Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with co-financing from 20th Century Fox released a "revisionist" reboot of the series in May 2015.
Poltergeist is the original film in the trilogy, directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Steven Spielberg and released on June 4, 1982. The story focuses on the Freeling family, which consists of Steven (Craig T. Nelson); Diane (JoBeth Williams); Dana (Dominique Dunne); Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), who live in a California housing development called Cuesta Verde, which comes to be haunted by ghosts. The ghosts communicate only with Carol Anne through the family's television set, and are under the control of a demon known as the "Beast." The ghosts, attracted to Carol Anne's life force and believing she will help lead them into the "Light", abduct her through her bedroom closet, which acts as a portal to their dimension. Most of the film involves the efforts to rescue her on the part of her family, a group of parapsychologists and a spiritual medium named Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). Carol Anne is eventually retrieved from the other side and, following a second attack by the Beast that reveals the ghosts had originated from an improperly relocated cemetery underneath the neighborhood, the family flees Cuesta Verde, while the house caves in on itself and is sucked into another dimension.
The first sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, directed by Brian Gibson and released on May 23, 1986, is set a year following the events in Poltergeist and offers an alternate explanation of the ghosts' origin. The film also develops the identity and backstory of the Beast, who had lived during the 19th century as a religious zealot named Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck). Kane was the leader of a utopian cult, who in anticipation of the end of the world, had sealed themselves in an underground cavern located directly below what later became the Freelings' property. Kane is anxious to possess Carol Anne in order to continue manipulating his followers after death. The ghosts follow and attack the Freelings at their current household. Aided by an American Indian shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), the Freelings manage to escape from Kane and his followers a second time.
The final film in the original trilogy, Poltergeist III, was directed and co-written by Gary Sherman and released on June 10, 1988. In order to protect Carol Anne, the Freelings have sent her to temporarily live with her skeptic relatives, Pat and Bruce Gardner (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt) and their daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), who reside in a Chicago skyscraper. However, Carol Anne's recollection of her experiences during her psychiatric sessions enable Kane and his followers to locate her and make contact through the building's ubiquitous mirrors. After the ghosts abduct Carol Anne, then Donna, her boyfriend Scott (Kipley Wentz), Pat, and Bruce enlist the help of Tangina to retrieve them, who eventually sacrifices herself to save the family by escorting Kane into the Light.
The reboot of the series, Poltergeist, was directed by Gil Kenan and released on May 22, 2015. It centers on a family struggling to make ends meet and relocates to a suburban home and, like the original, the youngest daughter is kidnapped by spirits that possess the house. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt star as the married couple, Kennedi Clements plays the daughter, and Jared Harris plays the host of a paranormal-themed TV show who comes to the aid of the family.
The Curse of Poltergeist, a documentary film based on the mystery of the franchise, was set to begin shooting in November 2015. The upcoming film will be directed by Adam Ripp and will be financed and produced by his company Vega Baby, alongside Indonesia-based MD Pictures. The documentary will focus on the life and experiences of actor Oliver Robins, who played Robbie Freeling in the first and second installment of the franchise, as a way to explore the tragedies that have befallen those involved with the films.
The following table shows the cast members who played the primary characters in the film series.
A spin-off television series, Poltergeist: The Legacy, ran from 1996 to 1999, though it does not have any connection to the films other than the title.
The "Poltergeist curse" is a rumored curse attached to the Poltergeist trilogy and its crew, derived from the deaths of two young cast members in the six years between the releases of the first and third films. The rumor and the surrounding deaths were explored in a 2002 episode of E! True Hollywood Story titled "Curse of Poltergeist".Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter Dana in the first film, died on November 4, 1982, at age 22 after being strangled by her former boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison, but was paroled after serving three and a half years.
Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne in all three Poltergeist films, died on February 1, 1988 at the age of 12 due to complications from an acute bowel obstruction.