As any film buff will surely tell you, franchises are a major part of Hollywood’s DNA. Movies in the sci-fi, action, and superhero genres have spawned follow-ups that are in some cases better than the ones that preceded them and add a layer of richness to the series’ overarching narrative (see: The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight).
While anybody can rattle off a list of memorable sequels (as we’ve done before), things get a little trickier when looking for comedy part twos that are as successful as their original counterparts. Since most comedic films are based on a funny setup and are generally self-contained stories, there isn’t much to be gained – outside of box office dollars – in making another one. Case in point: 2011’s The Hangover Part II, which in many people’s eyes was nothing more than a carbon copy of the fresh and exciting first installment. With that in mind, we started thinking about some successful comedy sequels and compiled the following list. For the purposes of our article, we focused only on live-action films and considered a mixture of critical and fan reception to define “success.”
22 Jump Street
In 2012, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller defied expectations with their reboot of the 21 Jump Street property. Praised for its meta humor and chemistry between its stars, the film was a critical and commercial success and became one of the biggest films of the year. These results led to Sony brining back Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) for another round, but many viewers became skeptical of the project once the trailers essentially sold it as a retread of the first movie, only with the undercover cops investigating a college drug ring instead of one in high school.
However, 22 Jump Street used that to its full advantage, and ended up being an acclaimed film that offered skewering commentary on Hollywood franchise building. Lord and Miller injected more self-referential jokes about a “bigger and better” part two than you could think of, turning what could have been a shameless cash grab into a heartfelt satire of the industry that served up plenty of laughs and excitement. Not to mention, it was a blast to see Hill and Tatum back as their characters, cementing their status as a dynamic duo of comedy. Who knows what hijinks they’ll get into with the Men in Black.
The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear
As one of the finest spoofs of the action genre, the original Naked Gun was a big hit in 1988, making a second installment inevitable. It wasn’t as well received critically, but the sequel certainly connected with moviegoers, as it brought in $86.9 million domestically (a higher total than the first film). Just from its title alone, you could tell that The Naked Gun 2 ½ would be something special – and it was a worthy successor when it was all said and done.
The immortal Leslie Nielsen, who played the legendary Frank Drebin, is without question one of the genre’s most iconic creations, as he continued his trademark deadpan brand of comedy in hilarious ways. Whether he’s interrogating the next “almost dead” guy or causing suburban destruction with a tank, more time with him is time well spent. The collection of visual gags and inept police work would have made this a strong enough offering, but the celebrity cameos were great and Frank’s romantic relationship with Jane (Priscilla Presley) gave the film some emotional stakes to balance out the funny slapstick.
Hot Shots! Part Deux
The spoof genre has been through a rough stretch in recent years, but there was a time when filmmakers knew how to do them the “right” way. A great example of this was Hot Shots!, which drew inspiration from several action classics like Top Gun, Rocky, and Superman: The Movie. It proved so successful that it warranted a sequel, which went even further into the archives of action movies with impressive results. Even if it couldn’t top the box office grosses of its predecessor, it still gave action junkies plenty of things to remember.
Part Deux also doubled as biting political satire with a plot that focused on Operation Desert Storm and Saddam Hussein, but moviegoers cared more about how it handled its action humor. Primarily riffing on Rambo III (the “bloodiest movie ever” scene), it also pulled from sci-fi greats like Star Wars and Terminator 2, “recreating” legendary iconography via standout action sequences and jokes. On top of that, Hot Shots! stars Charlie Sheen and Lloyd Bridges were back in the fold to yuck it up as their characters, once again delivering hilarious performances that audiences loved. Never mean-spirited, but always on point, we need more spoofs like Part Deux in the theaters.
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
2004’s stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle showed the lengths a couple of stoners would go through just to get some burgers. For its 2008 sequel, directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg upped the stakes considerably by placing our protagonists in Guantanamo Bay prison after they’re arrested on a flight to Amsterdam.
Obviously, the predicament Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) find themselves in is ripe for humorous social commentary on America and the post-9/11 world, using the franchise’s staple racial stereotypes to their full advantage. However, the film also delivered on the misadventures front – as a Ku Klux Klan rally, Neil Patrick Harris, and a chance encounter with former President George W. Bush are all incorporated with hysterical results. Who knew that a prison break could be this fun?
Horrible Bosses 2
In the first Horrible Bosses film, many blue collar workers got to play out their fantasies and live vicariously through Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) as they exacted revenge on awful employers. For the sequel, director Sean Anders placed the guys in charge of their own company… showing that they too were “horrible bosses” in their own way after getting screwed on a deal by Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz), which threatens to ruin their business forever. In retaliation, the three kidnap Burt’s son Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him for ransom so they can get their money. As you’d expect, things don’t work out the way they were planned.
Though Horrible Bosses 2 didn’t exactly re-invent the comedy sequel wheel narratively speaking (read our review), it was still a fun and entertaining ride. Pine was seen as one of the best aspects of the film, as he gleefully chewed the scenery in a smarmy and sleazy roles. His inclusion was refreshing, as he presented a new set of challenges for our heroes after turning the tables on them with a seemingly better ransom offer to get back at his dad. And like most entries on our list, the returning cast is what made this one a treat, as the main three players (plus the old bosses and Jamie Foxx) were back and firing on all cylinders. Their chemistry made the film an easy watch – one that was hard to resist.
One may think that great comedy sequel never happen, but as we’ve illustrated, it occurs more frequently than you might think. Not all follow-ups will reach the soaring heights of what came before, but as long as a comedy makes us laugh, we have to give it points.
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to list some of your favorite comedy sequels in the comments section below and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos like this one.