In recent times, Hollywood has enjoyed going back into the 1990s to come up with belated sequels to previous hit movies. So, we finally got Dumb & Dumber 2, for instance, while a third Clerks, a second Mallrats, a new Sister Act and a Naked Gun reboot are being cooked up somewhere.
It was only at the end of the ’90s that comedy sequels suddenly really took off. There were exceptions beforehand of course, but few things raise the eyebrows of Hollywood high brass than lots of cash. This, whilst the enormous box office takings of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me were in part down to an utterly inspired marketing campaign, the film accrued over $300 million in cinemas alone. Mind you, the first Austin Powers had previously cleaned up on video, where it had found far more favour than it managed on the big screen.
Across the 2000s, we’d thus get American Pie sequels, hugely successful Meet The Parents follow-ups, Dr. Dolittle 2, a few Scary Movies and, er, Big Momma’s House 2. Each made solid returns, often sizeable ones.
I can’t help but feel sorry for some of the superior comedy sequels of the ’90s though. We’ve talked about the 65 percent rule on the site before, whereby the old model used to be that for a sequel to be deemed successful, it took 65 percent of the previous film’s box office revenue. But the ’90s were rich pickings for comedy sequels, even if the box office didn’t always agree.
The films I’m going to talk about then are, in some cases, not short of fans. But they surely deserve more. Starting with…
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
When we talk about sequels that genuinely take the original idea of the first film and expand on it in an interesting way, it’s movies such as Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day that tend to get the credit.
Yet Peter Hewitt’s superb Bill & Ted sequel is bursting with ideas and creativity, and arguably outdoes the already impressive original film. In killing off its two leads – played by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, of course – and then dragging them off to hell, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey managed to both develop the characters, and also put them in even more bizarre situations than the first film.
Contrast that with something like Horrible Bosses 2, or Little Fockers, the sequels that just want to retread old jokes. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is on a cinematic quest to find as many new ones as it can, culminating in the glorious Bergman-esque battles against Death.
This one’s a regular re-watch for us here, and was well received on its original release. So naturally, it didn’t do as well. Whereas Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure would gross $40 million off a $10 million production budget, Bogus Journey would cost twice as much, and make $38 million. Still profitable, and comfortably over that 65 percent mark. But one of the funniest films of the 1990s still deserved better.
Hot Shots! Part Deux
The first Hot Shots! was a fun, if patchy affair, a spoof that trained its sights on a narrow target. By basically spoofing Top Gun, it took potshots at a film that, let’s face it, pretty much left itself open to it. As Mel Gibson once said when he learned that Loaded Weapon 1 was to spoof the Lethal Weapon films, “how can you parody a parody”?
For Hot Shots! Part Deux, though, director Jim Abrahams was working on a broader canvas. Here, the target was the action movie genre–and a bit of Apocalypse Now–with a heavily buffed-up Charlie Sheen winning at the heart of it.
Abrahams recruited some great support too. Rambo‘s Richard Crenna and RoboCop‘s Miguel Ferrer are excellent additions, and the well-targeted spoofing also takes in Lady And The Tramp too.
Most importantly, though, more of the laughs and the lines work in Hot Shots! Part Deux. We’re not talking Top Secret! standard, but we can’t resist the likes of “these men have taken a supreme vow of celibacy, like their fathers, and their fathers before them.”
It’s a shame that there was never a third Hot Shots! film, as the series was developing nicely. Yet the numbers didn’t quite stack up second time around. The first took $181m worldwide, the second $134 million. And whilst the budgets were roughly the same for both, Abrahams would go on to spoof elsewhere, making the less successful Jane Austen’s Mafia!
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
It may just have been bad scheduling that cost Gremlins 2: The New Batch the dollars it deserved at the box office. Warner Bros. was confident in Joe Dante’s sequel, and thus released it opposite Disney’s Dick Tracy. But while Dick Tracy wouldn’t be the Batman-equal that Disney was hoping for, the millions it invested in promoting it – plus the tabloid-baiting pairing of Warren Beatty and Madonna – ensured it comfortably defeated Gremlins 2. The sequel would gross just $41 million in the US, less than a third of the original’s $153 million take.
More’s the pity. Director Joe Dante has since said that he was keen with Gremlins 2 to make sure there wouldn’t be a Gremlins 3, which is why it’s a movie that gloriously lampoons itself so often (see: the scene where Leonard Maltin is reviewing the original film). Dante would put together Gremlins 2 as a satire on movie sequels, as well as a follow-up to the original film. He pretty much hit both targets.
Dante only got freedom on Gremlins 2 because Warner Bros. wanted a sequel, and were struggling to get one off the ground. Dante had originally turned the project down, and so by the time the studio came back to him, he was in a position of some power, and had genuine creative control over the film. The keyword, clearly, being creative. Can you imagine a sequel now that sidelines arguably the main attraction of the original film – Gizmo in this case – for so much of the movie, to go off and have fun with everyone else instead? It just wouldn’t happen.
