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Pink Panther Movies in Order: Remembering Peter Sellers and Inspector Clouseau

Meet the three actors who have brought Inspector Clouseau to life, Peter Sellers, Steve Martin and ...?

If you were to consider the Pink Panther movies in order, you might not have realized that there have actually been 11 films in the series, starting in 1963 with the original Pink Panther and concluding with 2009’s The Pink Panther 2, second in an attempted rebooted series.

At the core of it all is French Inspector Jacques Clouseau, who besides massacring the language (a faux French take on English), absolutely bumbles his way through every investigation he gets himself involved in, with unintentionally humorous bits of dialogue and lots of slapstick. Truthfully, it shouldn’t have worked, but the combination of British actor Peter Sellers in the role of Clouseau and director Blake Edwards, was, quite simply, comic magic — even in the weaker entries of their efforts.

“I believe they really loved working with each other early on,” says Michael Starr, author of Peter Sellers: A Film History. “They each had their own comic sensibilities, but I think Edwards felt that Sellers was like the yin to his yang.”

As the Pink Panther films in order continued, a genuine love-hate relationship developed between star and director, as well as between Sellers and his most famous on screen persona.

Peter Sellers and director Blake Edwards on 1963's The Pink Panther
Peter Sellers and director Blake Edwards on 1963’s The Pink Panther©MGM/courtesy

“When Sellers made the first Pink Panther in 1963,” says Starr, “his career was going great guns at that point. He’d done I’m Alright, Jack and The Mouse That Roared, so he was at the apex of his career. The original Pink Panther put him over the top.

“What’s interesting to keep in mind,” he adds, “is that, yes, he was hired for the movie by Blake Edwards, but it was really supposed to be a David Niven movie, but Sellers kind of just stole the movie from him through his performance. I read a biography of David Niven where the author said he realized what was happening as they were shooting the movie, that Sellers was just walking away with it, and there was really nothing Niven could do about it.”

While the second film, 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, was a bigger success and just continued to fuel Sellers, by the time you get to his third of the Pink Panther movies in order, 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther, he was in a very different place.

“He had been going through a down period in the late sixties and early seventies,” says Starr, “and didn’t really want to do another Pink Panther movie, but he saw it as a chance to get back together again with Blake Edwards. They had done such great work on the earlier movies, and a movie called The Party, so they decided to do it. And it was a hit, putting Sellers back on top, but he was such a mercurial figure offscreen, that I don’t think he was actually very happy about anything. I mean, he was not a happy man. He had a lot of personal problems, some physical and others emotional.

“But,” he continues, “if you’d asked him at that point, he would have said he was very happy to have Clouseau back in his life, because even if it didn’t make him as big a star as he had been, it brought him back to the spotlight.”

The Pink Panther movie poster, 1963
The Pink Panther movie poster, 1963©MGM/courtesy

At the core of the Pink Panther movies in order, was the aforementioned love-hate relationship between the two of them, which would only grow as they moved from Return to 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again and 1978’s Revenge of the Pink Panther.

Says Starr, “I interviewed Blake Edwards for the book I wrote and it really was a love-hate relationship. But no matter how much they battled each other, the final product was always pretty solid. Yet they were each very temperamental in their own ways, and Sellers was a difficult man to work with.

The Revenge of the Pink Panther, 1978
Peter Sellers as the disguised Inspector Jacques Clouseau in The Revenge Of The Pink Panther, 1978. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

“He had a reputation in Hollywood where people stayed away from him, because he was such a pain in the ass. He would walk off movie sets, he wouldn’t show up for filming, he refused to film a scene in 1967’s Casino Royale with Orson Welles, because he thought Welles was a ‘bad witch.’ He fired somebody from that movie for wearing a sweater of a certain color. Yet, regardless of whatever kind of physical or emotional shape Sellers was in, they were going to put him in front of that camera with Blake Edwards.”

That was taken to a morbid degree when you consider the fact that Sellers died of a heart attack on July 24, 1980 when he was only 54. Nonetheless, like clockwork in terms of the Pink Panther movies in order, there he was being featured in 1982’s Trail of the Pink Panther, with its plotline of Clouseau going missing intermixed with cut scenes and alternate takes of existing sequences from the previous films.

Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers
Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers in 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again Keystone/Getty Images

“Even in death they would not let Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau go,” Starr observes. “Typical Hollywood: just milk it for whatever you can. And if there’s a way to maybe make a buck, why not? Why should death interfere with that?”

Although there would be five films produced after Sellers’ death (two of which saw Steve Martin portraying Inspector Clouseau), none of them could compare to the on screen magic created by Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers.

What follows is a guide to the 11 Pink Panther movies in order, with trailers for each of them that provide a taste of what you can expect.

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The Pink Panther (1963)

It all begins here as Peter Sellers makes his debut as the bumbling French Inspector Clouseau. In this outing he is attempting to catch an infamous jewel thief known as the Phantom, who is seeking to steal the priceless ‘Pink Panther’ diamond. Also starring David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine, and directed by Edwards, who had done The Great Race.

By all reports, Edwards and Sellers got along wonderfully on this first film, with Edwards relating to the New York Times, “For years I’d been getting bits of what I wanted into films, as writer or director, but I had never had an area in which to exploit my ideas to the full. Then along came Peter, a walking storehouse of madness, a ham with an almost surrealist approach to the insanity of things, and we found an immediate affinity.

