsenio Hall. It ran for four seasons until 1991.
Meanwhile, the third film was stuck in development hell. It wouldn’t be until 1999 when concrete news about a new movie emerged, by which time Extreme Ghostbusters, another animated spin off, had also come and gone in 1997.
According to IGN, the film was to be called Ghostbusters: Hellbent. Aykroyd co-wrote the script with regular collaborator Tom Davis. In 1995, Aykroyd co-starred with fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, and the idea was to have Farley play a major role in Hellbent. Will Smith’s name was also in the frame. However, Farley sadly passed away in 1997.
Hellbent would have taken place in “ManHellton,” a version of New York City located in Hell. When this alternate reality becomes too crowded, some of its inhabitants begin to be shipped back to our world, causing chaos. This forces the Ghostbusters to spring into action and eventually confront Satan himself.
The main sticking point, as always seemed to be the case with any Ghostbusters film, was Bill Murray, and his reluctance to out the proton pack back on for another go around. This would have been written around with Venkman having died prior to the beginning of the film, though the idea was to have him return as a ghost at the film’s climax.
However, Aykroyd told Access Hollywood in 1999 that “the cost is too excessive for the studio to see it to be economically feasible. It is a shame too because everyone wants to do it. Even Bill Murray said he would work a few days on it. I did finish a script. Harold Ramis liked parts of it. Ivan Reitman liked parts of it too. There is definitely an interest from all of the original parties involved to make it. However, the studio just does not want to take the risk. In my opinion, the successes of the other two give the impression that there is a good chance of profit for a third sequel. So unfortunately, it looks like its just not going to happen based on the studio’s feelings, not from anyone else.”
By 2002, that script had been languishing at Columbia Pictures, and Ramis was resigned to the project being stuck in limbo, with Murray allegedly scribbling “no one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts” onto one of the drafts.
It wasn’t until 2008 that more concrete news would land, as Variety reported that Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, who were then executive producers of hit TV comedy The Office, were writing an entirely new take on a third film. This was not as random a choice as you might think, with the two screenwriters having penned Year One, the Jack Black and Michael Cera comedy that would turn out to be the final film directed by Ramis before his death in 2014.
The new film would have seen Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis and Ernie Hudson pass the torch to a younger group. One of the main factors holding this version back seemed to be contractual – so much of the gross was promised to the actors, it would have been difficult for the studio to make enough profit.
This script never saw the light of day either, with Eisenberg and Stupnitsky’s work next being seen on screen in the form of 2011 comedy Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz.
Murray continued to be a sticking point, with Aykroyd even musing publicly about the idea of recasting Venkman. This meant that the script stayed in development hell.
This brings us to the 2009 project Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Aykroyd, Hudson, Ramis, and even Murray returned to provide the voices. Annie Potts, William Atherton and Max Von Sydow also return from the films. The game puts the player in the role of a fifth Ghostbuster, who works alongside the original team to defeat a variety of ghosts in New York City. It is set in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters 2.
The game allowed Aykroyd and Ramis to explore and expand on aspects of the original films, such as the history of the Librarian Ghost. They also included the alternate dimensions concept from the abandoned Hellbent script, and even Aykroyd himself has said that this is the closest we will ever get to a canonical third instalment in the original chronology.
A new film did eventually arrive in the form of Paul Feig’s unfairly maligned 2016 all-female reboot Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. Full of comic talent, with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthey and Leslie Jones taking on the central roles, alongside Chris Hemsworth as idiotic secretary Kevin, the film also allowed Aykroyd, Murray, Hudson, Weaver and Potts to return, albeit in different roles. Feig included cameos by director Ivan Reitman and Ramis’ son Daniel.
Of course, it would be Reitman’s son Jason who picked up the reins to make 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Reitman and Gil Kenan’s script picked the action up thirty two years after the events of Ghostbusters 2, with Spengler’s daughter and her two children moving to his farmhouse. This allowed Aykroyd, Murray, Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts to finally reprise their original roles and play an integral role in the plot. As well as including Ramis through archive footage, Ivan Reitman also took on the role of Ghost Spengler, using prosthetics and digital effects.
As with any iconic franchise, there seems to be no end in sight. A sequel to Afterlife is due to be released in December 2023, with Kenan taking over from Reitman as director, though the latter will still co-wrote and produce. Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon are also confirmed to return. It will take place in New York City, returning to the firehouse from the original films.
As well as this, the long mooted animated feature film is also finally in production at Sony Pictures Animation, with Chris Prynoski and Jennifer Kluska directing from a script written by Brenda Hsue.
It has been a long and winding road to this point. But in the midst of it were at least two Ghostbusters projects that came close to getting off the ground, but never quite did. The Ghostbusters III that never came to be…
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