Ghostbusters poster
The 1984 film Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is a hallmark of American supernatural comedy. It features Bill Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis as the lead trio of unconventional parapsychologists who establish a ghost-busting enterprise in New York City. The film also includes notable performances by Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, and William Atherton.

Initially inspired by Aykroyd’s interest in the supernatural and intended to star himself and John Belushi traversing time and space to fight ghosts, the project was reshaped after Belushi’s untimely death in 1982, and Ramis scaled down Aykroyd’s initial vision to be more financially viable and grounded in New York City.

Marking a pioneering moment, Ghostbusters was among the first comedies to integrate costly special effects. Despite concerns from Columbia Pictures over its $25–30 million budget, the film underwent principal photography from October 1983 to January 1984 across New York City and Los Angeles. In facing a crowded special effects market, Richard Edlund utilized the budget to establish Boss Film Studios, which crafted the movie’s spectral imagery through a mix of practical effects, miniatures, and puppetry.

Upon its release on June 8, 1984, Ghostbusters received widespread critical praise. It became an instant cultural icon, particularly lauded for its inventive mix of humor, action, and spooky elements, with Murray’s role frequently highlighted. It amassed $282.2 million in its initial run, becoming 1984’s second-highest earner in the U.S. and Canada and setting records as the era’s most lucrative comedy. Continuous theatrical showings have pushed its earnings to approximately $295.2 million.

The Library of Congress honored the film by preserving it in the National Film Registry in 2015, and the catchy theme song by Ray Parker Jr. topped the charts.

Spawning a vast franchise worth billions, Ghostbusters inspired an animated TV series (The Real Ghostbusters and later Extreme Ghostbusters), video games, comics, merchandise, and more. Despite a less successful sequel in 1989 and a paused attempt at a third film after Ramis died in 2014, the franchise saw a revival with a reboot in 2016 and a direct sequel to the original, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in 2021. Another sequel, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, will be released on March 22, 2024.

See how the original Ghostbusters hits the Save the Cat! story beats!

Written by: Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Genre: Superhero (People’s Superhero) Cousins: Gladiator, High Plains Drifter, Greystoke, Ghostbusters II, Ben-Hur, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Whale Rider, Casino Royale

Opening Image: In the vibrant heart of New York City, where life pulsates at a relentless pace, a backdrop is laid for a tale tinged with the supernatural. A foreboding piece of gothic artistry stands over the city’s rhythm: a menacing lion statue perched before the library’s entrance. This fearsome guardian hints at hidden depths and darker layers enshrouding the metropolis, promising the significant role that the city’s storied edifices and the ominous gothic motifs will play as the story unfolds.

The stone lion outside the NYC public library
The stone lion of the NYC public library preludes stone monsters later.

Set-Up: A librarian (Alice Drummond) encounters a terrifying phenomenon, setting the stage for an unusual investigation. Simultaneously, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), parapsychologists at Columbia University, find themselves deeply engrossed in studying the paranormal.

In their graffiti-adorned university office, Dr. Venkman engages more in the seduction of a blonde volunteer (Jennifer Runyon) through an ESP experiment and less in actual science as he administers electric shocks to another participant (Steven Tash). This scene is abruptly interrupted by Ray, who bursts in with news of the extraordinary events unfolding at the library.

Venkman holding a playing card in the air
Dr. Venkman initially exploits his power of persuasion for selfish purposes.

Theme Stated: The male participant tells off Venkman after receiving the shocks, which is Venkman’s effort to discourage him and draw favor with the attractive female student. The student says he’s pissed off and leaves, not taking the five bucks he was offered. Venkman has the longest way to go in the story, as he doesn’t believe in the supernatural and only uses his stature as a hustle. He must go from zero to hero during the later haunted events.

Rushing to the library, Venkman and Stantz reunite with their intellectually inclined colleague, Egon, where they collect ectoplasm, observe supernatural phenomena such as vertically stacked books, and encounter a ghost. Despite their expertise, they find themselves unprepared to handle the situation and are quickly scared away by the ghost.

However, the venture is not in vain, as Egon succeeds in gathering essential data that hints at a possible method for trapping ghosts, marking the beginning of their new venture into ghostbusting.

the 4 ghostbusters in a library near stakes of books
The ill-prepared doctors meet their first ghost—and fail.

