The Joke’s on Us: Why Comedy Sequels Rarely Work
Zoolander 2 looks promising, but history would suggest that we lower our expectations.
By Jacoby Bancroft, University of Nevada at Reno
We’ve all done things in life that make us proud.
Whether it’s writing a superb essay for a difficult class, absolutely nailing a job interview or finally reaching level 1000 on Candy Crush, there are accomplishments that stick with us forever.
Now take a moment to imagine back to something that made you proud more than ten years ago. Maybe you did something really great. For me personally, I remember when I was eleven and made my family dinner. With mom’s supervision, I followed a recipe and made a delicious pasta dish for my parents.
But now imagine you doing that same thing today.
Where once my parents applauded and bowed down to me for making spectacular spaghetti (maybe I’m remembering that wrong…), now if I make dinner for them, the best they can muster is mild enthusiasm and not-so-subtle hints that we should have ordered pizza instead. Just because you do something great once, doesn’t mean you should return to it years later and expect the same results.
This is what goes through my head every time I hear about another sequel coming out a really really ridiculously long time after the original. We’re at this confusing stage of Hollywood movies now where we as an audience lambast reboots, remakes and sequels, but avoid original movies that don’t have something familiar and recognizable. It has forced Hollywood to look back over previous hits to try and decide what to unearth and reintroduce to the world.
I don’t really know how Hollywood executives choose what successful movie from the past gets a sequel, but I would imagine it has to do with wearing a blindfold and throwing a dart at a board with popular movies plastered to it.
Whatever the method is, this time around the cult classic Zoolander is getting the sequel treatment, a full fifteen years after the original. Will it work? Looking back over past comedy sequels that opened years after the first one, the prognosis does not look good.
Sequels for a hit film are hard on their own. Obviously something worked the first time around that made audiences respond positively to the movie, but when crafting a sequel, there’s only two ways to go.
The first is to make a sequel that’s very much like the original. This makes sense because studio executives figure that if they liked the first one, why not just do the same thing again? Though if they’re not careful, the sequel could be so similar to the first one, audiences criticize its existence in the first place.
The other option is to make a sequel that’s wildly different than its predecessor. It takes everything that was established in the first movie and goes the completely other way. It zigs when it should zag. This is the way to go when you want to surprise your audience, but it runs the risk of alienating the people who really enjoyed the first one.
Making a comedy sequel is perhaps the hardest sequel to put together.
Action sequels are pretty straightforward (John McClane has to face ANOTHER terrorist!), horror sequels are easy to explain (Freddy Krueger is STILL alive!), but comedy sequels have an incredibly difficult obstacle to overcome: Escaping the shadow of the original.
If a comedy movie is a hit, it’s most likely because it was pretty damn funny. So when a sequel is made, the most important aspect is the humor, something a lot of the delayed sequels seem to forget.
There are a few exceptions. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues released nine years after the original and managed to be quite funny. At least, I think it did.
The only thing I can remember about that movie was that I laughed a lot, but I can’t remember a single joke or line from it. Compare that to the original that we still quote today. On its own, the Anchorman sequel is a funny movie, but compared to the cult classic status of the original, it pales in comparison.
At least that’s better than what happened with the Dumb and Dumber sequel. The first film, starring a young Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, could very well make the case for one of the funniest movies ever.
The second one, Dumb and Dumber To, was released in 2014—a full twenty years after the original—and it was awful. Unfunny and mean-spirited, the film relied way too much on gross and low-brow humor. It’s one of those films that we’re going to forget ever existed.
The way I see it, Zoolander 2 is either going to go one of these two ways.
It’s either going to be funny, but not as good as the original like Anchorman 2, or it’s going to suck and we’ll forget all about it like Dumb and Dumber To. Either way, we have to stop and think why they even bother to make these films in the first place.
Not to make us sound like the bad guys, but I think it’s all this college generation’s fault.
We love Anchorman, we love Dumb and Dumber and we love Zoolander, but it’s not like we were old enough when they were originally released to really appreciate them.
On the other hand, our generation grew up on these movies, watching them on DVD or catching them on television. We kept interest in them alive by quoting them constantly and never letting them fade from memory. The interest in these delayed sequels takes time to build up because the demand for them grows slowly, and that’s why they’re released years after the originals.
Zoolander wasn’t a big hit when it first released in theaters, but the tale of a dim-witted male model wormed its way into our hearts enough to warrant a sequel fifteen years later. And now because of this college generation, we threaten to tarnish Derek Zoolander’s great legacy. Do movie executives think this is what we want? A lackluster follow up to a great comedic film? Absolutely not!
In a way, the biggest people who are suffering seem to be the film’s stars. It’s not like actors who return to their iconic roles after so many years are doing that great.
What’s the last funny Jim Carrey movie you saw? What’s the last Ben Stiller movie that made you laugh? These comedic actors feel like they’ve been in some box office slump and want to return to roles that audiences fell in love with.
It’s sad to look at the parasitic relationship between this college generation and comedic actors.
We bash their current work, while praising all their old stuff, which causes them to make delayed sequels, which we proceed to bash and praise their old stuff again. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that will continue as long as Hollywood continues to make sequels to comedy classics.
Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe Zoolander 2 will knock everyone’s socks off and send them scrambling around the sticky movie theater floor trying to find them.
Maybe it will surpass the original, becoming a new cult classic and ushering in a new era of fantastic comedy sequels that are better than the originals. But doesn’t even considering that sound wrong? It does to me, and if we can’t even fathom a world where that’s a possibility, why make the sequel at all?