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Ghost 25th anniversary: What critics thought of it in 1990

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Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, ... | Released: July 13, 1990 Budget: $22 million Box office: $505.7 million The epitome of summer counterprogramming, Ghost quite literally capitalized on the chemistry between Patrick…
Everett Collection

On July 13, 1990 — 25 years ago today — Ghost arrived in theaters, becoming that year’s highest-grossing film, earning Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar, and forever changing the way movie lovers looked at pottery wheels.

But while the tearjerker was a box office smash, critics didn’t take as warmly to the haunting love story about a murdered man (Patrick Swayze) watching over his lover (Demi Moore) from the afterlife. Cue up the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” and see what they had to say about the film a quarter-century ago:

1. Ghost veers repeatedly from the somber to the broadly comic, with a number of strange but appealingly offbeat digressions along the way. This may, for instance, be the only film with a steamily romantic sequence in which the hero and the heroine get together and make pottery.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times 

2. “Ghost is 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. Such ideas are a comfort to us. We like to picture our dear ones up there on a cloud, eternally ‘looking down’ on us, so devoted that they would rather see what we’re cooking for dinner than have a chat with Aristotle or Elvis.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

3. “The filmmakers know Swayze’s appeal perfectly well: He has to move, he has to turn dancing into an act of lovemaking and he has to take his shirt off more often than Sigourney Weaver. All this he does, no matter how implausible the surroundings; you even begin to suspect that certain scenes were earmarked Swayze Shirt Opportunity.” — Sheila BensonLos Angeles Times

4. “[Ghost is] a bad movie that a lot of people will like. It’s got suspense, comedy, a big chase and a little sex. It has Demi Moore, pert and intense, every emotion acutely aquiver in fine Debra Winger fashion. But though director Jerry Zucker wants his necrophiliac romance to be sensitive, he pumps up its feelings fortissimo so the dimmest viewer will get the point.” — Richard CorlissTIME.

5. “Zucker dutifully pushes all the buttons — romance, thrills, laughs, tears — that have been pushed before by more assured hands. Swayze and Moore are attractive but mannered and self-involved in a way that works against instilling a sense of mutual loss. Though saddled with hoary jokes, Goldberg at least pumps some funky life into the bland proceedings. There’s little else to admire except some nifty special effects of spirits rampaging through the subway. For the rest, Ghost succeeds only at being insubstantial.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

6. “The film’s highlight comes when Swayze’s spirit leaves his visible self to enter Goldberg’s body so he/she can touch Moore. For a moment it looks as if we’re about to see an interracial, lesbian, proxy sex scene. … But nooooooo. We have to deal with the real villain, whose identity is intended to be a mystery for a while, though it’s obvious.” — Ralph Novak, PEOPLE

7. “Strangely enough, it’s not that bad. … I refer you to the low-light critical tariff one must apply to Hollywood’s summer fare. In this artistically devalued summer of schlockbusters (Days of Total RoboCop III), it means Jerry Zucker’s movie (he made Airplane! and Ruthless People) is surprisingly entertaining and goes along nicely with the theater’s air conditioning.” — Desson Howe, The Washington Post

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