Here’s something we don’t talk about very often, as a people: comedy movies, in their purest form, have become a rare bird in the moviegoing world.
There was once a time (read: most of the 20th century and part of the 21st century) when comedies were viable options for big movie studios. You’d get a funny person and hopefully a funny script and just let it all happen.
Comedies made money for the studios who made them, so quality wasn’t such a big concern. If something great happened to get made, cool, that was just a bonus.
But ever since cinematic universes took over the landscape of popular filmmaking, movies that we would call ‘comedies’ first and foremost have largely faded away, and the few that have come out since then aren’t exactly anything to write home about.
Why? Well, comedy has become integrated into other dominant genres, especially those great big action-adventure movies that helped kill off the comedy in the first place.
We get a certain amount of comedy from our superhero movies, from our sci-fi movies, and from those lil’ ol’ animated children’s movies we love so much.
But any successful movie is in danger of having a sequel made out of it, and that’s what we’re here to talk about: comedy movies with sequels.
Some of these picks are decently old and some are quite, quite new, especially one of them. Rather than getting into what each of these says about the state of the comedy movie during its time period, we’re just going to look at how the sequels stand up against the originals and whether any of them actually succeed at being funny.
This is important work and don’t you forget it.
Gremlins (1984) / Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
You definitely need to be a certain kind of person to still watch and enjoy the first Gremlins movie today.
That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie in any sense, but it’s undeniably dated, and if you’re even bothering to seek it out, then it probably means you grew up with the movie or just that you have an unnatural love for the days of gross-out practical puppets in movies.
We’ll go ahead and say that the first Gremlins was not a great comedy in its own right. The comedy really just came from quick sight gags and the absurdity of the overall situation.
But Gremlins 2, on the other hand, is genuinely funny on two different levels.
On the first level, it’s just funny in the way it ups the level of visual comedy. There are so, so many gags in this movie, and a lot of them still hold up very well.
The characters, outside of our leads, are just goofy enough to work in a slew of different comedy scenarios.
The second level of comedy in this movie, the creamy comedy center, if you will, comes entirely from the circumstances surrounding the creation of the movie.
Very famously, the original Gremlins director Joe Dante wasn’t originally signed on to direct the sequel, and in fact, he was supposedly against the idea of returning to the Gremlins property.
But they did indeed end up bringing Dante back to direct The New Batch, and as part of the deal, the studio was pretty hands-off during production.
This means that Dante, a guy who already wasn’t all that interested in doing more Gremlins but who was also intimately familiar with the core concept and the appeal of the series, got to do basically whatever he wanted.
That’s why we have a huge variety of absurd new gremlins in this movie, as well as all kinds of sight gags that have nothing to do with the monsters themselves.
Borat (2006) / Borat 2 (2020)
The first Borat movie was a comedy bombshell, so much so that unfunny people have continued to do their own Borat impressions ever since the movie first came out.
The movie itself is actually not all that bad, at least as long as you don’t mind absurdist humor and heavy-handed social commentary.
Coming a full 14 years after the original, Borat 2 definitely seemed like an unnecessary idea to many people, including all of us here at GL.
Why more Borat? Why now? What could the new movie possibly bring to the table?
Well, while we can’t say that Borat 2 is anywhere near as groundbreaking as the original, it’s still a perfectly acceptable sequel, and one that even tries to acknowledge and contend with the undying reputation of that first movie.
It turns out the trick here was not to do something new but to do a lot of the same stuff again. Any randomization only comes in via the man-on-the-street elements, which still manage to shine through.
21 Jump Street (2012) / 22 Jump Street (2014)
Way back when, Lord & Miller were not collective known as Lord & Miller. They were just two pretty talented guys who came from animation and clearly had some ideas that could shake up major Hollywood movies of the time.
21 Jump Street, a film adaptation of an old TV show that no one really cares about anymore, had no business being even a somewhat passable movie. By all rights, it should have been just another annoying, uncreative studio remake-thing that everyone would forget rather quickly after stumbling out of the theater, still a bit sleepy after a second-act nap.
