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A Comprehensive Guide to All The Best Ghosts in Pop Culture

A Comprehensive Guide to All The Best Ghosts in Pop Culture

The spooky season is upon us! With Halloween just around the corner, it feels appropriate to take a deep dive into the world of ghastly ghouls, the disturbed undead, and the creepy casualties that float among us. Scared? Don’t be! Most of these lot are friendly. Most of them…

These are some of the best ghosts that pop culture has to offer:

Casper the Friendly Ghost

The nicest and most benevolent of all the spirits on this list, Casper is just good, wholesome family fun, as long as you ignore the notion that this is the ghost of a young child who died and must haunt this mortal coil forever. Once you get past that, Casper’s whole thing is really just about making friends and getting into some wacky adventures. Casper is a cultural icon these days, most recently appearing in a GEICO commercial, but even if he’s somewhat beloved, it still weirds me out that this is an actual child whose death is usually played for laughs. Kinda dark, isn’t it?

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King Boo

Part of me wanted to go with the ghosts from Pac-Man (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. C’mon Clyde, get your shit together) in the one video game slot that I have on this list, but they don’t have the rich backstore or important lore that King Boo does. Actually, who am I kidding? I just like him. He’s got a great car in Mario Kart. He’s kind of a dick in Super Mario 64. He’s the video game ghost that all others aspire to be, and he’s got a whole army of kids ghosts (kids? Are Boo’s kids?) that follow him around and do his bidding. He is the king, after all.

Beetlejuice

Ah ah, nobody says the B-word”. Whether it’s spelled like the star or phonetically, whether he’s working for your cause or trying to send you to Hell, whether or not he’s actually a ghost or not (ghost, demon, poltergeist, it’s all a bit hard to tell), Beetlejuice is supremely entertaining while he does… whatever he does. Michael Keaton crafted a completely unique character (forget Birdman, he should have won an Oscar for this) that torments, jokes with, plays off of, and casually frightens everyone around him. The musical adaptation was solid, but there’s no beating the original. The Exorcist does get funnier every time you see it.

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The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

It’s about time we got some classic literature in here. Flashback to your seventh grade English class, and then flashback to 1800s era England. Years before Jack the Ripper, Sweeny Todd, Black Sabbath or The Woman in Black gave England its gothic reputation, Charles Dickens was haunting the pages of fiction with his phantasms of moral righteousness, tormenting the demented and miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge to teach him a lesson about greed. Adapted into just about every kind of movie you can imagine, from Bill Murray comedies to DuckTales TV shows and dead-eyed uncanny valley-treading performance capture films, these three ghosts have quite the legacy on their cold, undead hands. 

Nearly Headless Nick

“Nearly headless? How can you be nearly headless?” And with that, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington decides that it is completely appropriate to decapitate himself, save for a slight sliver of skin, and show the inner workings of his neck to a group of eleven year olds, delighting himself in their aghast reactions. Whether you’re experiencing his actions through the series of novels or their cinematic adaptations, Sir Nicholas comes off pretty baller either way, always ready to scar innocent little children who just wanted to learn some magic. Good on you, Nick.

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Danny Phantom

One part supernatural superhero, two parts awkward teenage, Danny Phantom was the titular star of his own golden-age Nickelodeon show. When we were growing out of the kiddie fare and wanted something a little more grown up, Danny Phantom was a great intro to the world of being a teenager, from being bullied at school to dealing with relationships to having to stop paranormal monsters and some of his fellow ghosts from destroying all of humanity. You know, typical high school problems. 

ghost pop culture

Abraham Lincoln’s Ghost

Imagine my surprise (and delight!) when I learned that Abraham Lincoln’s ghost has its own Wikipedia page. Such acclaimed distinctions aren’t just given to any deceased figure who died during presidential duty (I don’t see a Wikipedia page for James A. Garfield’s ghost). Just be warned if you ever try to reach the highest office in the land: when you get to the White House, avoid the Lincoln Bedroom if you don’t want to see the 16th president putting his boots on and rapping his sword against the door. 

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Hamlet’s Father

Another entry in the classical literature canon, and easily our oldest apparition on the list, Hamlet’s father, for all the presence he brings to Shakespeare’s tragedy, is kind of a whiny bitch. “Oh, my brother killed me and stole my wife. Oh, Prince Hamlet, honor my memory or I’ll haunt you forever.” Dude, just chill out. You’re dead, get over it. Plus you send your son on a suicide mission and give away the enitre Danish kingdom to Fortinbras, a Norweigian! For shame, King Hamlet, for shame.

Slimer

More grotesque and terrifying than any of the supposed horror-based spirits on this list, Slimer is gluttony incarnate, stuffing his impossibly bottomless stomach with just about anything that he can get his hands on. The later variation of the character, both in cartoons and subsequent movies, are… fine I guess. But remember Slimer in his original form in the first Ghostbusters film, all disgustingly gelatinous with some off-putting human features. We ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but I’ll make an exception for this fatty.

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The Flying Dutchman

Sure, we could talk about the famous ghost ship and some of its famous inhabitants, including pop culture favorite like Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow, but let’s be real: it’s all about the big green ghast from Spongebob Squarepants who appears every once in a while to spook the residents of Bikini Bottom and ultimately get into some wacky adventures with our eponymous sponge. This guy has done it all: stolen souls out of the Krusty Krab; turned Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward into a fruit smoothie; tried to throw Mr. Krabs in Davy Jones’ Locker, only for Spongbob to take his place instead. What I’m saying is that if the Flying Dutchman shows up, it’s probably going to be a good episode.

Bloody Mary

The woman, the witch, the legend herself. If you ever want her to make an appearance, just pull a Beetlejuice and say her name three times. She does parties, weddings, funerals, hauntings, and more. Inspiring the likes of shitty movies, Supernatural characters and even Lady Gaga songs, Bloody Mary is the conjured spirit that just keeps on giving to pop culture. Nefarious and creepy as hell, Mary does what any good ghoul should do: stick in the back of your mind, unable to be shaken off with logic or disbelief. Remember that next time you look in the mirror.

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Sam Wheat

For those of you out of the know, this is Patrick Swayze’s character in Ghost. You know, the one who gets killed in the beginning but later possesses Whoopi Goldberg to have sexy slow dances and pottery classes with Demi Moore before calling upon the spirits of Hell to drag down the perpetrator of his murder to eternal damnation. Huh, Ghost was a pretty weird movie, wasn’t it?

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The Snapchat Logo

Having a ghost for a company branded logo was pitch perfect for a platform like Snpachat, where ghosting people is either incredibly easy or absolutely impossible. Have you tried ending a 200 day streak? What are you, pure evil? The best part of the logo: it has a name. Ghostface Chillah, a solidly groan-worthy pun on the Wu-Tang Clan’s second best MC (sorry Ghostface, but there’s a reason why Method Man has his own theme song on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and no one else does). Snapchat has haunted our lives for years now, and so Ghostface Chillah will most likely loom over us for years to come.

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The Blair Witch

Of course we needed a proper horror movie villain to occupy a spot on this list, and the choices were almost endless. I’m privy to Kayako Saeki from The Grudge, and I know some stans for the original apparitions in Paranormal Activity and Poltergeist (quick honorable mention to whatever the hell Gary Busey was doing in The Gingerdead Man, a schlock classic worthy of a Halloween hate watch), but sometimes the devil you don’t know is actually better than the one you do. Never actually getting to see what the Blair Witch looks like might seem like false advertising, but it’s actually creative genius: nothing could be as terrifying as our own imagination. Sometimes a no-budget scarefest doesn’t even need a real villain, as long as your mind can conjure up something truly frightening in its place.

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