A third Ghostbusters movie arrives in theaters this week, after decades of trying to revive the comedy sci-fi series. But for many fans, including some of the folks who made Ghostbusters, the third movie was a 2009 video game.
Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis co-wrote the original Ghostbusters film, and though the two hoped to produce more films, a number of factors prevented its return. Namely, actor Bill Murray didn’t want to come back. That changed when he saw the final script for Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
Yes, that actually happened.
Murray doesn’t look back very fondly on Ghostbusters 2. (I think the movie gets unfairly maligned, though it’s clearly inferior to the original.)
“What they really want to do is resurrect a franchise,” he told Variety in 2014, when the all-female reboot from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig was first announced. “The first one was a spectacular movie, one of the greatest movies. The second one was [Murray makes unimpressed sound] ... It had some moves. It had a few good scenes in it.”
Ramis and Aykroyd would send Murray different scripts over the years, hoping to entice him back. One version famously killed Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, in the opening, limiting how much time he would have to be involved. “It was kind of funny, but not well executed,” he said.
It’s always seemed Murray wasn’t literally opposed to strapping on another proton pack, but his career was doing fine without Ghostbusters. If he was going to return, it needed to happen because there was a good reason.
Case in point, he didn’t have to provide his voice for Ghostbusters: The Video Game, but he was intrigued. (Only having to show up to a recording booth probably helped.) That experience re-opened his mind to the character.
“We did the video game this summer and it was fun to do it again,” he said during a 2008 appearance. “I found myself walking down 5th avenue doing the song. [laughs] People must have thought ‘God, that guy’s really full of himself.’
There were plenty of Ghostbusters games produced in the 80s and 90s, but it eventually died down. In 2006, the otherwise unknown Slovenian developer ZootFly uploaded a series of videos to YouTube teasing a Ghostbusters video game, showing an especially impressive take on combat.
Zootfly didn’t have the license, however, and the videos were yanked from YouTube. (Other than being 2006, that’s why the quality is such garbage.)
It was a cool concept, though, and ignited fan interest. Developer Terminal Reality happened to working on their own Ghostbusters pitch at the time, and though Zootfly’s experiment didn’t go anywhere, it greased the wheels for Terminal Reality getting the green-light.
“We were already working on the game six to nine months at that time,” said Terminal Reality president Mark Randel in an interview with The Official Xbox Magazine, “and the license was either signed or about to be signed. What Zootfly did for us, inadvertently, is help sell the concept. When their footage came out, we were close to our green-light meeting, and when the executives saw the reaction from the fans, they immediately knew, ‘Hey, Ghostbusters is going to be a big hit—we need to put this game into production.’”
The game’s production was troubled by corporate maneuverings, as Sierra Entertainment had previously brokered the deal for a Ghostbusters game. When Vivendi, its parent company, merged its Activision label with Blizzard, Ghostbusters was put in doubt. Infogrames later snatched up the rights, and the game was ultimately published through the Atari label.
Terminal Reality reportedly worked closely with Aykroyd and Ramis to develop the script, which included a number of the more fantastical elements planned for the original movie. In terms of the timeline, it’s set after the events of Ghostbusters 2.
More than 300 lines of dialogue were written for the game, with the full script expanding to more than 600 pages.
“I had to restore the enthusiasm, the passion, the energy, and the youth,” said Aykroyd in an interview with Time. “It as a challenge. I had to watch both movies and had to get in there and read the dialogue over and look at what I was gonna do. [Try to] relive that time and relive that moment and get back to that kind of enthusiasm and passion.”
According The Guardian, Murray had a single demand for coming back to the role: “an assurance that Winston Zeddemore, the underwritten black character from the movies, would be elevated to full status.”
Zeddemore, played by actor Ernie Hudson, has routinely been scrubbed from full Ghostbuster status over the years, especially in the marketing. Even the most recent Blu-ray only depicts Akyroyd, Ramis, and Murray.
One character who didn’t show up for the game, however, was actress Sigourney Weaver. She was asked to reprise her role but declined.
“I’m not sure what her decision-making process was,” said Aykroyd to Newsweek, “other than that she was being very careful to protect the reputation and legacy of the first movie, and was concerned that maybe a video game might risk turning out badly. But perhaps if she had had the benefit of being in on some of the early meetings and seeing some of the concepts, maybe she might have felt differently about it. She will definitely be in the third movie—we sure need her there, for sure.”
It’s a little more complicated than that. Weaver did turn down an offer to be in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, fearing it would be crappy, but when she learned Murray was involved, she changed her mind. At that point, however, production was too far along to add her in.
It didn’t help that she’d had poor experiences with game pitches before, specifically related to Ripley in the Alien series.
“They wanted me to do Ripley and I said, ‘Well you have Ripley killing aliens but also sick people and other marines!’” she told MTV. “And every other word out of my mouth was a curse word. I’m not a nun or anything, but I said, ’This is not true to the character.’ And they also showed me six video games and said it was going to be made by this company. There was one called ’Rednecks’ where they shoot animals. The whole thing was so ridiculous.”
Can’t really blame her for that one.
It’s highly unlikely the original lineup of Ghostbusters will be on-screen again together, meaning Ghostbusters: The Video Game will serve as an unofficial Ghostbusters 3 for many. One fan even chopped up the gameplay and cutscenes to produce a “movie” version of the game.
“Let’s face it folks, our beloved Harold Ramis is no longer with us,” wrote YouTube creator GamestersStuff in the description. “That means we lost a legendary actor, writer, director and a great human being. This also means that there will never be a true Ghostbusters III movie unfortunately.”
This video was published after Feig’s reboot had been announced.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game was intended to kick off a Ghostbusters revival, with Aykroyd and Ramis kicking around script ideas from new writers. (The untimely death of Ramis is what prompted the project to seek a new slate of ghost hunters.) And though Ghostbusters: The Video Game was financially successfully, selling more than a million units in its first month, future games never went anywhere. Terminal Reality shut down in 2013.
The most recent Ghostbusters game is, unfortunately, pretty bad.
That Actually Happened is a weekly series at Kotaku in which we highlight interesting moments in gaming history. So far, we’ve revisited when Sonic kissed a human, a live game show on Xbox 360, and Sony throwing a God of War party with a dead goat. If you have any suggestions for future entries, please let us know in the comments below!