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Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s post-credits scenes finally give a neglected hero his due

Breaking down the ending, the bonus scenes, and the sequel possibilities for the latest Ghostbusters film

A group of mini Stay Puft marshmallow men clown around in Ghostbusters: Afterlife Photo: Sony Pictures

Post-credits scenes used to be a rare fun bonus for the cinematic faithful who stuck out the entirety of the credits, but Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have made them into almost an obligation for fandom-friendly movies. And other creators aren’t just picking up on the MCU’s habit of adding end-credit scenes, they’re also picking up on the specific way that MCU movies now use them, with a mid-credits scene to add a little button onto a movie’s story, and an end-credits scene that shifts the focus toward the future of a hoped-for franchise.

That’s exactly what director Jason Reitman does with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, his direct sequel to 1989’s Ghostbusters II, and his continuation of the work his father, Ivan Reitman, did in directing the original two Ghostbusters movies. Ghostbusters: Afterlife has two bonus scenes — one a short ways into the credits, and one afterward. The mid-credits scene is an extended in-joke for fans of the 1984 Ghostbusters, but the post-credits scene expressly teases a possible sequel at some point in the future.

[Ed. note: Gigantic spoilers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife ahead.]

Is Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

Most of the key cast of 1984 Ghostbusters shows up for this third entry in the trilogy. The Ghostbusters’ secretary Janine (Annie Potts) turns up early in the film, to check up on Egon Spengler’s old home, where his adult daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) have come to live after Egon’s death. Midway through the film, as Phoebe begins to understand who her grandfather was and what kind of threat he was fighting from the rural Oklahoma farmhouse Callie has inherited, she calls the Ghostbusters’ old phone number from their 1984 ads, and talks to Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), who fills her in on what broke up the Ghostbusters, long before Egon’s death.

And when Phoebe, Trevor, and their friends try to fight the Sumerian god Gozer, who arrived in New York in the first film, all three surviving Ghostbusters — Ray, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) show up in their old suits and gear to join the battle. Egon’s ghost shows up to help them take Gozer down, they all say an emotional goodbye to their silent spirit friend, and he fades out.

So wait, is there an afterlife in Ghostbusters: Afterlife?

It’s weird. It’s incredibly unclear what ghosts are in this series — whether blobby monster-ghosts like Ghostbusters’ Slimer and Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s equivalent critter Muncher are the spirits of dead humans, or “ghosts” in this world are mostly just weird spectral critters, or what. The Ghostbusters’ biggest enemy in the live-action movies isn’t even a ghost, she’s a god. We can presume, given the shape of so many traditional ghost stories, that Egon hung around on Earth because he had unfinished business to take care of, and once his grandkids defeated his mortal enemy (immortal enemy? she certainly hasn’t aged as much as everyone else since the 1980s), he could go on to whatever’s next. But human ghosts who fight gods and hug their kids is certainly a new twist for a Ghostbusters story.

What does “For Harold” mean at the end of the movie?

It’s a tribute to Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler in the original movies, co-wrote both original Ghostbusters scripts, and was a celebrated comedian and filmmaker in his own right. (He wrote and directed Groundhog Day, among other movies.) He died in 2014.

What happens in Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s mid-credits scene?

The credits play out as expected, until they get to a credit for Sigourney Weaver, one of the stars of the 1984 Ghostbusters, who hasn’t actually appeared in the film at that point. Reitman gives the audience just enough time to say “Wait, she isn’t in this—” before he cuts to her character, Dana Barrett, holding up a series of Zener cards for Peter Venkman to see if he can psychically intuit what symbol is on the side of the card he can’t see. He keeps guessing right, but she has him wired up to a device that delivers electric shocks, and she keeps shocking him until he admits that he marked the cards so he’d know what they were.

Like so much of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this scene is just a big referential gag for fans of the 1984 Ghostbusters. It’s a callback to Peter Venkman’s original introduction, doing tests on university students, supposedly to research psychic phenomena, though the scene also shows he’s a sleazeball who isn’t above using the test to flirt with his female subjects, and torture the male ones for fun. Dana shocking him for lying is a bit of 37-years-later payback for that earlier scene.

