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Film / Ghost (1990)

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Mmm, ghost sex.

Sam: Molly, you're in danger.
Oda Mae: Now, you can't just blurt it out like that! And quit moving around, will you? 'Cause you're starting to make me dizzy! I'll just tell her in my own way! (to Molly) in danger, girl.

Ghost is a 1990 film directed by Jerry Zucker, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn, and Whoopi Goldberg in the performance that won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (which she attributes to Swayze insisting on her being cast in the part).

Executive Sam Wheat and his artist girlfriend Molly are a pair of yuppies living in SoHo in New York City. They're in love, though Sam seems to have a little difficulty coming right out and saying it, and can only manage "ditto" when Molly tells him she loves him.

On their way home one night, Sam is mugged and killed. This is where the actual story begins, as the violent murder (plus the fact that Sam had the unfinished business of never truly telling Molly he loves her) causes him to stick around as a ghost. Then Sam discovers there's more to his death than just making him an unfortunate statistic in mugger-prone New York.

In 2010, a Foreign Remake was made in Japan, where Sam's character is now a woman trying to protect her husband. A musical production of Ghost opened in England in 2011 and hit Broadway in 2012. It has its own separate page here.

Not to be confused with the 1997 short film Ghosts, starring Michael Jackson, or the 2005 book Ghost by John Ringo.

Ghost provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: Carl never wanted Sam dead — he just wanted his wallet. Once he dies and becomes a ghost himself, he actually seems pleased to see Sam again, if only briefly.
  • Accidental Truth: Sam Wheat was gunned down in a mugging, and after his spirit follows his killer who had recently broken into his apartment, he goes to Oda Mae Brown, a medium, in the hopes she can help him get a message to his girlfriend. When he first sees her working, Oda Mae is scamming a woman whose husband recently died. When Sam voices his displeasure, Oda Mae begins freaking out at the revelation that she can in fact hear ghosts, and later in the movie she voices her displeasure at the fact that spirits from afar traveled to see her, and won't leave her alone.
  • Afterlife Angst: This is a major theme in the movie. After main character Sam Wheat is killed in a mugging, he has the opportunity to move on to the next world, but can't bring himself to leave his beloved girlfriend Molly. Later, Sam meets another spirit on the subway (known only as "The Subway Ghost") who also chose to remain on Earth—but his anger and self-loathing have left him a miserable monster incapable of finding peace. At the end of the film, Sam ensures Molly's safety, comes to terms with his death, and finally passes into Heaven.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Willie Lopez and Carl Bruner. The scenes of them being literally dragged into the netherworld (and what is probably waiting for them once they get there) are pitiful and terrifying.
    Carl: Sam?
    Sam: Oh, Carl...
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Subway Ghost is forever angry at the suddenness of his death and refuses to move on.
    • Willy and Carl are both Dragged Off to Hell for their actions in life.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: Sam and Molly's apartment features a stairway with no rails whatsoever. In the real world, this would be a flagrant building code violation.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Sam, and a man on an operating table.
  • Aside Glance: After Oda Mae finally agrees to help Sam thanks to his unbearable rendition of "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am", he gives a small grin to the camera.
  • Asshole Victim: There is a reason Carl literally gets dragged down to hell after his accidental death (as does his accomplice, Willy).
  • Backup from Otherworld: At the start of the movie, Sam Wheat is murdered and becomes a ghost. At the end, he saves his girlfriend from being killed by his murderer by accidentally causing the villain's death.
  • Bait-and-Switch: During Sam's fight with the mugger, we hear a gun go off and then we see Sam apparently chasing the mugger away. Sam then returns to Molly and discovers to his horror that she's holding his corpse; only then do we realize that he died instantly from the gun shot and it was his ghost chasing after the mugger.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: The movie is all about this — some souls aren't ready for one place or the other at the time they part with the body, and the main character had some things to resolve on Earth before his soul could be at peace. Played with a bit, as it seems that Sam could have gone to the afterlife, and made a conscious decision to stay (you can even hear Molly in the background shout "Don't you leave me, Sam!" as rescuers are attempting first aid). Once he turned away, the light closed up, but reappears when he's ready to move on. Carl and Willy, on the other hand, are dragged off and don't seem to have any choice in the matter.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Sam basically helps Oda Mae pull this when posing as "Rita Miller", even directing her to talk to Lyle Ferguson and claim they met at a Christmas party where Lyle was so drunk he wouldn't be able to remember if he met her or not.
