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The 10 Best Comedy Movies of All Time

24 September 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

Part of the appeal to excellent escapist cinema is that it makes the viewer forget their troubles for a while and in the case of a good comedy, it allows them to inhabit areas where absurdity, laughter and silliness vie for space. Comedy films present cultural touchstones, they cheer us up, they generously offer recognizable and ridiculously quotable quips, while putting forth and playing with influential trends that resonate with audiences for years and year afterwards.

While compiling a list of the best comedies of all time is no small task, limiting that number to just ten films is, admittedly, straight-up folly. While I’d like to make room for such classics as Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959), Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), or more recent comic tour de force’s like Todd Phillips’ Old School (2003), Larry Charles’ Borat (2006), or Greg Mottola’s Superbad (2007), instead the list that follows here eschews these fine films while still offering up a few alternate but still silly showpieces.

These films include an overlooked masterwork or two, essential influential comic juggernauts, and comedies that forever changed the face of popular cinema.

These ten films rank amongst not just the best comedies of all time, but amongst the very finest films ever made. Delights await, so please, enjoy!

 

10. Airplane! (1980)

Airplane! (1980)

This hysterical satirical parody picture from the triple threat producer/director/writer team of Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker is their undisputed wacky masterwork. Blowing the raspberry at the disaster film genre––namely such populist hits as Zero Hour! (1957), Earthquake! (1974), and Towering Inferno (1974)––Airplane! is best remembered for its lightening-paced slapstick, sight gags and verbal puns.

When a nasty course of food poisoning wipes out the flight crew and several passengers aboard an ill-fated 747, it’s left up to former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), his ex-girlfriend and flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), and the ridiculous Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) to safely ground the plane and save the remaining passengers.

“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

The jokes are juvenile and quite often corny, but the unremitting messing around pays off repeatedly, ensuring that Airplane! is terrifically impossible not to enjoy. “And don’t call me Shirley!”

 

9. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Young Frankenstein

Certainly the most balanced and consistently brilliant film from the prolific and witty writer-director comic legend Mel Brooks, this black-and-white horror spoof, Young Frankenstein, takes on the Mary Shelley classic with winning results.

Gene Wilder is genius as the famed cutting-edge brain surgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“It’s pronounced ‘Fronkensteen!’”), who has returned to his family’s castle in Transylvania. Here, assisted by his hunchback sidekick Igor (“It’s pronounced ‘eye-gor!’”), played with manic brilliance by Marty Feldman, they are joined by the harried housekeeper Frau Bleucher (Cloris Leachman), the vivacious village babe Inga (Teri Garr), Frederick’s lustful bride-to-be Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), and of course, the Monster (Peter Boyle).

Brooks’ cleverly inserts his requisite singing and dancing (once seen, you’ll never hear “Puttin’ on the Ritz” the same way again), playful puns, sexy innuendo, and more, in a movie that moves from silly spoof to serious homage with energy and joy.

 

8. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

bringing up baby

No list of great comedies is worth a lick if it doesn’t include a film featuring the witty and whimsical Cary Grant, and the Howard Hawks classic Bringing Up Baby doubles not just as one of Grant’s finest funny performances but also as the definitive screwball comedy. The lively, anarchic energy, and rapid-fire dialogue––so sublimely suggesting all sorts of sexual innuendo without being outrightly naughty––that binds Bringing Up Baby is brought to dazzling life by its leads, Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Riffing on a clever, almost covert analysis of gender expectations, marriage, and sex, this RKO standard –– shunned by the critics on its initial release –– presents the dapper, ridiculously handsome, and easily distracted paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Grant), busy working away on a years-long museum project, something to do with a brontosaurus skeleton, betrothed to another who meets and is slowly enamored by the scatterbrained Susan Vance (Hepburn). Susan, by the way, has a pet leopard named Baby, a gift from her brother in South America, and when the two transport the creature to the wilds of Connecticut a love connection just might be made.

“Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but––well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.”

Of all the films to be made during the Golden Age of Hollywood it’s easy to see why it is that the comedies have all aged the best, and with the timeless japing, drollery, ridiculous repartee, not to mention the blunt physicality of Grant in particular (his role here is partially inspired by Harold Lloyd’s silent-era persona), Bringing Up Baby is one for the ages.