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau
Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) The Pink Panther Strikes Again, 1976©MGM/Getty Images

“We talked about Clouseau,” he added, “Kidding him, ridiculing him, until he became a third person. As we kidded around with the character, the slapstick and the gags came naturally. Then we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Just like that, and we did.”

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Chaos ensues as the returning Inspector Clouseau investigates a series of murders taking place in a wealthy household. Needless to say, this isn’t an Agatha Christie mystery. Both Sellers and Edwards return.

As well as things went on the original Pink Panther, the relationship between Sellers and Edwards began to fall apart on this one. Edward told Playboy, “We came right back with A Shot in the Dark and things were fine for the first half of filming, but then the s— hit the fan. Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen and unprofessional.”

Inspector Clouseau (1968)

During production of both The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark, Edwards and Sellers battled creatively, so neither one of them was interested in returning for another Pink Panther film. In that case, what does a studio do? Recast Clouseau with actor Alan Arkin and put Come Blow Your Horn and Divorce American Style‘s Bud Yorkin in the director’s chair. It didn’t work. The plot has England’s Prime minister requesting Clouseau’s assistance in stopping a gang of robbers running rampant across Europe. Doing so was his first mistake. This film’s script was the second.

The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

Although it had been a decade since they worked together, director Blake Edwards and actor Peter Sellers come together again to resurrect Inspector Clouseau, and audiences were delighted to have a new Pink Panther movie. It seems the Phantom has returned and once again sets his eyes on the Pink Panther diamond. Sounds repetitive, but it’s not. A wonderful return for all involved with sight gags and some of the most bizarre statements imaginable coming out of Sellers’ mouth. Also starring Christopher Plummer and Catherine Schell.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

It’s been a gradual process, but having driven Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) quite insane, Inspector Clouseau’s former superior uses stolen laser technology that he threatens the world with unless somebody kills Clouseau. Tremendous fun, this one plays like a cross between the Pink Panther films and a James Bond adventure. A true highlight in the series of films.

Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)

This time out, Clouseau is out to take down a crime syndicate, and to do so, he fakes his own death (much to the delight of Dreyfus, who really believes he’s gone). Through disguises and his usual bumbling around, the inspector gets the job done. Truth be told, the schtick was starting to get a little long in the tooth by this point and the films were being rushed into production, but given that this would be Sellers’ final turn as Clouseau, it’s fun to soak it all in. Plus, the audience obviously enjoyed it, the film making about $16 million more than The Pink Panther Strikes Again had.

Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

Given the bad blood that developed and never really went away between Sellers and Edwards, one wonders what the director’s reaction was to the actor’s death on July 24, 1980. We may have the answer in the fact that he elected to still be involved with the Pink Panther series in the form of Trail of the Pink Panther, a pretty morbid exercise when you think about it.

In it, Joanna Lumley plays reporter Marie Jouvet, who decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Inspector Clouseau. As she interviews people who knew him, we get outtakes, cut scenes and alternate takes of Sellers from the previous films. The audience didn’t go for it, the film grosssing $9 million on a $6 million budget. That, it seems would be the end of that.


Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)

Ted Wass (Blossom) is New York City detective Clifton Sleigh, who is given the assignment of finding out what happened to Inspector Clouseau. No outtakes this time, just Wass encountering characters old and new, with plenty of slapstick thrown in. The funniest bit? Roger Moore (then at the height of his James Bond fame) claiming to be Clouseau after plastic surgery — it’s hysterical watching him be such a clutz. Once again the audience failed to show up, this one grossing $4.5 million against an $11 million budget. Also once again, that would seem to have been the end of that.

Wrong! Again!

Son of the Pink Panther (1993)

It took a decade, but audiences got another film in the series in the form of 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther. This time, at least, there was a genuine attempt to pump some fresh blood into the project in that instead of outtakes or a search for the missing Clouseau, the focus is squarely on his illegitimate son, Gendarme Jacques Gambrelli (Roberto Benigni). The plot has the new generation of Clouseau, a detective, being assigned a kidnapping case that brings him head-to-head with Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (the returning Herbert Lom).

Given that the film grossed $2 million on a $25 million budget, it seems that Edwards was the only one interested in keeping things going.

The Pink Panther (2006)

As wrong as Alan Arkin in the role of Inspector Clouseau was, that’s how right Steve Martin is in this reimagining directed by Shawn Levy. The Pink Panther diamond is stolen and Clouseau, accompanied by actor Jean Reno as his partner, Ponton, is in pursuit to really funny comic effect. Martin’s expressions and accent works beautifully in selling the silliness. Not saying it’s a great film, but it is a fun one.

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The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

The Pink Panther movies in order continued with Steve Martin’s return as Clouseau, along with Jean Reno’s Ponton and Emily Mortimer as his girlfriend, Nicole. This time Dreyfuss (played by John Cleese) sends him out to join a team of sleuths to stop “The Tornado,” a thief who steals artifacts from around the world. Still pretty funny, but the audience didn’t turn this one into a hit, so there, unfortunately, was not a third entry in the rebooted series.

But like James Bond, Inspector Clouseau will return. Eventually.

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