Following up beloved 1984 classic Ghostbusters was always going to be a tricky job, and in the eyes of many 1989’s Ghostbusters II doesn’t quite pull it off. Yet while some feel it doesn’t quite live up to the original, the supernatural comedy sequel is in many ways an enjoyable film in its own right. Let’s look back on Ghostbusters II with some facts you might not have known…
20. Slimer was included and Janine was given a makeover because of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon series
In the five years between Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, the characters had lived on in animated TV series The Real Ghostbusters. This cartoon was hugely popular with younger viewers, arguably even more so than the film itself had been. For this reason, the sequel features elements designed to appeal to fans of The Real Ghostbusters.
Reflecting her character’s Real Ghostbusters look, Annie Potts’ Janine was given a makeover with bright orange hair and a lurid wardrobe, in stark contrast to her more low-key look in the 1984 film. The filmmakers also made a point of including a cameo appearance from the unnamed green ghost of the first film, who had since become a key character in the cartoon show named Slimer.
19. The Scoleri brothers were modelled on The Blues Brothers
Two of the most memorable supernatural entities in Ghostbusters II are the Scoleri brothers. Appearing during the courtroom scene where Peter, Ray and Egon are on trial for damage to public property, the two criminals return from the dead spewing electricity, both of them having been executed by the electric chair decades earlier.
This sequence plays out as Ghostbusters II’s equivalent to the Slimer sequence in the original Ghostbusters – but you might be forgiven for thinking there’s something else that’s vaguely familiar about the Scoleri brothers. That may be because they’re modelled on The Blues Brothers, the iconic duo played by Dan Aykroyd and his late comedy partner John Belushi.
18. The rude kid at the birthday party went on to be the director of Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Early on in Ghostbusters II, before our heroes get fully back into business, Ray (Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) are found appearing as entertainers at a kids’ birthday party. Here, an obnoxious youngster declares to their faces that they’re “full of c**p.” This child is Jason Reitman, the son of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II director Ivan Reitman.
In the years since this early appearance, Jason Reitman has gone on to become an acclaimed director in his own right, as well as a two-time Oscar nominee for his work on Juno and Up in the Air. More recently, Jason has taken over from his father at the helm of the Ghostbusters franchise, serving as the co-writer and director of belated third instalment Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
17. Peter MacNicol’s Janosz was originally written as a straight-laced character named Jason
Actor Peter MacNicol has a scene-stealing supporting role in Ghostbusters II as Janosz, the flamboyant Eastern European curator at the art museum where Dana works. In the script, this character was named Jason and was a far more down to earth antagonist along the lines of William Atherton’s Peck from the original Ghostbusters.
However, MacNicol (who would later come to be better known for his role on TV’s Ally McBeal) pitched a more comedic take on the character. It was also the actor’s idea to make the character of Carpathian origin, thus adding another level to his connection with Vigo. Ivan Reitman loved this, and gave MacNicol permission to make the part his own.
16. Eugene Levy shot a role that was cut completely from the final film
Initially, Ghostbusters II was going to feature a supporting turn from Eugene Levy as Sherman, the cousin of Rick Moranis‘ Louis Tully, and who was to have a similarly clinical temperament. Sherman worked at the mental institute where the Ghostbusters are committed midway through the film, and the character was originally set to have a key role to play in getting them released.
Unfortunately for Levy, all of his scenes wound up being left on the cutting room floor. Not that this seems to have hindered his career too badly: Levy continued to work steadily as a comedic character actor before really hitting the big time as the embarrassing dad of the American Pie movies, and more recently as the star and co-creator of acclaimed TV sitcom Schitt’s Creek.
15. It underperformed at the box office after opening back-to-back with Batman
In the end, the stress of making Ghostbusters II didn’t totally pay off. The film opened just a few days before the biggest blockbuster of the year, Batman, and as a result its box office performance was far lower than expected at $215.4 million worldwide. While this more than recouped the budget (reportedly between $30-40 million), it paled in comparison to Batman’s $474 million.
On top of which, the reviews for Ghostbusters II were largely unkind, with most critics blasting the film as a cynical carbon copy of the original. The experience caused divides in the Ghostbusters camp, in particular Bill Murray, whose refusal to play Peter Venkman again was one of the main reasons the long-planned Ghostbusters III never happened.
14. Oscar actor Hank Deutschendorf took his own life in 2017
The role of Dana’s son Oscar was taken by newborn twins Hank and William Deutschendorf, the nephews of folk singer John Denver. Ghostbusters II marked the only time the brothers appeared on film, aside from their appearance in 2017 Ghostbusters documentary Cleanin’ Up the Town. In adulthood, the Deutschendorf twins became martial arts instructors.
