Joan Miller liked "Ghost" so much the first time she saw it, she treated a good friend to the movie weeks later. Jill Suchowiecki and Nancy Wolf waited in long lines this summer only to find the movie sold out. When they finally settled down with popcorn and soda at Loews Timonium Cinema recently, they laughed, cried and left well-satisfied.
Just what is it about the spectral love story "Ghost" that made it the surprise No. 1 movie during the summer and still capable of pulling in viewers in October? Could it be leading man Patrick Swayze who danced his way into millions of female hearts in the movie "Dirty Dancing"? Is it the 1965 Righteous Brothers' song, "Unchained Melody," that sticks in viewers' minds long after they leave the theater? Is it that "Ghost" has all the elements of a good romance novel with a supernatural twist? Or could it be that the aging baby boom generation, spooked by thoughts of mortality, relishes the notion of an afterlife here on earth?
Starring Mr. Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, "Ghost" beat out action films such as "Die Hard 2" and "Total Recall" to become the summer's most popular movie. The Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies lasted only seven weeks in Loews theaters in the Baltimore market, while Paramount Pictures' "Ghost" is in its 14th week and recently topped $161 million in box office sales.
"Ghost is enjoying a very good run in the Baltimore area," says a Loews spokeswoman. "It's been there since July 13, and it's still going strong."
"'Ghost's' success shows us there's a market out there for baby boomers who are ready for more than comic book action," says Dr. Jack Nachbar, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Both male and female baby boomers, a whole generation nearing or entering their 40s, may figure prominently in the phenomenon of "Ghost's" success, suggests Dr. Karen Stoddard, chairwoman of the Communications Arts Department at Notre Dame College.
"Middle age can be a time of crisis because our culture encourages the first feelings of mortality when you reach 40," Dr. Stoddard says. "You begin to pay more attention to your successes and unfulfilled dreams, and you realize you don't have ultimate control over your life. Fate can come along and take it all away from you. I think 'Ghost' represents the ultimate expression of comfort for baby boomers, saying the end is not frightening, not scary."
"Ghost" is one of several recent films including "Field of Dreams," "Always" and "Ghost Dad" in which a figure from the past has an impact on loved ones. Another movie about life in the hereafter, "Flatliners," deals with traveling to the other side and back but centers on individual quests for forgiveness, not altruistic journeys.
In "Ghost," a conglomeration of romance, comedy, suspense, action and the supernatural, Mr. Swayze plays a murdered banker who remains on earth to protect his love, Ms. Moore, from meeting the same fate. He communicates with Ms. Moore through con-artist psychic Goldberg, who is amazed to discover her powers are real.
But Patrick Swayze isn't the only one hanging onto his old life in "Ghost." The 1960s duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, better known as the Righteous Brothers, are becoming popular once again in record stores. The movie soundtrack featuring their 1965 hit, "Unchained Melody," is one of Baltimore's hottest selling items.
"Nobody saw this one coming. The sales are unusual because the only vocal on the movie soundtrack is "Unchained Melody," says Bob Combs, district manager for local Sound Waves Record and Tapes stores. "After they buy the "Ghost" soundtrack, a lot of them come back and get "The Righteous Brothers' Greatest Hits." Both have made Billboard's pop chart, with the "Ghost" soundtrack at No. 9 and "The Righteous Brothers Greatest Hits" at No. 32.