Every ‘Ghostbusters’ Movie Ranked, from the Original to ‘Frozen Empire’

You probably already know what will be number one on this list. The “Ghostbusters” franchise has gone through its ups and downs, reboots and legacyquels. But as the first film approaches its 40th anniversary this June, there’s little doubt in anybody’s mind that it remains the definitive ghost-catching movie of them all.

In the early ’80s, Dan Aykroyd — then just fresh off his stint as an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member — was inspired by his own belief in the supernatural to write a script about a group of eccentric academics who start a pest-control business where the “pests” they’re catching are malevolent spirits. Recruiting former “SNL” castmate Bill Murray to star, comedian Harold Ramis to help rewrite the screenplay, and “Meatballs” and “Stripes” filmmaker Ivan Reitman to direct. The final film, which hit theaters in 1984, starred Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the four Ghostbusters, along with Annie Potts as their secretary and Sigourney Weaver as a woman possessed by an ancient demigod that the small-time heroes are forced to defeat. This entire heroic tale is told with its tongue firmly in its cheek, as a comedy more interested in laughs than action or scares.

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“Ghostbusters” was an immediate and massive success when it first came out, grossing $252 million worldwide; its iconic theme song from Ray Parker Jr. reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Naturally, its success made Columbia Pictures eager to launch a franchise. But the followup, 1989’s “Ghostbusters II,” was met with negative critical and fan reception, and performed slightly worse at the box office than the original movie. This effectively killed the potential for a third film, and the franchise lay dormant for decades, give or take iconic Saturday Morning Cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters.”

In the 2010s, as the kids who grew up with the original film became a very lucrative group of ticket-purchasing adults, the franchise was reborn again as Sony attempted several relaunches of the property. The first was a total reboot of the first films from director Paul Feig that featured a few original cast members in cameo roles, but otherwise tried to repeat the magic of the first film by repeating its formula of “Saturday Night Live” stars busting ghosts and making raunchy jokes. The main difference was that in the 2016 “Ghostbusters” those “Saturday Night Live” cast members were women — Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, plus non-“SNL” player Melissa McCarthy. This change generated a lot of sexist and right-wing backlash against the film, especially online, which (probably) didn’t have that much to do with the film’s underperformance at the box office. But again, the film underperformed, and Sony quickly pivoted.

The current “Ghostbusters” series kicked off in 2021 with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” directed by the late Ivan Reitman’s son Jason. Rather than try and recapture the comedy of the original, the film is essentially a nostalgic, fan service filled blockbuster, telling the story of the grandchildren of the late Ramis as they carry on his ghostbusting business, and featuring most of the original cast in supporting parts. The film received mixed reviews, but was a relative success financially, and Sony continued the series with direct sequel “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” which arrives in theaters after a three-year wait.

With “Frozen Empire” in theaters now, IndieWire is taking stock of the franchise to determine which of its sequels and reboots most succeeded in recapturing the magic of the original, and which are best left to the graveyard. We won’t be including beloved “The Real Ghostbusters,” although rest assured it would place high if we did. Read on for our list of all five “Ghostbusters” films, ranked from worst to best.

With editorial contributions from Kate Erbland.

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