The Cast of ‘Ghostbusters’ Almost Looked Very Different


The Big Picture

  • Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
    is bringing back classic heroes to face a new ghostly villain with particularly icy threats.
  • The original
    film almost had a vastly different cast, including John Belushi, Michael Keaton, and Richard Pryor.
  • Several iconic roles in
    , like Peter Venkman and Winston Zeddemore, were almost played by different actors.

Everyone’s favorite specter hunters will be returning to New York this spring (ironically narrowly missing winter) with Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Once again, a new generation of Ghostbusters —the family of Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) — will be teaming up with the classic heroes from the original 1984 film. This time, they’ll face an all-new ghostly villain that threatens to hurl New York City into a new frozen ice age.

Ghostbusters may be a blockbuster franchise now, but it all started with the original film in 1984, fondly remembered as one of the best sci-fi comedies of the 1980s. Not only does the film hit a home run in terms of its poignant sense of humor, but it also perseveres as a strong science fiction film with solid horror elements, including surprisingly deep mythology and jaw-dropping practical effects that still hold up to this day. Those elements all work wonders for the classic Ivan Reitman-directed film, but it’s the lead cast and characters of Ghostbusters that really glue the film together. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson all add something special to the group dynamic of Ray, Peter, Egon, and Winston respectively.

The idea that these four iconic characters could be played by anyone else sounds almost as hard to believe as the existence of ghosts. You might be surprised to hear that was almost the case, as the original Ghostbusters film that started it all nearly featured a very different cast of stars. As a matter of fact, when the project was first conceived, the entire film was vastly different from the final product that we all know and love.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

When the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age.

Release Date
March 29, 2024

Gil Kenan

Gil Kenan , Jason Reitman , Ivan Reitman , Dan Aykroyd , Harold Ramis

125 Minutes

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi Were Supposed To Star in…’Ghost Smashers’?

The Ghostbusters franchise has been in the hands of many writers, filmmakers, actors, and more, but one person who has been with the IP since the very beginning is Saturday Night Live cast member Dan Aykroyd. We don’t just mean that in the sense that he starred in the first film, but Aykroyd was the one who created and developed the idea behind the film back when he wrote the screenplay for Ghost Smashers — the original title for a much different kind of ghost movie. As many fans of Aykroyd likely know, the comedian has always had a keen interest in the supernatural, which reportedly, according to the American Film Institute, was an essential inspiration for Aykroyd’s ghost-themed action-comedy.

Ghost Smashers was announced to be in development in 1982, two years after Aykroyd proved himself as a viable star with The Blues Brothers, which served a similar role for Aykroyd’s Saturday Night Live castmate, John Belushi. The comedic classic and tribute to all things blues music was a hit at the box office, and the high-concept sci-fi comedy of Ghost Smashers made it an alluring treatment for studios. Aykroyd planned to star in the film along with Belushi as his on-screen partner yet again. Unfortunately, this would not be the case following Belushi’s unexpected and untimely passing in March 1982, just a few months before Universal Pictures picked up the film.


Resurrecting the Ghostbusters Films That Could’ve Been

Prior to ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife,’ multiple directors and writers tried their hands at reviving the supernatural comedy.

Belushi’s death led to some of the first of many significant rewrites for the film, as Aykroyd and the rest of the crew began developing the film with other comedic leads in mind. Many have been rumored over the years, but one concrete choice for the film was legendary stand-up comedianRichard Pryor. The exact reasons why plans to include Pryor fell through aren’t exactly known.

Aykroyd’s script and story would continue to be tweaked and rewritten, especially when the film switched hands to Columbia Pictures and Stripes director Ivan Reitman and National Lampoon’s Animal House writer Harold Ramis were brought on board. Around this time, the script (now formally known as Ghostbusters) went through its most dramatic changes. Reitman reportedly felt that the film needed to be more grounded, as the earlier drafts of Ghost Smashers heavily leaned into the supernatural aspects. Early drafts seemingly depicted the heroes as closer to members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s TVA than a ragtag group of misfits from New York. AFI further expands on this in the following excerpt:

“Facing a severely shortened production schedule and a limited budget, Reitman called for major changes to Aykroyd’s verbose script, which depicted the “Ghostbusters” as an established society of interdimensional ghost chasers, and, according to the 15 Jun 1984
would have cost $200 million dollars to produce. Alternatively, items in the 22 Dec 1984
Screen International
and 29 Jun–5 Jul 1984
LA Weekly
indicated that the director envisioned the Ghostbusters as a misfit team of public servants, and decided to set the story in contemporary New York City.”

Michael Keaton Was Considered for Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler

It didn’t take long for Bill Murray’s name to come up as a prospective second lead for Ghostbusters. Not only was he also an accomplished Saturday Night Live cast member, but he also made a big splash in the feature film scene for his performance in Caddyshack. However, much like Pryor, Murray’s reputation as an actor who was occasionally difficult to work with preceded him, with Reitman himself nicknaming him “The Murricane” for his occasionally rambunctious working style.

Other names were reportedly considered for the part of Peter Venkman aside from Murray. Again, most of these are rumors, but one name confirmed to be in the running was Michael Keaton. Many may forget this, given the actor’s stellar dramatic work, but Keaton’s roots are firmly planted in comedy, with his career starting out as a stand-up comedian. Apart from his stand-up, Keaton still wasn’t a household name in the movie world, despite having some moderate success in films like Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously.

Keaton was considered for not just Peter Venkman, but also for the film’s resident anti-social scientist, Ego Spengler. The former did ultimately go to Murray and the latter would be portrayed by co-writer Harold Ramis, though Keaton would get a crack at a supernatural ghost comedy a few years later. He would later get cast as the titular villain in Tim Burton‘s breakout feature Beetlejuice, which is set to get its long overdue sequel in 2024. Keaton’s career would only go up from there, re-teaming with Burton a year after Beetlejuice‘s release for 1989’s Batman.

Gregory Hines and Reginald VelJohnson Almost Played a Very Different Winston Zeddemore

For the fourth and final member of the Ghostbusters, several other names were brought up to play the character, who also underwent various changes in the many revisions. Associate producer Michael Gross claims that they were looking for “somebody like Eddie Murphy” to play the part, though Ivan Reitman claims that Murphy himself was never in the running. According to Gross, one person who was in talks was tap dancer and comedian Gregory Hines, the scene-stealing breakout star ofHistory of the World: Part I.

Another name in the running was future Family Matters and Die Hard star, Reginald VelJohnson​​​​​. With his work on the sitcom and the action classic later proving his infectious personality and charisma, VelJohnson seemed like a shoo-in for the part. Alas, he ultimately lost it to Ernie Hudson. Still, VelJohnson is one of the few casting what-ifs who still appears in the final film despite not getting the part he auditioned for. VelJohnson does appear in Ghostbusters as a prison guard, making it one of his first roles in a feature film. VelJohnson later said in 2015 interview that the role was a gift from Ivan Reitman after he was flown out to audition.

Ernie Hudson was finally cast in Ghostbusters after reportedly auditioning five separate times. While Hudson clearly loves and admires his part in the influential film, he also has bittersweet feelings about how much his character was changed. According to Hudson, in an essay he published on the film’s 30th anniversary, the actor confirmed longstanding rumors that his character’s fleshed-out backstory and larger role in the plot were scrapped in favor of focusing more on Murray. A true shame that perhaps can only be rectified with a proper Winston spin-off movie.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire busts into theaters on Friday, March 22nd.

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