  • Becoming the Mask: Oda Mae starts out as a con artist posing as a psychic, but when Sam enters her life, she becomes one for real.
  • Berserk Button: One need only imply that you think the Subway Ghost committed suicide for this to be pressed for him.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sam is a well-mannered honest banker who's faithful to his girlfriend, Molly but when he discovers that his friend and co-worker, Carl was indirectly responsible for his death by sending a thief to steal Sam's wallet with his apartment key inside it to access the place and look for his book of passwords so he can transfer money that he laundered for drug dealers to a single account, he's pissed off and decides to take actions in his own hand by having Oda Mae steal back the laundered money in a cheque and donating it to charity then protecting her and Molly from them by using his poltergeist skills to drive them to their death as comeuppance for both of them.
  • Big Applesauce: Hodgepodge piecing together of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sam when Oda Mae and Molly are cornered by the Big Bad.
  • Billed Above the Title: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • With a little help from Oda Mae, Sam saves Molly from Carl, also bringing an end to the money laundering he was behind, and he finally tells her he loves her. But after all is said and done, Sam is still dead, he just watched his best friend get Dragged Off to Hell, and he can never come back.
    • In the Foreign Remake, just when you think the male lead would die, he is actually experiencing a Near-Death Experience. But his wife promises that they'll reunite again.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Orlando jumping into Oda Mae's body without her permission or consent, her struggling to get rid of him—"Get out of me, you son of a bitch!" and her disgusted, angry shuddering—"Don't you EVER do that to me again!" comes across like this.
  • Body Surf: Oda Mae is nonplussed to discover that she is a vehicle for ghosts as well.
  • Break the Haughty: Sam haunts both Willy and Carl to the point they end up running scared immediately up to their Karmic Deaths.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Even when the Big Bad realizes he's being haunted by Sam, including being attacked and knowing he can't do anything to defend himself, he continues to threaten Molly's life aloud to him. This goes as well as expected.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Sam has difficulty saying "I love you" to Molly. When she says "I love you" to him, he answers, "Ditto." This becomes a plot point; when Oda Mae says "Ditto" as something Sam would say, Molly begins to believe her.
  • Cement Shoes: Carl pulling his hair over the (newly-drained) bank account while Ghost!Sam looks on impishly. Sam tosses out observations about how the mob is going to bury him "right next to Jimmy Hoffa".
  • Character Development: Oda Mae is the only character to grow and change throughout the film, going from a Phony Psychic to someone with genuine Psychic Powers, and (reluctantly) using those powers for good.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sam's "lucky" Indian penny. He later uses his ghost powers to make a penny move while Molly watches.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Oda Mae's fake IDs.
    • Sam encounters a ghost in the subway who somehow breaks a window. Later on, Sam tips over a picture frame. So he goes back to the ghost to teach him how to touch solid objects.
    • Floyd, Molly's ghost-sensing cat.
    • Oda Mae's past as a con artist comes in handy when Sam guides her through the process of withdrawing funds from a secret account. She's able to effortlessly lie and spin stories to anyone who asks, which allows her (along with Sam's guidance) to navigate the procedure without arousing too much suspicion.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Carl and his mishandling of accounts.
  • Comforting the Widow: With the guy who killed Swayze's character attempting it by putting the moves on his girlfriend. Though Molly (the girlfriend) has no interest in the murderer, even when she doesn't know he's the murderer.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • What ultimately throws a wrinkle into Sam and Oda Mae escaping with the laundered money undetected is Molly showing up on the same floor of the same bank at the exact time they're there.
    • The mob instructs Carl to transfer the dirty money into an account under a woman's name "Rita Miller" so a former con artist like Oda Mae can impersonate her.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Oda Mae initially refuses to help Sam, he starts singing "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am" over and over again for hours to her until she finally can't take it anymore and agrees to help. Later in the film, we learn that Sam used the same trick to get Molly to agree to their first date.