Catalyst: When they return to the university, Dean Yeager throws them out because their grant is no longer being funded. The dean’s decision to expel them, deeming them subpar scientists, does little to dampen their spirits.

Venkman, holding a liquor bottle, talks to Stantz
Venkman suggests to Stantz that they go into business for themselves.

Debate: Venkman is unfazed. Buoyed by their novel ghost-trapping technique, he is eager to take their talents into the private sector and kick-start their venture in ghost eradication. And so, the paranormal trio seizes the opportunity amidst a rise in ghostly occurrences to transform their specialized knowledge into a profitable enterprise.

Embracing the concept of capturing ghosts, they establish “Ghostbusters,” a service dedicated to the extermination of the supernatural. Though they don’t have special powers in the traditional superhero sense, they are on a mission to do good.

The Ghostbusters firehouse
The Ghostbusters set up their headquarters in a firehouse.

Doubts linger among the Ghostbusters about the viability of their new business, compounded by the financial strain they encounter, such as the need to mortgage Ray’s childhood home to inject capital into their venture. Despite these challenges, they acquire an old firehouse on the brink of condemnation, establish their headquarters, produce a commercial, and bring on a secretary to complete their Set-Up.

B Story: In a parallel development, Dana Barrett ( Sigourney Weaver) encounters an evil entity in her fridge. Seeking assistance, she becomes their first prospective client. Though Venkman is on the make for the attractive Dana, she will help him grow into a caring, responsible person, which is what it takes to be a hero.

Dana Barrett in her kitchen
Dana Barrett is about to experience paranormal activity off the scale.

Break into Two: Venkman seizes the opportunity to inspect Dana’s upscale art deco apartment, though his attention seems more on Dana than the supernatural. His less-than-professional approach exasperates her, leading her to dismiss him. However, Venkman is determined to win her trust by resolving the sinister mystery of the creature in her refrigerator.

Venkman, Stantz and Spengler in their Ghostbusters uniforms
They’re ready to believe you.

Fun and Games: Secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) declares, “We got one!” The arrival of their first genuine case marks a pivotal moment for the team, as they are now financially destitute.

Slimer the ghost in a hallway of the Sedgewick Hotel
Slimer is the slimy ghost haunting the Sedgewick Hotel.

At the posh Sedgewick Hotel, the paranormal doctors engage in a lively pursuit of a mischievous ghost, dubbed Slimer, culminating in its capture with their innovative proton-pack and trap system. Spengler warns, “Do not cross the streams” of their energy packs (advice that will pay off later in the Finale).

This victory nets them a handsome fee of $5,000. By successfully capturing their first ghost at a hotel, the Ghostbusters signal their inaugural foray into professional ghostbusting.

the 3 original ghostbusters
The Ghostbusters ready themselves for their first big case.

Echoing the iconic montages familiar in Superhero tales like those of Superman or ‘80s movies generally, the Ghostbusters’ rise to fame is chronicled through magazine covers and their increasingly popular ghostbusting exploits, capturing the city’s imagination. As the Ghostbusters’ popularity surges, Dana becomes increasingly intrigued by Venkman, her interest piqued by his part in the spectral shenanigans.

smoke is in the air as the 3 ghostbusters deploy a trap
The ghost trap is the busters’ claim to fame.

During the chaos, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) applies for the job of Ghostbuster and is immediately hired. The cost of success has the paranormal police withered and dispirited, and they can use all the help they can get. Stantz shows Zeddmore the ropes and how they trap ghosts.

A representative from the EPA, Walter Peck (William Atherton), shows up to investigate their operation and determine whether they’re storing any hazardous chemicals onsite. When Venkman rubs the inspector the wrong way—he does that—the official says he’ll be back with a court order. Peck is the nemesis of the newly minted heroes. This also sets up the curse, as a few want to punish the heroes for doing good, which they must surmount.

Midpoint: During an electrical storm, Gozer makes a move and unleashes two hell beasts from their stony entombment. One, Zuul, the Gatekeeper, possesses Dana. The other possesses Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), Dana’s nerdy neighbor, as Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster. When Venkman stops by for their date, he discovers a possessed Dana, tying A and B Stories together. To manage the situation, Venkman administers Thorazine to Dana. Now, the stakes have risen, and the clock is ticking.

Possessed Dana with her arms above her head
Possessed Dana welcomes Venkman into her apartment.

