With almost 30 years passing between the 1989 release of Ghostbusters II and this summer's reboot of the franchise, it's easy to assume that Columbia Pictures was in no rush to bring the series back to theaters. But the truth is, after the sequel grossed more than $200 million, the studio was dead-set on producing more Ghostbusters movies. Unfortunately, a small army of writers, directors, and actors couldn't get the project in front of cameras, leaving it to wallow in development hell for decades.
Development hell is an ironic landing spot for a sequel that was set to take place in a devilish version of Manhattan, appropriately called "Manhellton." In a radio interview given in 2007, Aykroyd said that not only would the Ghostbusters have actually traveled to Hell in a potential sequel, they would have met up with the devil himself, who was to bear a striking resemblance to a certain presidential candidate:
"I wrote a script called Hell Bent—Ghostbusters go to Hell, basically. The premise is that it’s Manhellton. There’s Manhattan and ManHELLton. And ... you can build an inter-dimensional phase system so that you can go from one dimension to another. We’ve succeeded doing that, and we go to the Hell side. Central Park is this huge, deep mine, green demons there, surrounded by black onyx thousand-foot-high apartment buildings with classic red devils. Very wealthy. And we go visit a Donald Trump-like character—Mr. Siffler. Lou Siffler, Lucifer. So I will say we meet the devil in it."
The Ghostbusters transported to Hell to do battle with a Donald Trump stand-in who also happens to be Satan himself? Aykroyd could have no idea how prescient this script would be in 2016 as he was developing it throughout the 1990s and 2000s, but before he could make the Ghostbusters great again, reality set in.
Before the word "reboot" was even on Hollywood's radar, the idea behind a Ghostbusters sequel hinged on the original cast returning to reclaim their roles. Well, another go-around with a proton pack just didn't interest star Bill Murray, who routinely turned down offers for another stab at the franchise.
“Look, he was not interested in doing the second one,” Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “He doesn’t really like the idea of sequels, and we were burdened with that at the start. We got close a few times. Bill kept flirting.”
“I never begrudged him not being in the third movie, though I wrote a nice part for him in Hellbent, where the Ghostbusters go to hell,” Aykroyd said in the same interview. “He’s got very high standards and a high bulls*** detector.”
That "bulls*** detector" might have gone off once Murray actually sat down to read Aykroyd's treatment for the script: "I read one that Danny wrote that was crazy bizarre and too crazy to comprehend,” Murray said in an interview with Variety. “It was kind of funny, but not well executed." Murray's non-involvement was a huge obstacle for the cast, crew, and studio to overcome, and it's one of the major culprits behind the 27-year gap and eventual reboot.
Aykroyd and others kept plugging away, though, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Hellbent took on many forms. At one point it was even going to feature a new generation of 'Busters that would lend a helping hand to the aging crew—possibly setting up a new slate of sequels with a younger cast. In a review of the script, IGN gave a rundown of the diverse new breed of paranormal investigators:
"This new crew includes: Franky, a body-pierced, tough New Jersey punker; Lovell, a dread-locked dude; Moira, a pretty but uptight gymnast and science grad; and Carla, a Latino beauty. There's also Nat, a prepubescent genius whose powerful brain has made his head abnormally large."
There was even an idea that Hellbent would actually be the basis for a fourth or fifth Ghostbusters movie, with even more sequels coming before it.
Unfortunately, after years of stalling and false starts, it was the 2014 death of Harold Ramis that really snuffed out the last glimmer of hope that the original cast could come together for one last adventure (or maybe even two or three more). However, there is one place where a few morsels of Hellbent actually lived on: the video games.
In 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released, and somehow Terminal Reality and Atari—the developer and publisher behind the game, respectively—did what no billion-dollar movie studio could: they managed to get Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, and Ernie Hudson together to provide the voices for all of their original characters. With a story credited to Aykroyd and Ramis, the game featured the evil Ivo Shandor opening up alternate dimensions to cause havoc in Manhattan—a plot point that was set to be explored in Hellbent.
In the end, Ghostbusters: Hellbent was just one of many attempts to revive the franchise after the financial success of Ghostbusters II. Over the years, a handful of Ghostbusters comic books, cartoons, and novels have acted as pseudo sequels for the franchise, but none of them have quenched the thirst of fans. There were even scripts other than Hellbent that almost got produced—including one with baby Oscar leading a new generation of Ghostbusters along with the ghost of Peter Venkman—but the stars never aligned properly to get the projects off the ground.
After all of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that engulfed the original cast and crew, maybe it's best to start over and let a new generation do what so many others have tried: make the Ghostbusters relevant again. At least that's what Sony is hoping for as the new Ghostbusters hits theaters this weekend.