  • Cool Old Lady: In the Foreign Remake, Oda Mae's character is now a tiny old lady who enjoys frightening children.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen
    • Sam writing "BOO" on the steamed bathroom mirror in Willie's apartment. Cheap but effective!
    • Later, Sam freaks out the Big Bad Carl by typing "SAM" repeatedly on his computer.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Subway Ghost says he was pushed into an oncoming subway.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Once Sam learned how to manipulate objects in the real world, Willy and Carl never stood a chance.
  • Cutting Back to Reality: Whenever Sam moves something as a ghost, all we see is an object moving by itself. The one exception is when he kicks a can in the subway scene.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam, especially once he drains Carl's bank account.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Inverted, as Oda Mae's conversations with Sam make everybody think she's crazy, but she's not.
  • Death by Irony: Carl impotently swings a hook at Sam's ghost – only for it to swing back and smash into a glass window twice, shatter said window, then have it fall and fatally impale him.
  • Death Is Dramatic: It sure as Hell is...
  • Died Happily Ever After: Patrick Swayze's character finally goes on to heaven once his murder is avenged and his fiancee protected, but not before a final, phantasmal kiss is shared.
  • Died in Ignorance: After his death, Sam learns that his killer, Willy Lopez, was hired by his best friend, Carl, to mug him.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Sam dies as Molly cradles him.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Sam writing out his own name on the computer in front of Carl was not the brightest decision. Carl now knows who screwed him over, and would be able to go after those who are connected to Sam.
  • Dirty Coward: Carl, whose primary goal is to avoid getting killed by the Drug Dealers he's working for.
  • Don't Think, Feel: The Subway Ghost's explanation on how he, and later Sam, can move objects without the use of a physical body.
    Subway Ghost: You gotta take all your emotions, all your anger, all your love, all your hate, and push it waaaaay down here into the pit of your stomach, and then let it explode like a reactor! Pow!
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Willie, and later Carl. The Hospital Ghost implies this is the fate of other evil people when they die.
  • The Dragon: Willy is this to Carl.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Subway Ghost's death was apparently taken as a case of this trope, and he reacts very poorly when he thinks Sam is implying it, insisting bitterly that it wasn't his time and that he was pushed.
  • Entitled Bastard: After being killed by a car running him over and getting his spirit dragged to Hell, Willy cries to Sam "help me!" Says the guy who killed him, which led him to this fate.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite his vengeful agony over them costing him his life, Sam is left legitimately horrified by the fates of Willy and Carl after accidentally chaining their death and Fate Worse than Death, respectively. Sam even has to look away in pain as he anticipates what will happen to Carl—if anything, he seems like he wants to stop it, but it's too late.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Carl chews out Willy for killing off Sam when he didn't want that, only to rob him.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Exploited – Molly's cat goes berserk when it senses Sam's ghost. Sam used that to make it lash at Willy's face, alarming Molly and foiling his break-in attempt.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The intro of this film makes it seem spookier than it really is. It also comes across as something of a Big-Lipped Alligator Momentinvoked, since all it does is establish Carl's friendship with Sam and Molly and show that Sam is rich enough to afford breaking into and completely refurbishing an expensive SoHo loft; aside from providing the surreal imagery for Sam's later strange dream, it never gets referenced again until the climax, when Sam chases the Big Bad through other abandoned or under-construction portions of the building.
  • Final Speech: Subverted. Sam gets a poignant goodbye to Molly... after he's already dead, and has been for some time.
  • Finding Judas: Subverted. Carl was plotting behind the scenes, but it wasn't for the greater good, and he really was the villain. He was perfectly willing to seduce Molly or kill her to forward his plans.
  • Flipping the Table: Oda Mae does this when Willie walks into her shop, buying herself time to take cover before he can get a clean shot at her.
  • Foreshadowing
    • Carl's brand new, bright red Testarossa. How'd he afford that?
    • Carl's reflection is shown in a mirror.
    • When he walked into Sam and Molly's new apartment, he said they should flip it and double their money. It shows just how greedy Carl really was.
    • One that you only notice after The Reveal. Carl asks Sam what he and Molly are doing that night, it turns out they're going to the theater. So Carl knows where Sam is going to be that evening...
    • When Sam and the Hospital Ghost watch a spirit ascend to Heaven, the Ghost calls him a "lucky bastard" and then mentions, "Could have been the other ones. You never know." Later, we get to see the "other ones" and exactly what they do to the unfortunates they've been sent to collect.
