Ghostbusters: Afterlife – a novice's guide to the Ghostbusters universe

Who ya gonna call?

Since the release of the first Ghostbusters film more than 35 years ago, the franchise has grown beyond all expectations. This year, the fourth film in the series, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is set to hit Cineworld screens, and we can’t wait.

In case you're not up on the Ghostbusters legacy, we’ve put together a handy refresher on everything you need to know…


Ghostbusters (1984)

Released in 1984 and directed by Ivan Reitman, Ghostbusters follows a group of eccentric New York scientists who, after being fired from their positions at Columbia University, decide to start their own business hunting and capturing ghosts. As you would, right? The problem is, the job becomes personal when their new client, cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), becomes possessed by the evil spirit that haunts her apartment building.

The project was initially developed by Dan Aykroyd and his late partner-in-crime John Belushi, with whom he starred in The Blues Brothers. The script was initially far more ambitious, involving time travel and multiple dimensions, although this was eventually pared down to the buddy comedy movie we know and love today, one that expertly laces big laughs with a surprising amount of spooky moments.

With a cast including Bill Murray (who delivers a career-defining performance as the sardonic Venkman), Aykroyd (Stantz), the late Harold Ramis (Egon) and Ernie Hudson (Winston) as the heroic team, Ghostbusters went on to become a cultural phenomenon, earning almost $300 million worldwide on a budget of just $30 million. That made it one of the most successful movies of the year, ranking alongside the likes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

In fact, Ghostbusters became the highest-grossing comedy of the 1980s, its status further cemented by Ray Parker Jr.’s unmistakeble, Oscar-nominated theme song that’s defined every Halloween party since. So successful was the movie that it spawned a huge franchise comprising TV spin-offs, video games, comics and more. In 2015, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

Ivan Reitman's direct sequel to his smash-hit 1984 success, Ghostbusters II takes place five years after the events of the first film. In the wake of their initial success, the Ghostbusters have largely lost their credibility due to the damage they have caused in New York.

However, a new threat hits the city in the form of a river of ectoplasmic slime which reacts to any negativity within the city. It also appears to be directly connected to a creepy painting of bloodthirsty Vigo the Carpathian, housed in the city’s Manhattan Museum of Art. The Ghostbusters are the only hope of saving the Big Apple and, with the help of the people who live in the city, they work to neutralise the slime and save the day once again.

Although all of the principal cast members returned, Ghostbusters II was not as well-received as its predecessor, with lukewarm reviews and a lower box office total than hoped for. This, despite the fact that many of the set-pieces are memorable, including a possessed Statue of Liberty pounding her way through the streets, and a genuinely scary subterranean stand-off with a ghost train.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Following the relative disappointment of Ghostbusters II, the franchise was put on ice. Throughout the next two decades, there were persistent rumours of a third Ghostbusters movie, but they repeatedly hit the skids, largely due to Bill Murray’s reluctance to sign on. After years spent trying to develop a threequel, distributor Sony decided to shelve the idea and instead focus on a reboot.

Following a very similar narrative to the original 1984 movie, 2016’s Ghostbusters centres on a group of female scientists who start their own ghost-hunting business. Under the direction of Bridesmaids and Spy helmer Paul Feig, the film boasts the comedic talents of Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, as well as cameo appearances from series veterans Aykroyd, Murray, Weaver, Hudson and Potts. There's also a scene-stealing, self-deprecating performance from Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters' air-headed new secretary, Kevin.

However, the film’s gender-switched roles caused a great deal of controversy, with many alleging this was a tokenistic move that failed to honour the spirit of the original classic. Massively more expensive than either of the previous two Ghostbusters movies, propelled by excessive use of CGI, the film underperformed at the box office, and also received lukewarm reviews.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2020)

Unlike Paul Feig’s 2016 movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is intended as a direct sequel to the first two films in the franchise. (It’s a repeat of the trick that worked with 2018’s Halloween sequel/reboot, starring Jamie Lee Curtis.) A cheeky way of scrubbing Feig’s effort from history? Or a proper way of honouring the franchise’s legacy? The jury’s out, but there’s no denying we’re intrigued.

Set 30 years after the events of the second film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife follows a family who after discovering some old Ghostbusters equipment in their new rural farmhouse, discover their own connection to the original team – and their grandfather’s secret legacy. The trailer puts classic Ghostbusters car Ecto-1 front and centre, but we’re more interested in the family connections in the storyline. In the trailer, we see the kids rifling through some old uniforms, and one particular shot, of a romper suit bearing the name 'Spengler', implies that the late Egon is their grandfather. All will become clear in due course.

The vibrant cast of rising stars includes Captain Marvel’s Mckenna Grace and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, who are joined by Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon and Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd, who plays a school teacher with a deep knowledge of the original 1984 New York hauntings. Juno director Jason Reitman helms, stepping into the shoes of his father, Ivan. Unlike the Paul Feig movie, this one seems to be going all-out to honour the spirit (no pun intended) of the Ghostbusters series, both thematically and also in terms of the crew members involved. Plus, old favourites Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts are making appearances.






Ghostbusters: Afterlife is released in Cineworld cinemas on 12th November 2021. Will this be the sequel to the 1984 movie that we've been waiting for? Let us know @Cineworld.

Hannah Dixon is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow her on Twitter.