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Ghostbusters: Afterlife release date, cast, plot and trailer

In the summer of 2020, 36 years after the original and four years after the divisive reboot, we're getting a new film in the Ghostbusters franchise. The film was announced in early 2019, to everyone's surprise, and was revealed to be a family affair all around. Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, will helm the new project, which will be a direct sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II and will feature a mother and two children at the heart of the story. 

We still know very little about what's in store for this new Ghostbusters, but the creative pedigree of the project, the cast that's been announced so far, and some intriguing early imagery has proven enough to get us very excited about what's next. So let's dig into the upcoming fourth live-action installment in the Ghostbusters franchise and take a look at what's in store. One thing is clear: there's something strange in the neighborhood.

What's the release date for the new Ghostbusters?

Right from the start, the new Ghostbusters project gave us a lot to take in all at once, as the film seemed to come together as a legitimate movie idea and not just a pipe dream within a matter of days. In reality, the film took shape behind the scenes as Reitman developed his script, so there was a lot happening under the surface that we didn't see. But by the time Reitman and company were ready to announce things, they really started to announce things. 

In January of 2019, the first reports of Reitman's involvement in a new Ghostbusters film arrived, followed the very next day by a nostalgic teaser trailer that worked very hard to capture all the Ghostbusters aesthetics that fans love some much. Then, before the month was even out, we got word of the release date. Reitman confirmed back in January via his Twitter account that the film will hit theaters July 10, 2020, right in the prime summer movie release season. 

What's the title of Ghostbusters 2020?

For nearly a year after the 2020 Ghostbusters film was announced via a very nostalgic teaser trailer, we had no idea what to call it that would officially distinguish it from the other three films in the franchise so far, two of which are already just called Ghostbusters. For a while, Ghostbusters 2020 seemed like the best we could do, and the filmmakers didn't seem too concerned with throwing out another title that would change that. In December of 2019, though, we got word that another title for the upcoming sequel film was brewing, and it's a very appropriate one. The British Board of Film Classification has to approve all trailers that will be released in the U.K. ahead of their launch, which means they had to file an approval notice for the new Ghostbusters trailer. When they did, the BBFC also revealed that the film has a new title: Ghostbusters: Afterlife

That feels like a very good title choice indeed, and not just because all Ghostbusters films deal with the spirits of the dead. Based on everything we've seen so far, the new film will deal in some major ways with the legacy left behind by the original Ghostbusters team, which will be carried on in some way by a new generation of young people. So, the Ghostbusters — as both an in-universe team of ghost hunters and as a hugely influential media franchise — still have an "afterlife."

Who's joining the cast of Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

In discussing his new take on Ghostbusters, Reitman has noted that his idea for the film began a 12-year-old girl carrying a proton pack, and that image ultimately expanded to include a whole family. Now, as the film draws closer, we're getting a sense of what that family looks like thanks to its all-star cast

The 12-year-old in question will be played by Mckenna Grace, a rising young talent who's been seen in everything from Captain Marvel to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to The Haunting of Hill House just in the last couple of years. To play Grace's apparent mother in the film, Reitman turned to Carrie Coon, one of the most gifted actresses of her generation who's shown her talents in TV series like Fargo and The Leftovers and films like Gone Girl and Avengers: Infinity War. To play Coon's son, Grace's character's probable brother, the film went with Finn Wolfhard, best known to fans for his work as Mike Wheeler on Stranger Things and as Richie Tozier in It: Chapter One and its sequel, Chapter Two

In June, we got word that comedy superstar-turned-superhero Paul Rudd had also joined the cast.

Returning Ghostbusters stars

So, a new original cast is in place for the story of Ghostbusters 2020, but if the film is truly being set up as a sequel to Ghostbusters II, what about the cast of the original films? Many of them appeared in cameo roles in the Ghostbusters reboot back in 2016 (albeit as different characters), so why wouldn't they be interested in returning to their original roles for a new chapter in the old continuity?

