Does the next Ghostbusters movie need to be a comedy? Based on the trailer, it looks like it’s going in a completely different direction than the first ones, and it might actually be a drama. I don’t think it needs to follow in the exact same footsteps as its predecessors. In fact, doing something completely different might be the smartest thing it could do because there’s just no way to recreate the original film’s comedic perfection, as we learned four years ago. It might be better to take the story in a new direction and see where that leads.
It’s not unprecedented to take a sudden turn in genre from one film to the next in a series. Let’s talk about some successful and not-so-successful examples, and then see if we can figure out when it works to switch genres.
Telling the Same Story in Different Ways
Some sequels decide its best to do the same thing as the original but in a different genre. For example, each Alien film tells the same basic story in a unique way:
- Alien – Horror
- Aliens – Action
- Alien3 – Drama
- Alien: Resurrection – Adventure
Alien is the ultimate benchmark when it comes to science-fiction horror. Aliens wisely takes a different approach and adds a lot more action to the mix. That way, even though it revisits the same plot points as the original, it still feels fresh and interesting. Alien3 changes the setting and primarily focuses on drama above horror or action. And Alien: Resurrection has a real Poseidon Adventure vibe to it, with a ragtag group trying to escape a doomed spaceship. The last two films don’t work as well as the first two, but not necessarily because of the genre switch. There were plenty of behind-the-scenes problems that produced lower-quality results.
James Cameron is no stranger to successfully switching genres in a sequel. He did it again with his two Terminator films:
- The Terminator – Horror
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Action
Again, he gets away with the switch in the sequel by not deviating too much from the story structure of the first film while adding more action. The Terminator was made on a shoestring budget, so it’s not surprising that Cameron had to sacrifice some of his artistic vision to get it done. He couldn’t have too many over-the-top action sequences or groundbreaking special effects, so he settled for small-scale horror elements to sell the story and make the film memorable. Thankfully, seven years later he had the clout and technology to do what he originally wanted to do and insert as many amazing action sequences as he wanted alongside pioneering CGI that still looks great.
And then there’s the two Rescuers movies:
- The Rescuers – Musical Drama
- The Rescuers Down Under – Adventure
The Rescuers is one of those movies from Disney’s dark period of the 1970s when its animated films felt substandard and cheap compared to its previous work. The film itself is okay, but its songs aren’t terribly memorable, and the plot is slow-moving and often dull. Thankfully, its 1990 sequel The Rescuers Down Under took everything that worked in the original and supercharged it. Gone are the lackluster songs and slow pace. This sequel tells the same story as the first, but in a much more exciting and funny fashion. The villain and his sidekick are more memorable, the kid is braver, the heroes have more of a character arc, and the stakes are higher. It’s a superb sequel.
Going the Comedy Route
Several movie series have tried going the comedy route in their sequels. Take the Evil Dead trilogy:
- The Evil Dead – Horror
- Evil Dead II – Horror Comedy
- Army of Darkness – Action Horror Comedy
After Sam Raimi made a name for himself by directing the low-budget horror classic The Evil Dead, he decided to take a turn for the absurd in the sequel. Evil Dead II is still insanely scary, but it cleverly incorporates slapstick comedy into the proceedings to create something truly memorable. And then Raimi switched directions again for Army of Darkness and punched up the action. The comedy in the last two films was a welcome addition because it relieved a lot of the tension and allowed Bruce Campbell to really shine as an actor.
The first three Star Trek films are science-fiction and either action or adventure movies. But Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is something else entirely. It’s pure comedy, and it works because it feels like a natural progression of the story from the two previous films. It’s a welcome change of pace from the serious proceedings that came before, and it creatively concludes the arc they started.
If you want to see a film that completely botched the introduction of comedy, look no further than Batman & Robin. While the previous films had moments of levity, the fourth one took them to a whole new level. As I’ve said before, Batman & Robin follows the same structure as Batman Forever, but much worse. This is one case where the filmmakers would have been better off taking themselves a lot more seriously. Thankfully, Batman Begins and its sequels restored the Dark Knight’s dignity.
Trying Something Different Each Time
Some movie series aren’t content to stick to the same genre, but they keep experimenting with different ones. The Captain America films are a good example of this:
- Captain America: The First Avenger – Historical War Action
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Thriller
- Captain America: Civil War – Action Drama
Each Captain America film feels completely different from the others because no two are in the same genre. They’re all action movies, but the focus of the story keeps shifting. Steve Rogers and his friendship with Bucky Barnes is the glue that holds them all together.
Speaking of all-American superheroes, here’s how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies played out:
- Superman: The Movie – Action
- Superman II – Action Romance
- Superman III – Action Comedy
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Action Drama
There are hints at a budding romance between Superman and Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie, but they don’t come to fruition until Superman II. That movie amps up the romance and action angles to impressive heights. Superman III veers into ultra-campy comedy territory, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace takes on the super-serious topic of nuclear disarmament and Cold War tensions.
The Crocodile Dundee series also managed to do something different with each of its films:
- Crocodile Dundee – Romantic Comedy
- Crocodile Dundee II – Action Comedy
- Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles – Crime Comedy
There’s a bit of action here and there in Crocodile Dundee, but it’s primarily a fish-out-of-water comedy with a healthy dose of romance. Crocodile Dundee II is first and foremost an action movie with comedic elements. And Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles has a crime plot while injecting some humor into the mix.
New Directions Lead to a Familiar Destination
Sometimes a film series can veer off in a new direction that ultimately brings it back to its roots. We can see this with the Back to the Future Trilogy:
- Back to the Future – Comedy
- Back to the Future Part II – Thriller
- Back to the Future Part III – Western Comedy
As I discussed in my Back to the Future Trilogy chiasmus article, the first and third films in this series mirror each other while the second film mirrors itself. The first and third films are mostly lighthearted fun while the second film isn’t really played for laughs. It’s mostly one suspenseful scene after another.
The Cars Trilogy also has an outlier as its second part:
- Cars – Drama
- Cars 2 – Spy Thriller
- Cars 3 – Drama
The first and third Cars movies portray Lightning McQueen’s rise and fall. Cars 2 comes out of left field. It sidelines McQueen in favor of the first film’s side character Mater, sending him on a spy mission full of misunderstandings and political intrigue. It’s so bizarre to have that as the middle part of a story that’s clearly supposed to be about McQueen. But Cars 2 is my favorite of the bunch because it’s the most fun to watch.
And speaking of Pixar, they did something similar with the Toy Story series:
- Toy Story – Drama
- Toy Story 2 – Adventure
- Toy Story 3 – Thriller
- Toy Story 4 – Drama
Toy Story is all about Woody and Buzz Lightyear coming to terms with their lot in life. Woody has to accept that he might not be Andy’s favorite toy, and Buzz has to accept that he is a toy. Toy Story 2 is mainly about Buzz and the rest of the toys going on an adventure to rescue Woody and return him to Andy’s room. Toy Story 3 is a prison-break movie with several suspenseful scenes where the toys are in peril and could very well be killed. And Toy Story 4 returns to its roots by forcing Woody to come to terms with the fact that he’s not one of Bonnie’s favorite toys while Forky has to accept that he is a toy, not trash.
We’ll have to see if Ghostbusters: Afterlife fits in one of these categories as a successful or unsuccessful genre switch. It’s not always possible for a sequel to switch genres. I mean, you wouldn’t expect The Godfather Part IV to be a musical comedy or the next James Bond outing to be a horror flick. But there are plenty of ways to nudge film series in new directions.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Excellent article, Robert. Thank you 😀
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My pleasure 🙂
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