 

7. Withnail and I (1987)

withnail and I

Easily the archetypal British cult comedy, writer-director Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical eulogy to unemployment and acquaintanceship, Withnail and I, is a tiny tour de force. A mélange of quotable discourse (“We want the finest wines available to humanity, and we want them here, and we want them now!”), not to be forgotten characters (Richard E Grant’s Withnail is absolutely iconic, and Richard Griffiths’ Uncle Monty is divine and pitiably droll), coarse social commentary, and elegant farce, mixed in equal portions that guarantee greatness.

Set in a dog-eared Camden-Town flat at the ass-end of the 1960s, Withnail and I fixates on two actors on the dole, and their attempts to return to form. Narrated by Marwood (Paul McGann), life is anything but biscuits and butter drips. Withnail, a lovable but self-destructive drunk, doesn’t so much buoy his friend, as hold him down. Taking an ill-starred holiday in the country ultimately alienates the pair, but not after many booze-soaked scenarios play out as self-discovery and desolation ooze in.

Numerous drinking games accompany the film, a witness to its prestige. Anyone who’s ever struggled, said goodbye to a friend, or gone on a regrettable drinking binge, can find familiarity with this wonderful, witty, and humanly relevant picture. Marvellous.

 

6. The Big Lebowski (1998)

“I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. You know, that or, His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing,” explains the titular unemployed layabout, in the Coen Brothers’ most idiosyncratic and outright enjoyable shaggy-dog misadventure.

As the Dude in question, Jeff Bridges will be forever identified as the personable pothead, who’s Raymond Chandler-inspired exploration to nowhere (The Big Lebowski rubric is a reference to his 1939 novel “The Big Sleep”) has spawned one of the most fervid fanbases around, and it’s easy to see why.

The eccentric characters that the Dude encounters –– the brilliantly inspired cast includes Steve Buscemi, Flea, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, and many more –– in vignette fashion across L.A. and environs, pay careful homage to film noir conventions, along with the witty repartee, dangerous dealings, and unconventional, almost stream of logic maneuverings, making for a verifiable comedic masterwork.

 

 

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  • Alain

    Good list. Blue Velvet and Glengarry Glen Ross could also be in it?

    • Gilles Ello

      No they couldn’t. How? Neither are comedy films even if they contain comedic elements. You’d be insulting the people who made them to classify the neo-noir arthouse genius of Blue Velvet as a comedy or the toxic male takedown and social critique of Glengarry Glenn Ross as a series of comical episodes (it’s not).

    • Otto T. Goat

      Glengarry Glen Ross is hilarious.

  • Zwei

    -To Be or Not to Be (1942)
    -The Lady Eve (1941)
    -The Rules of the Game (1939)
    -The Great Dictator (1940)
    -Amici miei (1975)
    -Fantozzi (1975)

  • Kosta Jovanovic

    The room is a glaring omission, but overall great choices, cant really see duck soup at the top

    • Gilles Ello

      You can’t see Duck Soup at the top and you think The Room is a glaring omission? Buddy, get a clue. Hahaha

      • Kosta Jovanovic

        Oh my, Ello, i though just mentioning the room, people would realize it was a joke, but it seems, more clues need to be added

        • Kosta Jovanovic

          Just by mentioning*

      • Kosta Jovanovic

        But, yes, the rest is serious, holy grail is more feeting the top spot

  • Gilles Ello

    Great list and a treat to see the Marx Bros where there belong, at the top!!!

  • aceblack1965

    For those looking for great comedies, the BBC recently published their list of their top 100 comedies of all time based on a global survey:

    http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170821-the-100-greatest-comedies-of-all-time

    Their top 10:

    10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
    9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
    8. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
    7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980)
    6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
    5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
    4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
    3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
    2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
    1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

  • I definitely don’t consider Annie Hall a comedy.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Monday Morning
    A Hired A Contract Killer
    Nobody’s Fool
    Fargo

  • George Koynov

    Swingers?

  • Nothing after 1998?

    • shane scott-travis

      Todd Phillips’ Old School (2003), Larry Charles’ Borat (2006), & Greg Mottola’s Superbad (2007) are all mentioned in the intro. Selecting only 10 films from over a hundred years of cinema is no easy task.
      Thanks for reading. 🙂
      What are some of your favourite comedies?

  • Levi

    the martian.

