Top 10 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
By Jesse Stringer
Comedy means something different to everyone. In fact, it is one of the most subjective genres in the world of film. What may make you fall to the floor, tears streaming down your face, laughing, could just as easily make another feel completely indifferent. In my opinion, comedy is about more than making everyone laugh, it’s about making YOU laugh. If it is the goal of the filmmaker to make people laugh, and their film makes at least one person laugh out loud; the film has done its job, even if it only affected just that one person. That’s why I am warning you that this list of the best comedy movies is extremely subjective. Everyone laughs at something different.
10. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (dir. Mel Brooks)
When it comes to the kings of comedy, not many can surpass Mel Brooks. Most all the films he directed over the years had a major impact on the world of comedy. However, my personal favorite of the bunch would have to be Young Frankenstein. As a child, I always loved classic monster movies; and although this is basically a “spoof” of those films, I’d rank it up amongst them as one of the best in the genre. There are non-stop laughs to be had throughout, from Gene Wilder’s brilliant take on the Victor Frankenstein, to every single wail of the horses whenever we hear the name Frau Blücher! It’s all silly, but it’s also brilliant. If you don’t believe me, even the Academy had to recognize the genius in Wilder and Brooks’ script by giving it an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay; which is basically unheard of for a comedy to be nominated for anything Oscar related. On top of all that, the entire cast are at the top of their game, each creating their own memorable character that all manage to stand-out in the film. No actor goes unnoticed here. It is also beautifully shot in black and white which only adds to the classic feel this film provides. And to cap it all off, for a PG rated movie, it’s got one of the dirtiest endings in movie history.
9. HOT FUZZ (dir. Edgar Wright)
Edgar Wright is certainly one of the most unique directors working today. With his critically acclaimed Cornetto Trilogy, he’s proven himself as a force in comedy. He makes genre films that go beyond being great spoofs and great films in the genre he is satirizing. Although I love Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, my favorite of the trilogy is the buddy-cop, action romp that is Hot Fuzz. It is impossible not to love Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a duo, and in this film they do some of their best work. Pegg plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, a strictly by the books police officer in London who is moved to the small quiet village in the English countryside.
There he begins to suspect something strange is brewing in the town, so he and his partner Danny Butterman (Frost) begin to investigate. Like all of Wright’s other films, there are plenty of easter eggs and homages to other films that range from The Wicker Man to Bad Boys II. It’s all truly funny and incredibly entertaining. There really isn’t a dull moment in the whole thing; which is partly due to the incredible cinematography by Jess Hall. Edgar Wright uses the camera brilliantly to add a whole extra level of comedy that no actor or joke could provide. Even for those who may not find this film funny, Hot Fuzz works just as well as an action movie. So, whichever way you want to view it, you’ll likely have a good time.
8. EVIL DEAD II (dir. Sam Raimi)
And the last spoof film we are going to talk about is probably the best of them all. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II paved the way for filmmakers like Edgar Wright with it’s incredibly innovative cinematography and special effects, and all for a small amount money considering. A few years earlier, Raimi and a small group of his friends from Michigan State University travelled down to Tennessee to make a low-budget horror film called The Evil Dead. With barely any money and really no chance of success, the film gained a cult following nearly instantly which then gave Raimi and company the opportunity to make a sequel; which I feel personally corrects all the issues with the first film by being entirely self-aware. This brilliant horror satire knows just how goofy and ridiculous it’s story is and, as mentioned before, makes up for it with incredible practical effects and clever camera work. But even with all those elements working for the film, it would have all fallen apart without the incredible central performance from Bruce Campbell as Ash. His performance in Evil Dead II is one of the best physical/comedic performances I’ve ever seen. Hell, the man has a fight scene with his own hand for god’s sakes. It’s brilliant. And like Hot Fuzz and Young Frankenstein, this film works as more than just a comedy, being considered as one of my favorite horror films as well. Although it’s certainly not too scary. Evil Dead II is a truly fun movie and an easy watch, but if you don’t like blood and gore I can’t recommend it, as there is a whole lot in this film.
