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.
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 phenomenal 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 in this week’s 22 Jump Street. After the first trailers hit the web, many feared that the curse of the comedy sequel would continue (since the two films had the same plot on paper), but now that the reviews are in, that isn’t the case. 22 Jump Street is being hailed as one of those rare instances where a sequel matches the greatness of the original.
With that in mind, we started thinking about previous 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.”
Back to the Future Part II
Robert Zemeckis brought something truly special to the big screen in 1985 in the sci-fi/comedy romp Back to the Future. With its inventive concept and heartfelt humor, the film became one of the defining movies of the decade. Back to the Future also ended on a cliffhanger, making its 1989 sequel inevitable. While the first is beloved by many, it was justifiable to wonder if a follow-up could continue the franchise’s unique sense of entertainment.
Showcasing a future (one that was too good to be true) with hoverboards and hydrators, Zemeckis used the film’s setting as an outlet for his creativity, giving us a 2015 that was just as memorable as his 1955. The time traveling hijinks were all in good fun, but the main plot involving a sports almanac and Biff’s rise to fame provided the movie with some serious emotional stakes that gave Back to the Future’s climax a run for its money. Smartly incorporating the events of the first film into the third act, the sequel offered a wild and exciting ride for audiences.
Wayne’s World 2
Based on the Saturday Night Live sketch, the original Wayne’s World was one of the highest-grossing films of 1992, bringing in $121.6 million domestically. While the 1993 follow-up did not come anywhere near those heights, it is still held in high regard amongst fans due to the likable pairing of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and its oddball humor that gave the film an undeniable charm.
Following the events of the first movie, the sequel attempts to go bigger by using Waynestock as the driving force behind the narrative. While the pop culture references and fourth wall breaking (Charlton Heston’s cameo) were a riot, the film also included important lessons about trying your best no matter how tough the odds are. Whether it’s putting together a large music festival full of famous rock bands or fighting for the girl of your dreams, the story has a surprisingly strong set or morals that can be used to inspire viewers in achieving their own goals.
Kevin Smith played a large role in reinventing independent films with the success of his 1994 movie Clerks. Even though it was not a major box office success (it only made $3 million during its theatrical run), the film quickly became a cult classic and is considered a landmark movie. The rabid fan base eagerly awaited a return to the world, and luckily for them, Smith by and large delivered with a product that was just as enjoyable.
Clerks II’s infamous “Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings” scene will live on forever, but the sequel is noteworthy for other reasons. At its core is a story about moving on and pursing a better life. Toiling behind a counter, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) has his sights set on running a business with his new family in Florida, while Randall (Jeff Anderson) deals with the prospect of losing his best friend. Through all the gross-out humor, there’s a touching narrative about how hard it is to say goodbye and the difficulties on transitioning into adulthood. That depth is what separates it from being just another collection of gags.
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.
Addams Family Values
The first cinematic interpretation of the classic 1960s sitcom was met with a generally mixed reception, but its sequel pulled off the rare feat and is actually considered to be better than the movie that preceded it. Nominated for the American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Laughs” list, director Barry Sonnenfeld took the creepy and kooky collection of characters on a wild ride that provided lots of entertainment.
Using the horror tropes to their advantage, the filmmakers decided to add dark humor to the mix, highlighted by Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley’s (Jimmy Workman) attempts to murder their newborn baby brother – whom they are jealous of. While the franchise’s trademark sharp dialogue was used in full effect, the subplot involving Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) and hired nanny Debbie (Joan Cusack) added to the absurd happenings and gave viewers something to become truly invested in. Never before has attempted murder been so successful in making us laugh.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
The 2004 film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy quickly became one of the more popular modern comedies thanks to its ultra-quotable dialogue and colorful collection of quirky characters. Many feared that last year’s sequel would not be able to deliver after all the hype (and omnipresent marketing campaign) had fans begging for more of the Channel 4 news team. Fortunately, the sequel was a satisfying (albeit admittedly flawed) follow-up that offered plenty of laughs for viewers (read our review).
Offering a critique on 24-hour news networks, the movie once again satirizes TV anchorman iconography - diving into the “ratings over content” culture of our modern news cycle in humorous style. Offsetting the expected absurd lines and gags was a story about the value of selflessness, as Ron (Will Ferrell) learns to appreciate those closest to him after failing to accept his newfound fame humbly (and suffering severe consequences). We’d be remiss to not mention the climactic news team fight that was equal parts outrageous and exciting, giving the film a finale we won’t forget.
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?
A Shot in the Dark
Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the Pink Panther series is one of the most famous portrayals for the comedic genius of Peter Sellers. Part of a large ensemble in the 1963 original, the actor took center stage in its 1964 sequel, A Shot in the Dark, which was very much to the series what Goldfinger was for James Bond. Unleashing a hilarious French accent with mispronunciations of various words, the film also introduced several franchise touchstones, including Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) and his assistant Cato (Burt Kwouk).
Of course, character idiosyncrasies and recurring guests would mean nothing if the final product wasn’t up to snuff. Fortunately for comedy fans, A Shot in the Dark is regarded as one of the best Pink Panther films and has since earned recognition from outlets such as the American Film Institute. With a plot combining elements of romance, drama, and comedy, the film blends classic Hollywood tropes to become a treat full of entertaining visual gags (like the nudist colony) and witty dialogue.
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 let us know if you feel 22 Jump Street deserves to be ranked among these films.
22 Jump Street is now in theaters.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.