    • Molly tells the movers to put the angel statue in the bedroom. Later, Sam "wakes up" to find the statue beside him in bed.
    • Ghostly possessions can wear a ghost out temporarily. This happens to Orlando when he possesses Oda Mae and Sam himself learns the hard way when he briefly possessed Oda Mae to touch Molly when Carl arrives and Sam is too weak at first to stop him.
    • Upon his death, the heavens try calling Sam to them, but with Molly begging him (his body at least) not to leave her, he chooses to stay. Later, Oda Mae tells Sam that he is holding onto a life "that doesn't want him anymore" - despite said life having been wrongfully and forcefully taken from him. At the end, when Molly is no longer in danger, Sam allows himself to ascend to heaven, now knowing that he is no longer needed, and Molly has closure enough to let him go.
  • Fright Deathtrap: Sam scares Willie and Carl into causing their own deaths.
  • Genre Mashup: The film is at once a romantic drama, a crime thriller, and a supernatural fantasy with occasional elements of horror. It becomes a comedy in most of Whoopi Goldberg’s scenes, but is otherwise a fairly serious drama.
  • Get Out!:
    • The Subway Ghost screams this at Sam, while hitting stuff from the passengers' hands, until he relents teaching Sam.
    • Oda Mae also screams this when one of the ghosts took possession of her body, which she hated so much.
  • Go into the Light: The way Sam ascends after saving Molly from the guy who murdered him. Also the flatlining patient at the hospital.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Oda Mae started as as a con artist pretending to be a medium, but after hearing Sam, she becomes a medium for real much to her dismay that during her business, other ghosts from all over America began coming to her to reach out to their loved ones visiting Oda Mae to the point that she complains to Sam about it.
    Sam: Oda Mae, where did these ghosts come from? You can hear them too?
    Oda Mae: Hear them? Can I hear them? I hear them in the morning and in the evening, they come into the shower. Sam, what the hell did you do to me? Did you tell every spook in the world about me? I got spooks from New Jersey coming here. There's stuff going on you wouldn't believe. I don't even believe it.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Subway Ghost is permanently angry and by the looks of him he wasn't a saint in life. Still, after some prodding he does his best to help Sam. Besides, if he was evil, he would have been Dragged Off to Hell. Only heaven waits till you're ready.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Drug Dealers Carl owes money to. We never get to see this group, but they are the main motivator for Carl's whole scheme.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Oda Mae's established reputation as a con artist initially made it hard for Molly to believe her at first about Sam still being here.
  • High-Pressure Blood: The spatter coming out of Carl when he gets run through by the window pane is pretty gruesome, considering the injury.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Carl swings a construction hook at Sam out of desperation, but without Sam even manipulating it (he literally stands there and watches it swing by harmlessly), it comes back and smashes into a window pane twice as he's trying to scramble away, causing it to turn into a giant shard of glass to impale him.
  • Holy Backlight: Happens just before Sam goes to Heaven. Notably this is the only time in the entire film his girlfriend sees him as a ghost.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Sam follows Carl after saying he'll take care of it, thinking he's gonna confront Willie. Sam tells his friend to be careful even though he can't hear him. Then, Willie opens the door and says what he's doing back at his apartment...
    • When Molly told Carl that she talked to the police about Willie. Sam makes a small smirk, thinking this would get Carl into trouble, until she has revealed that they showed her a profile of Oda Mae with all of her cons instead due to them not having a profile of Willie in the first place, ruining his attempt to warn her of the danger she's in.
    • When Sam "wakes up", assuming being shot was a nightmare. Until he pulls the blankets to see the angel statue and an ominous vision of it being broken in the street. He "wakes up" again, only to see a bright light above him and finds himself standing near Molly holding his body.
  • I See Dead People: Oda Mae is descended from a long line of mediums who have always been able to commune with the dead. It seems that the family power skipped a generation at first—but when Sam shows up, she realizes that she actually does have the power of mediumship, and before long, every ghost for miles around is using her as a channeler, too.
