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The 30 Best Comedy Movies of the 1980s

01 February 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

Growing up in the 1980s with my little brother, we spent a great deal of time watching comedies either at the cinema, on pay TV, late night cable, or via the video store. We used to pride ourselves in our encyclopedic knowledge of one-liners, comic performers, and pratfalls from the movies that cracked us up the most. And so it’s in this spirit and with my late brother close to my heart (and my funny bone), that this list of 1980s funny films emerges and takes flight. It really was a Golden Age of Comedy as this hilarious list attests.

Please note that there were, of course, many wonderful films that didn’t make the list, so maybe a discussion of great 1980s comedies can continue in the comments section below. So until then, sit back and wax nostalgic with us as we explore the funniest films from an endearing decade that was…

 

30. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

While not as dazzling or dizzy as their finest work from the 1970s (that’d be either The Holy Grail [1975] or Life of Brian [1979]), there’s still plenty of provocative and side-splitting swipes in the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python’s lively musical sketch film from 1985, The Meaning of Life. From John Cleese’s mischievous Maitre d’ urging the morbidly obese Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones) to enjoy one last “wafer thin mint,” to a pretentious Noel Coward (Eric Idle) crooning a tune about how it’s “frightfully good to have a dong,” through onto an uptight Catholic father singing to his many, many, many children that “every sperm is sacred,” this is a quotable, stingingly satiric pisstake on the social order at large.

Directed with brio and badinage by Pythoner Terry Jones, this was also the final film to feature all six members of Monty Python––Graham Chapman passed away in 1989. Similar in suggestive shape, form, and lewd content to the ensemble’s original BBC television series The Flying Circus (which ran from 1969 to 1974) and their cinematic debut from 1971, And Now For Something Completely Different, this is a silly procession of uncompromising fractures and guffaws. It may not be their strongest work, but it’s still bound to leave you laughing and maybe a little red-faced, too.

 

29. Caddyshack (1980)

Caddyshack

So much comedic royalty agreeably comes together in Harold Ramis’ goofy golf-centric comedy Caddyshack, including Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, and Bill Murray (who’s brother Brian Doyle-Murray, co-wrote the script along with Ramis and Douglas Kenney).

A tough luck teen named Danny Noonan (O’Keefe) works as a caddy at the krusty and smart-alecky Bushwood Country Club. With his eyes on a college scholarship reserved specifically for caddies, Noonan signs on to caddy for an influential and outstanding club member Judge Elihu Smails (Knight) while also prepping for the high pressure Caddy Day golf tourny. Danny would be lost were it not for Ty Webb (Chase), the resident golf guru who’s classic New Age-y aphorisms like “Be the ball” may just give our hapless hero the edge he needs.

Caddyshack is more than a tad derivative and some of the episodes therein feel like rejected sitcom scenarios, but the simple slapstick on display, the numerous OTT characters, and the perpetual stream of zingers and one-liners from all involved make this a classic sports satire as well as a classic early 1980s comedy.

 

28. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure (1989)

To quote one Bill S. Preston, Esq (Alex Winter), “Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K”, in the earnestly exaggerated sci-fi comedy buddy film from director Stephen Herek (Critters), the most triumphant Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Best friends and most excellent dudes Bill and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) have a looming history exam that will fully decimate their friendship––Ted’s going to be sent away to Oates Military Academy if he doesn’t take high school and his grades more seriously––unless they can pull a seriously non-heinous A.

Not only will flunking out tear the two lads apart, it will break up their band, Wyld Stallyns. Well, with the help of Rufus, played by comic legend George Carlin, who just so happens to be a messenger from a utopian future, he’ll lend the Bill and Ted a time travelling telephone booth that’s sure to land them the high marks they, and the future that’s structured around the awesomeness of the tunes their band will one day make, will be saved.

The ensuing adventure will bring the duo in direct contact with historical figures like Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri), Beethoven (Clifford David), some bodacious princesses from Medieval England, and more. While the time travel trips are pretty silly and any resulting paradoxes are playfully brushed over, the good natured, goofy, Spicoli-lite heroes are charismatic, charming, and exceptionally funny (also worth noting, this was Reeves’ breakout role).

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure would lead to a fun franchise that would include a sequel, a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon, a breakfast cereal, and who knows? Rumors have persisted for years of a potential third film and both Reeves and Winter have expressed interest in returning to these irresistable roles. EXCELLENT!