Tragically, Hank struggled with severe mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which ultimately led him to take his own life in 2017 aged 29. Since his brother’s death, William Deutschendorf has worked extensively to promote awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention.
13. The film was rushed into production because the studio were desperate for a hit
Even though 1984’s Ghostbusters had been a huge blockbuster success, neither the filmmakers nor studio Columbia Pictures were initially in any great hurry to make a sequel. Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis all moved on to other projects, whilst Bill Murray went on hiatus for a few years (a couple of cameo roles aside).
However, after Columbia had an unsuccessful few years, the studio became anxious for a big money-making hit, and when new studio boss Dawn Steel took over she made Ghostbusters II a major priority. With the pressure on, the cast and crew were hastily re-assembled in 1988, but it was apparent to everyone that they were there primarily for business reasons.
12. Ray was originally going to spend more time possessed by Vigo
One of the most incongruous moments in Ghostbusters II comes in the grand finale, when Ray is very briefly possessed by the spirit of Vigo, necessitating an extensive make-up job on actor Dan Aykroyd. However, this moment passes rather quickly, with Ray being freed of Vigo after being hosed down with positively-charged slime. (Only in a Ghostbusters movie!)
This seemingly throwaway plot twist is a remnant of a subplot which was otherwise almost entirely cut from Ghostbusters II. In the original script, Ray spent a lot more time possessed by Vigo. Ray was to become possessed earlier in the movie, almost immediately after he first sees Vigo’s portrait; one deleted scene sees Ray do some dangerous driving in Ecto-1 having temporarily been taken over by Vigo’s spirit.
11. Bill Murray almost refused to return after being badmouthed by the former studio boss
Part of the reason why Ghostbusters II didn’t go into development sooner was that the head of the franchise’s studio at the time was not interested. In 1986, David Puttnam (the respected British film producer behind Oscar-winning smash Chariots of Fire) was appointed chairman of Columbia Pictures, and he made it clear that populist blockbusters were not his thing.
Even more significantly, Puttnam did not hold Ghostbusters star Bill Murray in high regard, and spoke openly about this in the press, denouncing Murray as “an actor who makes millions of dollars from Hollywood without giving back to his art.” Murray was naturally outraged, and this increased his reluctance to make a Ghostbusters sequel, even after Columbia fired Puttnam in 1987.
10. The director and lead actors got a cut of the film’s profits rather than a salary
When contract negotiations began for Ghostbusters II, Bill Murray (likely still smarting from David Puttnam’s comments) demanded $10 million, and his co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis said they wouldn’t accept anything less than what Murray got. This threatened to push the film’s budget up much higher than the studio was willing to go.
Eager to save money up front, Columbia’s money men came up with a compromise: if Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and director Ivan Reitman would agree to take no money up front, they would instead take a percentage of the film’s profits. The men agreed to this, although the exact amount they got is unclear, with Reitman having denied reports that the four men got 10% of the profits each.
9. Dan Aykroyd’s original script was set in Scotland and featured fairies
Early on in the development of Ghostbusters II, actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd was keen to make the sequel stand apart from the original by moving the action out of New York City. Aykroyd’s initial script was set in Scotland and featured subterranean fairy folk. Eventually Aykroyd realised this was “too inaccessible,” so it was agreed that Ghostbusters II should be set in Manhattan like the first film.
As on the first film, Aykroyd co-wrote the final Ghostbusters II script with Harold Ramis, and they came up with the idea of negative psychic energy in New York being responsible for a paranormal outbreak. As well as being interesting dramatically, this allowed them to comment on the high levels of violent crime and unrest in the city at the time.
8. Screen legend Max von Sydow provided Vigo’s voice, without credit
The supernatural antagonist of Ghostbusters II is Vigo the Carpathian, a brutal warlord whose spirit lives on through his portrait. This role is taken by Wilhelm von Homburg, a former boxer and wrestler from Germany who had made his Hollywood acting debut in 1988 as one of the villainous terrorists in action classic Die Hard.
However, while von Homburg portrays Vigo in body, it was ultimately decided that his voice wasn’t up to scratch. Because von Hamburg wasn’t deemed sufficiently villainous-sounding, all his lines were dubbed over by esteemed actor Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Flash Gordon). Sadly no one informed von Homburg; the first the actor knew of it was at the film’s premiere, which prompted him to angrily walk out.
