On paper, it shouldn’t work. A romantic fantasy about a love story between a girl and a ghost with a psychic played by a comedian in a movie written by a horror guy and directed by one of the guys that did Airplane! with a 35-year-old song as its love theme. . . it sounds like a moviemaking Mad Lib. But when it opened 30 years ago this week, Ghost defied expectations by pulling its disparate elements together into a massive box office hit that garnered five Academy Award nominations and two wins, including one for Whoopi Goldberg. To recognize that unexpected achievement, here are five things you didn’t know about Ghost.
1. The Writer Had Doubts About the Director
Bruce Joel Rubin had two established screenplays to his credit prior to Ghost. 1983’s Brainstorm was a creepy science-fiction thriller that’s best known as Natalie Wood’s final film, and the sci-fi horror of 1986’s Deadly Friend was directed by scare icon Wes Craven. Rubin’s original drafts for Ghost were darker (for really dark Rubin, see his other 1990 film, Jacob’s Ladder), so he was skeptical that Jerry Zucker was interested.
Jerry Zucker was part of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team with his brother, David Zucker, and their partner, Jim Abrahams. The trio had found success with a deadpan style of humor that they used to great effect in Airplane! and The Naked Gun franchise. Zucker, for his part, was in the market for good scripts of any type. When he and Rubin met for dinner, they ended up fostering a strong collaborative atmosphere. A few laughs were added during their 19 drafts, but not at the expense of very serious ideas about the nature of love and what awaits us after death.
2. Patrick Swayze Fought forWhoopi Goldberg
Why tell a Whoopi Goldberg story when Whoopi can tell it?
Whoopi Goldberg on Patrick Swayze (Uploaded to YouTube by Loose Women)
3. The Movie Resurrected“Unchained Melody”
The 1955 classic “Unchained Melody” got a new lease on life thanks to Ghost. The Alex North-Hy Zaret composition was written for the film Unchained that year, and three versions by different artists all hit the Top 10 in the U.S. (all three of those, plus one by Liberace, hit the Top 20 in the U.K. at the same time). However, the version that you most likely know, and the version from Ghost, is the 1965 cover by The Righteous Brothers (Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley). The duo flipped a coin to see who got the lead; Hatfield won, and the song went to #4 in the States.
During the 1980s, music by the Righteous Brothers had a good run at the movies. Their “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was memorably used in Top Gun, and Medley’s duet with Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (from the Patrick Swayze film Dirty Dancing) was a major hit. When the song appeared in the film, Medley began asking for an official re-release, but was informed there were licensing issues. He and Hatfield simply recorded a new version and released it. However, the rights holder to the original released THAT version as well. Both Righteous Brothers versions of the song became chart hits in 1990, making them the first act to have two versions of the same song on the charts at the same time. The new version hit #19 and sold a million copies by the next year; the re-release went to #13 in the U.S. and stayed at #1 for a month in the U.K.
4. Goldberg’s Oscar Made History
Goldberg’s turn as Oda Mae Brown, a charlatan psychic that becomes Sam (Patrick Swayze), the titular ghost’s, way of communicating with Molly (Demi Moore) drew rave reviews. Goldberg became only the second Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (the first had been Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind almost 50 years earlier). Writer Rubin also received an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
5. The Ghost Legacy
Financially, Ghost was a major win for Paramount that year; the $22 million film pulled in $505 million. That made it the #1 hit of 1990 and briefly placed it as the third biggest moneymaker of all time. While it was far from the first ghost-related love story (see Wuthering Heights, Greek mythology, 1943’s A Guy Named Joe, Always, etc.), it did represent a huge success in the supernatural or paranormal romance subgenre; successes always lower the curb, allowing other projects to get made. On into the rest of the 1990s and 2000s, a number of successful properties that relied on couples separated by supernatural circumstances prospered, including the paired TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the Twilight series, and The Southern Vampire Mysteries (basis for the HBO series True Blood, which featured lead character Sookie Stackhouse in a number of difficult relationships with a variety of supernatural beings). There has been consideration of Ghost itself being remade or rebooted, with some discussion around the idea of an ongoing TV series floating just a few years ago. While some might consider it impossible to recapture what made the original film so popular, that’s never stopped Hollywood from trying to bring a classic film back to life.
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