 

27. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Good morning ,Vietnam1988Barry LevinsonRobin Williams

Loosely based on the experiences of U.S. Armed Services Radio station DJ Adrian Cronauer, brilliantly portrayed by Robin Williams at his manic best, Barry Levinson’s comedy-drama Good Morning, Vietnam was a huge box-office hit that also coveted numerous awards––most going deservedly to Williams.

The film that TIME Magazine called “the best military comedy since M*A*S*H”, it unfolds in Saigon in 1965, amidst the Vietnam War where Cronauer’s on-air antics, which includes irreverent humor segments and rock and roll that’s not on the station-approved playlist, wins him huge popularity with the troops. As Cronauer’s popularity peaks from his fun, energetic, but very subversive broadcasts, it utterly infuriates his superiors, Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), and complications ensue.

Apart from Williams’ passionate turn and winning support from the uniformly strong cast (standouts include Forest Whitaker, Robert Wuhl, and Richard Edson), Good Morning, Vietnam’s soundtrack (which went platinum) was ubiquitous and reintroduced Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to a massive audience.

The 80s were a decade that saw many American films focussing on the Vietnam war, and while this film is most easily and often classified a comedy, it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the atrocities of conflict, and the poignant drama makes the laughter all the more important and profound. A gem.

 

26. The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Few films with a high school backdrop have become more of a cult movie for teens than John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club. Essentially a bare bones chamber piece, the deceptively simple premise for the film involves a diverse group of high schoolers stuck in Saturday detention in the library of New Trier High School. Over the course of the day these young men and women will come to understand more about each other and themselves than they intended, and that they share many common fears and dreams.

The cast were part of what was dubbed “the Brat Pack” in roles that became very emblematic for each of them; the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the athlete (Emilio Estevez), the basket case (Ally Sheedy), the princess (Molly Ringwald), and the criminal (Judd Nelson). Also excellent and comedic in the cast is Paul Gleeson’s turn as uptight Principal Richard Vernon, and who could forget and not chuckle when Bender (Nelson) asks him, “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?”

 

25. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

Impressed by his strange stage show at the Groundlings theater, Warner Brothers contracted Paul Ruebens to write a feature based around his quirky, child-like überbrat persona, Pee-Wee Herman. Inspired, strange as it sounds, by Italian neo-realist innovator Vittorio De Sica (specifically his celebrated film, The Bicycle Thief), Reubens wrote one honey of a nonconformist comedy and found the ideal director, a former Disney animator looking to leap into live-action features, Tim Burton.

Together Burton and Reubens combined Dalí-like surrealism into a live-action cartoon that would anticipate the long-running subversive Saturday morning kids show, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990), sequels, Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016), and introduce Tim Burton to the world at large.

With great gags, stunningly silly (in a good way) production design, and overflowing quotable quips, it’s no wonder audiences ate it up.

“You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

 

24. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Certainly one of the finest teen exploitation comedies around, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High also gave quick starts to a handful of future stars (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, and Nicolas Cage amongst them). It was also somewhat fortuitous that Heckerling’s heartfelt and decidedly sensitive movie come out a year after Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981), a much raunchier, and less endearing film film full of horny, unrelatable teens.

This ensemble coming-of-age-comedy was adapted from Cameron Crowe’s 1981 book of the same name and takes its prime focus on the virginal high schooler Stacy Hamilton (Leigh) and her less-than-virtuous, sexually candid bestie Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates).

There’s also a handful of other memorable characters who haunt the halls of Ridgemont High and connect loosely in Stacy and Linda’s orbits, including iconic stoned surfer dude slacker Jeff Spicoli (Penn)––forever at odds with history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston)––Stacy’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold), nebbish hunk Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), and more.

A charming, sentimental, and occasionally cruel comedy that looks on high school tribulations with an understanding and affection that was pretty rare at the time, Fast Times is an affectionately held film for many from that era, and as a farcical and detailed artifact of contemporary life in the 1980s, it’s hard to beat. And oh yeah, “Aloha Mr. Hand!”

 

23. Tampopo (1985)

Tampopo (1985)

This art house hit from Juzo Itami (Osōshiki), adoringly dubbed the “noodle western” is composed of equal parts food, and sex, with a pinch of movie mania. As two Japanese milk-truck drivers, the Clint Eastwood-like Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his budding sidekick, Gun (Ken Watanabe) help a restaurant owner widow, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), learn how to cook great noodles and save her fledgling roadside ramen house.

