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The Entire Ghostbusters Timeline Explained

"If there's something strange, in the neighborhood ... Who you gonna call?" "Ghostbusters" has been a pop culture phenomenon ever since the first film dropped in 1984, and recently the franchise has seen a resurgence. Following the exploits of a band of zany ghost-hunters (long before "Ghost Hunters" was even a thing), the original "Ghostbusters" is one of those movies that still influences the paranormal comedy subgenre to this day, and we won't complain about it. Aside from the catchy tune, those awesome proton packs, and the stylish Ecto-1, there's a lot to love about this franchise as a whole, even counting the missteps along the way. 

Though the original Ghostbusters left us for a few decades, they (mostly) officially returned to the big screen in 2021 with the advent of "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," a revival sequel in the spirit of the original. And that's not all. The adventures of the Ghostbusters, both new and old, are set to continue in 2024's "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire," which looks to be upping the ante when it comes to high supernatural stakes. But whichever set of films is your favorite, it's clear that "Ghostbusters" can be a bit confusing at times. With that in mind, we're here to help sort through all the ectoplasmic cobwebs and get a better grasp on the workings of the "Ghostbusters" universe.

It all starts with Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler

At some point before the events of the 1984 film, Doctors Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) meet after discovering a shared interest in parapsychology. As revealed in 2019's IDW-published "Ghostbusters 35th Anniversary: Ghostbusters" comic — which may or may not technically be official canon — the friendship between Venkman and Stantz goes back years. First meeting in the mid-1970s, the duo soon hit it off during Professor Tonick's Esoteric Literature class at Columbia University in New York City, where they would one day teach together.

Spengler comes in a bit later during the "Ghostbusters: Year One" series — which again, is debatable as far as the canon goes — published in 2020 in anticipation of "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." The second issue explains that Venkman introduces Stantz and Spengler, who soon hit it off. The three of them begin working closely together, and upon securing teaching positions at Columbia University, use their collective PhDs to research paranormal phenomena. While Venkman isn't as into it as the other two, he too starts to believe after encountering a ghost of his own.

Establishing the Ghostbusters brand

After they're canned by Columbia in 1984, the first "Ghostbusters" movie shows the trio turning to the private sector in order to further their research (and make a profit). Realizing that paranormal activity is on the rise in New York, Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler establish Ghostbusters, a ghost-fighting force capable of trapping evil spirits. It doesn't take long before the Ghostbusters become a phenomenon, with many claiming that the trio are simply con artists rather than heroes. Of course, with all the damage they leave in their wake, it's an understandable accusation. But because of the high degree of spooks and specters out there, the Ghostbusters are forced to expand. 

Adding additional members to their team, new Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), the original Ghostbusters finally begin making real waves around New York. Eventually, the gang catches the attention of the "d***less" Walter Peck (William Atherton), an EPA inspector who wants nothing more than to shut the whole operation down. But before he gets his chance, the Ghostbusters first uncover a dastardly and otherworldly threat coming to Earth through the refrigerator in Dana Barrett's (Sigourney Weaver) apartment.

Ghostbusters, meet Dana Barrett

After being haunted by evil spirits, Dana Barrett calls the Ghostbusters, and Venkman takes an immediate (albeit creepy) liking to their client. In their first official gig, Dana hires the Ghostbusters to deal with her haunted home after a demonic dog-like creature appears to her ominously chanting "Zuul." While other hauntings get in the Ghostbusters' way of promptly solving Dana's case, they eventually discover that Zuul is a demi-god in service to the even more dastardly Gozer the Gozerian, which means that this isn't over. Soon, Dana herself is possessed by Zuul, and though Venkman attempts to do something about it, he's unsuccessful.

The team also discovers that Zuul is only one half of the duo that can bring Gozer into our world. Zuul is the Gatekeeper, and the Key Master is another entity named Vinz Clortho, who ends up possessing Dana's overly-friendly neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). Despite trying to keep these two separate, it becomes impossible, though that's not entirely the Ghostbusters' fault. It turns out that a cultist named Ivo Shandor (played by J.K. Simmons in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife") is the one who constructed the NYC apartment building that Dana and Louis live in, and as a result, it acts as an open door for Gozer to walk through, provided its servants do their jobs.

The Ghostbusters save New York City

Unfortunately, Zuul and Vinz Clortho do their jobs all too well, and the doorway for Gozer (Slavitza Jovan in the original film; Olivia Wilde in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife") is opened. The only ones standing in the gap between our world and the apocalypse are the Ghostbusters, and they've been shut down by Peck's poorly-timed investigation. But, as he always does, Venkman is able to talk their way out of being shut down, and once the mayor realizes their need for the Ghostbusters, the team is sent off again to do what they do best: bust some ghosts. Once our four heroes get there, Gozer stares them down and releases her champion.

