Ghost (1990 film)

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Ghost (1990 movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJerry Zucker
Written byBruce Joel Rubin
Produced byLisa Weinstein
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited byWalter Murch
Music byMaurice Jarre
Distributed byParamount Pictures[2]
Release date
  • July 13, 1990 (1990-07-13)
Running time
127 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$22–23 million
Box office$505.7 million[4]

Ghost is a 1990 American romantic fantasy film directed by Jerry Zucker from a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, and starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Vincent Schiavelli, and Rick Aviles.[5] The plot centers on Sam Wheat (Swayze), a murdered banker, whose ghost sets out to save his girlfriend, Molly Jensen (Moore), from the person who killed him – through the help of the psychic Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg).

Ghost was theatrically released on July 13, 1990, to commercial success, grossing $505 million against a budget of $22–23 million and emerging as the highest-grossing film of 1990 and at the time of its release, was the third-highest-grossing film of all time. The film received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise going towards the score and performances of the cast. Ghost earned five nominations at the 63rd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and winning Best Supporting Actress for Goldberg and Best Original Screenplay for Rubin.


Sam Wheat, a banker, and his girlfriend Molly Jensen, an artist, renovate and move into an apartment in Manhattan with the help of Sam's friend and co-worker Carl Bruner. One afternoon, Sam confides in Carl about his discovery of unusually high balances in obscure bank accounts. He decides to investigate the matter himself, declining Carl's offer of assistance. That night, Sam and Molly are attacked by a mugger who shoots and kills Sam in a scuffle before stealing his wallet. Sam sees Molly crying over his body and discovers he is now a ghost, invisible and seemingly unable to interact with the mortal world.

Molly is distraught in the days after Sam's death, as Sam remains close to her. Carl comes over and suggests she take a walk with him; Sam, unable to follow through the locked door, stays behind. Moments later, the mugger enters the apartment in search of something. When Molly returns, Sam scares their cat into attacking the thug, who flees. He follows the mugger to his Brooklyn apartment, learning that the man, Willie Lopez, was sent by an unknown party.

After leaving Willie's residence, Sam happens upon the parlor of psychic Oda Mae Brown, a charlatan pretending to commune with spirits of the dead who is shocked to discover her true psychic gift when she can hear Sam speaking. Sam persuades her to warn Molly that she is in danger. To allay Molly's skepticism, Oda Mae relays information that only Sam could know. Molly later gives Willie's address to Carl, who volunteers to investigate. She then goes to the police, who have no file for Willie but they show her Oda Mae's lengthy one as a forger and con artist.

Meanwhile, Sam follows Carl and is devastated to learn he and Willie are working together. Carl is laundering money for drug dealers and had Willie rob Sam to obtain his book of passwords. After getting the book himself from the apartment, Carl transfers the money into a single account under the fictitious name "Rita Miller".

Determined to protect Molly, Sam learns from a violent poltergeist haunting the subway system how to channel emotion in order to move solid objects. He then enlists Oda Mae to help him thwart Carl by impersonating Rita Miller and withdrawing the laundered money totaling $4 million, which she later reluctantly donates to some nuns on Sam's insistence. As Carl desperately searches for the money, Sam reveals his presence by typing his name on the computer keyboard. Carl goes to Molly, who reveals she spotted Oda Mae closing an account at the bank.

Carl and Willie go to Oda Mae's but Sam warns her and her sisters to take shelter. When Willie arrives, Sam spooks him as revenge, causing him to flee into the street in a fit of panic before being struck and killed by an oncoming car. Shadowy demons emerge from the darkness to drag Willie's ghost down to Hell.

Sam and Oda Mae return to the apartment and, by levitating a penny into Molly's hand, he convinces Molly that Oda Mae is telling the truth about him. Oda Mae allows Sam to possess her body so he and Molly can share a slow dance. Carl breaks into the apartment but Sam is too exhausted from the possession to fight Carl. The women take the fire escape to a loft under construction, but Carl catches Oda Mae and holds her at gunpoint, demanding the check.

Sam recovers and pushes Carl off her, prompting Carl to take Molly hostage and plead with Sam for the check. Sam disarms him, attacking him again. Carl tries to escape through a window and tosses a suspended hook at Sam, but the hook swings back, shattering the window and causing it to slide down, fatally impaling Carl with a glass shard. The shadowy demons who came for Willie return to claim Carl's ghost, dragging him to Hell.

Sam asks if the women are all right. Molly is now able to hear him and a heavenly light shines in the room, illuminating Sam's presence. Realizing that his task is now completed and it is time for him to go, he and Molly share a tearful goodbye and one last kiss, finally having proper closure between them. Sam thanks Oda Mae for her help and then walks into the light and onward to Heaven.



