Good Comedy Movies

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm
By Shane Rivers

Good comedy movies can brighten your mood and wipe away the memories of a difficult day. Just insert a DVD or Blu-ray disc, and you’ll be instantly transported to a world filled with irony, sarcasm and sight gags.

People love good comedy movies, and that’s why they flock to films such as Tropic Thunder, Ace Ventura and American Pie. Even when the silent film was king, comedies were very much in demand.

As early as 1895, audiences were laughing at the unique combination of burlesque and slapstick captured on moving pictures. During this era, men such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Max Linder were drawing up the blueprints for future generations to follow.

In modern times, comedies continue to be a reliable draw at the box office. With actors such as Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller turning out multiple films per year, there’s always plenty to choose from.

But which comedies are the all-time best? That’s the question we’ll be exploring in this article, and we’ll do so by consulting box office revenue and “best of” lists from a number of organizations and media groups.

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Types of Comedy Movies

Good Comedy MoviesBefore we look at some of the best comedy movies available, let’s pause to examine the different styles of the genre. While all comedies are designed to make you laugh, there are numerous sub-genres which can alter a film’s tone in fundamental ways. These include:

Fish Out of Water – In this style of comedy, the protagonist often finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Watching him or her deal with their new environment usually serves as the focal point for the jokes of this sub-genre. Examples of the “Fish Out of Water” comedy include: Tootsie, Big, Crocodile Dundee and Cabin Boy.

Parody or Spoof – Many of the best comedy movies fall into this category. Basically, the majority of the film is spent making fun of other movies. This is usually achieved through elements such as mockery, stereotyping and sarcasm. Examples of the parody or spoof subgenre include: Airplane!, Scary Movie, Blazing Saddles and Not Another Teen Movie.

Black Comedy – Any list of good comedy movies usually includes a few from this sub-genre. Issues such as death are dealt with in a humorous manner, as well as murder, war and suicide. Films in this category include: Heathers, Dr. Strangelove, MASH, and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Gross-Out Comedy – In this type of top comedy film, elements such as toilet humor are routinely used. In many cases, gross-out comedies achieve great success at the box office. Notable success stories include: There’s Something About Mary, American Pie, and Dumb and Dumber.

Comedy of Manners – This type of comedy film pokes fun at a particular type of social class (usually the upper class). Strong and snappy dialogue is often emphasized over the actual details of the plot. Examples include: Much Ado About Nothing, Emma and Mean Girls.

Military Comedy – This hybrid mixture of military and comedy genres takes place in a military setting. Examples of military comedies include: Stripes, In the Army Now, MASH and Private Benjamin.

Science Fiction Comedy – This type of comedy film blends elements of the comedy with science-fiction or fantasy. Examples include: Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, Mars Attacks! and Evolution.

Romantic Comedy Movies – This sub-genre is one of the most popular types at the box office. Romantic comedy movies almost always concern a relationship between a man and a woman, and the man usually gets the woman, loses her, and then regains her again at the conclusion of the film. Screwball comedies were popular in the 30s and 40s, and they are the same thing as the romantic comedy. Examples of these films include: Pretty Woman, Four Weddings and a Funeral, When Harry Met Sally and It Happened One Night.

Anarchic Comedy – No list of comedy movies would be complete without the anarchic comedy. In this sub-genre, nonsensical humor is often used to make fun of authority figures and the establishment. Examples of the anarchic comedy include: Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Duck Soup and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Action Comedy – When it comes to good comedy movies, action comedies are often near the top of the list. These movies often combine thrilling stunts and shootouts with lots of clever one-liners. Examples include: 48 Hours, Hancock, Beverly Hills Cop and The Incredibles.

Horror Comedy – An unusual blend of genres which has become increasingly popular over the last few years. These movies either parody existing horror films or take the standard conventions of horror films and play them for laughs. Some examples of horror comedy include: Evil Dead 2, Shaun of the Dead, Little Shop of Horrors and Young Frankenstein.