  • I See Them, Too: This happens at the end of the movie. Oda Mae's the only one who can hear Sam until the White Light appears. Then his girlfriend can hear him, too. And a few seconds later, they can both see him as well.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: "Ditto." Inverted at the end: when Sam finally manages to say "I love you" to Molly, thereby ensuring his Ascension to a Higher Plane of Existence, it's she who replies with "ditto".
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Carl, courtesy of a shattered window pane.
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: Oda Mae Brown does a variation of this to the villain — with Sam's help, she's able to steal the money from a special account, turn it into a check, and donate it to a nuns' charity.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Sam spends the entire movie in the burgundy polo and jeans he was wearing when he was murdered.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Sam, in preparation for a big client, is practicing saying basic phrases in Japanese.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While it's apparent Carl's "live for today" speech is just a transparent attempt to earn Molly's trust, it does resonate true with how Sam lost his chance at marrying Molly (or at least telling her "I love you") by putting it off.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Oda Mae is a psychic medium charlatan who's not afraid to rip off people for her own benefits but even she's willing to help Sam communicate to Molly about a warning that she's in danger from Willie and Carl and when they manage to secure the latter's laundering money of $4 million in check form, she's willing to use it for herself but Sam's stern warning makes her begrudgingly donating it to the nun's charity.
  • The Journey Through Death: Sam is murdered by his former friend Carl, and through much of the movie he's a ghost who tries to protect his girlfriend Molly from him, and gets help from a medium (Oda Mae). After Carl dies (and is taken to Hell), Sam bids farewell to Molly and Oda Mae before heading to Heaven.
  • Jump Scare: With the title card of all things.
  • Just in Time: Oda Mae and her sisters make it inside a neighbor's apartment not two seconds before Carl and Willie come up the stairs.
  • Karmic Death: Willie and Carl, who surely did have it coming.
  • The Klutz: Besides believing to be suicidal (see Driven to Suicide), the Subway Ghost also acted poorly when Sam thinks he "tripped".
    "You think I tripped?! You think I fell in?! Well, fuck you!"
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Oda Mae leaves both Sam and Molly to their own devices after Sam mentions "there's somebody else involved". She probably doesn't want to be added to that list, especially since Willie lives in her neighborhood.
  • Lampshade Hanging: As Sam and Oda Mae plan to withdraw the laundered money at the bank, Sam whispers instructions to her to avoid being overheard, but Oda Mae points out it's quite unnecessary since he's Invisible to Normals.
    Oda Mae: Why are you whispering?
  • Large Ham: Vincent Schiavelli as the Subway Ghost.
  • Living Shadow: The demons that carry off Carl and Willie.
  • Look Both Ways: While fleeing from Sam's ghost, Willie gets sandwiched between two speeding cars.
  • Loud of War
    • Sam terrorizes Oda Mae with Herman's Hermits until she agrees to help him.
      Second verse, same as the first...
    • And according to Molly, this is also how he got her to agree to go out with him.
  • Lovable Rogue: Oda Mae is a con artist who's run so many scams and frauds that the police know exactly who she is when Molly brings her up—but she's so naturally funny and over the top that it's impossible to not like her. It helps that she has a Hidden Heart of Gold and eventually comes to truly appreciate and respect Sam as a friend.
  • The Mafia: It's hinted that Carl is laundering drug money for a mob boss.
  • Magical Negro: Oda Mae, who for a good part of the movie does NOT want to become one. She inherited her ability from her mother, who got it from her grandmother. They said she'd get it too, but she never believed them.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • Molly and Sam believe he was killed in the course of a random mugging before Sam learns that it was a set up. Even worse is that Carl's dialogue indicates that he wanted it to only be a robbery and on some level, was initially genuinely sorry that Sam was killed.
    • The Subway Ghost insists someone pushed him in front of a train, which was later deemed a suicide.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Ditto."
  • Mickey Mousing: When the Big Bad sees his money drained on the computer, the score jingles with the error message popping up on the screen.
  • Mid-Life Crisis Car: Carl's new sports car.
  • Mind over Matter: An example of the "mind over matter only" convention. Sam is taught how to manipulate physical objects as a ghost, which later proves helpful for him to possess Oda (with her consent) and defeat his murderer.
