The Clerks saga holds up as a great trilogy, but some of its movies are better than others. Across three decades, Kevin Smith made three Clerks movies. He kickstarted his filmmaking career with the indie original, released in 1994, then revisited the fan-favorite characters in 2006’s Clerks II before concluding their story in 2022 with Clerks III. From beginning to end, the heart of the trilogy is the endearing friendship shared by Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). The first two movies focus on their zany everyday antics at their jobs, while the final chapter is about their efforts to immortalize those antics on film.
Clerks established Kevin Smith’s filmmaking style, and the movie was met with universal praise. But its bigger-budget sequels have been met with mixed reviews. Clerks deals with the aimless youth of Dante and Randal in their 20s, Clerks II concerns midlife crises and the relentless march of adulthood as the duo approach 40, and Clerks III addresses mortality and forging a legacy after Randal faces a near-death experience. Fortunately, Smith never did the characters a disservice by putting them in a bad movie, though not all the sequels manage to live up to the original masterpiece. Here are all three Clerks movies ranked from worst to best.
3 Clerks III
After years of delays, Kevin Smith’s Clerks III finally wrapped up the saga in 2022. In the threequel, Randal suffers a heart attack (much like Smith did in real life) and emerges with a new lease on life. At Dante’s insistence, he starts working on turning their humdrum lives at the Quick Stop into a movie. Clerks III breaks away from the series’ day-in-the-life format to chart the months that Randal takes to recover from his heart attack, write a screenplay, and shoot a feature film. Clerks III makes for a moving finale for the trilogy, but it also broke fans’ hearts with the death of Dante.
Clerks III received more positive reviews than most of Smith’s later efforts, but the reception was still mixed, with a 62% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 6.3 IMDb rating. Shooting the first Clerks movie within the third Clerks movie was a wonderfully meta way to bring the trilogy full circle, but it took away from the relatable charm of the first two. Their appeal was reflecting everyday life; Clerks III lost that element. The filmmaking storyline also meant there was an abundance of callbacks to the previous movies and not much new material. The entire second act is spent recreating familiar scenes so that Randal can include them in his movie-within-a-movie.
The final chapters of trilogies are particularly difficult to pull off, especially after a great sequel. Clerks III struggles to balance its tragic elements with its comedic elements. The opening montage undoes the happy ending of Clerks II with the revelation that Dante’s soulmate and unborn child were both killed by a drunk driver. Dante’s character arc in Clerks III is essentially failing to move on from Becky’s demise before joining her in death, and it makes for a decidedly bittersweet conclusion to the trilogy. Killing off Dante might have been an unexpectedly dark way to cap off the Clerks series, but at least Smith handles it beautifully.
2 Clerks II
Like the first movie, Clerks II revolves around a day in the lives of Dante and Randal. Since the Quick Stop has burned down, they’re working at Mooby’s, a fast food chain previously seen in Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But they’re a decade older and contend with a boatload of new issues. They’re no longer the carefree youths they were in the original. Now, as they approach middle-age, they have to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives. Dante is engaged to the wrong woman and working for the right one; Randal is still the quotable Clerks slacker who refuses to grow up.
It’s rare that comedy sequels live up to their predecessors, but Clerks II deftly recaptures the blend of everyday mundanity and life-affirming profundity that made the first movie so endearing. The movie hits all the same beats: in the 11th hour, Randal delivers some tough love that inspires Dante to realize what he actually wants and get his life together. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson didn’t lose a shred of chemistry in the decade between movies. Their pitch-perfect on-screen dynamic ensures that Clerks II is just as touching and heartfelt an ode to friendship as its forerunner. It earned a decent 63% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.3 on IMDb.
Unlike the original, which was produced independently on a shoestring budget, Smith had studio money for the sequel. He was able to make Clerks II much more cinematic, with better production value, a ton of View Askewniverse cameos, and more elaborate staging. When Dante realizes he loves Becky, there’s a large-scale dance number. Smith makes full use of the switch from black-and-white to color with the vibrant purples and yellows of the Mooby’s corporate brand. Clerks II’s perfect ending would’ve been a satisfying ending for the saga, too: Dante and Randal finally take charge of their own destiny, fix up the Quick Stop, and start running it for themselves.
Kevin Smith has never topped the original comedy classic that launched his career. With a score of 90%, Clerks is still Smith’s best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes, and it has an impressive IMDb rating of 7.7. Like many ’90s movies, Clerks has a distinct grunge vibe. It starts off with a mundane premise and spins it into a profound narrative. Dante is called into work on his day off and ends up reconnecting with his ex, breaking up with his girlfriend, incurring a massive fine, unwittingly sending a customer to his death, desecrating the corpse at a funeral, and ruthlessly fighting Randal in the aisles of the Quick Stop.
Clerks has the perfect style for its substance. The minimalist filmmaking – dialogue-driven scenes shot in black-and-white, mostly in stationary long takes – pairs brilliantly with the minimalist narrative of two worker bees counting down the hours of their shift. The story of Clerks is presented as a series of vignettes, giving it a loose hangout feel without wasting a single scene. From the Death Star casualties discussion to the Chewlie’s gum representative’s anti-smoking tirade and Randal listing off obscene X-rated titles in front of a mother and child, Clerks is full of memorable gags that never get old on repeat viewings.
Smith made Clerks when he had the most to say, before he achieved Hollywood success. It was when he was a budding young artist leading Dante’s life. The movie is defined by Dante’s recurring one-liner – “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” – but the true message of Clerks is carried by Randal’s brutally honest rebuttal. When Dante spouts that line one too many times, Randal finally calls him out and tells him he has nobody to blame but himself for the way his life has turned out. This monologue ends a hilariously cynical movie on a surprisingly uplifting and optimistic note.