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The Ghostbusters Movies: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Ivan Reitman Films

The Ghostbusters cast
(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

With the upcoming arrival of Ghostbusters: Afterlife getting people talking about the beloved Ghostbusters movies, there has never been a better time than now to take a trip down memory lane and see how director Ivan Reitman and his cast of comedy heavyweights turned an idea into one of the most iconic cinematic experiences of the 20th Century. 

Below is a collection of behind-the-scenes facts from the making of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II that break down everything from the Dan Aykroyd’s original idea to how the Statue of Liberty was brought to life to vanquish Vigo the Carpathian, and just about everything in between. 

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Dan Aykroyd’s Original Idea For Ghostbusters Was Set In The Future And Was To Include John Belushi

The first Ghostbusters movie would open in theaters in June 1984, but Dan Aykroyd first started working on a much different version years earlier. In the commentary track that accompanied the film’s initial DVD release, director Ivan Reitman revealed that in this initial 40-page treatment, there were many more Ghostbusters, a futuristic setting, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man first appeared much earlier on than in the finished product. Aykroyd also wrote one of the characters for his Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live costar, but the comedian’s 1982 death forced him to change the characters.

The Ghostbusters cast

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Ghostbusters Was Pitched, Written, Produced, And Released All In 12 Months

One of the most impressive aspects of Ghostbusters is the fact that the entire process, from being greenlit to releasing the film, took only 12 months. In the Ghostbusters commentary track, Ivan Reitman and co-writer/co-star Harold Ramis detailed the meeting they had with Columbia Pictures executives in the summer of 1983, and how they were given a release date of June 8, 1984 before they even had a script, special effects team, or really anything else besides an idea of what they wanted to do with Dan Aykroyd’s 40-page treatment. 

Not long after, the braintrust behind the movie descended upon Martha’s Vineyard and spent the summer writing the script and ironing out all the details. A few months later they were filming at some of the most iconic New York City landmarks and Hollywood sound-stages.

Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

The Louis Tully Character Was Originally Written For John Candy But The Comedy Legend Didn’t Understand The Role

Ghostbusters will forever go down as one of the best Rick Moranis movies, but his scene-stealing performance as the Louis Tully almost went to a completely different actor. In the commentary track, Ivan Reitman revealed that the character was initially written for the late John Candy, because he had worked with so many of the movie’s stars and producers on Stripes a couple of years earlier. 

Candy, however, didn’t really understand the character and went back and forth with everyone on things like Louis’ accent (Candy wanted the character to be German). The Uncle Buck star eventually passed on the opportunity, which opened the door for Moranis, who Reitman and Harold Ramis said ended up improvising a lot of his scenes and further fleshed out the character.

Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Director Ivan Reitman Voiced Slimer And The Possessed Dana In Ghostbusters

In addition to directing, producing, and helping formulate the story in Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman also provided voices for several characters throughout the movie. In the commentary, Reitman revealed that his voice was used to bring Slimer to life and that he voiced Dana (Sigourney Weaver) when she becomes possessed by Zuul and begins spinning above her bed after Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) comes to her apartment.

Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Most Of The Opening Minutes Of Ghostbusters’ New York City Shots Were Filmed In A Single Day

With an extremely tight schedule, Ivan Reitman and the stars of Ghostbusters had to make the most of their time when it came to getting exterior shots of New York City, as well as the opening scene in the New York Public Library. 

In the commentary track, Reitman and Harold Ramis explained that not only were most of the early shots of Egon Spengler (Ramis), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Peter Venkman walking through the streets of the Big Apple filmed over the course of a single day, they were able to capture all the scenes in the library’s reading room before 10 a.m., when they were required to leave. However, this doesn’t include the first ghost confrontation in the library’s basement, as that was filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Bill Murray in Ghostbusters II

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Bill Murray Felt Like He Was Tricked Into Making Ghostbusters II

Unlike its predecessor, which is universally loved, 1989’s Ghostbusters II isn’t everyone’s favorite entry in the franchise and has its fair share of issues. Those problems were even picked up by the sequel’s cast, including Bill Murray, who revealed in an April 2021 chat with Collider that he felt tricked when he realized that the movie that was pitched to him was not the one that was being filmed, stating:

It ended up not being the story they wrote. They got us in the sequel under false pretenses. Harold [Ramis] had this great idea, but by the time we got to shooting it, I showed up on set and went, ‘What the hell is this? What is this thing?’ But we were already shooting it, so we had to figure out how to make it work.