So are Dana and Peter still together, all these years later? It’s hard to say — she’s wearing a wedding ring, she treats him kind of fondly, and they seem to be in a private home rather than an institutional setting. But they don’t mention their relationship, they don’t trade any kind of endearments, and she seems smug about seeing through him more than she seems loving. He’s also as smarmy to her as he was back in the 1980s — it’s impressively clear that he hasn’t changed much. There’s also the question of why, decades into their relationship, she’d be rigging him up to electrodes to see if he’s psychic. It’s yet another scene that works better as a fan callback than a meaningful piece of the story.

What happens in Ghostbusters: Afterlife’s post-credits scene?

The sequence after the credits end is the interesting one. First, there’s a brief scene where the Egon of the 1980s is headed off to fight Gozer, and Janine offers him a lucky coin to take with him. There isn’t much to that sequence — it’s a deleted scene from the 1984 movie, included as an Easter egg, but without much meaning to the rest of the film.

After a jump back to present-day, Janine appears to be interviewing Winston about what he’s been up to since the 1980s. The audience already know from Ray’s recap earlier in the film that Winston struck out on his own and became a highly successful businessman, but the film doesn’t give him much material of his own. While Bill Murray as Peter gets to ramble out a goofy monologue and crack jokes about Gozer, and Ray is solemn and sincere as ever, Winston is mostly stuck standing off to the side, moaning at the condition of their old Ectomobile, and promising to get it fixed up.

But in the post-credits scene, Winston finally gets a little time to shine as something other than the fourth-billed man in a three-man team. He explains his initiatives and motives to Janine: “I wanted to be an example of what’s possible.” He talks about his thriving global enterprises, and how he’s secretly been supporting Ray and Peter, who are in less lucrative situations. “I may be a businessman, but I will always be a Ghostbuster,” he tells her.

It’s a nice moment of payoff for actor Ernie Hudson, who has occasionally been frustrated by the ways Winston was sidelined in the movies. He famously signed onto a script that gave Winston a bigger role and a full backstory, which wound up being cut. He’s often noted in interviews that Winston doesn’t appear on the movie poster and wasn’t part of the publicity run for the movie. He’s said he took the role expecting it to help his career, and instead, he had trouble finding work afterward. So this sequence feels like a payoff for Winston, a chance at a little more dignity and depth.

How does Ghostbusters: Afterlife set up a sequel?

In a solo shot after talking to Janine, Winston re-enters the Ghostbusters’ old firehouse headquarters, which Ray said earlier in the film had been sold off long ago, when the Ghostbusters stopped making money. Winston has clearly purchased the place for nostalgic reasons — the same reasons that power the rest of the movie — and he looks around it with the exact same satisfaction as Rey looking around Tattooine at the end of Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, with the exact same sense that he’s there to make the fans happy more than he’s there to make himself happy.

But then Reitman’s camera wanders off to the side, finding the Ghostbusters’ old Ecto-Containment System — the laser-grid unit that contained all the ghosts they trapped, until an EPA lawyer played by William Atherton (the “It’s true, this man has no dick” guy from the first movie) had it shut down and they all escaped. There’s a single ominous flashing red light on the system, indicating something is wrong, and the post-credits scene ends on that promise of a threat to come. (Never mind that the Containment System was in the basement in a small side room at the bottom of the stairs, rather than in the garage — the point is, something interesting seems to be happening.)

Will there be a Ghostbusters: Afterlife sequel?

Nothing’s been announced or green-lit yet, but Afterlife co-writer Gil Kenan has said he has “lots of ideas” for possible future installments in the franchise, and Reitman said at his New York Comic Con appearance that the movie’s goal was to “open the universe to all kinds of stories… Ghostbusters movies from all my favorite directors.” He said he hopes this movie “sets the table for that” — implying that he himself may not be invested in directing a sequel, but he’s looking forward to the possibility of more movies.