A Grown-up’s Guide to the Ghostbusters Franchise

Ghostbusters (1984) is the kind of lightning caught in a bottle film that has remained difficult to duplicate, but there have been some admirable attempts over the years. The cast has changed across various media, but the central premise has remained much the same. In Ghostbusters, the question of “What happens to us when we die?” has transformed to “How would we deal with unruly, malevolent spirits?”

Since its debut, this series has leaned into the comedic elements of the afterlife, but that doesn’t mean that it's free of genuinely moving moments or spirits that instill terror in its viewers. The balancing act that the first film strikes made it difficult to equal. But there are several great entries in the canon.

Extreme Ghostbusters (1997)

extreme ghostbusters
Courtesy of Columbia TriStar Television

If you see the word “extreme” in a title, chances are the property was released between the years 1997-2002. Case in point: Extreme Ghostbusters, an animated series that originally aired via the BKN block in the late 1990s. The series was ultimately canceled, but not before it ran for forty episodes. The major recurring character from the original series is Egon Spengler, who remained at the firehouse to monitor supernatural activity after the others had long since departed.

Lovestruck secretary Janine Melnitz and, naturally, the disgusting but lovable star of the series Slimer both return. Still, the focus is on a new crew of younger Ghostbusters who Egon takes under his wing. Though it remains to be seen what is so extreme about these kids, the fact is that this team included some underrated characters. Though most may be lost to time, the occultist Kylie Griffin would make a comeback in the IDW comic book series in the 2010s.

The Comics (Various)

ghostbusters comics
Courtesy of IDW

The history of Ghostbusters comics is pretty weird. Popping up fairly randomly through various imprints such as Marvel UK and a handful of smaller publishers that ultimately went under, it wasn’t until IDW took over the licensing rights in 2008 that the universe gained a slightly more stable foundation. Since then, there have been several short series and one-shots, some of which have been enjoyable, but none have been particularly essential.

However, crossover champions, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, have teamed up with the Ghostbusters more than once, and anything with the Turtles involved makes for a fun ride. Additionally, Ghostbusters (2016) fans are urged to check out the “Answer the Call” mini-series from creators Kelly Thompson (Captain Marvel, Deadpool, Black Widow) and Corin Howell (Bat-Mite, X-Files: Origins).

The Real Ghostbusters (1986)

the real ghostbusters
Courtesy of Columbia TriStar Television

Before there was even a Ghostbusters II, there was an animated adaptation for kids champing at the bit to see more of the essential crew in action. This granted us a series with a truly iconic opening theme and many fun self-referential jokes. Much like the movie itself, the series followed the exploits of Venkman and company, pitting them against new baddies in classic monster-of-the-week format.

Perhaps most importantly, the animation remains absolutely stellar, and sweeping views of the city and impressively fleshed-out crowd shots define the show's visual look as being very much in line with the film. Though not every episode of the series is a must-see, it holds up surprisingly well for a kid's cartoon of its era.

This series underwent several changes over its time on the air, with a name change to Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters a few years in. For anyone looking for a nostalgic show that pays significant tribute to the series on which it is based, you can’t go wrong with this cartoon.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Ghostbusters Afterlife
Courtesy of Sony

Ghostbusters: Afterlife ignores the 2016 reboot and instead uses the end of Ghostbusters II as a jumping-off point, introducing us to a world where decades have passed. The original team has more or less faded into obscurity. Likewise, their friendships became strained, and they ultimately fell out of touch with one another. Though most of the surviving original cast make appearances here, the story is more about introducing a new generation of Ghostbusters to battle the demonic Gozer, who has vowed to destroy the world.

This film goes in a different direction than the reboot by leaning into the legacy of the first two movies, which is both its strength and its weakness. Regardless, it’s a fun, family-friendly film about kids fighting ghosts and forgotten legacies finding new relevance, making it an essential watch for fans that may have found themselves wondering what happened after the credits rolled in Ghostbusters II.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

ghostbusters ii
Courtesy of Sony

After the first film's success, it only made sense that the people involved would want to replicate the formula. Ghostbusters II is often considered a comparatively weak link in the chain, but there’s a lot to love about it. There are repeat jokes and moments that feel like a bit of a retread on the original concept, but the special effects hold up fairly well, and the original cast is as on top of their game as they ever were.

Taking a little bit of time to show depth behind the cash grabs the team made after their previous success in saving the city, the film offers a little meta insight into how the creative team might have felt about pushing a sequel. Another thing that is uniquely interesting about this take is that it deals with the consequence of human negativity.

Utilizing the backdrop of 1980s New York, the supernatural threat here quite literally feeds off unpleasantness. This may not have offered substantial enough commentary to make these observations wholly successful, but the attempt is made, and it’s a worthy one.

Ghostbusters Reboot (2016)

Courtesy of Sony

Though it sparked many internet fires, some of which still rage on over half a decade later, this reboot succeeded where a lot have failed. It took decades to pull together a third Ghostbusters film, and though it was generally panned upon its release, this film was worth the wait. Sporting an A+ cast and introducing a whole new crew to the franchise, this remains a delightful romp with exciting new characters, neat special effects, and some truly hilarious moments along the way.

It was a refreshing look at an old concept that paid substantial tribute to the original films while striking out and doing its own thing. It may have been a box office disappointment in its moment, but many great films are. Looking back, there’s a lot to love about this spoofy adventure, and it’s a shame that the new characters it introduced aren’t likely to make a comeback anytime soon because they’re all a lot of fun.

Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters 1984
Courtesy of Sony

The classic that kicked off the franchise is still the best, but that’s no failing on the part of the follow-ups. The first movie was good enough that even the same cast couldn’t fully equal its greatness five years later with a sequel. There is just something about these bumbling everymen finding themselves in full-out battles against paranormal threats that is simultaneously hilarious, heartwarming, and even a little scary. The cast brings it on every level, but the show's real scene-stealer is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, an in-universe brand icon that takes on terrifying proportions when it comes to life as a monstrous entity set on destroying the city.

Watching a relatively unfazed Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) attempt to placate a possessed Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) while demonic dogs overrun New York makes for some of the best-paced comedic scenes ever. The film also delivers some genuine scares. As many times as it's been seen, it’s always worth a rewatch.

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.