Bill Murray never revealed the changes that were made to Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd’s script between the pitch meeting and start of production, but there are more than a few reasons why the comedy legend would feel this way more than 30 years later.

Slimer driving a bus in Ghostbusters II

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Slimer Became A Bigger Part Of Ghostbusters II Because Of The Popularity Of The Real Ghostbusters Animated Series

Slimer, the first spirit the Ghostbusters catch, is only in one scene in the first movie. However, when Ghostbusters II was released five years later, a bigger and much more detailed version of the character was given more time to slime, and even had a short subplot with Louis Tully. 

During a a 2014 interview with Beyond the Marquee, producer Joe Medjuck admitted that Slimer was a bigger deal in the second movie because of the popularity of The Real Ghostbusters animated series which became a massive hit as a Saturday morning cartoon. And, although there has been speculation regarding other additions to the movie based on the cartoon, Medjuck said there was no correlation, specifically the change in appearance for Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts).

Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

The Decision To Have The Characters No Longer Smoke In Ghostbusters II Was Influenced By A Societal Shift

Another thing that changed a lot between the first two Ghostbusters movies was the characters’ smoking habits. In the first movie, it’s rare to find a scene where at least one character isn't standing idly by while smoking a cigarette. But, that was far from the case by the time the sequel rolled around five years later, which producer Joe Medjuck explained was a societal shift, when speaking with Beyond the Marquee in 2014:

One thing that is never noticed which has surprised me is if you compare Ghostbusters II to the original, the guys are smoking all the time in [Ghostbusters]. It’s like a Howard Hawks movie…they’re smoking and lighting each other’s cigarettes all through it. By the time we did Ghostbusters II five years later, nobody smokes anymore. It was a change in society as well as movies.

As the dangers of smoking have become more known in the past several decades, studios like Disney have banned smoking in movies targeted at kids, with streaming services like Netflix changing the way they depict smoking in their productions as well.

The Statue of Liberty walking through New York City in Ghostbusters II

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

An Actor Was Fully Encased In A Flexible Foam Suit To Bring The Statue Of Liberty To Life In Ghostbusters II

Just like with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters, the 1989 sequel featured a larger-than-life creature in the climatic battle, only this time, the Statue of Liberty was with the good guys and not trying to bring death and destruction to the Big Apple. To pull off this iconic sequence, the special effects team used various small-scale models, massive recreations, and even an actor under a foam suit to pull off the shots of the iconic structure walking down the pedestrian-filled streets. 

In the November 1989 issue of Cinefex, it was revealed that when it was time to film the walking scenes, actor Jim Fye was first put in a foam toga, foam arms, and boots sculpted to look like sandals. Then a neck piece was glued to the toga before a helmet and face mask were put in place, encasing the actor in a suit of foam. On top of that, wires were added to make the torch light up and miniature versions of the Ghostbusters were glued inside the helmet.

Wilhelm von Homburg in Ghostbusters II

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Vigo The Carpathian Actor Wilhelm Von Homburg Stormed Out Of A Premiere After Learning Max Von Sydow Dubbed His Lines

Vigo the Carpathian, the tyrannical 16th-Century leader whose portrait comes to life and starts all sorts of trouble in Ghostbusters II was played by the German boxer/wrestler/actor Wilhelm von Homburg. However, between the completion of principal photography and the film’s June 1989 release, Ivan Reitman and the powers that be on the production team elected to hire the late Max von Sydow to dub the lines for one reason or another. No one told von Homburg before he attended a screening where he found out firsthand that he (or his voice anyway) had been replaced, before he stormed out of a theater, according to Deadspin.

After reading all of these behind-the-scenes facts, no one will hold anything against you if you want to go back and watch Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II again. But, if you want to check out new films coming to theaters and streaming services in the final weeks of the year, check out CinemaBlend’s updated schedule of 2021 movie premiere dates.

Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.