Remembering the Long Forgotten 'Ghostbusters' Spinoffs Through the Years

Despite the fact that audiences haven't seen a film in 30 years, the franchise hasn't been missing in action.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
'The Real Ghostbusters'

This summer, there will once again be something strange in the neighborhood that don't look good and a big-screen team of Ghostbusters to deal with it.

But despite the fact that audiences haven't seen proton packs, ecto-containment units or colorfully painted hearses in theaters for almost 30 years, that doesn't mean that Venkman, Stanz et al. have been missing in action that whole time.

Here's a quick primer on the franchise that, no matter what medium it appears in, ain't afraid of no ghost.

The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991)

An animated spinoff of the 1984 original that managed to last past the 1989 follow-up — and receive its own spinoff, Slimer, by the time it entered its fourth season — The Real Ghostbusters was ideal fodder for the Saturday morning audience who wanted more, yet less interesting and funny, stories featuring Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore, although it is fondly remembered for the fantastic hair makeovers it provided for Spengler and receptionist Janine.

For those wondering why the title of the series included the words "The Real," it's because the show had to deal with a competing animated Ghostbusters series on the air at the same time — one made by Filmation, which actually owned the title after originating it with a 1975 live-action series called The Ghost Busters.

Extreme Ghostbusters (1997)

Set years after The Real Ghostbusters, this sequel animated series features an all-new team being trained in the ways of busting by Egon Spengler, who was portrayed as the one member of the original group who hadn't moved on when New York City's spook population began to drop. When things begin to go bump in the night once again, Spengler trains four students in a paranormal activities class he teaches how to handle proton packs and ghost traps.

The series only lasted one season, with the finale reuniting the core characters (and voice cast) from The Real Ghostbusters for one last go-around. To give you an idea of the series' tone — in case the title of the show doesn't do that — it should be pointed out that an alternate title for the series in some listings was Ghostbusters Dark.

Ghostbusters: The Return (2004)

Entirely unrelated to the animated series continuity, Sholly Fisch's 20th anniversary prose novel is set two years after Ghostbusters II, but with the events of the movies bumped up so that the novel also takes place in 2004. Despite the title, there's no particular "return" in terms of the narrative, with the plot dealing with the imminent arrival of Xanthador, Lord of Fear in New York City and Peter Venkman's surprise candidacy for mayor of NYC as supported by the Independent Party. Are those two things connected? (Sadly not.) Intended to be the first in a series of spinoff novels, only this title was published before publisher iBooks went out of business.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (2009)

Like Ghostbusters: The Return, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is set two years after Ghostbusters II, although there's no attempt to update the franchise in terms of era; the game takes place around Thanksgiving 1991.

Featuring voice acting by the original movie team (Not only Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, but also Annie Potts as secretary Janine) and a script rewrite by Aykroyd and Ramis, the plot — which involves the discovery that New York City has a network of underground tunnels that could help bring another major threat from the afterlife into our world — borrows from an unproduced screenplay for a third Ghostbusters movie, and Aykroyd even told Game Informer magazine that the game was, as far as he was concerned, Ghostbusters III.

Ghostbusters/The New Ghostbusters/Ghostbusters International (2008-present)

IDW Publishing's Ghostbusters line of comic books — which has spawned a number of miniseries and monthly titles since its 2008 launch — is actually the fourth time the franchise had a comic book title, but the first unrelated to an ancillary media launch (The Real Ghostbusters had two comic book series from Marvel Comics UK and America's NOW Comics in the late 1980s, while Ghostbusters: The Video Game received a Tokyopop tie-in graphic novel titled Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted).

Set post-Ghostbusters II, it offers a couple of evolutions on the core concept, including an Extreme Ghostbusters-like alternate team — the result of the originals being temporarily kidnapped into another dimension — and the group going worldwide after becoming involved in a haunting at the United Nations. Absent likeness rights, the comic has trended towards a cartoonish art style that manages to avoid the The Real Ghostbusters aesthetic — something emphasized when the two properties crossed over in 2015 comic series Ghostbusters Get Real.

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