What order do the Pink Panther movies go in?

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Answered by: Eric-Jon, An Expert in the Classic Movies Category
The Pink Panther movies have a long and convoluted history. The first film, 1963’s The Pink Panther, is barely a Pink Panther movie at all – at least by later standards. The movie focuses more on David Niven and an ensemble cast than Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and rather than a slapstick farce the film is more of an urbane drawing room comedy.

It’s not until the second film, 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, that the series formula sets in. To suit Sellers’ performance, Director Blake Edwards shifted to a weirder, more physical humor. This movie also introduces the recurring characters Cato and Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Complicating issues is that A Shot in the Dark was not written with Clouseau in mind, and was rushed into its final state based on the popularity of Sellers’ recent role. Despite the production challenges, and the lack of series branding, A Shot in the Dark is often considered the greatest of the Pink Panther movies.

Here’s where the series gets even weirder. After A Shot in the Dark, Sellers took leave of his character for over a decade. That didn’t stop rights holders Mirisch Films, which went ahead and recast Alan Arkin as Clouseau. Blake Edwards refused to direct, which put Divorce American Style director Bud Yorkin in the hotseat. To further the personnel changes, Yorkin’s film also ditches the regular cast – no Cato, no Dreyfus. Although technically a canonical film, there is little in Inspecter Clouseau to link it to the other films in the series. As a result, many listings quietly omit Yorkin and Arkin’s contribution to the series.

In 1975, The Pink Panther returned in a big way. Sellers was back with all his supporting cast. Blake Edwards was back in the director’s chair. Even the Pink Panther diamond had returned as a focal point. The Return of the Pink Panther was in effect a restart for the series. For once, all of the famous elements were in play at the same time – and up until his death, Sellers would return to the character once every year or two. From here on, The Pink Panther is a cultural presence.

After his murderous behavior in the previous movie, Dreyfus escapes from his asylum in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), intent on putting an end to the bumbling Clouseau once and for all. Curiously, although the story has nothing to do with the Pink Panther diamond, the movie retains the now-established series branding. Partially because of this movie, audiences came to confuse the name for Clouseau’s character – or perhaps that of the diamond’s recurring thief, the Phantom.

Sellers’ final Panther movie before his death, 1978’s Revenge of the Pink Panther, indeed features the return of the Phantom, as well as Chief Inspector Dreyfus – and the titular diamond. Curiously, despite his rather conclusive end in the previous movie, Dreyfus is back in his familiar asylum, awaiting a return to his job in the police force. This discontinuity has caused some amount of speculation as to the intended story order.

After Revenge, Blake Edwards spent the next 15 years trying to continue the series despite the death of its leading man. In 1982 Edwards spliced together outtakes and flashbacks to assemble Trail of the Pink Panther. The idea was that Clouseau had vanished, and all the supporting cast was on a lookout. A year later, the search continues in Curse of the Pink Panther.

In this opus, Clouseu’s role is filled by a certain Sergeant Sleigh, played by Ted Wass. Finally in 1993, Roberto Benigni stars in Son of the Pink Panther as Clouseau’s illegitimate son, Jacques Gambrelli. It is perhaps notable that all of these latter-day Panther films include series regulars Herbert Lom (Dreyfus) and Burt Kwouk (Cato), so despite the haunting absence of Sellers there is a direct line of continuity.

Finally in 2006 the series was revived and “rebooted” from scratch, with Steve Martin in the role that Peter Sellers made so famous. Although financially successful, both The Pink Panther and 2009’s The Pink Panther 2 bombed with critics.

So in sum: if you want the classic Pink Panther experience, watch A Shot in the Dark followed by the 1970s trilogy. If you want the full experience, you can add on the original Pink Panther and the three latter-day epilogues. If you still hunger for more Clouseau, then you can check out Alan Arkin’s and Steve Martin’s portrayals and see how they compare.

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