7. The last 25 minutes of the film was reshot in four days after poor test screenings
Eugene Levy’s role wasn’t the only thing shot for Ghostbusters II that wound up being cut from the final film. After some disastrous test screenings, the Ghostbusters II cast and crew realised that the final act they’d shot simply didn’t work, and – with their June 1989 release looming – they needed to get it fixed, quickly.
As a result of this, director Ivan Reitman rapidly called the shots on four days of reshoots conducted between March and April 1989, barely two months before the film was set to open. As well as completely reshooting the last 25 minutes, Reitman added a number of additional scenes, including the ghost train and the photography darkroom scene.
6. The He-Man jokes were a stab at TV company Filmation over the Ghostbusters cartoons
One thing that a lot of people wondered back in the 80s was why the cartoon spin-off of Ghostbusters was entitled The Real Ghostbusters. The answer is, there was a copyright clash. Back in the 70s, TV company Filmation produced a live action comedy for kids entitled The Ghost Busters. This proved unsuccessful, and Filmation later focused on animated shows.
After the success of the unrelated 1984 film, Filmation relaunched their property as a cartoon called Ghostbusters. This meant the cartoon based on the movie, released very soon thereafter, was legally unable to use the same title. For this reason, Ghostbusters II’s birthday party features bratty kids enthusing about He-Man; this was a way of thumbing the nose at Filmation, as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was their biggest hit.
5. The slime was edible
Thanks to Peter Venkman getting ‘slimed’ and the monster melted marshmallow climax, the original Ghostbusters is famous for its gooeyness. Ghostbusters II goes further with this by making slime vital to the plot: here, there’s a ‘psychoreactive’ substance that responds to human emotions, forming a river deep beneath the streets of Manhattan.
The slime developed for the movie by the special effects team was made primarily from a substance called methocel. A vegetable-based thickening agent, methocel was a commonly used additive in gravy, and even in milkshakes. This being the case, the Ghostbusters II slime was technically edible, though probably not too tasty.
4. Vigo’s portrait was actually a photograph
A key prop in Ghostbusters II is the portrait of Vigo, in which the spirit of the 16th century warlord resides. The original plan had been to use an actual oil painting, and an artist was commissioned to produce it. However, it was soon realised that this would look unconvincing when Vigo stepped out of the painting and into the real world.
Instead, actor Wilhem von Homburg was photographed whilst in full costume as Vigo. This photograph was then blown up to full gallery portrait size, and put through filters to make it look as much like an oil painting as possible. (Sure, you can do that very easily on your phone today, but it took a great deal of work back in the 80s.)
3. It gave Bobby Brown a hit single in theme song On Our Own
1984’s Ghostbusters wasn’t just a hit movie; it also produced a hit single in Ray Parker Jr’s theme song Ghostbusters, which remains a well-loved song today (despite controversy over its similarity to an earlier Huey Lewis and the News song). Ghostbusters II faced the daunting task of coming up with a similarly catchy theme.
The song they got was On Our Own by Bobby Brown. While this song is nowhere near as well remembered as Parker’s Ghostbusters, it was a big hit back in 1989, hitting number one on the US Billboard chart and making the top five in many other countries. Brown agreed to record the song (plus a second, We’re Back) in exchange for a cameo, so the scene with the Mayor’s doorman was written specifically for the singer.
2. It was one of 18 major sequels released in 1989
Today, we often hear talk of ‘franchise fatigue,’ as it often seems the multiplexes are filled with nothing but the latest megabudget sequel. Back in the 80s, film franchises weren’t quite so commonplace, but the wind seemed to be changing the year Ghostbusters II opened – as 1989 saw more sequels open than in any other year before.
A staggering 18 sequels hit the big screen, including such blockbusters as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, Star Trek V, The Karate Kid Part III, Lethal Weapon 2 and Bond movie Licence to Kill. There were also the horror sequels Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Halloween 5, Fright Night Part 2, The Fly II and Friday the 13th Part VIII, as well as comedy sequels Police Academy 6, Fletch Lives and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
1 It shares an Ivan Reitman Easter egg with Ghostbusters: Afterlife
In the sequence where the river of slime creeps to street level and Manhattan once again descends into paranormal pandemonium, terrified cinema patrons come dashing out of a theatre playing a movie called Cannibal Girls. This is an actual movie: it was the 1973 feature debut of director Ivan Reitman, and as the theatre banner reads it did indeed star Eugene Levy (he of the cut Ghostbusters II cameo).
Viewers who are paying especially close attention may notice a very similar Easter egg in 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Director Jason Reitman’s belated continuation of the Ghostbusters franchise is set in the small Oklahoma town of Summerville; at one point the camera passes a movie theatre which also happens to be showing Cannibal Girls.