By this point in film history, we’ve all learned to live with sequels. They’re a part of the filmmaking business, and what’s more, some of them manage to be pretty good, often even equaling or exceeding the original — unless it’s a comedy, of course. Comedy sequels always seem to be dismal excuses for beloved comic actors to phone it in for the sake of a paycheck. We’ve found ten exceptions to this rule — ten comedy sequels that don’t completely besmirch the legacy of the first film. Even that was something of a tall order, but here we go.
1. Wayne’s World 2
Not everyone likes this follow-up to the comedic lightning-in-a-bottle success that was Wayne’s World, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for it. The film hits a lot of the same beats as the first one — including the manufactured Cassandra conflict to the multiple gag endings — but there’s still an energy and sense of fun that saves the whole thing, mainly because Mike Myers and Dana Carvey know how to make these doofus basement-dwellers feel like old friends you love to spend an hour or two with, even if you’ve already heard all their stories before.
2. Ghostbusters 2
Another sometimes-maligned, sometimes-beloved sequel to a comedy hit starring SNL alums! Ghostbusters 2 could never really hope to compare to the first one, but the returning cast gives its best shot. Thinking back on it, it’s mostly a film of creative-enough set pieces that, while fun on their own, never quite come together into something altogether satisfying. It’s worth watching if only for the painting, the ooze, and the Statue of Liberty.
3. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
It’s better than the original. There, I said it. While the first boasts a cast of brilliant minds including Sigmund Freud, Napoleon, George Carlin, and Socrates, the follow-up gets points for going dark and weird. Turning a movie about two rocker boneheads into a riff on, of all things, The Seventh Seal, Bogus Journey kills off its heroes, later forcing them to face their own personal hells and play a game with death to decide their fate. Any film that can do all that while still keeping the tone hilarious and light is doing something right.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Vacation movies are always about finding new misfortunes to befall Chevy Chase’s obsessive, hypocritical patriarch Clark Griswold. These movies are only as good as their isolated gags, and seasonal annoyances and obsessions like superpowered sledding, holiday bonuses, and Christmas light overkill provide enough laughs to make this one worth revisiting when that time of year comes around. My favorite part of the film is the running gag about how the Griswolds unwittingly torture their uptight neighbors, played by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
5. 22 Jump Street
The Jump Street movies benefit from the fact that, honestly, I don’t really care, and the directors don’t either. Normally, this is a recipe for disaster, but writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller somehow pull it off, mostly by emphasizing the most absurd parts of this university-set mystery tale. A movie this off-the-cuff and self-aware works only because of its cast and a directing team that knows how to turn Hollywood trash into something actually worth watching — a fact demonstrated again in its amazing Lego Movie.
6. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
The first Harold & Kumar positions itself as the ultimate stoner comedy, in the form of a madcap quest to satisfy the munchies. The follow-up puts the title characters at the center of a Homeland Security crisis and handles the political subject matter with about as much subtlety and nuance as you’d expect. There are over-the-top and gross-out jokes aplenty, but it’s Kal Penn and John Cho’s chemistry and reactions to the insanity that make this one worth watching.
7. Shrek 2
The first Shrek gets more than its share of love, but it’s basically just a fairy tale satire that too often forgets the satire. Its first sequel (let’s not talk about the others) doesn’t take its story so seriously, and instead takes the audience to the seedier side of the fairy tale world, depicting power-mad fairy godmothers, narcissistic Prince Charmings, and villainous hangout bars. Although the characters lose some focus, the sequel has more than enough ideas, energy, and of course, jokes to sustain its run-time.
8. Toy Story 2
It’s pre-Cars Pixar. Of course it’s great. The second Toy Story holds its own against its more-talked-about predecessor and successor. Before the third one had the beloved toys face almost-certain annihilation, Toy Story 2 took a sobering look at the realities of growing up and losing the ones you love. It is a comedy though, and it is funny, mostly thanks to the supporting cast’s search for Woody, including Rex and delusional Buzz’s climactic face-off with Zurg.
9. The Naked Gun sequels
There was once a time when Jim Abrahams, the Zucker brothers, and their cohorts could do no wrong in comedy. Although that time has long since passed, they thankfully kept up the quality of the Naked Gun movies long enough to give us, against all odds, a pretty solid comedy trilogy. While the first remains the best, their anything-goes philosophy on comedy, coupled with hilariously straight-faced performances from Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin, keeps the jokes coming fast, hard, and funny throughout the series.
10. Back to the Future, Part 2
I know it’s a science-fiction adventure as much as it is a comedy, but the second Back to the Future uses its more disjointed, off-the-wall story to great effects in terms of laughs, many of them courtesy of Thomas F. Wilson, here playing three different forms of Biff Tannen — four if you count his grandson Griff. And more Biff is better Biff. It’s not as well-crafted as its predecessor, and it tries a little too hard to up the ante on the insanity of time travel, but Back to the Future Part II is still an adventure worth going on.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jrindskopf