‘The Hangover’ Trilogy – How to Kill a Franchise in Two Steps


Four years ago there was a surprise comedy hit by the name of The Hangover. No doubt you remember it since it was only four years ago. One thing that made it really good was the lack of big names involved. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis were virtual unknowns at the time of the release, with initial marketing spotlighting small roles by Heather Graham and Mike Tyson. Immediately after the movie became a sleeper hit Cooper was cast with Liam Neeson in The A-Team, Helms was given a more central role in The Office and Galifianakis was a turning up in comedies across the board.

In the short space of time since it came out we’ve had two sequels. The most recent, released this year, pulled in less than half the box office of the original and scored a paltry 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. Given the electric comedy script of the original and the cast members going from strength to strength in the years since, including an Oscar nomination for Cooper, this is a surprising downturn. So what did they do wrong? A number of things.

The Second Movie Was a Carbon Copy

Nothing takes the wind out of a sequel more than trying to repeat the success of the first by…repeating the first. Stu gets a facial disfigurement in the first, and then he gets another in the second. They get harassed by a crazy Asian gangster in the first, and again in the second. The get stuck with a baby in the first, then a monkey in the second. We don’t mind that they used the same concept (as it is a great framing device for comedy) but we wanted new jokes. Instead they just repainted the old ones.

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Populating the Movies with Pointless Characters

Without googling it, tell me the name of the character they lost in the second movie. Or Stu’s wife. Or any of the characters who were introduced in the second or third movie. If you can’t that’s because they were pointless. They contributed nothing to the story, added any new jokes or were in any way interesting. Pirates of the Caribbean sequels did the same thing, flooding the screen with characters who had nothing to do instead of developing the ones they had.

Making the Comic Relief Character the Protagonist

Who was the main character in The Hangover? Well, it was an ensemble but if you had to pick one it would be Phil. He’s the character who directed the action and who had to change and grow up in order to reach a resolution. Of course Alan was the one everyone remembered. He was the crazy one (while Stu was the straight man). But what you shouldn’t do is make him the central character. Over-saturation of this type of character makes their routine get real dull real fast. And when you run out of material for them, just throw in a lazy love interest. Something else that Pirates… did in their sequels.

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Turning a Cameo into a Plot Premise

I laughed my ass off when Chow lept out of the limo in the first movie. Totally out of nowhere this tiny naked man was attacking them. The sequence was hailed as one of the highlights of the movie. It set a high bar for the movies to follow. So logically you want to take that actor and give him as much screen time as possible for his wacky Asian guy routine. Does anyone actually find this guy funny? The entire plot of the third film revolves around him and it is awful.

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These are the characters we want to focus on?

Relying on Nostalgia…After Four Years

We liked the first movie but it was only four years ago. It’s barely had time to get to the ‘we haven’t watched that in a while’ stage, let alone get to the point of being nostalgic. Yet much of the ‘comedy’ in the third film relied of nostalgia for the first film. Heather Graham returns, along with the baby. The ever popular and memorable character of ‘Black Doug’ returns. Chow gets put back into the trunk of a limo. Even a character who was mentioned once by name in the first film gets a central role. Even the camera techniques get repeated. These pointless moments do not make up for the lack of original humour.

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Looking for an original idea.

Forgetting the Basic Concept

A number of things came together to make the original movie work. Good, charismatic talent, sharp humour and a good concept. It was funny because we followed the characters on a journey of seeing all the fucked up shit that happened while they were drugged. They’d find a humorous clue that would lead to something over-blown and ridiculous. Even the second movie got that bit right. The third movie seems to rely on the characters – which are immensely shallow to begin with.

Don’t Force It

Look at Bradley Cooper in The Hangover Part 3. Does he looks like he gives half a shit? Christ no. He just came of an Oscar nominated role alongside Jennifer Lawrence, he doesn’t need to do this. He’s no doubt fulfilling a contract. If the material was good then it would no have inspired a more energetic performance. No-one involved in this movie seems to give a rats arse about it. Unless you have the material, don’t bother making it.

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Beatles reference…how topical.

Hopefully we see more good comedy from the people involved in The Hangover in the future, something to make up for the pointless The Hangover Part 2 and the achingly unfunny The Hangover Part 3.