Plans remain afoot for a new Gremlins film, and in truth, however it turns out it’s likely to be more successful that Gremlins 2 on the balance sheet. But it’ll have to go a long, long way to beat it on the screen.
Wayne’s World 2
Wayne’s World was arguably the big surprise comedy hit of the ’90s, with Penelope Spheeris’ movie taking $121 million in the US alone on its original release. Starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, the film cost just $20 million to make, and it remains the most successful film of a Saturday Night Live character to date.
But success in this case caused problems, and disagreements soon surfaced between Spheeris and Myers. So much so that the director departed the sequel, Wayne’s World 2, which was instead directed by Stephen Surjik (who’s now helming episodes of Jessica Jones and Daredevil).
It’s a matter of debate as to whether Wayne’s World 2 entirely measures up to the first film, but there’s little question it has a damn good go. Certainly you can’t accuse it of staying in the basement and going over the same material, as instead, the focus is the Waynestock festival. Cue some high profile cameos, natch.
Wayne’s World 2 is a lot of fun, but was one of the many comedy sequels of the ’90s that fell below expectations (we’re about to come to Addams Family Values, but even Sister Act 2 failed to take-off, and that was seen more of a sure thing). A $48 million gross was well down on the original. And while there’s been talk since of a further Wayne’s World adventure, nothing has yet come to pass – nor is it likely to.
Addams Family Values
These last two films in particular deserved a lot, lot more. We’ve written about the many problems that beset the original The Addams Family movie before. With Addams Family Values – itself a pun on a Dan Quayle speech – director Barry Sonnenfeld and his team had a much clearer run at things. They delivered.
Addams Family Values introduced the character of Debbie, played with wonderful relish by Joan Cusack. Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester falls for her, and in truth, just that would have entertained us for a good hour. But there’s so much more going on here, and the highlight is Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams. I’d argue that Ricci’s work as Wednesday is some of the finest ever seen by a child actor on screen. The moment when she leaves the Harmony Hut is one of the funniest I saw at the movies in the 90s. That said, few get to the end of Addams Family Values without a list of moments they fancy rewatching.
The problem? Not enough people watched it in the first place. Addams Family Values was a surprise box office disappointment. Widely regarded as the better film, it grossed $49 million in the US, some way short of the original’s $113 million. It was a real shock. Heck, even the Addams Family pinball machine is a classic.
Raul Julia died not long after the release of the movie, and a fresh cast was recruited for the terrible Addams Family Reunion (starring Tim Curry). We’d advise forgetting that one, and just watching Addams Family Values again instead…
A Very Brady Sequel
We regularly beat the drum for this one, as it’s not only one of the best comedy sequels of all time, but we’d argue it’s one of the top five comedies of the ’90s full stop. Remarkably, it was effectively banned in the UK for some time, courtesy of a sequence where nunchuks are used. These had to be removed and toned down before a certificate was granted, and even then, Paramount sent the movie straight to video.
It did get a cinema release in the US, but it failed to build on the box office performance of the smart original film. The Brady Bunch Movie grossed $54 million worldwide off a $12 million budget, and showcased the superb comedy talents of Gary Cole for a start. The sequel, though, had real edge, and was willing to take gambles. It gets away, for instance, with an incest subplot, somehow making it extremely funny. Furthermore, there’s a sequence where Tim Matheson – Hoynes! – ends up accidentally taking hallucinogenic drugs, where the film brings in animation as well.
It’s an exquisite, punchy, funny piece of work. So naturally enough, it did less well than the original, taking just $21.4 million worldwide.
As with The Addams Family, Paramount decided to take a third swing at the Brady Bunch series, this time with a straight to video film, The Brady Bunch In The White House. In spite of retaining the cast, it’s pretty terrible, and I take no pleasure saying that about any Gary Cole movie.
But A Very Brady Sequel? The Criterion Collection should really get on the case. There’s nothing quite like tripping with the Bradys…
With perhaps the exception of Wayne’s World, each of these films for me eclipsed the original. But the ’90s would prove to be a graveyard for many comedy sequels. Granted, the likes of Sister Act 2, City Slickers 2, Another 48 Hrs, Look Who’s Talking Now, Weekend At Bernie’s II, The Odd Couple II, Major League: Back To The Minors and 3 Ninjas Kick Back were hurt by being notable downgrades on the films before. Nowadays, though, that’d be less of a problem. Just look at The Hangover trilogy.
Not every comedy sequel struggled. Home Alone 2 did well, but took a good deal less than the original, for instance (Home Alone 3 tanked, mind). Father Of The Bride Part II wasn’t much cop, but did decently too.
And one last confession: I do have a soft spot for the Naked Gun sequels. They’re not up to the mighty standards of the first film, and they rip many jokes off from Police Squad. But Leslie Nielsen as Drebin? They’re films I can never switch off. Even when OJ turns up…