7. THE LOBSTER (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
In a dystopian future, single people are arrested and held by authorities at a luxury hotel. There, they must find a matching mate within 45 days, otherwise they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the woods. On paper, this sounds like the plot of a terrible B-movie. Thankfully, it’s a fantastic romantic comedy that is rich with surrealism, emotion, and strong social commentary. Released only months ago, upon seeing The Lobster for the first time I knew I was witnessing something special. Director, Yorgos Lanthimos, succeeded in creating a wonderfully absurd alternate world that closely reflects our own, just in a much more exaggerated way. He uses elements that are so uncomfortable, even border line disturbing, that I can’t help but laugh consistently throughout. Not to mention the incredible deadpan performances from the ensemble cast, especially that of Colin Farrell. Even though I’ve only sat with this film for a little less than a year, I have no doubt this film will remain as one of my favorites for the rest of my life.
6. FARGO (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
The Coen Brothers are some of the most fascinating filmmakers working in the industry today. They can make films like No Country for Old Men and Blood Simple that are for the most part really dark stories, but they also make films like O’ Brother Where Art Thou? and Raising Arizona that are just goofy and ridiculous. At their most serious and their most absurd, all the films in their catalog are so uniquely their own, it’s easy to recognize their touch by the first frame alone. And I feel the film that blends all the elements that make us love the Coen Brothers the most is their 1996 masterpiece, Fargo. The film begins with a man who wants to have his wife kidnapped, so he hires a pair of criminals to carry out the job. But the plan begins to fall apart when a local policewoman begins her investigation into the crime. Fargo is a perfect example of a dark comedy. On paper, the plot sounds serious; however, the Coen’s unique blend of realism and absurdist humor make Fargo both a gripping thriller and hilarious experience. The film was so well received at the time at the time of its released that it garnered 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and even a win for Frances McDormand as the lovable police chief of Brainerd, Marge Gunderson. The film also features great performances from William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Peter Stormare. It’s also shot by the great Roger Deakins, just wanted to point that out. Over the years, Fargo has become a classic. It’s hard to deny its greatness. And personally, it is my favorite of the Coen’s work.
5. SUPERBAD (dir. Greg Mottola)
Not just one of my favorite comedies, but also one of my favorite coming of age films; Greg Mottola’s Superbad perfectly encapsulates the struggles of being an outcast during one of the most crucial points in a man’s lifetime; high school. Many could easily dismiss this film as a mindless teen comedy; but like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed & Confused, Superbad taps into brutally honest truths about growing up; letting go of our youth and venturing to the frightening world of adulthood. And beyond all that, it is absolutely hilarious. Writing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg claim they began writing the script when they were just fourteen years old, which only proves how passionate the creative team behind this film likely was. The on-screen chemistry between actors Jonah Hill and Michael Cera is beyond perfect. The two truly feel like they must be best friends in real life, for their performances perfectly capture that bromance every teenage boy usually finds. But with all that said, this is a dirty movie. I mean the famous “penis drawing” scene should be enough for anyone to know that going in. But for those that aren’t bothered by that kind of humor, one can likely find lots of laughs in Superbad, and if they’re willing to dig a little deeper, and put a bit of themselves into the movie; they just might discover a little more.
4. HAPPINESS (dir. Todd Solondz)
We’ve already talked about dark comedies, but I don’t think many get darker than Todd Solondz absurd masterpiece, Happiness. At a runtime of nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, Happiness follows multiple storylines, all directly or indirectly involving three sisters. The film deals with sex addiction, voyeurism, murder, puberty, and even pedophilia among other profoundly uncomfortable subjects. All that may not sound very funny on paper, but Solondz finds a way to turn these dark scenarios into a hysterical feast of awkwardness. He also truly humanizes characters that any normal person would likely gag at the mere sight of. Solondz has proven successful with this style of humor with other works such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and even his latest Wiener-Dog, but none of his other films can match up with this superb character study. The film also features an excellent ensemble cast with great performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dylan Baker among others. Solondz directs this film with an extremely subjective lens, not projecting any judgement on his characters and letting the audience decide for themselves how they want to feel about these people. Happiness is one of those films that one might be disturbed to find themselves laughing at, because in any normal situation, none of this is inherently funny, but presented here it’s hilarious. Of all the films on this list, this is the only one I might not be able to fully recommend for its subject matter. But if all you’ve just read sounds inviting to you, I implore you to seek it out, for I think this is an important film; but be warned. You may just find yourself sympathizing with a pedophile.
3. WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (dir. Christopher Guest)
Christopher Guest is a genius. Many know Guest for his iconic performance as Nigel Tufnel, the lead guitarist for Spinal Tap, featured in This Is Spinal Tap (Obviously). However, not many seem to remember his equally brilliant performance as the eccentric musical theater director “from broadway”, Corky St. Clair in his 1996 directorial debut, Waiting for Guffman. With this film and his others that followed, Guest popularized the mockumentary style format that is now used in many popular television series like The Office and Parks and Recreation. In Waiting for Guffman, we are introduced to the town of Blaine, Missouri and its residents who are preparing to put on an original musical that will chronicle the town’s history. Now although Guest and writer/star Eugene Levy are likely responsible for a lot of the humor in the film, a large majority of Waiting for Guffman is improvised; which only makes the film even funnier. With a brilliant cast featuring Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Bob Balaban among others, there was almost no way for this film to fail with such excellent comedic talent behind and in front of the camera. Now this film may have some deeper themes about humanity sprinkled in there somewhere, but above all this is a straight comedy through and through. From Corky’s ridiculous dances moves to the ridiculous climatic performance of “Red, White, and Blaine”, Waiting for Guffman is easily one of my favorite comedies and anyone who has seen it will likely agree with you. And at just an hour and twenty-five minutes, it’s a quick and easy watch that will likely brighten your day.
2. THE GRADUATE (dir. Mike Nichols)
We all reach a point in our lives when we ask ourselves, “Well..now what?”. We’re all afraid of where our lives will take us. Whether we will succeed or fail. Whether we will follow our dreams, fall in love, have a family, or accomplish absolutely none of that. The film that I feel personally encapsulates those fears the most is The Graduate. The second film from director Mike Nichols; The Graduate follows Benjamin Braddock, a 21-year-old who has just graduated from Williams College, as he returns home with no real desire or idea as to what he will do with the rest of his life. He is eventually seduced into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, an older more experienced woman; only to then fall in love with her younger daughter Elaine. Let’s just say Ben is having a rough time. The Graduate is simply a masterpiece. Not only is it hysterical but it’s also a truly sad film as well. Dustin Hoffman delivers one of the best performances of his career as Braddock, and he is joined by other incredible performers like Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson and Katherine Ross as Elaine. These actors help bring to life an incredible screenplay based on Charles Webb’s novel. The Graduate captures truly uncomfortable scenarios that are so hard to watch but impossible to look away from for they are executed with self-awareness and dry humor. This is likely due to the brilliance in Mike Nichols direction. The Graduate is also a beautifully shot film, using shot composition well ahead of its time and likely inspired many films that came after it. And how can one review The Graduate without mentioning the gorgeous soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel. The Graduate is a beautiful film that is just as poignant now as it was then. It’s timeless in every sense of the word. And even if you’re secure in your life, by the end, you may question some things about yourself too.
1. CITY LIGHTS (dir. Charles Chaplin)
Nobody can beat Chaplin. He is an icon who paved the way for all the other films on this list. Literally. Most of his work is genius in some way or another. And more than that, it’s comedy gold. My personal favorite of Chaplin’s films would have to be City Lights. It’s not only funny, but perhaps is the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Now thousands of critics before me have said everything that really can be said about City Lights so I’ll keep my thoughts short. Chaplin again plays his famous Tramp character as he one day stumbles upon a blind woman, with whom he falls in love. The woman however, through a series of mishaps, believes the Tramp to be a wealthy man, so the Tramp does everything he can to keep her believing this farce, as well as make some money he can then give to her. It’s a beautifully funny story with an unbelievable amount of heart that is all cinematic in the purest form. As with any Chaplin film, there are lots of memorable scenes and gags throughout, that all lead up to the film’s beautiful ending. Chaplin was more than just a comedian, he was an artist, an auteur. He was a brilliant performer and director and City Lights is his best work in my opinion. Now some reading this may be deterred by the fact that City Lights is a silent film, but I’ve always said, if a film can manage to tell its story without using a single word of dialog, it’s likely a great film worth watching. It’s films like City Lights that remind us why we love the movies.