Although the Police Academy franchise wouldn’t run aground for several more years, Steve Guttenberg saw some ominous warning signs while filming the third movie in the series.
“This is where a bit of the gluttony started,” the actor noted in his 2012 memoir, The Guttenberg Bible. “[We were] going to the well one too many times.”
Almost exactly a year to the day of Police Academy 2‘s release, Police Academy 3: Back in Training premiered on March 21, 1986, and grossed a whopping $107 million against a budget of just $12 million. For the third installment of the franchise, the alumni of the academy return to the school to train new recruits and prevent its closure.
Both the first and second film in the series had also performed well financially, but according to Guttenberg, who played Sgt. Carey Mahoney in four of the Police Academy movies, the incentive of these substantial profits led Police Academy 3 to be quickly made and poorly reviewed.
“The video companies were happy, the distributors were happy, everyone was making money,” Guttenberg wrote in The Guttenberg Bible about the box-office success of the second film. “I was told I was in the ‘Warner Bros. Family.’ And the family wanted to do another Police Academy. The second wasn’t out of the gate for more than two weeks, and they already had a start date for the third.”
So, production for the third movie launched into action. As Guttenberg described it, the film “got whatever it wanted,” including Shawn Weatherly, 1980’s Miss Universe, who was brought in for a cadet role, “just walking her universally loved body all over the set.”
Watch the Trailer for ‘Police Academy 3’
Others in the cast also felt the film was being rushed, including Bobcat Goldthwait, who made it evident he thought the movies were lowbrow and cheap, despite being loved by audiences. “Bobcat really knew his comedy,” Guttenberg said. “But damn if he didn’t put the series down as often as he could.”
Another decision that hindered the Police Academy sequels in Guttenberg’s eyes was the steady shift away from risque humor. While the first movie was rated R and the second PG-13, Police Academy 3 carried a more family-friendly PG rating. Worldwide box-office considerations further diluted and complicated the writing process, according to Guttenberg: “Certain jokes worked overseas, certain didn’t. That had to be accounted for in the script.”
The third film, like its predecessor, fared well with audiences, but it received poor marks from critics. “Once again,” the Los Angeles Times declared, “director Jerry Paris and his cast are stuck with a script that’s a series of stale gags and jokes with scant characterization and virtually no relationships, the very qualities that formed the solid foundation for the hilarious original Police Academy.“
In the meantime, Guttenberg was starting to enjoy success in films like Cocoon (1985) and Short Circuit (1986), both of which came out between the second and third Police Academy movies. Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, which was released in 1987, would be his final appearance as Mahoney.
“Once you start doing sequels of the sequels, then you get into a series, and a series spawns a franchise,” Guttenberg said. “I happened upon an international hit, and everybody dined off this enormous moneymaker.”