Ghostbusters Is Back In Theaters, but Why Was it Such a Hit 40 Years Ago?

It's slime time. Again.

The taxi cab zombie ghost in the 1984 film 'Ghostbusters.'

Nobody ever made them like this! On June 8, 1984, the genres of science fiction, horror, and comedy were forever blended when writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis teamed with director Ivan Reitman to create Ghostbusters. Although the franchise has produced several sequels and spin-off animated TV shows, the only thing fans can agree on when it comes to bustin’ is that the original film, more than any of the others, is the one that makes us feel good. Some might have a soft spot for Ghostbusters II, and the newer sequels have their merits, but the first movie has never been topped.

Now, on its 40th birthday weekend, the film that started it all is back in movie theaters for a very limited time. Here’s why Ghostbusters was such a huge summer blockbuster hit, and how to catch it in theaters again.

In case it's been a second, Ghostbusters tells the story of three crackpot college professors who, after having their grant terminated for being crackpots, decide to start a ghost-catching business. From the jump, what makes Ghostbusters unique among comedy sci-fi/horror movies is its utter commitment to making both the team’s tech and financial circumstances feel viable. Originally, Dan Aykroyd’s pitch for Ghostbusters took place in the future, in which various teams of busters roamed the Earth with high-tech gear. Think Blade Runner but with proton packs, and that’s probably closer to the initial vision of Ghostbusters.

That angle was wisely abandoned, because Ghostbusters’ everyday world-building is part of what makes the film’s escalating absurdity work. The first ghost we see — the famous library ghost — is what we think of when we think of a spooky specter, as though this blueprint for a ghost comes from our collective unconscious. From there, the movie layers weirdness onto each ghost, starting with Slimer, moving to the dog-like Zuul, and culminating with Gozer, who eventually takes on the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

For those who came of age in the ‘80s or ‘90s, there was probably a period of time when you believed the Stay Puft marshmallow brand was real and that Ghostbusters was riffing on an actual mascot, like if the Pillsbury Doughboy appeared to destroy us. The faux-reality of Ghostbusters is convincing.

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Ernie Hudson at the 1984 premiere of Ghostbusters.

William Nation/Sygma/Getty Images

From the production design to the dialogue to the film’s basic look, nearly every aspect of Ghostbusters is casually convincing. Just five years after she made Alien a smash hit, Sigourney Weaver’s presence once again makes an outlandish premise believable. Ghostbusters vacillates between a high-end SNL sketch (many of the cast were SNL alums) and a gritty sci-fi movie about other dimensions and the strange creatures that might occupy them, and performances like Weaver’s helped maintain that careful balance.

Even Elmer Bernstein’s score contributed to the unique blend of factors that sequels have found impossible to capture, and now you can get a big screen reminder of why the original still works. For one day only, on June 8, 2024, Ghostbusters will return to select cinemas in the US and Canada. The official Ghostbusters Instagram account posted the details, including the list of cities. You can also search Fandango here. If you’ve never seen it on the big screen, or if you haven’t seen it since 1984, it’s well worth revisiting for a reminder of how it spawned a pop culture powerhouse.

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