Why comedy sequels don’t work – and action sequels do

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I recently re-screened The Other Guys on a plane and was slightly taken aback at how well it held up. The premise, cast, and writing were strong and the jokes still brought out deep belly laughs, and not just the polite chuckles of recognition. So why not bring bring it all back together in another film?

Name a comedy sequel that you thought was better than or even worthy of following the previous installment. It might take you a while. In the past few years, we’ve seen long awaited sequels to movies like Zoolander and Anchorman disappoint audiences. Green lighting these projects once seemed like easy decisions. Why not spend $70 million – a paltry sum compared to $250 million summer tent pole films – to finance a follow up to these popular movies?

Critically, Zoolander 2 dipped from 64% on Rotten Tomatoes to 23%. Anchorman 2 somehow increased from 66% on the original to 75%. It’s likely the the second film benefited from the original’s good will, a bit of a mea culpa from critics that missed the boat on the first film. Still, you’d find few people willing to argue that the sequel was better than Anchorman.

Commercially, Zoolander 2 was a failure and Anchorman 2 was more of a mixed bag. The range of these two movies is bad loss to slight profit (depending on studio math), despite the star power and cult following of original films. Looking back, it’s easy to see why studios were reluctant to fund both sequels. You could argue that a more timely sequel – Zoolander 2 came out roughly 15 years after the original, and Anchorman 2 waited close to a decade – might have done better at the box office.

What makes comedies work is their originality. It’s funny and novel that Ron Burgandy is obsessed with his Border Terrier and Brick is an idiot and they get into gang wars with rival news teams. The absurdity of Steve Carrell throwing a trident can’t be repeated. It would be better to take the same wildly talented cast and have them subjected to another premise dreamed up by Adam McKay and Will Ferell.

Audiences could probably watch Keanu Reeves reprise the role of John Wick at least another two or three times. Movies about hitmen are not uncommon, but John Wick was well written, stylishly filmed, and mixed in the right amount of humor to break through and score with audiences. As long as that level of proficiency is maintained, the formula can be repeated to far fewer diminishing returns than a pure comedy. We like the characters and want to see them again. There’s not much humor to be mined in character development, at least not on the big screen.

There’s no need for The Other Guys 2: The Other Other Guys. If the cast and creators want to recreate the magic from the first film they should reunite on a completely original project. Or get really bonkers with it like MIB 23.

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