Box Office Comedy Movies

So how do top comedy movies fare at the box office? Let’s start by seeing how many comedies made the list of the top 50 highest-grossing films on the planet (before inflation).

31. Forrest Gump (1994)

49. Night at the Museum (2006)

As you can see, only two films made the list before adjusting for inflation. This indicates that good comedy movies are popular with audiences, but they just don’t make the massive amounts reserved for the summer blockbusters. Now let’s see what the list of highest-grossing films in the U.S. and Canada looks like when we adjust for increased ticket prices.

18. The Graduate (1967)

22. Forrest Gump (1994)

31. Ghostbusters (1984)

36. Home Alone (1990)

39. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

47. Blazing Saddles (1974)

55. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

62. Tootsie (1982)

63. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

78. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

81. MASH (1970)

84. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Twelve top comedy movies made this list, and almost everyone has seen at least a few of these classics. While I enjoyed The Graduate, I had no idea that it would be the top comedy in the United States if ticket prices in 1967 were the same as today.

AFI 100 Years List

The AFI, also known as the American Film Institute, periodically releases “best of” lists for movies. The following list, entitled “100 Years…100 Laughs,” was released in 2000 and detailed the 100 best comedy films at the time.

  1. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  2. Tootsie (1982)
  3. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  4. Annie Hall (1977
  5. Duck Soup (1933)
  6. Blazing Saddles (1974)
  7. MASH (1970)
  8. It Happened One Night (1934)
  9. The Graduate (1967)
  10. Airplane! (1980)
  11. The Producers (1968)
  12. A Night at the Opera (1935)
  13. Young Frankenstein (1974)
  14. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  15. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  16. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  17. The Odd Couple (1968)
  18. The General (1927)
  19. His Girl Friday (1940)
  20. The Apartment (1960)
  21. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
  22. Adam’s Rib (1949)
  23. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
  24. Born Yesterday (1950)
  25. The Gold Rush (1925
  26. Being There (1979)
  27. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
  28. Ghostbusters (1984)
  29. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  30. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  31. Raising Arizona (1987)
  32. The Thin Man (1934)
  33. Modern Times (1936
  34. Groundhog Day (1993)
  35. Harvey (1950)
  36. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
  37. The Great Dictator (1940)
  38. City Lights (1931)
  39. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
  40. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
  41. Moonstruck (1987)
  42. Big (1988)
  43. American Graffiti (1973)
  44. My Man Godfrey (1936)
  45. Harold and Maude (1971)
  46. Manhattan (1979)
  47. Shampoo (1975)
  48. A Shot in the Dark (1964)
  49. To Be or Not to Be (1942)
  50. Cat Ballou (1965)
  51. The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  52. Ninotchka (1939)
  53. Arthur (1981)
  54. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
  55. The Lady Eve (1941)
  56. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  57. Diner (1982)
  58. It’s a Gift (1934)
  59. A Day at the Races (1937)
  60. Topper (1937)
  61. What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
  62. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
  63. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
  64. Broadcast News (1987)
  65. Horse Feathers (1932)
  66. Take the Money and Run (1969)
  67. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
  68. The Awful Truth (1937)
  69. Bananas (1971)
  70. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
  71. Caddyshack (1980)
  72. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
  73. Monkey Business (1931)
  74. Nine to Five (1980)
  75. She Done Him Wrong (1933)
  76. Victor Victoria (1982)
  77. The Palm Beach Story (1942)
  78. Road to Morocco (1942)
  79. The Freshman (1925)
  80. Sleeper (1973)
  81. The Navigator (1924)
  82. Private Benjamin (1980)
  83. Father of the Bride (1950)
  84. Lost in America (1985)
  85. Dinner at Eight (1933)
  86. City Slickers (1991)
  87. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
  88. Beetlejuice (1988)
  89. The Jerk (1979)
  90. Woman of the Year (1942)
  91. The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
  92. Ball of Fire (1941)
  93. Fargo (1996)
  94. Auntie Mame (1958)
  95. Silver Streak (1976)
  96. Sons of the Desert (1933)
  97. Bull Durham (1988)
  98. The Court Jester (1956)
  99. The Nutty Professor (1963)
  100. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

A number of stars appear multiple times on this list of comedy movies. Cary Grant is tops with seven leading roles, while Gene Wilder appears in three of the top 15 films. Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers each have five, while Katharine Hepburn is the leading woman with four appearances in the top 100.

