Why Ghostbusters’ Biggest Problem Is an Identity Crisis, Explained



  • Recent
    films lack the comedic roots that made the original so beloved, leading to an identity crisis in the franchise.
  • The legacy-sequel trend fails to fully capture the essence of
    , with newer films alienating fans of the original comedy.
  • New films, like
    Frozen Empire
    , focus more on action, neglecting the humor that made the 1984 classic enduring.

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, you know who to call — Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is now playing in theaters. And while the 1984 original remains a classic and a perfect blend of horror, comedy, and action, Ghostbusters has had a much more mixed track record as a franchise, as the creative teams responsible for all its follow-ups never seem to have had a full grasp on the genre blend. Nonetheless, 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife gave the franchise by far its biggest box office return since the original, and thus, Frozen Empire is naturally following in that film’s more nostalgic, legacy-driven direction.

But considering the greatly mixed reception to both Afterlife and now Frozen Empire, it can’t help but feel like the franchise is in the midst of a giant identity crisis, and that it’s forgotten its comedic roots in trying to appeal to the original fans. And considering how much of a tonal tightrope the first film walked with total dexterity, how can it be that virtually none of its successors have lived up to that, and more importantly, why they seem to have stopped trying to?

The Legacy-Sequel Problem

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire


Release Date
March 22, 2024

Mckenna Grace , Carrie Coon , Annie Potts , Paul Rudd , Emily Alyn Lind , Bill Murray , Finn Wolfhard , Ernie Hudson , Dan Aykroyd , Patton Oswalt , William Atherton , Kumail Nanjiani

Read Our Review

Over the last decade, legacy-sequels have become dominant in franchise storytelling. In 2015, Creed saw the Rocky franchise knock its way back into the public consciousness as Apollo Creed’s son picked up the mantle from the Italian Stallion, and The Force Awakens brought Star Wars back to the big screen through a story similar to A New Hope with a new cast of characters. And this angle worked brilliantly in both cases; Rocky and Star Wars were already beloved franchises, and placing new characters in a familiar setup was a perfect way to reacquaint viewers within these worlds.

But has Ghostbusters ever been beloved as a franchise? Sure, the original is almost unanimously beloved, and the 80s cartoon The Real Ghostbustersmaintains a devoted following to this day. But considering how much of a disappointment 1989’s Ghostbusters II was at the time, and how infamously polarizing the 2016 female-driven installment was, it feels like the 1984 film is the only thing viewers could be feasibly nostalgic for.


Ghostbusters’ Slimer and Ghost Trap Popcorn Buckets Avoid Dune 2’s Sandworm Controversy

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’s debut brings with it some new collectable popcorn buckets for fans.

As a result, the moments in both Afterlife and Frozen Empire that call back on the famous Ghostbusters’ iconography feel empty, and even the few moments that land forget the context that made them work in the first place. Consider Afterlife‘s use of the “Mini-Pufts”, tiny possessed marshmallow men meant to call back to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, reimagined to function as the film’s equivalent of the Minions. In the original, Mr. Stay-Puft’s appearance became iconic because the concept of the demonic Gozer manifesting in the form of a marshmallow mascot was inherently absurd, and the film wisely played it for comedy. Drawing on viewer nostalgia for a comedic-driven moment feels like the retelling of a joke that stopped being funny the fifth time.

Worse, neither Afterlife nor Frozen Empire fully commit to fully being legacy-sequels. The Force Awakens succeeded by making Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren the main characters, with Han Solo and Leia only serving as their mentors. And while the new characters Afterlife introduced hold promise and benefit from a likable cast, the return of the original team late in the film completely distracts from their story. Frozen Empire continues this trend, trying to please both the original Ghostbusters fans and the newer ones by involving the original team and the new one, but neither side of the story gets enough focus, and the film’s audience feels uncertain.

I Ain’t Afraid of No Jokes

But the bigger problem is that the recent Ghostbusters films seem to have almost entirely forgotten the franchise’s comedic roots. The 1984 film was indeed a deft balance of action and horror, and some of the mythology surrounding Gozer and Zuul was interesting, but what keeps people revisiting it to this day is that the film is hilarious. Comedy takes precedent first and foremost, with a cast of Saturday Night Live veterans at the top of their game taking center stage and committing to some of the funniest gags ever put to celluloid.

Considering how overwhelmingly controversial 2016’s Answer the Call proved, what’s surprising in hindsight is how closely it followed in the original’s comedic footsteps. Paul Feig, famous for laugh riots like Bridesmaids and Spy took the director’s chair, and the admittedly minimal plot was mostly a showcase for talented SNL stars like Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. It was inconsistent, but especially considering where the franchise went immediately after, one has to give it credit for at least remembering to be a comedy at all.

Perhaps the most baffling decision both Afterlife and Frozen Empire made is how both films are mostly action blockbusters. One senses the creative team desperately wanted to win back the original fans alienated by Answer the Call, by playing on their nostalgia and focusing heavily on the original team. But both movies have long stretches almost completely bereft of jokes, when what keeps the 1984 classic enduring to this day is how funny it was, and how it let its characters crack wise at the absurdity of the situations they dealt with. Without that self-awareness, the new films feel cookie-cutter and indistinguishable from the likes of Stranger Things.

And while neither Afterlife nor Frozen Empire are entirely devoid of laughs, most of these chuckles come from almost entirely from supporting players like Paul Rudd, Kumail Nanjiani, and Patton Oswalt. But all of them are already such inherently funny individuals that they’re almost guaranteed to generate at least one laugh from their presence alone, regardless of the material’s quality.


Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Director Is Already Planning More Sequels

Director Gil Kenan already has ideas for more adventures beyond Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

The Original Magic Can’t Be Replicated

The 1984 Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle, a perfect marriage of action, comedy, and horror, boasting a rock-solid script and elevated by some of the funniest comedians alive letting loose. It’s safe to say that virtually nothing in the franchise since has even come close to recapturing that magic, and especially considering how the recent films seem to have almost entirely dispensed of humor, it can’t help but feel like the franchise is in the midst of a giant identity crisis. If the creative team wants to keep the Ghostbusters relevant in this day and age, they may do well to draw upon other recent successful blends of comedy and horror, like the works of Sam Raimi, 2017’s Happy Death Day, or 2019’s hugely underrated Ready or Not. And hopefully they realize this sooner rather than later, because it would be wonderful for busting to make us feel good once again. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is currently playing in theaters.



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