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Most movie franchises make a single hit, then follow it with sequels. That isn’t the case with Ghostbusters. The original 1984 movie became one of the decade’s biggest hits. However, the franchise has followed a rocky path ever since, one that includes a direct sequel, a reboot, and a “legacyquel.” Fans continue to debate the merits of each Ghostbusters film. But how do they compare to each other? Let’s take a closer look.

Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray in 'Ghostbusters'
Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray in ‘Ghostbusters’ | Columbia Pictures

4) ‘Ghostbusters II’ (1989)

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson proved to be one of moviegoers’ favorite on-screen teams in the original movie. But this sequel — released five years later — falls short in just about every way. Despite the returns of the principal cast and director Ivan Reitman, Ghostbusters II doesn’t do enough to set itself apart.

Sure, Vigo the Carpathian is a memorable villain. And Peter MacNicol is over-the-top fun as Janosz. However, this sequel feels too much like a diluted version of its predecessor, right down to the oversized figure stomping its way through the New York City streets. As far as franchise follow-ups go, Ghostbusters II largely proved what not to do.

3) ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

After decades of talk about Ghostbusters III, any hope of that project coming together was seemingly dashed after Ramis died in 2014. Instead, Sony moved forward on a reboot of the franchise, with Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) in the director’s chair. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones then formed a whole new team.

And the internet — as it tends to do — reacted with wildly differing responses. Many claimed Feig and company ruined the franchise. While the movie does embrace a fresh take on the notion of a team of mostly scientists fighting ghosts in New York, it also offers fun performances, a ton of heart, and some genuinely thrilling moments.

2) ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ (2021)

Five years after Feig’s reboot divided fans, the beloved Ecto-1 went the opposite direction. Jason Reitman — son of the original film’s Ivan Reitman — stepped in to direct a “legacyquel” picking up the original film’s story decades later. Egon’s (Ramis) grand-daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) leads a story all about bidding Ramis farewell.

Sure, Ghostbusters: Afterlife ultimately follows the story of the first film too closely for some fans. But Grace’s performance elevates the movie, and the movie works as the long-awaited final chapter of the original team’s story. Hopefully, now fans and the franchise itself can move on to something new in the announced sequel to this movie.

1) ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The classic comedy that started it all still reigns supreme. It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes Ghostbusters work so well. There’s the big Saturday Night Live energy among the cast, including SNL alum Murray and Aykroyd. And there’s the scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit in the tale of four NYC citizens thrust into an extraordinary line of work.

But the real reason Ghostbusters remains so beloved is the distinctive combination of sci-fi paranormal activity and sharp-witted comedy. Few movies since — with 1997’s Men in Black perhaps the film that comes closest — have accomplished that, including the subsequent entries. Decades later, 1984’s Ghostbusters makes fans feel good.


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