Netflix’s ‘The Movies That Made Us’ paints Coca-Cola as ‘fizzy overlords’ looking to can ‘Ghostbusters’

Coca-Cola actually owned Columbia Pictures from 1982 to 1989

Originally posted Saturday, November 30, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In 1982, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company made what is now considered a quixotic diversifying decision by buying Columbia Pictures for $750 million.

Columbia was home to such Oscar-winning hits as “From Here to Eternity,” “On the Waterfront,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Gandhi.”

A year later, then Columbia CEO Frank Price greenlit “Ghostbusters” — featured in an episode of Netflix’s “The Movies That Made Us,” which debuted Friday.

But the episode is none too flattering to Coca-Cola, which comes across as cheap and clueless. 

Here is how the narrator spun it:

“Four months before Frank greenlit ‘Ghostbusters,’ this corporate behemoth quite fancied themselves as movie makers. But according to Frank, they knew nothing about motion pictures, and didn't really care that much to learn.”
Price had delivered hit after plenty of hits for  Columbia, but when it came to “Ghostbusters,” he told the show producers, “They didn't want me to do it.”

He said the Coca-Cola execs saw no future in a special-effects comedy of this sort. They told Price:"It will never make its money back.”

The scriptwriters of “The Movies That Made Us” then said this began a battle between Price and his “fizzy overlords who were looking to can ‘Ghostbusters.’ ” (“Can”! Haha! See the pun?)

When the producers discovered the name “Ghostbusters” was taken up by another company, Coca-Cola refused to pay for it, the episode said, and suggested they use the inferior-sounding “Ghostbreakers.” 

Ivan Reitman began shooting scenes twice whenever they had a “Ghostbusters” reference or sign show and changed it to “Ghostbreakers.” But when 400 extras started shouting “Ghostbusters,” the producers decided to stop doing two takes of everything, according to the episode. They stuck with “Ghostbusters” without knowing they could even use it.

Price soon left Columbia after multiple disputes with Coca-Cola regarding his leadership

In a final dig at Coke, the narrator said: “So, if Frank was out, who would protect ‘Ghostbusters’ from the black fizzy menace on high?”

Then came some good news: Price took over Universal Pictures, which coincidentally owned the rights to the name “Ghostbusters.” Price ensured Columbia and “Ghostbusters” were able to use that name. Problem solved!

And when “Ghostbusters” became a massive hit, Coca-Cola jumped aboard where its strengths lay: marketing. There were TV ads galore featuring the singer of the hit song Ray Parker Jr. One ad also includes everyone’s favorite 1980s sitcom dad: Bill Cosby!

“Ghostbusters” ended up being the No. 2 film of 1984 with $229 million in domestic box office gross, just behind “Beverly Hills Cop.”

While Columbia released other big films during its time with Coca-Cola such as “The Karate Kid,” “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “The Big Chill,” the parent company got plenty of bad press for the notorious 1987 bomb “Ishtar,” which lost around $40 million. 

Coca-Cola, which in its time smartly purchased the company that ran the money-making machines of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy,” sold Columbia Pictures to Sony in 1989. It pocketed $500 million in the deal

“Coca-Cola got an ‘A’ for television where they did a good job,” David Londoner, an analyst at Wertheim Schroeder & Company, told The New York Times in 1989. “But they get a ‘C’ for movies, where in seven years they basically went from an average earner to a loss operation. They made very good money in the sale to a great extent because the perceived allure of entertainment properties has soared.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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