Taking the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (thanks Ray), Gozer's destroyer begins to wreak havoc across New York City. Thankfully, the Ghostbusters decide to think quickly on their feet and do the one thing they vowed never to do in case it results in the destruction of our world: cross the streams of their proton packs. As they do so, the dimensional doorway is forced shut, leaving Gozer out in the ether and freeing Dana and Louis from their demonic forms. With that, the Ghostbusters officially save New York City, Venkman gets the girl, and all is well. At least, for a time.

Vigo the Carpathian arrives

In the years following Gozer's defeat, the Ghostbusters go out of business. Taking place five years after the original film, "Ghostbusters II" reunites the cast in 1989 after being shut down by a lawsuit concerning "destruction of property" — not that we didn't see that coming. In the interim, Stantz opens his own occult bookstore and works with Zeddemore as a birthday party attraction, while Spengler works in a lab (shocking) and Venkman hosts his own talk show, which seems just like him, doesn't it? This all changes after Dana — who split from Venkman years earlier, got married, then divorced, and now has a son named Oscar — comes to the team for help after her baby is nearly killed by a ghost.

The culprit behind this one isn't Gozer, but rather the spirit of a dead tyrant/sorcerer named Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) whose ghost resides in a portrait that Dana curates at an art museum. Once Vigo comes to life, he enslaves Dana's boss and gets him to hand Oscar over so that he might enter the land of the living once more. But during their investigation, our heroes are arrested and forced to quit once again, that is until the judge is haunted by ghosts from his own past and needs them busted too. Once they save him, the Ghostbusters are back in business, just in time to stop Vigo.

Saving New York City, again

Using a river of slime to influence all of New York, Vigo attempts to claim Oscar as his own once more, all but throwing Dana back into Venkman's wide-open arms. As these two get back together, Vigo uses his magical influence to attack the city on New Year's Eve, causing mass pandemonium. Though the Ghostbusters try to warn the mayor, his assistant Jack Hardemeyer (Kurt Fuller) tosses them into the psyche ward. Thankfully, their stay isn't permanent (you'd think these guys have been through enough) and they soon get back out there to tackle Vigo.

Since Vigo's slime feeds on negative emotions (resulting in him using the Statue of Liberty as a weapon), the Ghostbusters fight with the power of positivity. Somehow it works, weakening Vigo for a short time. But once he gains corporeal form, the Carpathian attempts to sacrifice Oscar once more, but between the positivity of NYC citizens singing "Auld Lang Syne" and the Ghostbusters' own efforts, he's defeated and once again trapped inside the painting, with our heroes replacing him on the canvas. Yeah, it's tacky, but "Ghostbusters" has never been the most serious movie franchise out there.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (sort of) bridges the gap

For years, "Ghostbusters III" (subtitled "Hellbent") was in development hell, and nothing ever fully materialized. The script — by "Ghostbusters" scribes Aykroyd and Ramis — eventually leaked online in the early 2000s, revealing that the project would have taken place in 1991 (and probably led to Venkman's death). Obviously, the movie never happened, which is no doubt leaving you wondering why we're even bothering to mention it. Well, eventually the story was used as the basis for 2009's "Ghostbusters: The Video Game," which reunited the original four Ghostbusters for one final time (sadly, it was Ramis' last time playing Egon Spengler before his death in 2014).

"This is essentially the third movie," Aykroyd told Now Gamer back in 2009. "If you have an appetite for the third movie, then the videogame is it." So what happens in the game? Well, the Ghostbusters find themselves dealing with a threat meant to merge the real world and the Ghost World on Thanksgiving where they relive some of their greatest hits. But it's not just a nostalgia-fueled throwback; the series adds additional character development, such as Zeddemore getting his PhD, and expands on characters like Ivo Shandor, who decides he wants to be Gozer himself. It's certainly not a perfect continuation, and its official place in the canon is a bit iffy, but "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" was a great placeholder until an official third film could continue the story into the 21st century.

Spengler goes rogue

In 2021, a new "Ghostbusters" movie continuing the original saga was finally released. Directed by Jason Reitman, the son of original film director Ivan Reitman, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" picks up over three decades after "Ghostbusters II," where it's revealed that Egon Spengler retreated to the remote small town of Summerville, Oklahoma. Somewhen between "Ghostbusters II" and "Afterlife," Spenger had a daughter named Callie (Carrie Coon), who in turn had two children of her own, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Though the identity of Callie's mother is uncertain, many believe it's Janine Melnitz, who appears to be a friend of the family (and had a thing with Spengler back in the '80s).

Out in Summerville, Spengler spends the remaining years of his life preventing something big, something he's been on the verge of uncovering since mysteriously leaving the Ghostbusters and letting the group crumble to dust. Gozer's return is imminent, but following his discovery of Ivo Shandor's mining operation in Summerville, Spengler dies of a heart attack after being attacked by a ghost. This sends Callie and her children to Summerville to start anew, and hopefully find some closure concerning their estranged patriarch.

