We stand at the beginning of a year that will bring us a second attempt at reviving the Ghostbusters franchise, with Ghostbusters: Afterlife. As we do so, and with the spirit of FANGRRLTopia in mind, one can’t help but imagine a world where another soft reboot wouldn’t be only the horizon so quickly. Instead, it's a FANGRRLTopia where Ghostbusters (2016) was a much bigger hit film, one that spawned at least one sequel, and possibly was looking at a third to cap out a trilogy. What would that world look like, how could it even have come about, and what can we do to create such a world for the future films that share similar vibes?
To start off, let me just say that I wish nothing but the best for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. First and foremost, I’m a Ghostbusters fan. It’s one of the first franchises I fell in love with as a kid, I had my own jumpsuit, proton pack, ghost trap, and wore them to things that were definitively not costume-related, like an Independence Day parade in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I wore out the VHS copy of Ghostbusters, saw Ghostbusters II in theaters and remain an avid defender of it to this day. And furthermore, I’m a Jason Reitman fan, as well as a Carrie Coon fan, and if I can’t have another Ghostbusters movie with Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy, Afterlife seems like a pretty good alternative.
In FANGRRLTopia, we’d already have had a second Ghostbusters film about Holtzmann, Abby, Patty, and Erin. It probably would’ve been about Gozer, given the teaser at the end of the first one. We’d see more orange striped jumpsuit cosplay at comic cons. We’d have a whole other line of new ghost fighting toys, based on the increasingly bizarre inventions of Jillian Holtzmann. And while McKinnon was a breakout star from the film, and McCarthy and Wiig have continued their already successful careers, perhaps a bigger hit film could’ve meant that Leslie Jones, still killing it on SNL, would have a much more lucrative film career as well, multiplying the handful of credits she’s had since 2016. And it being FANGRRLtopia, Jillian Holtzmann got to let her queer flag fly in the sequel, showing that tentpole action-adventure films can get just a bit gayer and it’ll be okay.
On the matter of how the movie could’ve been a bigger hit, there’s one truth about it that has to be said: It could have been a better movie. I’m saying that at someone who thoroughly enjoyed it, who adores the cast, who thinks its director, Paul Feig, made some of the best comedies of the last decade, and who even admires the work of its writer, Katie Dippold. But anyone who has dug into the edits on the extended cut on DVD, or even noticed how elaborate the dance sequence in the closing credits was and wondered why that wasn’t in the actual movie, knows that this Ghostbusters is a little bit of a mess. It has some truly brilliant moments, like Jones’ “room full of nightmares,” line read, but it has some painful parts as well, the running joke of the idiocy of Chris Hemsworth wears itself out fast. I have literally halted plans to re-watch it because I can’t deal with that “my cat” monologue on certain days.
What exactly happened to the movie despite the level of talent behind it is unclear. Rumors about issues with production and disagreements between Feig and Sony about the movie and its role with the studio were aplenty. Regardless of the causes, in FANGRRLtopia, the film that Paul Feig talked about making in 2014 is the movie we’d have gotten. The FANGRRLtopia version of Ghostbusters (2016) is the scary one, the one that has no tenuous connections to the original films. It’s a film unburdened by a series of forced cameos and labored references that prevent the movie from ever standing on its own two feet. For better or for worse, our Ghostbusters reboot gets to be its own movie.
In FANGRRLtopia, the infamous trolling of the movie never happened. The rallying cry around “Lady Ghostbusters” that began before the cast had even been finalized wouldn’t have occurred. As a result, the bungled marketing might have also spent a little more time on actually promoting the movie that was made and not trying to play damage control against one of the most targeted campaigns ever amassed against a work of fiction with zero impact on the lives of those who wanted to bring it down. The smearing against the movie got to be so bad that by the time it came out, people legitimately weren’t even sure how to talk about it. So much misogyny had been spread about the movie, and so much targeted racism at Jones, that anyone who had anything legitimately critical to say about it felt silenced out of the conversation. And not being able to talk about a movie isn’t exactly great for the buzz. The overall conversation about the movie became one not of quality but of obligation. No one gets excited to see a movie because other people tell them it’s their duty.
Our final dream is one that hopefully can be a reality to help the next Ghostbusters. It’s something that I myself have been guilty of in the past and strive to do better with. This is a tough pill to swallow as someone who makes an income with the writing of pieces about pop culture often with a feminist spin. But one of the reasons there was a target placed on the Ghostbusters reboot from the beginning was the way it was touted as an “all-lady reboot” from the second news of it hit the presses, even by writers who meant to be championing it. It effectively whittled the legitimate talent behind the film into a gender dynamic that ultimately had little to do with the film’s actual story.
In FANGRRLtopia, the fact that the cast of the reboot happened to be all women wouldn’t be newsworthy at all. The director of Spy and Bridesmaids was making a Ghostbusters reboot with the stars of both. The fact that the gender swap became the bigger story than the track record of those involved in it didn’t help the conversation. Some of that is due to the aforementioned trolls, but not all of it. It is important that women get more chances to headline major tentpole features. And it’s great to be excited when that happens. But sometimes we need to let movies just be the movie they’re going to be before we saddle them with so much baggage that they become too weighed down to ever truly be a success. And if we can prevent future female-led films from experiencing the same fate as the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, maybe we can make FANGRRLtopia a place on Earth.