In June of 2019, Sigourney Weaver seemed to confirm in an interview that she was indeed reprising her role as Dana Barrett. "It's going to be crazy working with the guys again," she said, apparently referring to co-stars Bill Murray and Dan Ayrkroyd. 

In the days following that report, Reitman appeared at Ghostbusters Fan Fest and, rather than confirming that the old stars would be in the new movie, simply said that Weaver, Murray, Ayrkroyd, and fellow co-star Ernie Hudson had "read the script." 

Things got a little more concrete on the returning cast front when Dan Aykroyd confirmed in September 2019 that he would be returning to the franchise along with "most of the original people." By the end of 2019, Murray, Hudson, Weaver, and Annie Potts were all confirmed to be on board in some capacity. The question is, how much will we see of the original Ghostbusters stars in Afterlife?

Jason Reitman and the Ghostbusters legacy

Jason Reitman's feature film directorial career began in 2005 with the release of his debut film, Thank You For Smoking. Since then he's become known for a particular style that often walks the line between comedy and drama, as seen in films like Juno, Up in the Air, Tully, Young Adult, and most recently The Front Runner. His films are often small in scale, more devoted to exploring the intimacy and absurdity of human relationships than to big setpieces, and his comedy usually evolves out of interaction between characters and not out of a deliberate attempt to set up and then pay off gags. He's collaborated frequently with screenwriter Diablo Cody and with actors Charlize Theron, Jennifer Garner, Vera Farmiga, and others. 

Though he's undoubtedly formed his own writing and directing style, Reitman's interest in filmmaking has its roots in family. He is the son of actress Genevieve Robert and writer/director Ivan Reitman, who's best known for his films Stripes, Kindergarten Cop, and yes, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II

The Ghostbusters franchise is woven into the fabric of Reitman's life, so much so that he had a cameo in the second film back in 1989, amusingly as a kid who tells the Ghostbusters that his dad says they're "full of crap." A sci-fi comedy about ghost hunters isn't exactly in line with his previous films, but when it was announced that he would helm the new film, his familial ties to the franchise helped it all make sense.

Ghostbusters 2020 teasers

We've still seen very few images related to Reitman's new take on Ghostbusters, but what we have seen has consistently leaned heavily on nostalgia. The first teaser, which arrived in January 2019, begins with a wide shot of a large metal building, like a barn or a garage, in the middle of a wooded area. We start to hear strange sounds from the building's partially open door, accompanied by flashing lights. The camera pushes in closer and closer to the door as the lights and sounds continue, and at one point a crackle of energy jumps from off-screen that looks similar to the light emitted by a proton pack. 

Then, as Elmer Bernstein's classic score swells, the camera closes in on something large wrapped in a tarp, and the tarp billows up to reveal it's the Ghostbusters' old ride, ECTO-1, just sitting in storage somewhere. It's an intriguing tease indeed. 

In the summer of 2019, Reitman posted a pair of images to his Instagram account from the set. In one, we meet the new family at the heart of the film, with Coons, Grace, and Wolfhard joined by the two generations of directors. In the other, we get another look at the ECTO-1, this time simply a close-up of its wheel.

Who will Paul Rudd play in Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

So, what do we really know about what's in store for us in Ghostbusters: Afterlife? We know that the film is set in Ghostbusters' original continuity, and that at least some of the original characters from the franchise will play a part in the new story. We also know that the ECTO-1 seems to be sitting in a barn somewhere, and that many of the new characters in the film are part of a family unit. Now, we know a little more about one of the biggest stars to sign on.

In September 2019, producer Ivan Reitman revealed that Paul Rudd's character in the film is "a seismologist who's come to this small town because they've been having mysterious earthquakes," and also ends up teaching summer school. The earthquakes are likely tied to paranormal events, and the summer school aspect could create the connection between Rudd's character and the family at the film's center.