The Spengler family arrives in Summerville

Arriving in Summerville, Phoebe soon begins exploring, eventually encountering and befriending the ghost of her grandfather. Though he isn't seen, he leads her to his work underneath the barn where he's hidden his original Ghostbusters equipment, including the Ecto-1. After Phoebe shows a ghost trap to her teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and her new friend, who for some reason goes by Podcast (Logan Kim), Gary realizes that Phoebe is the granddaughter of an original Ghostbuster and reveals to her the legacy she's stumbled upon. After Spengler's ghost helps Trevor fix up the Ecto-1, he takes Phoebe and Podcast for a ride where they capture their first ghost, Muncher. 

In true Ghostbuster fashion, they cause a ton of damage around their small town, and their equipment is seized by the local authorities. Thankfully, Trevor has a crush on the Sheriff's daughter Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), who ultimately helps get their stuff back. In the meantime, Phoebe attempts to get Ray Stantz to come and help, but he explains that the Ghostbusters are long gone and that he feels somewhat betrayed by Spengler for leaving in the first place. The new crew doesn't have time to dwell on that, as Ivo Shandor is revealed to be alive in his coffin and helping dismantle Spengler's safeguards, allowing Gozer to finally cross over — but only after Zuul and Vinz Clortho possess Callie and Gary, of course.

The original Ghostbusters are reunited

Becoming the new team of Ghostbusters, the Spengler grandchildren, Podcast, and Lucky decide to take matters into their own hands. Luring Gozer and its minions into a trap at the Spengler homestead, they successfully free Callie from Zuul's grip, weakening the Gozerian. But Gozer is smarter this time around and when the trap fails, Zuul instantly possesses Lucky instead. But before our heroes can despair, the original Ghostbusters return to save the day, with Venkman, Stantz, and Zeddemore all accounted for. Spengler is finally able to manifest a visible form himself (via CGI) and helps his old teammates (and his granddaughter) to save the day, just like they did all those years ago.

Finally at peace with his friends and his family after a heartfelt reunion, Spengler disappears into the, well, afterlife. Though it's unclear where exactly Spengler's spirit goes upon death (somehow he wasn't sucked into one of the ghost traps), his family and friends are comforted knowing why he disappeared all those years ago. With that, the original Ghostbusters head back to New York for further adventures, and the new team continues their lives in Summerville, though they'll never be the same.

After decades, the Ghostbusters are back in business

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" ends with the revelation that Zeddemore, himself a wealthy businessman with a family of his own, bought back the original Ghostbusters firehouse and has returned the Ecto-1 to its rightful home there. After meeting with Janine, Zeddemore seems intent on rebuilding the Ghostbusters name, and as the post-credits scene reveals, there are always more ghosts that need busting. According to the 2022 sequel video game "Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed," Stantz and Zeddemore have officially reopened Ghostbusters, which follows the adventures of new hires to the group (it remains unclear if this game is considered canon).

Additionally, we learn at the end of "Afterlife" that Peter Venkman and Dana Barrett got married sometime after the events of "Ghostbusters II." While we don't know much about their life together (other than that they seemingly live in New York City), Venkman is seen taking the same EPS shock test that he used to perform on his students back at Columbia, only with Dana pulling the trigger. We don't know what's become of Oscar or if they ever had any children of their own together, but after all these years they're happy, and that's the best ending for these two we could hope for.

The Ghostbusters multiverse is strong

Of course, there are other "Ghostbusters" projects out there worth referencing. In 2016, director Paul Feig attempted an all-female reboot of the franchise with a film that's come to be known as "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call." Though some of the original cast members make cameo appearances, they aren't playing the same characters from the original film series. Overall, the movie was deemed a disaster, and while some have tried to defend it in recent years, Sony and their Ghost Corps. brand have recognized that sequels to the originals are really what folks want. There is, however, a 2018 comic book crossover between the two teams titled "Ghostbusters: Crossing Over" that is mostly entertaining.

Additionally, though the Ghostbusters became incredibly popular through the cartoon series "The Real Ghostbusters," this animated series and its sequel, "Extreme Ghostbusters," don't take place within the original film series continuity either (though some events may cross over). Nevertheless, the animated shows gained an impressive cult following over the years, with many citing "The Real Ghostbusters" as their definitive interpretation of the team. If that's you, note that Seasons 1-4 take place after the 1984 film, while Seasons 5-7 and "Extreme Ghostbusters" occur after the events of "Ghostbusters II."

What's next for the Ghostbusters?

After the success of "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," the trailer for the upcoming sequel dropped in November 2023. Titled "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire," the "Afterlife" follow-up returns the action to New York City as the old and new Ghostbusters reunite again to tackle a new foe. This time though, the threat isn't just some standard world domination game: this evil spirit — which Ray calls "the death chill" — wants to freeze all of New York in its icy tendrils as it scares folks to death, which looks to be a bit more intense than the previous installment.

While Egon Spengler is seemingly gone for good, Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore are coming back for more, as are the Spengler grandchildren and their mother's boyfriend Gary, who looks to finally live his dream of becoming a Ghostbuster. With March 29, 2024 set as the release date, the confirmation that a follow-up is coming is an exciting one as the world of "Ghostbusters" only continues to grow. In a franchise once again rife with potential, "Frozen Empire" better knock our socks off if we want more.