Bad Guys Close In: The police bring Tully to the Ghostbusters’ firehouse in a paddy wagon. The possessed tells Egon and Janine that he must meet the gatekeeper. Venkman phones and says Dana is possessed. The scientists decide it’s best to keep them separated.

Louis Tully with his eyes glowing behind his glasses.
Gozer also possesses Louis Tully.

After finishing up a long day of ghostbusting, Zeddmore and Stantz start talking about the Book of Revelations, and they surmise that the dead are returning to life because it’s written in the Bible.

Walter Peck shows up with a court order to shut down the storage tank the Ghostbusters use to stow their spirits. The entire thing explodes, releasing all the ghosts into the surrounding city. In addition, the Ghostbusters are arrested. Tully escapes, heading back toward his apartment for a date with destiny with the gatekeeper.

All Is Lost: The Ghostbusters are jailed while spectral chaos engulfs New York City, which adds a whiff of death. While incarcerated, Ray and Egon uncover that Dana’s apartment complex was architecturally masterminded by Ivo Shandor, the head of a cult devoted to Gozer in the early 1900s. Shandor engineered the building to serve as a beacon, channeling and amplifying ghostly energy to invoke Gozer and initiate the world’s end.

Dark Night of the Soul: The Gatekeeper and the Keymaster entities cross paths, further escalating the supernatural crisis. They rise together to the top of the building to consecrate their evil union.

In response to the escalating ghostly siege, the city’s mayor demands an audience with the Ghostbusters. Venkman seizes the opportunity to persuade the mayor to release them and grant them a chance to quell the supernatural uprising, thereby proving their worth and gaining his confidence. This is a synergistic moment for Venkman as he uses his schmoozing and wants to do good to convince the mayor and vanquish Walter Peck from the office.

Break into Three: The Ghostbusters receive the assistance of the National Guard and a police escort to Dana’s building on Central Park West. They are cheered on by fans.

Five-Point Finale:

1) Gathering the Team: With the fabulous four gathered and the city’s support, they move to bust some ghosts and save the world.

The Gatekeeper and Keymaster sitting together
The Gatekeeper and Keymaster have consecrated their union to welcome Gozer to our plane of reality.

2) Executing the Plan: After walking up countless flights of stairs, the Ghostbusters reach the structure’s roof to do battle with Gozer and the entity’s two hellhounds (Dana and Louis).

The 4 original ghostbusters in uniform with smoke surrounding their feet
The fab four face Gozer the Gozerian.

3) High Tower Surprise: Venkman suggests that Stantz talks to Gozer. The evil entity asks the human if he’s a god, to which he replies he isn’t. Using powerful lightning bolts, Gozer nearly ends the Ghostbusters by zapping them all off the roof.

2 Ghostbusters facing Gozer on high
Gozer is not impressed with the meddling humans.

4) Dig, Deep Down: Armed with their proton packs, the four Ghostbusters attempt to zap Gozer out of existence. However, Gozer vanishes and, with a disembodied voice, asks them to choose their Destructor. Venkman figures it out that if they keep their minds blank, they’ll be fine—no Destructor. Unfortunately, Stantz thinks of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, a cozy icon from childhood. And a 113-foot-tall marshmallow man appears to destroy the Ghostbusters.

5) Executing the New Plan: The Ghostbusters attempt to neutralize the giant marshmallow monster, but they only infuriate it. Then Spengler has the idea to cross the streams of their proton packs as it could cause a negative particle reversal. Venkman warns that Spengler could be wrong, and they could all die. What choice do they have? And so, coming together as a team, four becoming one, they cross the streams of their proto packs and destroy Gozer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and the hounds.

fire, flames and smoke as the Ghostbusters attack
The Ghostbusters try to make a 113-foot s’more.

Final Image: The Ghostbusters have saved the day, as well as saving Dana and Louis. And Walter Peck is covered in hundreds of pounds of marshmallow fluff. They return to the streets as the city’s champions, greeted by enthusiastic supporters. The once doubted and disparaged team is now hailed as valiant saviors, with the public expressing their deep gratitude. In a heartwarming reversal of fortunes, Venkman earns a kiss from Dana, symbolizing their transformation from skeptics’ mockery to lauded heroes.

the 4 ghostbusters covered with marshmellow dust
The Ghostbusters have survived to bust another day.