There are some great comedy movies on this list, but I often feel as though they give too much weight to older films. For example, take a look at It Happened One Night sitting at number eight. Am I really supposed to believe that a movie made in 1934 is going to be more amusing to a modern audience than something made in the last decade? Sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

AFI Top 10 Romantic Comedies

In 2008, the American Film Institute unveiled a number of Top 10 lists for various film genres. One of these was the romantic comedy. Here are the best romantic comedy movies according to the members of the AFI:

  1. City Lights (1931)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. It Happened One Night (1934)
  4. Roman Holiday (1953)
  5. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  6. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
  7. Adam’s Rib (1949)
  8. Moonstruck (1987)
  9. Harold and Maude (1971)
  10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Again, half of the list is comprised of movies prior to 1960. While I have nothing against older films, I can’t help but wonder as to their criteria for selection (especially considering that Sleepless in Seattle, the most recent film on the list, was made well over 15 years ago). There are plenty of good comedy movies from the early days of Hollywood, but how about a list which reflects the tastes of people under retirement age?

Top Comedy Movies from Netflix

Netflix, the leading online movie rental service, keeps an up-to-date list of their 100 most requested titles. A quick glance will reveal a whole different set of films from those listed by the AFI.

4. The Bucket List

5. Little Miss Sunshine

10. The Devil Wears Prada

15. The Holiday

21. Knocked Up

24. Failure to Launch

25. Click

32. Stranger than Fiction

33. Wedding Crashers

42. Night at the Museum

52. Rumor Has It

53. The Break-Up

61. Sideways

65. Talladega Nights

67. Get Smart

69. Borat

73. Fool’s Gold

76. Dan in Real Life

77. Wild Hogs

81. Must Love Dogs

83. Music and Lyrics

84. In Her Shoes

87. The Family Stone

91. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

93. Thank You for Smoking

94. Because I Said So

96. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

97. 27 Dresses

100. The Terminal

Not all of these are what I would consider “good comedy movies,” but it certainly gives you a better idea of modern tastes. Granted, people are also going to be drawn to newer releases from an online video service. I guess it just goes to show that the best comedy movies aren’t always the top comedy movies.

Top 100 Comedies from Bravo

Bravo, one of the million cable channels currently available, recently presented a special where they counted down their list of the 100 best comedy movies. Here’s the list:

  1. Anchorman
  2. The Birdcage
  3. School of Rock
  4. Happy Gilmore
  5. Four Weddings and a Funeral
  6. Harold and Kumar go to White Castle
  7. Waiting for Guffman
  8. The Aristocrats
  9. Father of the Bride
  10. Revenge of the Nerds
  11. Clueless
  12. Slapshot
  13. Team America: World Police
  14. The Kentucky Fried Movie
  15. Zoolander
  16. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  17. Silver Streak
  18. Sister Act
  19. Tootsie
  20. Half Baked
  21. Lost in America
  22. Three Amigos
  23. Bananas
  24. Flirting With Disaster
  25. Ghostbusters
  26. Dumb and Dumber
  27. Trading Places
  28. City Slickers
  29. Moonstruck
  30. Roxanne
  31. Nutty Professor
  32. The Blues Brothers
  33. Broadcast News
  34. Kingpin
  35. Dazed and Confused
  36. Office Space
  37. This is Spinal Tap
  38. Manhattan
  39. The Pink Panther
  40. Election
  41. When Harry Met Sally…
  42. Police Academy Series
  43. Private Benjamin
  44. Swingers
  45. Young Frankenstein
  46. Bull Durham
  47. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  48. Dr. Strangelove
  49. Meet the Parents
  50. National Lampoon’s Vacation
  51. The Princess Bride
  52. American Pie
  53. American Graffiti
  54. 9 to 5
  55. The Incredibles
  56. Raising Arizona
  57. Sixteen Candles
  58. What About Bob?
  59. Harold and Maude
  60. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  61. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  62. Mrs. Doubtfire
  63. Best in Show
  64. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  65. Good Morning, Vietnam
  66. Beetlejuice
  67. Rushmore
  68. Clerks
  69. Groundhog Day
  70. The Big Lebowski
  71. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  72. Legally Blond
  73. Annie Hall
  74. A Fish Called Wanda
  75. Wayne’s World
  76. Meet the Fockers
  77. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  78. Big
  79. Beverly Hills Cop
  80. Shampoo
  81. The Jerk
  82. Wedding Crashers
  83. Stripes
  84. M*A*S*H
  85. Old School
  86. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  87. Napoleon Dynamite
  88. Naked Gun (series)
  89. The Producers
  90. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  91. Arthur
  92. Blazing Saddles
  93. The Wedding Singer
  94. Ace Ventura, Pet Detective
  95. Airplane
  96. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
  97. There’s Something About Mary
  98. Shrek
  99. Caddyshack
  100. Animal House

I came across this list on a message board, and it would be an understatement to say that it caused a stir. Since the list omitted such notables as Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers, a number of purists were more than a little steamed. Also keep in mind that Some Like It Hot was left off the list, and it topped the AFI’s list of the 100 greatest comedies.

While I’m always happy to see sacred cows marched off to the slaughterhouse, I do have to agree to some extent with the list’s detractors. Movies like Half Baked and the Police Academy series have no place on any serious list of good comedy movies. And while I enjoyed the big screen version of South Park, ranking it as the 5th greatest comedy ever seems a bit premature.

Comedies You Might Have Missed

I wanted to conclude this article by offering a few suggestions on good comedy movies you might have missed. Check them out, and then drop me an email to let me know how much you liked (or hated) them.

  1. Top Secret! – Val Kilmer made his feature film debut in this wacky comedy from the creators of Airplane!. Nick Rivers (Kilmer) is an American pop singer who travels to East Germany for a music festival. As soon as he arrives, he gets involved in a plot which allows the filmmakers to spoof war movies, spy movies and many, many more. Kilmer sings all of his own songs, a talent he would later use when portraying Jim Morrison in The Doors.
  2. Euro Trip – I’m normally not a fan of comedies where teens run around and act like fools, but I’ll make an exception for this one. When a group of American teens travel to Europe, all hell breaks loose. Vinnie Jones and Lucy Lawless have small-but-hilarious roles, and a slow-motion fight between mimes really steals the show.
  3. Tin Cup – This romantic comedy stars Kevin Costner as Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, a once-great golfer consigned to a driving range in West Texas. Also stars Rene Russo, Cheech Marin and Don Johnson. Great chemistry between Costner and Russo, and the whole film has a laid-back feel to it.
  4. Cabin Boy – This odd comedy features Chris Elliott as Nathanial Mayweather, the snobbish son of a wealthy hotel magnate. When he mistakes a fishing vessel named The Filthy Whore for a luxury cruise ship, Nathaniel embarks on a bizarre journey which will change his life forever. Great cast, featuring James Gammon, Andy Richter, Alfred Molina, Brian Doyle Murray, Brion James and even David Letterman.
  5. The Best of Times – Robin Williams plays Jack Dundee, a guy who dropped the game-winning pass during a crucial high school football game. He’s never lived down that moment, and the memory of the game torments him. Thirteen years after graduation, he convinces former star quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) to help him re-stage the game. A sweet comedy about redemption, The Best of Times always leaves me a little misty-eyed.