  • Mood Whiplash: Other than the surreal opening, the movie starts out as a regular drama with some romance. Once Sam is killed and starts investigating his murder, things get even more dramatic and elements of horror appear... but then he meets Oda Mae Brown and the movie switches to a comedy. Most scenes with her remain funny (if at times in a Gallows Humor way) even as they are interspersed with Sam's continued investigation, his attempts to protect Molly, and Carl putting the moves on Molly to cover his tracks, get the password, and eventually eliminate her as a witness. Finally, after the horror returns and an action climax, the movie ends with a Tear Jerkerinvoked. Whew.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Carl.
  • Mr. Exposition: The first ghost Sam meets, a world-weary old guy in the hospital. "Lucky bastard", he dryly says when a patient ascends to Heaven. He almost shudders when he talks of "other ones" that sometimes appear.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Willy thought he was doing this on Carl's behalf by killing Sam instead of sticking to the original plan of stealing his wallet. It'd be of no surprise if Carl had told him at some point of his attraction toward Molly.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: A heroic example, Sam's death at the beginning of the movie is what kicks off the main plot.
  • Nailed to the Wagon: The "subway ghost" has learned how to manipulate objects (and teaches the protagonist), but not enough to light and smoke a cigarette (which apparently was his addiction when he was living). "I'd give anything for a drag! Just one drag!"
  • Near-Death Clairvoyance: Though the near death experience just ended up as death.
  • Nice Guy: Sam is a good guy, but is not to be trifled with while avenging his death.
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Oda Mae comes from a family of mediums, though she didn't believe in spirits and scammed her customers with fake seances. That is until she meets Sam and realizes she really can hear dead people. Word spreads and she is soon swamped by ghosts trying to contact their living relatives, even though Sam didn't actually tell any of them about it.
    Oda Mae: Orlando, Orlando, is there an Orlando here?
  • Oh, Crap!: Sam's reaction when Molly tells the Big Bad she saw Oda Mae at the bank using the "Rita Miller" alias, then in the climax when he realizes the swinging hook is about to have deadly consequences for the Big Bad.
  • One-Word Title: Titled such, because a ghost is a central character.
  • Oscar Bait: Pulled it off; it earned a Best Picture nomination and took the home the Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay, even though actual critical reception was mixed.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The poltergeist effect of throwing things around is described as coming from the emotions, but the ghosts still kick and hit and shove things to make them move as if they were alive. Also, possession can wear a ghost out temporarily.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Sam nearly blows it trying to prove it's him by relaying "I love you" until he changes it to "ditto".
  • Pet the Dog: After some coercing by Sam, the Subway Ghost eventually relents to teach him how to move solid objects and even praised him ("Way to go kid.") after Sam manages to kick a can with his ghost powers.
  • The Pig-Pen: Willy's messy living arrangements in his apartment seem to imply that he is this.
  • Pink Means Feminine: "Rita Miller's" fancy getup.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Once Sam leaks word of her communing with real ghosts, Oda Mae has more business than she knows what to do with.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: In this romantic/fantasy/horror movie, Oda Mae provides funny moments in most of her scenes.
  • Police Are Useless: When Molly comes to them with her story about Oda Mae warning her about Willy Lopez, the police are skeptical and instead tell her about Oda Mae's con artist past, breaking poor Molly's trust in her warning. Justified, not just because Willie Lopez may not have a record, but the police have dealt with Oda Mae's cons so many times that it stands out more.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: The dynamic between Sam and Carl after the former discovered he was killed by him to fulfill a debt for the mob over the four million dollars.
  • Poltergeist: Most dead spirits can't touch things by default, but with enough practice, a sufficiently determined (or angry) spectre can beat the crap out of you with ordinary household objects.
  • Posthumous Character: Sam is enough of one that it's genuinely shocking to see the lights of heaven opening to welcome him at the end of the film.
  • The Power of Love: It's what keeps Sam there to look after Molly and what allows Molly her chance to hear him and say goodbye when he goes into the light.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: While arguing with Carl, Willy says that killing Sam was a "favor". He may have a point as if Willy left Sam after robbing him, Sam could have reported the robbery to the cops, which could in turn make the money-laundering scheme fall apart. Even though Sam's spirit stayed on Earth which soon ends up with said scheme falling apart anyway, Willy honestly could not have known that, so really from his viewpoint, killing Sam was the best option in order to make sure there are no loose ends.
