Comedy is often the most subjective genre, and comedies that don’t appeal to the broadest possible audience are often ignored on their initial release. While the path to becoming a cult classic can give some films a second chance, there are often some that don’t fit the mold of a “cult film” and just become forgotten. Only with time, and with critical rediscovery, are they able to find the audience they deserve.
The goal of a comedy is to get the viewer to laugh, but these films do more than that; they examine their world perspective through a comedic framework, and they use humor to communicate powerful themes. Some of these filmmakers went on to have great success later in their careers, while some were never given their just recognition. Here are ten great comedy films you may have missed.
10. A Walk in the Woods
There are many films about aging and rediscovering oneself at the latter stages of life, and while there are predictable elements to A Walk in the Woods, its soft and broad approach helps speak to these universal themes. Robert Redford stars as Bill Bryson, a novelist who embarks on the Appalachian Trail alongside his old colleague Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who he hasn’t seen in years. By the moment their journey begins, it’s clear that Bryson’s by the book attitude and Katz’s wackiness will set them on a collision course.
While the situations that Bryson and Katz get into are often silly, the bulk of the humor comes from these two recollecting and reflecting. They’ve both lived wildly different lives, and neither is exactly where they’d expect they’d be, and the film toys with the idea of what satisfaction really is. Redford and Nolte slip easily into these roles and are able to imagine an entire history of friendship on screen, and fans of these two legends will surely want to check out what is some of their best recent work.
9. This Is Where I Leave You
The premise and creative team behind This Is Where I Leave You may suggest that it’s nothing more than a by the numbers family dramedy, but the actual film is surprisingly rewarding, heartfelt, and creative. Four adult children are called back to their hometown after their father dies unexpectedly; Judd (Jason Bateman) has recently left his marriage, Wendy (Tina Fey) is the responsible mother of the siblings, Paul (Corey Stoll) remains tied to the family business, and eccentric brother Phillip (Adam Driver) does his best to avoid responsibility. Over the course of their father’s funeral, the four siblings reconnect and learn secrets about their mother (Jane Fonda).
The entire ensemble has fantastic chemistry, and the film doesn’t feel the need to orchestrate over-the-top jokes, as most of the humor comes from the characters’ interactions. Bateman is often not given enough credit for his talent as a dramatic actor, and while he’s been praised for his television roles on Ozark and The Outsider, this is a great example of how he can infuse his inherent likeability with a more serious film character. Driver is uproarious in what proves to be the film’s standout performance, and he nails the physical comedy needed for the character. While it was easily dismissed upon its first release, This Is Where I Leave You is more sincere than most of its studio comedy counterparts.
8. Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon is certainly one of the most signature television writers of his generation, and has attracted a devoted fan base through his excellent shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Angel. Whedon successfully made the transition to films with the record breaking comic book film The Avengers and its follow up Avengers: Age of Ultron, but he still left time for personal projects, including his 2012 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in black and white at Whedon’s own home, the film adds a noir perspective to the classic comedy.
While the prose is the same, the story is seamlessly lifted to modern times, and features a brilliant ensemble of Whedon’s frequent collaborators. In particular, Angel co-stars Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker bring a spirited energy to the roles of Benedict and Beatrice, and are able to deliver powerful renditions of the iconic dialogue. There’s also a scene stealing supporting role from Nathan Fillion as the incompetent cop Dogberry, a role made funnier due to Fillion’s interpretation as a steely, yet inept lawman. Hopefully the film’s success will inspire Whedon to try other Shakespeare adaptations in the future.
7. Funny Farm
Chevy Chase owned the ‘80s, and rose from Saturday Night Live fame to star in classic comedies such as Fletch, Vacation, Caddyshack, and Three Amigos among others. However, Chase’s 1988 star vehicle Funny Farm didn’t hit the same way, earning only mixed reviews at the time and providing disappointing box office results. It’s a shame, because Funny Farm is one of Chase’s best films, a pointed satire of the differences between urban and rural America that leans into stereotypes and assumptions while also subverting them.
Chase stars as Andy Farmer, a sports columnist from New York City who moves to the small town of Redbud, Vermont with the dreams of writing a Great American Novel. He immediately clashes with the local residents, as his idealistic view of the rural lifestyle is completely different from the odd, secluded community. The gradual ways in which Farmer becomes adjusted and even accepted within Redbud is hilarious, particularly towards the end as he must deceive future residents by working alongside the townspeople.
6. The Brothers Bloom
Rian Johnson has emerged as one of the best directors of his generation with his self-aware, clever storytelling used to upend traditional genre pieces, including noirs with Brick, time travel stories with Looper, the Star Wars franchise with The Last Jedi, and ensemble murder mysteries with Knives Out. Johnson set his sights on the conman story with The Brothers Bloom, an entertaining caper that follows two brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) as they attempt to con a wealthy woman (Rachel Weisz). The three team up to pull off an even greater con, but it’s never exactly clear who has the upper hand and who will come out on top.
There’s a strong element of comedy in all of Johnson’s writing, but The Brothers Bloom is perhaps his most straightforwardly comedic tale, as the brotherly rivalry between Brody and Ruffalo leads to an epic battle of showmanship and performance art. Brody is the type of actor who can bring pathos to morally gray characters, and Ruffalo shows his comedic chops with one of the wackiest performances of his career. It’s easy to get lost in the minutia of the plot, but the memorable characters are able to leap off the screen.