A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Ghost – 30th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “It’s amazing Molly. The love inside, you take it with you”. A 30th anniversary celebration of the timeless romantic classic “Ghost”. Released during a summer of big budget films, “Ghost” surprised everyone and dominated the box office. Grossing more than $500 million, becoming the highest grossing movie of 1990 and solidifying Patrick Swayze (in an incredible performance and whom Director Jerry Zucker was against casting), Demi Moore (who after “Ghost” became one of the highest paid actresses) and Whoopi Goldberg (won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role) as some of Hollywood’s elite movie stars. Jerry Zucker, who was best known for the comedies “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun”, directed “Ghost” with a deft hand and made a film that made you laugh, cry, warmed your heart and thrilled you. He made a a roller coaster ride of a movie, with one of cinemas most iconic scenes that helped make pottery and The Righteous Brothers’s 1965 cover of “Unchained Melody” a massive part of pop culture hit, that is still referenced thirty years later. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (won the best original screenplay Oscar for “Ghost”), drafted 19 screenplays with the help of Director Jerry Zucker, who is credited to giving the film it’s quicker pace than originally intended. “Ghost” revitalized the romance genre with it’s perfect algorithm of the thriller, horror, murder mystery, comedy, romance and supernatural genre. It’s one of those films that is filmmaking, at its most effective. A film that is uncomplicated, entertaining, engrossing, with a sharply written script, a detailed direction and great performances all around. 

No one thought that 1990’s “Ghost” was going to be the surprise hit of the summer that year and become the top grossing movie of the year. Hunky Patrick “Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner” Swayze, Demi “Brat Pack” Moore and that now iconic pottery wheel, had beat out movies like “Pretty Woman”, “Days Of Thunder”, “Die Hard 2” and the years big Oscar winner “Dances With Wolves”, at the box office.

The success of “Ghost”, came to an even more of a shock as it’s director Jerry Zucker, was only known up until that point as the comedic director of classics like: “Airplane!”, “Top Secret!” and “The Naked Gun”. Jerry Zucker Zucker has stated that his decision to direct “Ghost was not made to distance himself from comedies or to mark a new path in his career. It was merely him “just looking for a good film to direct”. So he set out to make a movie that “made you laugh, cry and get scared. The movie is a roller coaster ride”, says Zucker. 

Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, is the writer of “Jacob’s Ladder”, “My Life” (which he also directed), “Deep Impact” and “The Last Mimzy”. He says he got the idea for “Ghost” while watching a production of “Hamlet”. When Hamlet’s dead father tells him to avenge his death, Rubin thought that would make a great movie and the idea of “Ghost” was born. Rubin was initially apprehensive when he learned that Zucker intended to direct the film. Rubin’s initial drafts were much darker and he feared Zucker would try to turn the film into one of his comedies he is known for. 

Bruce Joel Rubin says: “I wanted Milos Forman or Stanley Kubrick to direct the movie. When I was told that the guy who made ‘Airplane!’ was going to direct ‘Ghost’, I cried”. Zucker and Rubin had went through 19 drafts of the screenplay together and Zucker gave the script more structure. “I felt it needed more twists and turns”, Zucker said. 

“It needed to keep moving. All those zany comedies have instilled a sense of pace in me. And, yes, I added more humor. Actually, a lot of the work I did was take things in Bruce’s head, which weren’t clear in the script and help translate that into something a mainstream audience could grasp and digest”, comments Zucker. He credits arguments from radio host Dennis Prager, with deciding to “lighten” Rubin’s original script and inserting a moral message. Rubin started pitching it to studios in 1984, fighting to get “Ghost” made.

Much like the writing process for a time travel movie. A movie about the afterlife has rules, during the process of writing their 19 drafts of the script. Writer Bruce Joel Rubin and director Jerry Zucker, mapped out the rules of the afterlife to make sure the movie had stayed consistent throughout. 

In his script, Rubin added one of the films most famous phrases of Sam’s (Swayze) habit of saying “Ditto” to Molly (Demi Moore). This was based off of Rubin’s actual life, as he would say “Ditto” instead of “I love you” to his high school girlfriend. Rubin says he started crying when he was writing Molly’s “Ditto” sequence. Bruce Joel Rubin, won one of the two Oscar wins for “Ghost”, in the category of Best Original Screenplay.