But goshdarnit, 21 Jump Street is a good solid comedy movie, which, paradoxically, made it seem like a sequel could only be terrible.
But just two years after the first modern installment, 22 Jump Street came out and it was ready to tackle the whole sequel thing without shame.
That’s the most notable aspect of the movie, actually: that it’s essentially self-aware that it is a big Hollywood sequel.
And that’s what makes this one of the most interesting entries on our list of comedy movies with sequels. It almost felt like this movie was putting the mere idea of a comedy sequel to rest.
Sure, it was a fun watch, but it was enjoyable in spite of its sequel status. It tried very hard to stay away from the big comedy beats of the first movie and instead became a kind of sideways bromance drama that just happened to have a lot of pretty good jokes mixed in there.
Ghostbusters (1984) / Ghostbusters (1989)
Well, here we are, not that far off from yet another modern-day Ghostbusters reboot and we’re instead going to look back to the movies that got this “franchise” started.
Alright, so Ghostbusters, the very first one, was released in a time when comedy movies were still very much a thing, especially for ex-SNL comedians.
Most of these old comedy vehicles for big stars just kind of sucked, and, thankfully, a lot of them have been forgotten.
Ghostbusters naturally sets itself apart from all of those awful flicks by being a genuinely good movie that just so happens to also be a comedy film.
If you haven’t seen the movie for a while, it might be worth your time to go back to it and give it a fresh watch.
This movie is well-paced, well-structured, and (most of) the jokes still land very well.
It’s a shame, then, that Ghostbusters II feels so much like just another forgettable 80s comedy movie, and it’s an even bigger shame that the movie is only occasionally funny.
It tries to amp up a lot of the basic elements from the first movie, but it never quite feels like the stakes are very high, despite the fact that we’re told by the movie that the stakes are indeed very high.
Something was missing in this one, and we’re sorry to say that it’s not really worth going back to at all, unless you want to see that creepy skeleton cab driver guy one more time.
Monsters, Inc. (2001) / Monsters University (2013)
Well, Pixar was one of the leading creative forces in the area of kid-dult animation, which is a thing we talked a whole lot about in our piece on Summer Camp Island, which is a very good show that you should check out.
Basically, kid-dult animation is animated content that works incredibly well for both children and adults.
One of the defining features of a lot of kid-dult stuff is its sense of humor. You have your wacky and relatable characters, sure, but even more impressive is how those characters can mpve between physical-comedy antics for the kids and jokes that are really only meant for the adults in the room.
Monsters, Inc. is definitely part of the Pixar golden age. It’s emotional, pretty to look at, funny, and it brings a unique and entertaining core premise to the table.
It’s definitely more stressful than a lot of the other early Pixar efforts, owing to the threat of death and all the government agents coming after our lovable heroes.
But it always balanced itself out with a fun line of dialogue or a cool setting.
All of that setup, however, is just to provide some context for the next sentence: Monsters University is maybe the worst Pixar movie, and yes, we’re including Cars 2.
Here’s the thing: Cars 2 might technically be a worse movie than Monsters University, at least in a more objective sense, but as far as we’re concerned, Monsters University was harder to sit through.
We never cared about the Cars universe in the first place. It was a weird misfire from a studio that was starting to show its age in some very obvious ways, most notably in the story department.
But we did care about Monsters, Inc. and those lovable characters we were just talking about.
Right away, the decision to do a prequel instead of a true sequel seemed very strange. We wanted to know what the monster world looked like now that they had completely shifted the basis of their economy and energy production.
We also really wanted to see what Boo was like now that she was all grown up. Maybe she has a kid that’s going to cause some new problems in the monster world.
Or who knows, maybe the monsters want to start hanging out in the human world and they need to do some serious convincing to make sure they don’t get ‘sploded by some errant military forces.
Instead, we got to see college-age Mike and Sully not being very good friends as they attend Monsters University, which is a shockingly bland setting for a children’s movie.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a Pixar movie, which means that it looks and sounds great, and it even have some funny writing here and there, but there was always a feeling that this movie couldn’t hope to reach the same emotional or comedic heights as the first movie. And it never does.