    • Ricardo Correia

      Ricky Gervais liked that comment

  • Jasper Sapien.

    Hard to argue with anything here, which makes blazin’ saddles number 11.

  • tommyturner

    Animal House or Caddyshack anyone?

    • Caddyshack NEEDS to be here. Almost discredits the list not having it

  • David

    No Groundhog Day????

  • Allister Cooper

    No Zoolander? No Scary Movie 4? Help…

  • Deadly_Moogly

    Very personal taste obviously especially when it comes to comedy, but in my Top 10, there should be the following movies :

    – Groundhog Day
    – Top Secret
    – There’s Something About Mary
    – Burn After Reading
    – GhostBusters 1 and/or Spaceball and/or Hot Shots 1
    – 1 Chevy Chase and/or Martin Short movie (The 3 Fugitive or 3 Amigos?)
    – Austin Powers 1 and/or 2
    – Starsky & Hutch (2004)
    – License to Drive and/or the Burbs and/or Secret Admirer and/or Revenge of the Nerds
    – The Goonies and/or Back to the Future 1

    Special mention to the Simpsons, not a movie but by far the best comic material ever!!!

  • Vincenzo Politi

    Once again, this list of ’10 best something’ of all time is made up entirely of English spoken movies. Are the people of this site really that arrogant and closed-minded to believe that only English spoken movies are good? Italian cinema created its whole current, “la commedia all’italiana”, examples of which are the masterpieces of Pietro Germi, Mario Monicelli, Vittorio De Sica and Ettore Scola. How about French comedies? How about Spanish comedies? Come on, people, this is getting ridiculous!

  • Recent comedies that will prove to be all-time greats: Borat, Napolean Dynamite, 40 Year Old Virgin, Beerfest (yes, Beerfest), American Pie

    • Too often film geeks expose how humorless they really are by making lists of great movies with comedy in them that aren’t necessarily great comedies.
      What does that mean? To me, a great comedy is a movie that makes you laugh out loud — a lot. A lot of people making these lists (and not necessarily this list) include great movies that have poignant satire, but aren’t “ha ha” funny. Or they add movies that are great, and have comedic scenes, but aren’t true comedies.

  • Criticus

    Dr. Strangelove is not a comedy, even if it has hilarious scenes.

  • Almost every title on this list are just not my type of humor. I would definitely add a few—
    LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
    MOONSTRUCK
    DEATH BECOMES HER
    WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
    THE BIRDCAGE
    ED WOOD
    WHAT ABOUT BOB

  • Alexis Voutouris

    Interesting list, although I would definitely have added something by Chaplin or Keaton. Silent comedy is too huge a chapter to be ignored.

  • Andrés Alafita

    Some Like it Hot??????? Seven Year Itch?

  • Vincenzo Politi

    Some of the movies which are easily considered some of the best comedies in the history of cinema:
    – Divorce Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961)
    – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
    – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)
    – Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966)
    – Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
    – La Cage aux Faulles (Jean Poiret, 1978)
    – Vivemont Dimanche! (François Truffaut, 1983)
    – Y tu Mamá también (Alfonso Cuáron, 2001)
    – Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958)
    – We all loved each other so much (Ettore Scola, 1974)
    – Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut, 1968)
    – The Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia, 1995)
    – Delicatessen (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991)
    – Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
    – Black Cat, White Cat (Emir Kusturica, 1998)
    – etc, etc, etc…

    But what are these movies in comparison to the great English spoken movies?

    • Aleksandar Šurbatović

      Great list! I would add:
      -The Firemen’s Ball or The Loves of a Blonde (Milos Forman),
      -Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman),
      -Amarkord (Fellini, oh, yes, its also a comedy;
      -La Nuit Amerecaine (Truffaut);
      -Play Time (Tati),
      -City Lights (Chaplin)
      – La règle du jeu (Renoir)
      – Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong)

  • rickdeckard

    Amazing compilation

  • fantail31

    The Gold Rush ( Chaplin) , Tootsie and Life Of Brian. Otherwise great list.;

  • Tom Horne

    Good pure list. Add The Loved One for perversity and satire.

  • Aaron T. Starks

    No Ghostbusters. Was going to say list is trash but at least you had Airplane on there.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    They’re personal picks, but I missed Rushmore, Harold & Maude, and Fireman’s Ball.