While “Ghost” had a superb script and director behind the camera. The film is nothing without it’s cast, especially it’s lead Patrick Swayze. Swayze, who was already a huge star and leading man thanks to “Dirty Dancing” and “Red Dawn”. Although after seeing “Road House”, Zucker wasn’t sure Swayze would be right for the role. But Swayze said, “I needed to do ‘Ghost’ for my soul. I’d just come off ‘Road House’ and ‘Next of Kin’, and I didn’t want to be considered just an action actor”. 

Director Jerry Zucker was at first against casting Swayze as Sam. “Jerry wanted to see him on film, so we went out and saw the movie ‘Roadhouse’ and we walked out of that movie and Jerry said to me, ‘Over my dead body,’” recalls Rubin. Swayze really wanted the role, and because Zucker appreciated Swayze’s gusto, he let Swayze audition. After Swayze read the end of the script aloud, Zucker changed his mind. “We all had tears in our eyes, right there in the office and we knew how it would end. I saw a side of Patrick that I never knew existed”, Zucker said.

During his audition, Swayze said: “I realized that this could be one of those roles of a lifetime”. Actors Tom Cruise, Kevin Kline and Harrison Ford all passed on the role of Sam because they didn’t want to play a ghost. For most of the movie, Swayze acted in the same room as his co-stars. But whenever Sam passes through walls or people, he was filmed solo and superimposed in the edit.

Since Ghosts don’t breathe, Swayze had to chew on ice to make sure the audience couldn’t see his breath. “I am convinced that people can come back and visit loved ones. Death is a beginning, not an ending”, said Swayze. He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1991 for his role as Sam. This is Swayze’s best film and best performance of his underrated career.

By 1990, Demi Moore was only known for her Brat Pack movies in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “About Last Night”. Director Jerry Zucker says that Demi Moore was the first choice for the part of Molly. When she was casted, Moore had long hair and didn’t tell Zucker that she was going to cut it. While he was first shocked and didn’t like it, but he later admitted that it was perfect for her character.

Moore was initially nervous about taking the role because, Molly would be in mourning so soon into the movie. But she set out to make sure to play Molly as a strong character. At a 2013 AFI Night at the Movies screening of “Ghost”, Moore told the audience her initial feelings on the film. “It’s a love story, and it’s a guy, a dead guy who is trying to save his wife and there is a comedy, but really it’s a love story,” Moore said. 

“And I thought, ‘Wow, this is really a recipe for disaster.’ It’s either going to be something really special, really amazing, or really an absolute bust”. She went on to talk about what made the film special. “I think the beauty in this film is that none of us knew and the alchemy that came together with Whoopi and Patrick and our film editor, Walter Murch and Adam Greenberg, our DP, it just had a magic”. Demi Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role as Molly. “Ghost” also helped Moore become one of the highest-paid actresses of the nineties. She went from making $350,000 for “Ghost” to making $11 million for “G.I. Jane” in 1997.

There is so many great things about “Ghost” and one of the most memorable is Whoopi Goldberg as  psychic Oda Mae Brown. Director Jerry Zucker and his producers, originally thought Whoopi Goldberg was too well known for the role. But Patrick Swayze said he wouldn’t do the movie, unless Goldberg got to at least audition with him. Swayze said, “People considered Whoopi a comedian at that time. I saw a truly brilliant actress”.

Bruce Joel Rubin had originally pitched Oda Mae as a real psychic. But the producers thought it would be funnier if Oda Mae, were a charlatan who can hear Sam. Rubin says, “Oda Mae was the most fun character I have ever written. She just revealed herself. She was situationally funny”.

Before Whoopi got the part, both Oprah Winfrey and Tina Turner were up for Oda Mae. Looking back at it, Oda Mae Brown wouldn’t have been the same, if it weren’t for Goldberg, who has said about the role: “I do think Oda Mae was tailor-made for me. If anyone can be a scam artist, it’s me. Who’s got a career because they’re a scam artist? Me!”. Zucker says that Goldberg would joke around with the crew all the time. “She kind of put me to shame because I was supposed to be the funny one”. 

Goldberg says, “I believe that when people die, the spirit flies from them and fragments. It goes into people who are just coming into being. I believe I got hit with a lot of fragments”. She also comments, “You get those movies if you’re lucky that are just fun, and it was fun to go to work. Not all movies are like that, but this one was”.

