Ghostbusters: Afterlife post-credits scenes are kinda weird

Deleted scenes, sequel hints and some tonally odd randomness follow the end of Afterlife.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Stay Puft Marshmallow Men in Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Teeny tiny Stay Puft Marshmallow Men cause mayhem in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and the post-credits scene might hint at further ghostly chaos.

Sony Pictures

These days every self-respecting blockbuster needs a post-credits scene -- so of course Ghostbusters: Afterlife does, too. But what's unusual with Afterlife is the weird jumps in tone in this grab bag of bonus scenes after the movie ends.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is in theaters Friday. This latest addition to the specter-detecting series is aimed squarely at franchise fans with a new generation of stars picking up the Ghostbusting equipment from the original films. Your enjoyment may depend on how excited you are to see those old props (and old faces) back on the screen -- and you or may not be excited to stick around after the credits roll for a little more Ghostbusters. Let's take a look at Afterlife's mid-credits and post-credits scenes to see whether they're a bit of fun or a hint at a possible future for the franchise. Spoilers, obviously! 

spoiler alert

Afterlife's climax is essentially a retread of the 1984 film's ending, as the team faces off against ancient evil Gozer, complete with  characters turned into terror dogs and crossing of streams (although that doesn't work this time). Surviving original Ghostbusters Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson don the familiar jumpsuits as Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore, while the late Harold Ramis is re-created as a silent CG character so he can return as a ghostly Egon Spengler. The film is dedicated to Ramis. 

Another of the film's original stars, Annie Potts, also appears earlier in the film as former receptionist Janine. 

The mid-credits scene

When the movie ends, their names all appear, along with fellow original star Sigourney Weaver. She doesn't actually appear in the movie, but her name's appearance is explained by a cut to Weaver and Murray reprising a scene from the first film.

In the original, Murray's incorrigible Peter Venkman was introduced with an experiment into extra-sensory perception in which he administered electric shocks to male students while leering at woman students, but this time it's Peter wired up to the mains as his old flame Dana (Weaver) shows him test cards (and delivers a shock or two). 

There's nothing very shocking about this mid-credits scene, however. It's just a fun throwaway gag that gets Weaver into the film, adds some bonus Murray smarm and gives you a warm reminder of the chemistry between the pair. Potentially suggesting a happy ending for Peter and Dana, this scene is just a little treat for fans.

The deleted scene

The credits roll to the sound of a song by the film's star McKenna Grace, then things go in a different direction for the post-credits scene. Suddenly Potts and Ramis are back on screen, but much younger: This is a deleted scene from the first Ghostbusters movie. Janine gives Egon a lucky coin from the 1964 World's Fair, a cute moment that heralded the adorably awkward relationship between the pair in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon (which ran on ABC from 1986 to 1991).

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (1944 - 2014) as paranormal investigators in Ivan Reitman's 1984 comedy 'Ghostbusters'.

Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis as paranormal investigators in Ivan Reitman's 1984 comedy Ghostbusters.

Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The post-credits scene(s)

Cut to present-day Potts and Hudson in what looks like a fancy office, presumably Winston's, discussing what he's been up to since the original films. Apparently Winston has been successful "in finance" and is now super-rich. He is then seen opening the doors of the fire station that served the Ghostbusters as their Manhattan base (in real life, Firehouse, Hook & Ladder Company 8 in the Tribeca neighborhood). The Ecto-1 drives into its rightful home, and the franchise has come full circle. In the building's basement, a red light flashes on the containment unit as ominous music rises...

Nothing is explicitly explained, but the implication I took is that Winston's money will bankroll a new Ghostbusters set-up. This paves the way for a sequel, positioning Afterlife as a springboard for a new series of Ghostbusters movies belatedly but directly tied to the original films -- kinda like how Jurassic World follows Jurassic Park. We never see who's driving Ecto-1, so the series could involve the original Ghostbusters, Afterlife's characters or a whole new team.

Whoever moves in will have their work cut out for them if the containment unit is breached, since spooks will flood into New York City and beyond.

This post-credits scene makes narrative sense but we have questions about why the containment unit is still there -- the EPA already came for it once, and the building has supposedly been a Starbucks in the interim. How many frappuccinos did Starbucks have to sell to pay the electricity bills for a high-voltage laser containment system in the basement? 

It's a homecoming that's open-ended enough to launch something new without committing to anything. Maybe it's there to inspire fans to imagine what happens next, although in the age of endless franchises and perpetually churning IP, a sequel is surely the real point of the scene.

The weird part is the "this is your life" chat between Janine and Winston. Fans will recognize Winston's riff about Ray being the heart, Egon the brains and Peter the mouth, a character dynamic used by Ramis and Aykroyd while writing the original films. But it's odd to focus on Winston's success without saying what he's actually done or why it matters. 

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However, the scene makes more sense if you know the off-screen context. It feels like a mea culpa for the shabby treatment of Winston (and Hudson) from the beginning of the series.

Hudson has been a big part of the Ghostbusters franchise in everything from video games to cameos in Afterlife and the 2016 reboot, but in the original film Winston was the only member of the team who wasn't a founder, and the only one who wasn't an expert. In interviews, Hudson previously revealed Winston's character was substantially cut down in both movies, he was left off the posters, and he was rejected from The Real Ghostbusters.

Would it really have been so hard to have a fourth academic on the team from the get-go? Why wasn't the team's only Black member on an equal footing with the others in terms of expertise and screen time?

In past interviews, Hudson avoided stating whether he thought the snubs were down to the fact he wasn't as big a star as initial choice casting Eddie Murphy, or if it was studio interference, or just plain racism. If it's the latter, that gives a resonance to Hudson's line in Afterlife about being "an example of what's possible."

Ernie Hudson (center) with Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy filming a cameo outside the Ghostbusters firehouse in New York City in September 2015.

Ernie Hudson (center) with Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy filming a cameo outside the Ghostbusters firehouse in New York City in September 2015.

Bobby Bank/GC Images

Whatever the thinking behind this tonally strange scene, it shows some of the issues with Ghostbusters (and fan-courting blockbusters) these days. Especially since the all-female 2016 reboot sucked the Ghostbusters franchise into culture war controversy, it's been a lightning rod for heated discussion. Critics are divided about the nostalgia factor in Afterlife (the Guardian called it "slimy, stinking corpse of a sequel" that's "custom-made for a fandom that worships everything and respects nothing"). Afterlife certainly spends a good portion of its run-time winking at vocal fans of the original films, and a little bit of extra knowledge is required for the post-credits scenes to make sense.

Post-credits scenes came to prominence when Marvel started adding a little hook for the next movie on the end of its early Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks. Now every film has one, even when they don't make sense.