What ensues is a deliriously madcap, occasionally slapstick, surprisingly sensual, and always inspired surrealist send-up with a nod to Luis Buñuel and a frisky tongue firmly planted in cheek. Vivid, seductive, and more than a little silly, this quest for the perfect bowl of Japanese noodles is an entertaining and enticing banquet for the senses. Dan Kois, writing for Slate, describes Tampopo as “a weird, mouth-watering masterpiece… It’s delicious and you’ll slurp up every bite.”

 

22. 48 Hrs. (1982)

Primarily known for fist-pumpin’ and highly stylized action fare like The Driver (1978), and The Warriors (1979), Walter Hill hit a box-office bonanza with action comedy 48 Hrs. Certainly a huge part of the film’s success rests in Eddie Murphy’s quick-witted turn as Reggie Hammond, in his big screen debut, as well the film is often cited as the first in the “buddy cop” genre.

Jake Cates (Nick Nolte) is a rough-and-tumble cop who yanks Reggie, a bank robber, from the big house on a 48-hour leave in order to help bust his old partner, the notorious Albert Ganz (James Remar), a cop-killer with little to no scruples. The stakes escalate, of course, and the chemistry between Murphy and Nolte is a side-splitting delight to behold. Rarely have elements of screwball comedy, and superb action been so well married. And Murphy’s declaration of: “I’m your worst fucking nightmare, man! A nigger with a badge!” was a memorable line that’s as subversive and stinging as the sly social commentary laced throughout this first-rate film.

 

21. Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters-1984

If you were a kid in the mid-1980s you probably had a t-shirt that said either “He slimed me” or asked “Who you gonna call?”, and I don’t mean to brag but I had both, and like so many others, it’s hard not to consider Ivan Reitman’s supernatural comic adventure Ghostbusters something of a classic.

Written by co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbuster ingeniously blends fantasy, adventure, special effects, and steady snickers as parapsychologist and paranormal “experts” Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stanz (Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis) go into business as the titular “Ghostbusters,” doing just that, busting ghosts, and cracking wise, of course.

There’s also some sterling, rib-tickling support from a great cast, including Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

A huge hit at the box-office that audiences and critics seemed to near universally agree upon––particularly Murray’s inspired droll comic deadpan––Ghostbusters would morph into a decent franchise including a sequel in 1989, a reboot in 2016, a successful Saturday morning cartoon, toys, t-shirts, and a hit song from Ray Parker, Jr.

 

 

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  • D Train

    Great list and glad to see WITHNAIL AND I and SPINAL TAP in the top 5!!!!

  • Caddyshack NEEDS to be way higher…wow

    • D Train

      No, no it doesn’t.
      Considering there were 1000s of comedies that came out from 1980 to 1989, I don’t think it needs to be any higher (a film like Strange Brew or Spaceballs could easily have taken it’s place imo). 🙂

      • You’re a humorless person – your opinion on comedy is trash. Caddyshack is Rodney, Murray, and Chevy all operating at their comedic peaks. While other movies on the list certainly have stronger structure, this movie is an assault of constant, hilarious jokes.

  • What about Heathers? It’s way better than Say Anything and Princess Bride

  • Lars Franssen

    Interesting how all the rest of the world was (almost) totally sucked dry of all humor for a whole decade …

  • frank mango

    I’m happy you put the burbs for honorable mention. I absolutely love that movie.

  • SupernaturalCat

    Easy Money (1983) …Dangerfield & Pesci are hysterical!!!

    Repo Man (1984) “You eat a lot of acid, Miller, back in the hippie days?”

    Heathers (1988) …how was this one left off the list?! “I love my dead, gay son!”

    Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) …did the over-the-top horror/comedy blend far more effectively than those lousy “Freddy Krueger” movies ever did.

    The Ninth Configuration (1980) …while certainly not strictly a comedy, per se (it deals with very heavy/heady/spiritual subject matter) the film is a source of infinitely quotable comical dialogue and memorable gags.

    • D Train

      Heathers got an honorable mention.
      Evil Dead 2 is horror first, comedy second. Horror-comedies thrived in the 80s. That would be a great list!!

  • Lugh

    Attention Americans: The term is “based on”, not “based off”.