In one of the movies scenes, Oda Mae must give away $4 million, which may seem like a lot of money to Oda Mae. But by 1993, Goldberg was earning $7 million for making “Sister Act 2”. Whoopi Goldberg deservingly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Oda Mae at the 1991 Oscar ceremony. 

“Ghost” marked the first theatrical role for Tony Goldwyn. He’s the son and grandson of famous producers Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and Samuel Goldwyn. Even though he was from a famous Hollywood family, Goldwyn had a chance at the role because of his wife. “I fought my way into an audition on Ghost,” Goldwyn recalled. 

“My wife was the production designer on that movie. At that time, she was much more successful than me and was doing all these big movies, and she kept saying, ‘They haven’t cast that part! You should bug your agents!’ And I kept harassing my agent, who would never return my phone calls and I managed to get an audition. And, by a fluke, they stumbled on my audition tape and said, That guy was really good”. We saw his tape and were immediately struck by how good he was, but the filmmakers spent a long time casting Carl because they wanted a big name actor. Zucker and Rubin initially thought Goldwyn was too nice to be the films villain. With the strength of his audition tape and in convincing Zucker and Rubin, that Carl needed to be both nice and evil to be believable.

Zucker says they needed a scene to make the audience really hate Carl. “I guess seducing someone’s girl, even when they’re dead, is worse than killing them in the first place”. Zucker also stated, “I always liked that we got to kill the villains twice”. In Carl’s death scene, the actors were filmed roller-skating around Carl and then animated to look like demons.

The Righteous Brothers’s 1965 cover of “Unchained Melody”, hit number four on the Billboard charts, but back in 1955 four other versions were also popular. After the Brothers’s 1965 version was used in “Ghost” and featured on the soundtrack, it was re-released. The Brothers decided to re-record the song and then release it as a second single, with both songs concurrently selling well. 

It was the 1990 version, though, that hit number one on the Billboard U.S. Adult Contemporary chart, surpassing the feat of the 1965 cover. “So I didn’t know what it was going to do to the song, but, boy, when it came out in that movie, that song became a monster,” co-Righteous Brother Bill Medley said in an interview. “I mean, a monster. I didn’t see that coming, that’s for sure”. Medley’s hit song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” was featured in another Patrick Swayze movie: Dirty Dancing.

In Sam and Molly’s sensual pottery making sequence, it formed such an indelible impression that for over two decades a score of homages have been filmed. In 1991, Jerry Zucker’s brother David directed “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear”, which featured stars Priscilla Presley and Leslie Nielsen reenacting the scene in a comedic matter. Moore wanted the sequence to look authentic, so she and director Jerry Zucker took pottery lessons. The pot used in the scene, wasn’t supposed to fall apart. But Swayze and Moore just kept going with it and the rest is history. 

Summer tentpoles like “Die Hard 2”, “Total Recall”, and “Dick Tracy” failed to claim a slot in the top five year-end box office of 1990, but the romantic comedy “Pretty Woman” did. Like “Ghost”, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts “Pretty Woman” was yet another female-loved film that made a lot of money. “The success of ‘Ghost’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ has revitalized the romantic comedy, a genre that in recent years had become less appealing to Hollywood studios intent on making blockbuster action-adventure films,” read a 1990 article in The New York Times. In the wake of “Ghost”, films like “The Bodyguard”, “Jerry Maguire” and “Titanic” all became huge hits within the romantic drama genre.

The film has grossed over $500 million theatrically, from a $22 million budget. When “Ghost” was released on video and LaserDisc it sold a record 646,000 videos for rental, breaking the record set by “Die Hard 2” and a record 66,040 LaserDiscs. The rentals generated a gross of $40 million for Paramount. The video went on sale in the fall and generated sales of $25 million.

Ghost (1990)

“Ghost” is that perfect algorithm of thriller, horror, murder mystery, comedy, romance and supernatural elements. It’s one of those films that is filmmaking at its most effective. A film that is uncomplicated, entertaining, engrossing, with a sharply written script, a detailed direction and great performances all around. “Ghost” has been ranked as a romantic classic and AFI (American Film Institute) ranks it as one of the most romantic movies of all time. For me it’s a breathtaking movie going experience and an important film of the era that left me impacted and then and now 30 years later. 



About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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