When making a movie sequel, perhaps the most difficult task is in justifying the film’s existence. Despite the fact that a sequel almost invariably exists as a way to make extra money off of a previously established project, there is indeed a way to do it right. Some stories really do deserve a continuation. Some characters are worth revisiting. Sometimes, the original story remains unfinished, and only a second dip into the world will complete the package. Yet, with comedy films there aren’t many sequels worth noting, and there’s only one I can think of that may be equal to its predecessor.
I present to you, four comedy sequels that come very close to the quality of the original, as well as one that I think might be even better. If you have any to add, or any qualms with my choices, pop some words into the comment box!
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
By the time the third entry in this series rolled around (in 3D, no less!), Harold & Kumar had already been established as this generation’s version of Cheech & Chong. This third entry was able to use the fantastical elements of the first two entries to pre-sell us on any ridiculous hiking that may occur, no matter how off the wall. It is an unabashed gimmick movie, and it confidently revels in the fact that it is indeed a movie. By avoiding the urge to give a franchise through-line to Harold and Kumar’s adventures, the filmmakers are free to pile gag after gag onto the screen. And having Neil Patrick Harris and his husband cameo together, openly stating that they only pretend to be gay to get chicks is a pretty damn inspired joke, particularly in a film series which has always been more socially conscious than many like it. Even without 3D, the movie is still funny and rewatchable. When are Harold and Kumar going to meet horror icons a la Abbott and Costello? That would be amazing.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Being the sequel to a bona fide classic, Anchorman 2 seems doomed to fail, and although it is overlong and has a ridiculously unfunny musical number, it still manages to invoke a ton of laughter. By moving the story into the 80’s, right at the dawn of news networks, Adam McKay is actually able to make a pretty elegant commentary on the trend of news becoming news-entertainment. There are attempts with varying success to recreate gags from the original movie, but the real strength here is in the newer material. Brick Tamlind gets a romantic storyline, Ron Burgundy is exposed to racial politics, and the whole gang is put up against a newscaster who represents in the 80’s exactly what Burgundy did in the 70’s.
When I walked into the theater to see Clerks 2, I was blue with hesitance (envy is green, hesitance is blue. I made this rule, and it should stick). I was prepared to be fully disappointed. Clerks is a movie that launched a career and affected the film climate, mostly because it was made by a young filmmaker with a bunch to say and the energy to say it. Clerks 2, however, was made by the same filmmaker, years after he became a Hollywood staple, and it shows. The edginess of the original is almost completely gone, but this turns out to be a good thing. The void of subversion is now filled with a mature rumination on responsibility and being an adult. Dante and Randall are still the same two slackers, working lame clerk jobs, but they’ve grown, as has Smith’s audience. As a result, the same crass situations (fueled by Randall’s commitment to his own disturbed social theories) can result, but it doesn’t feel like a retread. If anyone can class up weed and fart jokes, it’s Kevin Smith. One can’t help but think that Clerks 2 came from a very honest place, and while it may not be as iconic as the first, it certainly deserves to exist, and may even be more rewatchable to boot.
The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear
I miss Zucker-Abrams-Zucker. They essentially invented their own brand of absurdism and ran with it. They created Airplane!, a movie that has since been mathematically “proven” to be the funniest movie of all time (a study determined that it averages 3 laughs per minute). Unlike the wannabes of today, ZAZ tended to avoid direct pop-culture references, which made their movies timeles; Airplane! is still relevant decades later — Meet the Spartans lost relevance after a few weeks. Police Squad was cancelled pretty quickly, so it wasn’t until it hit the big screen that audiences “got it.” The Naked Gun was a hit, and a franchise was made. The Smell of Fear manages to keep the same jokes-on-jokes format of the original while feeling just as inspired (screw off, Airplane 2). The only thing that keeps Naked Gun 2 1/2 inferior to the original is that the comedic trail was already blazed. While it may be just as funny, it had less heavy living to do.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
It can be argued that Bogus Journey is a better movie than Excellent Adventure. This isn’t to say that the original is bad. It isn’t. In fact, it might even be great. But Bogus Journey takes two lovable characters and inserts them into a completely new, infinitely more compelling narrative involving life, death, heaven, hell, chess, and William Sadler. It’s even funnier than the original, and it gives both Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves much more to do than simply be excellent to each other. Out of all of the long-dead franchises that have been dangling the “we’re gonna make another sequel” carrot, this is the only one I’d like to see. Orrrrr if we could get Bill and Ted to face off against horror icons a la Abbott and Costello (maybe a tag team with Harold and Kumar?) I will be first in line.
What are some comedy sequels you found to be better than most? Hit up the comments!!
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.