  • Psychopomp: There are shadowy spirits that will drag you off to hell after you die if you've been an evil person in this life.
  • Real Dreams are Weirder: Although it happens after he's died, Sam's bizarre dream about waking up in bed with the angel statue instead of with Molly seems like an example of a nonsensical everyday dream. It isn't till later that Sam realizes it's Foreshadowing that Molly, his angel, is in grave danger (with a glimpse of the statue getting broken).
  • Really Gets Around: Implied when Willy says that a lot of women know where he lives.
  • Reluctant Gift: After conning the villains' money out of the bank, Sam convinces Oda Mae that she can't keep it and urges her to give the check to a nearby Salvation Army booth. Which she does... although still clutching the check for a while and crying as the puzzled nun is pulling on it. Finally, Oda Mae relents, allowing the nun to read the amount... and faint.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "Unchained Melody", by The Righteous Brothers, originally about a prisoner hoping his girl will wait for him (hence "unchained"), becomes the love theme for this film. It also put the song back on the chartsinvoked.
  • Resurrected Romance: The protagonist never managed to tell his girlfriend he loved her while he was alive, so making sure she knows he did becomes one of his Ghostly Goals.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Once Carl is revealed as the mastermind behind everything, a few scenes get this:
    • His concern when he notices Sam investigating the phony accounts and the way he insists that he take over.
    • Willie knowing precisely where to attack Sam and Molly—because earlier we see Carl ask Sam what he and Molly are doing that night.
    • Carl encouraging Molly to join him for a walk—to give Willie the chance to break in and steal the information.
    • His incredulous reaction when Molly tells him all the things Oda Mae told her initially seems to be because he thinks she's a scam artist. We soon realize that he's terrified that Willie's been blabbing to people.
  • Romancing the Widow: Inverted — Carl took a shortcut by bumping off her hubby first.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Willie attempts to do this when he's being overwhelmed by Sam haunting him. Unlike most examples, he gets killed.
  • Seen It All: The Hospital Ghost. As he sits with Sam, they see some doctors trying to save a dying patient.
    The Hospital Ghost: He ain't gonna make it. I've seen it a million times. He's a goner. [cue light from Heaven] There, you see? Here they come. Lucky bastard. Coulda been the other ones. You never know.
  • Sensei for Scoundrels: The Subway Ghost is a madman who fell in front of a train, possibly intentionally. He begrudgingly agrees to teach Sam how to manipulate solid objects. Once the lesson is concluded, the ghost succumbs to his delusions and vanishes into the tunnels again.
  • Sex by Proxy: Sam uses Oda Mae's body for a Makeout by Proxy with Molly.
  • Sinister Subway: The subway where a ghost (played by Vincent Schiavelli) knocks items around and whatnot. His tragic backstory also adds a layer to this.
  • So Proud of You: Before ascending into Heaven, Sam tells Oda Mae that her mother and grandmother would be proud of her.
  • Spirit Advisor:
    • Several ghosts throw out little tidbits of pertinent information for Sam, but notably the Subway Ghost, who teaches him how to move objects. Slightly different in that the character being advised is himself a ghost...
    • The Hospital Ghost, while waiting for his soon-to-be-deceased wife, talks to Sam for a bit about how he'll be wandering the Earth for a while and warns him about "the other ones".
      Sam: Who are—? [Sam turns around to find him gone]
  • Teach Him Anger: The Subway Ghost laughs his ass off when Sam fails to move a soda can. This causes Sam to get furious enough to kick it like David Beckham, which earns him a friendly congratulations.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Sam gleefully gloats to Carl from the beyond when he thinks everything is in the clear, but this sends him into a panic to Molly, who reveals she saw Oda Mae at the bank using the laundered alias and immediately putting her in danger.
    • Sam jumps into Oda Mae's body to share a last dance with his fiancée, which had already been shown to weaken ghosts. Naturally, that's when a psychotic Carl chooses to attack.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sam himself, thanks to instruction from the Subway Ghost.
  • Torment by Annoyance: Sam badgers Oda Mae into helping him by singing "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am" loudly over and over again for hours until she finally can't take it anymore.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: While an enraged Sam was eager to take revenge on both Willie and Carl, he is genuinely horrified when it indirectly leads to them panicking and running to their deaths in both instances, and especially towards the aftermath their souls await.