Background and filming[edit]

Ghost was the first film Jerry Zucker directed on his own, as well as his first dramatic film. He had previously been part of the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker directing team, known for their parody films. Zucker stated that his decision to direct Ghost was not made to distance himself from comedies or to mark a new chapter in his career, but was merely “just looking for a good film to direct."[5]

Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Paul Hogan, Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Kline, Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise were considered for the role of Sam Wheat.[6][7] Bruce Willis turned down the role of Sam Wheat as he did not understand the script and later called himself a "knucklehead" for turning it down.[8] Michelle Pfeiffer, Molly Ringwald,[7] Meg Ryan,[7] Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman were considered for the role of Molly Jensen. Tina Turner and Oprah Winfrey auditioned for the role of Oda Mae Brown.[9][10][11][12] According to Goldberg, the producers initially weren't interested in casting her as Oda Mae and that Swayze advocated for her to be cast.[13]

Zucker credited arguments from radio host Dennis Prager with deciding to "lighten" Rubin's original script with a moral message.[14]

Rubin noted that he "wanted to tell a ghost story from the ghost's perspective": “One day, I was watching a production of Hamlet, which begins with the ghost of Hamlet's father saying, ‘Revenge my death,’” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, let's transpose that into the 20th century; it'd be an interesting story.’ And the idea hit me.”[15]

Filming for Ghost began shooting in July 1989. Many of the interior scenes were shot at Paramount in Los Angeles. The interior of Sam and Molly's loft is a reproduction of the home and studio of artist Michele Oka Doner, built from plans she provided because she declined to allow filming in her loft. It was reconstructed in an unused loft nearby in her Soho neighborhood[16] and featured many of the same details as the actual loft, such as radiators around columns, open stairs and a house-shaped enclosure for the refrigerator. The exterior scenes were shot in New York City, particularly in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Soho, and Wall Street, for about five weeks. The film features about 100 special effects shots.[17] Demi Moore's famous 'boy cut' in the movie was designed by Manhattan hair stylist John Sahag.[18]


The music for Ghost was written by veteran French composer Maurice Jarre, whose work was nominated for the 1990 Academy Award for Best Original Score (won by John Barry for Dances with Wolves).[19] The soundtrack also featured the 1955 song "Unchained Melody", composed by Alex North with lyrics by Hy Zaret. In Ghost, the song appears both in instrumental and vocal form, the latter being the version recorded by Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers in 1965.[20]

The soundtrack album was issued worldwide on Milan Records, but licensed to Varèse Sarabande in North America. It was reissued with two extra tracks in 1995, and later as part of Milan's Silver Screen Edition series with the extra tracks and an interview with Maurice Jarre.[21]


Releases and sales[edit]

The film became an unexpected box-office success,[22][23][24][25] grossing $505.7 million on a budget of between $22–23 million.[26][27] It was the highest-grossing film of 1990.[28] Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 51.46 million tickets in the US.[29] It spent eight consecutive weeks at number one at the UK box office[30] and became the highest-grossing film of all-time in the UK surpassing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial with a gross of £23.3 million. That record would last for three years before getting surpassed by Jurassic Park in 1993.[31][32] It also spent six consecutive weeks atop the Australian box office.[33] It was also the highest-grossing film in Indonesia at the time with a gross of $3.6 million[34] and the highest-grossing foreign film in the Philippines.[35]

The film was released on video and LaserDisc in the United States on March 21, 1991 and sold a record 646,000 videos for rental, breaking the record set by Die Hard 2,[36] and a record 66,040 LaserDiscs.[37] The rentals generated a gross of $40 million for Paramount. The video went on sale in the fall and generated sales of $25 million.[36]

Critical response[edit]

Ghost has an approval rating of 75% based on 75 professional reviews on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.9/10. Its critical consensus reads, "Ghost offers viewers a poignant romance while blending elements of comedy, horror, and mystery, all adding up to one of the more enduringly watchable hits of its era."[38] Metacritic (which uses a weighted average) assigned Ghost a score of 52 out of 100 based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[39] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[40]

Roger Ebert gave Ghost two-and-a-half out of four stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, regarding the film as "no worse an offender than most ghost movies, I suppose. It assumes that even after death we devote most of our attention to unfinished business here on Earth, and that danger to a loved one is more important to a ghost than the infinity it now inhabits." He was also critical of the film's "obligatory action climax", the "ridiculous visitation from the demons of hell", the "slow study" of the Molly character, and the "single best scene" in which Sam overtakes Oda Mae's body to caress Molly: "In strict logic, this should involve us seeing Goldberg kissing Moore, but of course the movie compromises and shows us Swayze holding her - too bad, because the logical version would actually have been more spiritual and moving."[41]

