The 30 Best Comedy Movies of the 1980s

20. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)


Writer/director John Hughes, who wrote the script in a scant six days, realizes every male teen’s dream and similarly every parent’s nightmare, in his teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

A clever combination of teen coming-of-age comedy with social commentary, slapstick, and smart satire, Matthew Broderick is lively and fun in the eponymous role. Deciding to call in sick to school in order to undertake a daylong adventure throughout Chicago with his BFF Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck)––whom Ferris describes as “so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond!”––his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), and oh yes, Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari. What could go wrong?

As with Hughes’ best work from the Me Decade, films like Sixteen Candles (1984), and Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off exists in a world where parents and other adults just don’t understand, and if you can tap into that angst-y vibe, you’re in for a good, good time. Extra kudos go out to other astutely comical cast members Jennifer Grey as Ferris’ older sister Jeannie, and Jeffrey Jones as Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students.

The film also earns extra awesome points for containing a montage set to the cheesy 80s hit “Oh Yeah!” by Yello, which for a time was largely referred to as “the Ferris Bueller song.” Good time.


19. The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride

Based off the 1973 fantasy romance novel from William Goldman, Rob Reiner’s adaptation The Princess Bride is a funny fairytale that only the most jaded amongst us could not enjoy. An enchanting family classic, this fairytale adventure concerns a beautiful princess named Buttercup (Robin Wright), and the dashing hero, Westley (Cary Elwes) who must rescue her from the villainous Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).

Framed by the narrative of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading a favorite make-believe yarn to his sick, somewhat bratty, and more than a little skeptical grandchild (Fred Savage)––who asks his grandpa point blank, “Is this a kissing book?”––The Princess Bride has a wealth of colorful characters, narrow escapes, and gut-bustings zingers in aplomb.

Set in the magical fantasy kingdom of Florin, the likes of the noble Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), the giant Fezzik (André the Giant), and the sinister six-fingered man Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest), are amongst the amusing rable who populate this precious tale. A modest success in ‘87, the years have been kind to The Princess Bride as it’s become an enduring and beloved cult classic. To miss this film would be inconceivable!


18. Beetlejuice (1988)


Following the success of 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, director Tim Burton was sent several scripts, but none that had the spark of imagination and originality he was after until Michael McDowell’s original screenplay for Beetlejuice came a-callin’, and the results are certainly one of Burton’s best loved comic fantasies.

After Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) perish off a bridge in their automobile, they find themselves haunting their country home, unable to abandon their earthly abode. To add to their misfortune, a family of seemingly soulless metropolitan types, Charles (Jeffrey Jones) and Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara) and their gloomy teenage daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) are the new residents of their home and the Maitlands want them out. Before long Adam and Barbara reluctantly contract a “bio-exorcist” to rid their home of the Deetzes, in the form of a raucous and rude entity named Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton, excellent).

Pauline Kael called Beetlejuice “a comedy classic”, and while the film’s strange blending of horror, high spirits, and strangeness may not appeal to all, those that lean towards Burton’s brand of bizarreness have a lot to laugh at and be awed by with this spirited tour de force of oddness and anecdotes of the “ghost with the most!”


17. Big (1988)


“Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop,” is part of the mantra of 13-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow), a New Jerseyite whose one wish it to be big. With the help of an eerie fortune-telling machine, “Zoltar Speaks”, at an amusement park pier Josh will wake up overnight into an adult (Tom Hanks) in Penny Marshall’s fantasy comedy Big.

Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award in the heartwarming role of Josh, who remains both emotionally and mentally a young boy. Josh luckily lands a gig with the prestigious MacMillan Toy Company, after impressing and winning over it’s owner (Robert Loggia), and he even falls in love with an executive at the company, Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins).

Adorable and even a little bit of a weepie, Big thankfully transcends the silliness of the whole “age-changing” comedy subgenre (other 80’s fare like 18 Again! [1988], and Vice Versa [1988] did not) and results in a surprisingly poignant charmer.

Big launched Hanks into A-list orbit, where he’s been pretty much ever since, and he and Marshall would work together again on another emotionally gratifying comedy in 1992, A League of Their Own, but if they only ever did Big together it’d be enough. “Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock.”


16. Stripes (1981)


While en route to the premiere of his film Meatballs (1979), which, like Stripes, also starred Bill Murray, director Ivan Reitman came up with idea for this picture as “Cheech and Chong join the army.” And thus Stripes, the buddy comedy with a military backdrop, was born.

“An anarchic slob movie,” wrote Roger Ebert, “a celebration of all that is irreverent, reckless, foolhardy, undisciplined, and occasionally scatological. It’s a lot of fun.”

Private John Winger (Murray) is the crass and charming self-appointed leader who hilariously ends up commanding an outfit of oddballs including John Larroquette, John Candy, Judge Reinhold, and Sean Young.

What makes Stripes work so well and why it manages to generate so many great laughs most likely stems from Murray and Ramis recurrently relying on some element of improvisation, a technique that Candy also exhibits successfully in many scenes (Ramis and Candy were both members of Second City and Murray of SNL so spontaneous goofing off was encouraged with great results). In the words of Winger: “Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it’s usually something unusual.”


15. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)


Street-smart Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy), transplanted to uptight Beverly Hills, was first introduced in director Martin Brest’s big box-office action comedy––and would return for two more sequels and rumor has it a fourth film may well be in the works, too. Written by Daniel Petrie, Jr. (The Big Easy), Beverly Hills Cop follows Foley who, after the murder of his long-time friend, Mikey (James Russo), hot foots it to California to track down the killers, whom he believes may operate an arts dealership front in Beverly Hills.

In the Hills Foley pairs up with two reluctant detectives, John Taggart (John Ashton), and Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), whom he eventually wins over in a cheeky, occasionally cocky, but never less than entertaining fashion. The blend of fast action, faster quips courtesy of Murphy, occasional eruptions of violence, make for a playful prescription that’s pretty hard to resist. Even astute man of letters and renowned comic novelist Sir Kingsley Amis referred to Beverly Hills Cop as “a flawless masterpiece”, and who are we to argue that prestigious acclaim?


14. Zelig (1983)


This slender and spry film from Woody Allen is a largely anecdotal and episodic mockumentary that crested the wave of analogous comedic misadventures in a genre that has now become a cinematic staple, and predates Rob Reiner’s side-splitting This is Spinal Tap by a solid year.

Linking authentic and spoof newsreel footage, poker-faced modern-day talking-head interviews (including Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, and Susan Sontag) and shockingly convincing special effects, all to service the story of one Leonard Zelig (Allen).

Leonard, when we first meet him, is a 1920s Jewish gentleman with a perplexing “chameleon disorder” which permits him to parallel, often strongly resembling, anyone whose company he shares. Dr. Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow) is the sympathetic psychiatrist who not only aids him, but the pair fall in love, too. As Leonard becomes a sought-after celebrity-phenomenon he parties with F. Scott Fitzgerald, hobnobs with Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Carole Lombard, Josephine Baker, and more, before inspiring a hilarious flapper-approved dance craze.

One of Allen’s brightest comedies from the 1980s, a very strong decade for him, Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote: “Zelig is both a writer’s and a director’s film, a movie that could not have been made if Mr. Allen hadn’t served time as a stand-up comedian and as a ferocious student of films.”


13. The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers

Setting out on “a mission from God” to raise $5,000 to save their childhood parrish, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues strive to put their old band back together and launch a successful tour while they’re at it. Director John Landis joyfully transitions the Blues Brothers––a blues soul revivalist band born in 1978 as a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live from Aykroyd and Belushi––to the big screen, allowing them to rack and ruin across the midwest with all the charm and silliness fans had come to expect from the duo.

While essentially a one-joke gimmick flick, it works in large part due to the charisma of the leads, the conquering combo of slapstick destruction they manufacture (the numerous car chases in the film are hysterically astounding), and the music they deliver––buttressed greatly by an amazing string of cameo musical legends, including James Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. Other unanticipated, and perhaps unnecessary cameos also add a lot of color and distraction from the likes of John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Paul Reubens, Steven Spielberg, and Twiggy, too.

In the years since its release The Blues Brothers has acquired considerable cult status––late night screenings across the globe have turned into an engaging audience-participation show––and not to mention that the trademark black suits, hats, and Ray-Bans have made for easy to assemble last-minute Halloween costumes for a few decades now.


12. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Planes Trains and Automobiles

John Hughes’ heartwarming comic road movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles may contain an abundance of clichés and platitudes, but the comic pairing and heartfelt performances of John Candy and Steve Martin elevate this buddy movie into the stratosphere as well as making it something of a holiday perennial for North American viewers every Thanksgiving.

Obnoxious shower ring salesman Del Griffith (Candy) and dour businessman Neal Page (Martin) find themselves in cahoots after a snowstorm, trying to get home to Chicago from New York City by any means necessary.

A bittersweet broad comedy, much of the funny comes from Neal and Del getting on one another’s nerves and eventually coming around to really liking one another. And while this scenario is easy to see coming, the journey to that destination is as ticklish and laugh-out-loud as Neal scandalously shouting: “Those aren’t pillows!”


11. Trading Places (1983)

Eddie Murphy, Trading Places

Eddie Murphy was on fire in the 80s and director John Landis’ off-kilter comedy Trading Places, is another fine example of the comic’s strengths as a leading man as well as a major box-office draw.

Dan Aykroyd is not so likeable upper-class commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III and Murphy is an obnoxious street hustling hobo named Billy Ray Valentine. These two very different men’s lives will intersect when they are unwittingly made part of an elaborate and mean-spirited bet.

A modern variation on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel “The Prince and the Pauper”, Trading Places is a crass comedy that uses social satire, gross out gags, and some hard-edged humour. The plucky supporting cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis as a hooker with a heart of gold, Denholm Elliott’s amiable butler and the merrily nasty Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy as Mortimer and Randolph Duke––the instigators of this cruel bet.

Take note that Landis and Murphy would work together again in another high-spirited comedy collaboration, Coming to America (1988), and in that film both Ameche and Bellamy would reprise their roles for a schadenfreude-steeped cameo.