  • Tragic Villain: While Carl is a crook, his turn to violence is motivated by desperation, not any fundamental desire to hurt anyone. As he explains to Willy, he owes money to drug dealers who will kill him if he doesn't pay up very soon. He didn't intend for Sam to be killed, he simply wanted Sam's wallet so that he could gain access to an account. At the end when he becomes a ghost, just before the demons take him away, he and Sam share a brief moment where they simply look at each other sadly, obviously both thinking "Why did it have to come to this?"
  • Troll: After draining the laundered money, Sam taunts the villain and start messing with objects in the office just to mess with him.
    Sam: Yoo-hoo! [pushes chair across the room]
  • Trust Password: Sam is trying to convince his girlfriend that a medium can speak for him. He tries to tell her that he loves her, but this backfires, since he was reluctant to say those words in life. He quickly corrects himself and tells the medium to say "ditto", which is how he would usually respond to his girlfriend telling him that she loves him.
  • Two Roads Before You: Sam sees a light emanating from the sky after he dies. But he turns away from it to be with Molly, and it seals shut. Subverted at the end, when the light returns. Apparently, good people are allowed to stay behind if they feel they aren't ready to move on, though can do so when they are. Bad people aren't given any choice in the matter.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: In the beginning of the movie, Carl and Sam pull what's clearly an often-practiced joke where they discuss what communicable diseases they've picked up, whilst in a crowded elevator.
  • Unfinished Business: The movie revolves around Sam comes back as a ghost after his murder to save the life of his girlfriend.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never find out how ghosts can identify each other.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: At some point, Sam was delighted at the idea that Carl would most likely be killed for failing to delivered the laundered money. But later, when he witnesses Carl's accidental death, Sam expresses somber pity at seeing his friend die.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Starting when Carl realizes he can't access the stolen money and lasting somewhere around the entire third act. Culminating at the end, where he winds up getting a Karmic Death as a result of trying to win a physical fight against a ghost.
    • Willy is driven into one when Sam haunts him to protect Oda Mae, to the point that he runs blindly into the street, scared out of his mind and becomes Road Kill.
  • Villainous Crush: When Molly comes home while Willy is still in the house, he secretly watches her undress with an almost predatory smile on his face.
    • Later that day when Sam follows Willy to his apartment, he finds him lying on the bed admiring a photo of Molly while taking a swig from a bottle of alcohol. Needless to say, Sam doesn't take this well. Not that he could do anything about it though.
  • Visual Innuendo: Featuring the world's only PG-13 rated clay-pottery-throwing scene. (Until of course, the Affectionate Parody as seen in Wrongfully Accused, and the one in Naked Gun 2½.)
  • Wham Line: When Sam follows Carl to Willie's house and finds they are in cahoots:
    Willie: Carl, what the hell are you doing here?
  • Wham Shot: When Willie shows up at the apartment. It's the first sign that Sam's death might not have been as accidental as it initially seemed.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: The Trope Codifier. At the start, Sam is resigned to being a dry crime statistic until Willie turns up again in the apartment. The goal was not to kill Sam but to hack into his work computer, a task left unfinished. Sam starts to catch on while tailing Carl to Willie's place, ironically out of concern for his friend's safety.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Oda Mae adopts a broad southern stereotype with the bank.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Willie slaps Molly, enraging Sam and resulting in the fight that gets him killed.
    • Carl has no problem grabbing and slamming Oda Mae into a concrete floor trying to get her to tell him where the money is. Then he shoves Molly when she tries to get him off of Oda Mae, and finally outright holds her hostage in an attempt to get Ghost-Sam off him.
  • Yuppie: Sam and Molly. Sam is a Wall Street financier and Molly is a potter, and they live together in Soho, and Sam is murdered because of his friend/co-worker Carl's greedy money laundering scheme.


Video Example(s):


Death of Willie Lopez

Willie gets killed by getting caught between traffic while fleeing from Sam Wheat's ghost. After coming to, Willie walks toward his dead body and was horrified. Then the demons show up and take a screaming Willie to Hell.

How well does it match the trope?

4.85 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / DraggedOffToHell

Media sources: