Before his untimely death in 1982, few in Hollywood could match the sheer comedic force of John Belushi. For a brief moment in 1978, he had the number one album (The Blue Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues), the number one show in late night television (SNL), and the number one movie in theaters (Animal House). Drugs and the vagaries of Hollywood didn’t allow Belushi to remain on top for long, but at the time of his death, he had several projects in the pipeline. Before you catch the Ghostbusters movies (a franchise literally haunted by the ghost of Belushi) on IFC, check out a few projects that could’ve been different had they featured Belushi’s singular talent.
10. Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman
Ghostbusters had a long, complicated road to the big screen. When Dan Aykroyd first developed the project, he envisioned it as a follow-up to The Blues Brothers about a team of time traveling ghost hunters in the distant future. But then, just as the project started moving forward, its supposed star died of a drug overdose.
From day one, Belushi was envisioned as Peter Venkman, the smooth talking ladies man/paranormal investigator, but his death threw the project into a tailspin. Richard Pryor was briefly considered for the lead role, before it fell into Bill Murray’s lap. It’s near sacrilege to picture Ghostbusters without Murray’s unique persona steering the ship, but it’s fun to imagine what Belushi would’ve brought to the comedy classic. Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman have always said that lovable ghoul Slimer is basically a tribute to Belushi in slimy, spectral form.
9. Moon Over Miami (aka American Hustle), Shelly Slutsky
Shortly before Belushi’s death, famed French auteur Louis Malle began developing a script based on the FBI Abscam story, a sting operation in the 1970s that led to the arrest of numerous politicians. If that sounds familiar, it’s because filmmaker David O. Russell mined the same true story in 2013 for his Oscar favorite American Hustle.
Moon Over Miami, as the project was known at the time, would’ve allowed both Malle and Belushi to step outside their comfort zone, creating more of a sharp satire than a flat out comedy or drama. Belushi would’ve played Shelly Slutsky, a slobbish conman similar to the role Christian Bale played in American Hustle. Belushi’s partner in crime, Dan Aykroyd, was also being eyed for the role of Otis Presby, otherwise known as Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent on the edge. If all the pieces had come together, this movie had the potential to be a major turning point for the creative partnership of Belushi and Aykroyd. Playwright John Guare, who penned the script, would stage the screenplay years later, but this version of the story would never make it to the big screen.
8. Fatty Arbuckle biopic
Belushi was the first of many larger than life comedic actors to explore the possibility of playing the legendary silent film star, who all but invented the idea of the chubby comedian on the big screen. The story of Arbuckle’s rise and tragic fall at the dawn of Hollywood could’ve provided Belushi with a chance to be funny, while also exploring the inherent darkness of being the “fat guy who falls down.”
7. Animal House 2, John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky
Animal House had the biggest box office ever for a comedy when it came out, so it’s no surprise a sequel was immediately put into development. The story would have followed Bluto, Otter and the boys reuniting during the Summer of Love, but Belushi resisted, for fear of being typecast, and the project never came together. Belushi’s passing thankfully spared moviegoers from what would no doubt have been a lesser sequel to a comedy classic.
6. Noble Rot, Johnny Glorioso
This dark comedy about a dysfunctional family of winemakers was a passion project for Belushi, who co-wrote the script with fellow SNL writer/performer Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello. Alas, his death would leave the project in limbo, and we would never get to see what a movie co-written by and starring Belushi would’ve looked like.
5. Nothing Lasts Forever, Cameo
This odd outing, that never saw a theatrical release, came from the mind of SNL‘s resident filmmaker Tom Schiller. After years of churning out shorts for the late night show — like the Belushi classic Don’t Look Back in Anger and La Dolce Gilda — Schiller made a movie that truly defies description.
Set in an alternate universe New York City, where everything has the feel of a 1930s musical, the Lorne Michaels-produced film features cameos from SNL favorites Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. Rumor has it Belushi was supposed to cameo, but sadly died six weeks before filming.
4. Spies Like Us, Emmett Fitz-Hume
This cold war comedy is a relic of its time. Not the funniest movie on anyone’s filmography, it’s still good for a few laughs. Belushi was slated to play Emmett Fitz-Hume, the role that eventually went to Chevy Chase. Considering Belushi was reportedly no fan of his former SNL cohort, that casting just seems like adding insult to injury.
3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo
A big screen take on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi makes so much sense, it’s a wonder it never came together. Aykroyd’s odd, clipped intensity as Raoul Duke, alongside Belushi’s unhinged, swarthy madness as Dr. Gonzo, is pitch perfect casting. Sadly, the project evaporated with Belushi’s passing and the novel floated around Hollywood for another decade before Terry Gilliam finally made his adaptation.
2. Gangs of New York, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting
Martin Scorsese’s passion project was in development for so long, Belushi was the first choice to play the role that Daniel Day-Lewis later made famous. While the film that Scorsese eventually made has its merits, it surely would’ve provided a drastically different type of part for Belushi to dig into. Even more amazing is the fact that Aykroyd was being considered for the part of Amsterdam Vallon at the time. If only we lived in a world where the The Blues Brothers duked it out in period garb in a Scorsese film.
1. Three Amigos, Ned Nederlander
Yet another in the long line of supposed Aykroyd/Belushi projects that were in development post-Blues Brothers, Belushi was set to play Ned Nederlander before he passed away. Martin Short was brought in as a replacement, giving a wonderful performance, but one that would seem to be the polar opposite of what Belushi would’ve done with the material.