David Ansen of Newsweek, despite finding the ending too sentimental, praised the film as "a zippy pastiche that somehow manages to seem fresh even though it's built entirely out of borrowed parts."[42] Variety magazine called the film "an odd creation – at times nearly smothering in arty somberness, at others veering into good, wacky fun."[43] Goldberg received considerable praise for her performance. In a review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin comments "Ms. Goldberg plays the character's amazement, irritation and great gift for back talk to the hilt. This is one of those rare occasions on which the uncategorizable Ms. Goldberg has found a film role that really suits her, and she makes the most of it."[44] Even some writers who gave negative reviews of Ghost extended praise to Goldberg's work in the film.[45]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[46] Best Picture Lisa Weinstein Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Bruce Joel Rubin Won
Best Film Editing Walter Murch Nominated
Best Original Score Maurice Jarre Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Walter Murch Nominated
American Comedy Awards[47] Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Won
American Society of Cinematographers Awards Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Adam Greenberg Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Maurice Jarre Won
British Academy Film Awards[48] Best Actress in a Supporting Role Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Original Screenplay Bruce Joel Rubin Nominated
Best Make Up Artist Ben Nye Jr. Nominated
Best Special Visual Effects Bruce Nicholson, John T. Van Vliet, Richard Edlund and Laura Buff Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Golden Globe Awards[49] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Patrick Swayze Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Demi Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Won
Golden Reel Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Dialogue and ADR for Feature Film Lee Haxall Nominated
Golden Screen Awards Won
Hugo Awards[50] Best Dramatic Presentation Jerry Zucker and Bruce Joel Rubin Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize[51] Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[52] Best Supporting Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Mainichi Film Awards[53] Best Foreign Language Film (Readers' Choice Award) Jerry Zucker Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Won
Nikkan Sports Film Awards[54] Best Foreign Film Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Film Jerry Zucker Won
Satellite Awards[55] Best Classic DVD Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Won
Best Actor Patrick Swayze Nominated
Best Actress Demi Moore Won
Best Supporting Actor Tony Goldwyn Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Director Jerry Zucker Nominated
Best Writing Bruce Joel Rubin Nominated
Best Music Maurice Jarre Nominated
Best Special Effects Bruce Nicholson, John T. Van Vliet, Richard Edlund and Laura Buff Nominated
TV Land Awards Favorite Character from the "Other Side" Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[56] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Bruce Joel Rubin Nominated
Young Artist Awards[57] Most Entertaining Family Youth Motion Picture – Comedy/Horror Won


Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, in one of the most famous scenes from the film[58]

The pottery wheel scene became widely known,[58][59] and has been cited as "one of the most iconic moments of '90s cinema."[60] It has also frequently been parodied,[59] such as in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (of which Jerry Zucker served as an executive producer; it was directed by his brother David Zucker), the short British animated film Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death[61] and US TV series Two and a Half Men.[60]

The film inspired a musical stage version, Ghost: The Musical. The show had its world premiere in Manchester, UK, in March 2011[62] before transferring to London from June 2011 and having its premiere on July 19, 2011.[63] On November 13, 2010, Paramount and Shochiku released a Japanese remake of Ghost, titled Ghost: In Your Arms Again (ゴースト もういちど抱きしめたい, Gōsuto Mouichido Dakishimetai).[64] The remake stars Nanako Matsushima, South Korean actor Song Seung-heon, and veteran actress Kirin Kiki.[65] In this film, the ghost is a woman, played by Matsushima.

See also[edit]


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  6. ^ Heidenry, Margaret (July 13, 2015). "25 Years of Ghost: Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin Talks Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Pottery-Wheel Sex". Vanity Fair.
  7. ^ a b c Swayze, Patrick; Niemi, Lisa (September 29, 2009). The Time of My Life. ISBN 978-1-4391-5858-6.
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  9. ^ Maddox, Gary (February 2, 2016). "Writer Bruce Joel Rubin says Ghost could easily have starred Nicole Kidman and Paul Hogan". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. ^ Crean, Ellen (March 13, 2007). "Swayze Tells "Ghost" Stories". CBS News.
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  14. ^ Engel, Joel (November 17, 1991). "Radio: The Prager Prism: Dennis Prager has eight hours a week to talk on the radio about 'the great issues of life'; so, what makes him so important?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 29, 2020.
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External links[edit]