What's the plot of Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

Though we knew almost immediately that Afterlife would be a direct continuation of the world we last saw in Ghostbusters 2, for nearly a year after the film was announced we didn't have any major clues as to what the new film's plot would actually focus on. That all changed in December 2019, when writer/director Jason Reitman spilled some new details at last. 

The film will center on a family made up of mom Callie (Carrie Coon), her daughter Phoebe (Grace) and son Trevor (Wolfhard). The family's life is changed when Callie inherits some property from a father she never knew, and the three of them pull up roots and move to a small town in Oklahoma. There, they begin to discover they're part of a legacy they'd never dreamed of, and Phoebe and Trevor realize the property is also home to the original Ghostbusters gear, including the ECTO-1. 

"Trevor and Phoebe are about to find out who their grandfather was and whether they're ready to pick up the proton pack themselves," Reitman explained to Vanity Fair. Exactly who that grandfather is hasn't been revealed yet, but looking at the cast in photos from the set, it doesn't take a doctor of parapsychology who collects spores, molds, and fungus to guess.

Ghostbusters beyond 2020

The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot is a film that arrived after years of speculation and tinkering with the franchise. People (Dan Aykroyd in particular) had been trying to get the series back to the big screen for quite some time, and while the 2016 film didn't jumpstart a new series, it did open the door for things like Reitman's upcoming film. Now that we're getting Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the door is open even wider for other future ideas. 

Those future ideas also apparently include a Ghostbusters prequel called Ghostbusters High, which Aykroyd has written as a potential feature film that could then a launch a TV series chronicling how original heroes Peter, Ray, and Egon first met as a teenagers back in 1969 in New Jersey. Though he was excited about the idea, Aykroyd also cautioned that Ghostbusters High is just one of a number of ideas he and the Reitmans (Ivan Reitman has remained aboard the franchise as a producer) are exploring for what comes next.

Aykroyd explained that "we have other stuff after the Jason Reitman-helmed movie. We have at least one or two other concepts for the Ghostbusters, and then we'll look at doing the prequel, which will be a perfect button on all we've done up to that point." In other words, if you like Ghostbusters, just keep an eye out, because we could be far from finished with the franchise.

Reviving classic Ghostbusters details

Jason Reitman grew up with Ghostbusters, not just as a fan of the franchise but as someone who literally walked on the set while his father Ivan directed. For his planned sequel, recreating the same look and feel he remembered from the original films was important, and because of his father's connections to the beginnings of the franchise, he had the resources to make it all work. 

Even when it came time to film a teaser for the film, Reitman went to great lengths to replicate key details from the 1980s for the sequel, up to and including finding the original letters used to make the film's posters. 

"We went back to the work files for the sound of the proton pack. And we went back to the stems of Elmer Bernstein's score," Reitman said. "Just for where it says, in the teaser, 'Summer 2020,' we went back and found the original physical vinyl letters they used to create the Ghostbusters poster in 1984. Rescanned them and then our titles guys reprinted them. We filmed the titles. Not like in a computer. We shot physical titles with a light and smoke effect, because that's how they would have done it back in the day."

Busting the controversies surrounding Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, which featured an all-female assemblage of new characters for the title team, sparked controversy virtually from the moment it was announced. Certain longtime Ghostbusters fans felt that the film was somehow damaging what came before, and a wave of social media vitriol followed the film throughout its development and right up through its release. Reitman, of course, had nothing to do with that film, but because his new Ghostbusters project is a direct sequel to the original two films, it will ignore the reboot. That fact, plus Ghostbusters 2016 star Leslie Jones' anger at being excluded from future films, led to controversy when Reitman said in February 2019 that he was making an effort to "hand the movie back to the fans." Many took his comments as an insult not just to the 2016 movie itself, but to the concept of new ideas and progressive casting.

Just days later, after hearing the response his comments received, Reitman clarified his remarks, noting he had "nothing but admiration" for the reboot and calling it an "amazing movie." Ghostbusters 2016 director Paul Feig also tried to put an end to the controversy by expressing his "love and respect" for Reitman and his excitement for what's next in the Ghostbusters universe.