In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Dan Aykroyd confirmed that Bill Murray will not be a part of a movie that's never going to happen, Ghostbusters III. Thank God. Anyone who's actually taken a peek at what Aykroyd had in mind for a third movie knows it isn't pretty. But that's not really the point. The point is that Bill Murray, who knows full well that his involvement would most likely ensure that Ghostbusters 3 would become a reality, passed. Why wouldn't Murray want this to happen? Even just to help out his old pal Aykroyd? The answer is: "Because Bill Murray isn't stupid."
Yes, let's, for a few minutes, get into the mind of Bill Murray. Murray, today, enjoys his life as an enigma - gallivanting around the world, while, professionally, only accepting the roles that he happens to find interesting. Yes, this sounds nice. The thing is, Murray doesn't get near enough credit for the work he put into making sure this professional lifestyle is possible (hold that thought).
I never once believed Bill Murray when he said he hadn't read the script for Ghostbusters 3. I would bet good money that he has not only read that script but also is well aware that the script is not very good. He's also well aware where his career was at the last time he appeared in a bad Ghostbusters sequel.
Bill Murray likes doing "serious movies." This was evident as far back as 1984, when Murray put his heart and soul into a pet project called The Razor's Edge -- a movie that explains his psyche better than any other. The problem was, Murray wasn't in a position at the time to get a "serious" film made. So he struck a deal with the studio: He'd star in a movie called Ghostbusters in exchange for The Razors Edge being released. Ghostbusters went on to gross $238 million; The Razors Edge (filmed before Ghostbusters, but released four months later) tanked, grossing only $6.5 million. Murray was so crushed by the failure of The Razor's Edge that he moved to Paris and didn't star in another film -- save for a cameo in Little Shop of Horrors -- for another four years. Today, Murray doesn't have to make trades to get a movie produced.
When Murray did return, his first two films were the better-than-it-needed-to-be Scrooged and the ill-fated Ghostbusters II. Funny thing about Ghostbusters II, Murray didn't want to do that movie either. As he told The New York Times in 1988, "Ghostbusters was kind of radioactive, it was so out-of-scale. You sort of had to lay low for a while. The reason most people do sequels is greed. But if you do it for business reasons, you should be put to death.'' In the same article, Harold Ramis said this when asked if there would be a Ghostbusters III: "I doubt it very much. It's so hard to get everybody together. And we're so much older. There's a lot more hair dye being used this time. When it's face-lift time, we'll have to quit." (I should point out that this quote is 23 years old.) Ghostbusters II grossed less than half of what its predecessor made. Siskel and Ebert called it one of the worst films of 1989.
Over the next eight years, Murray had sporadic success. His co-directorial debut (he shared the credit with Howard Franklin), Quick Change, flopped at the box office. Sure, this era produced gems like Groundhog Day, but, when you factor in films like Larger Than Life (along with an elephant) and The Man Who Knew Too Little, it's evident that Murray was dangerously close to emulating the downward spiraling career of his longtime frenemy Chevy Chase.
Looking back, it's really not too big of a surprise that Murray agreed to take a role in Wes Anderson's Rushmore -- even taking a pay cut to do so. It's this type of movie that Murray has always been interested in doing. Actually, it's more of a surprise that Anderson thought he could still squeeze indie credibility out of a guy who'd just starred in a movie with an elephant. And I think Murray knows this. Regardless, Rushmore, coupled with 2003's Lost in Translation (a movie that would garner Murray an Oscar nomination), effectively changed his career forever. Murray, if he played his cards right, would never again have to star in silly, lightweight comedies or co-star with animals. At this point, why would Murray ever take a role that could jeopardize this?
To wit: Let's look at another SNL alumnus, Eddie Murphy. Murphy, like Murray, was heralded for a role -- 2006's Dreamgirls -- and picked up an Oscar nomination of his own for his troubles. Murphy's problem post-Dreamgirls was that (A) either he grossly miscalculated, being arrogant enough to think he could continue to make schlock like Norbit and still be offered roles that could garner critical acclaim; or (B) he just didn't give a shit. Either is possible. (As an aside, looking back, it's hard to believe Murphy's latest comeback was pegged to something as inconsequential as Tower Heist. This is how desperate things have become for Murphy.) Murray, on the other hand, knows what one high-profile clunker can do to a career -- he's been there -- and very much does give a shit.
Everything Murray has achieved to this point could be destroyed by Ghostbusters III. Even though Aykroyd is the driving force behind the film, Murray would be the focus of attention. In other words: Murray would take the hit and, yes, look like a sellout. But what about Garfield?, I know you're thinking right now. Yes, Garfield was a sellout. But at least Murray was smart enough to keep his face out of those movies. (Plus, one line in Zombieland has completely wiped away any ill will that those movies caused.) Ghostbusters III would be different: Peter Venkman is the main character in the previous two Ghostbusters, and there would be no hiding behind an animated cat this time.
Aykroyd's passive-aggressive jabs at Murray in the press over the last few years have most likely not helped this situation. As if corresponding with Murray through the media is going to change Murray's mind. This time, Aykroyd says of Murray, "He golfs in these tournaments where they pay him to turn up and have a laugh. He's into this life and living it." Right. Murray hasn't been filming Hyde Park on the Hudson or Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. Nope, he's just been playing golf and ignoring your scripts, Dan Aykroyd. That's it. And the thing is, I feel fairly confident assuming that if Aykroyd had actually done something interesting with the new script, Murray would be on board. But he's not going to risk "this life," as Aykroyd puts it, to do a bad Ghostbusters movie. Murray has done that before. And Murray isn't about to star alongside an elephant again.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter