Ranking the 50 best comedy films of all time is tough. Not 60-hours-a-week-in-a-coal mine-tough, but surely tougher than say, finishing off a lukewarm bowl of butterscotch pudding. It’s tough because, well, let’s look at horror movies: Everyone is scared of a butcher knife-wielding weirdo, but not everyone finds the guys of Jackass funny. (We do, but they didn’t make the cut.)
Creating this list, as with our others, we felt respect must be paid to some of the pioneers of funny films, while still including the more recent ones that seem to be standing the test of time. We also realized that categorizing the best comedy films doesn’t always mean finding the 50 funniest; it means the 50 best films in the genre of comedy. If you’re ready to hop on your chuckle rocket and head to planet Bust-a-Gut, we’re ready when you are. Here is our list of the 50 best comedy movies of all time, in no particular order.
Surely in our book – and yes, we apologize for calling you Shirley – Airplane! deserves not only one but two exclamation points in its title. The terrific trio of Abrahams, Zucker & Zucker deliver a hysterical script that the all-star cast delivers with deadpan perfection. With so many rapid-fire jokes, Airplane! is one of those movies that really demands multiple viewings. And why the hell didn’t Leslie Nielsen win Best Actor that year!? (OK, we just checked. DeNiro won for Raging Bull that year.)
Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby
There are some people who just don’t like Will Ferrell. To those people we kindly say, “Would you like some help removing that 2×4 from your ass?” Talladega Nights sees Ferrell as the absurdly asinine Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR driver who has the skills to go fast, but not much else. The jokes are ludicrous and laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s also perhaps the fastest we’ve ever laughed in a movie theater, thanks to its opening text: “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936.
The way we see it, the words “comedic genius” should always precede the words Steve Martin. In a long line of funny films, The Jerk stands as his finest. Starring as Navin Johnson, a white man who was somehow “born a poor black child,” Martin’s dry delivery works well, and the rags-to-riches-to-rags love story even tugs a bit at the ol’ heartstrings.
Some Like It Hot
Witnessing a mob hit and going into hiding to avoid getting killed doesn’t sound like a comedy on paper, but in the skilled hands of famed director Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot shines as one of the most beloved comedies of all time. With Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag, a superb script, and a delicious Marilyn Monroe in her prime, there’s nothing not to love.
Dumb and Dumber
If you like your comedies simple, silly, and more than willing to be stupid, you have to have Dumb and Dumber near the top of your list. Perhaps the funniest human being alive during the 1990s, Jim Carrey is the amazingly unintelligent Lloyd Christmas, who along with his equally dimwitted buddy Harry Dunne (Lloyd Daniels), go cross-country to return a briefcase to the very aesthetically pleasing Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly). This was also the debut of the Farrelly brothers behind the lens.
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Nearly 40 years after its release (and dozens of frat-themed movies), National Lampoon’s Animal House is still what we think of when we hear the words ‘fraternity house.’ The mashed potatoes-spewing John Belushi leads the way, but really the whole cast stands out in this brash, rowdy ode to college anarchy. It’s still the standard to which all frat parties are measured, and that’s pretty damn high praise.
The late Harold Ramis directed this star-studded (Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ted Knight) comedy Hall-of-Famer about the wacky happenings at a local country club. While Murray’s antics with the gopher don’t really hold up well, Caddyshack wins you over in so many other ways that you can live with those interludes. Plus come on, a fully-bearded Kenny Loggins on the soundtrack and the most strategic use of a Baby Ruth candy bar ever recorded on film.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
During his days at SNL (1989-1995), Mike Myers created and portrayed a ton of funny characters, but it was one that never appeared on the show that would lead to his biggest (non-animated) box office success. Spoofing James Bond films and the 1960s in general, Austin Powers offers lots of memorable moments, a dump truck’s worth of pop culture catchphrases, and a winner of a last scene involving the gorgeous Liz Hurley and some strategically placed melons, spice racks, and balloons.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The legendary comedy group Monty Python perhaps reached its zenith with this mid-70s cult hit. Spoofing King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail, the one-liners and silly sight gags come at you fast and furious. Leaving much more than just a flesh wound, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has carved a firm standing for itself among the comedy classics.
Even if Woody Allen doesn’t do it for you, the whip-smart snappy dialogue of Annie Hall is tough to dislike. Allen pretty much plays his typical role, a nebbish neurotic New Yorker, who’s struggling to find out why exactly his ex (Diane Keaton) is his ex. It’s quirky, offbeat, and original, and 500 times more intelligent than most of what passes for a romantic comedy today.
Let’s say – hypothetically – that there was something odd, or peculiar, in the vicinity of your home area. Exactly who, may we ask, would you dial up to help you with such a problem? Ghostbusters was the perfect summer blockbuster for those that wanted a little bit of everything – comedy, action, sci-fi, and even an inkling of romance – and it remains a cherished favorite for its fun performances and amusing special effects.
This is Spinal Tap
The quintessential mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap turns the absurdity up to 11 as Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest make you believe they are the worst heavy metal band to ever inexplicably grace a stage. With both tons of funny ad libs and great scripted moments, director Rob Reiner crafts a sensational spoof of the saddest singers we’ve ever wished were real.
Director: Mel Brooks
Purchase: Amazon DVD
Take Mel Brooks in his prime, the kick-ass comedic stylings of one Gene Wilder, and a perfect piece of material for parody, and you the get the legendary Young Frankenstein. There’s tons of typical Brooks zaniness, and a typically great performances from Madeline Kahn. Fun fact: Aerosmith reportedly wrote “Walk This Way” after seeing the bug-eyed Marty Feldman’s famous “walk this way…” bit in the film.
One of the absolute legends of the film industry, Charlie Chaplin had a gift for physical comedy, but City Lights, a silent movie, is much more than the Little Tramp bumbling around for 87 minutes, it’s Chaplin at his best. He co-wrote, produced, scored, edited, and directed the film, and infused it with a huge amount of heart. Worth watching for the last scene alone.
There’s Something About Mary
There are a handful of gags in There’s Something About Mary that just refuse to fade from our memories, probably due to their unabashed raunchiness. Seeing the gorgeous Cameron Diaz use that impromptu ‘hair gel,’ Ben Stiller getting his junk caught in his zipper, and well, that cameo by Brett Favre… OK, that one wasn’t really raunchy so much as it was just weird. Either way, this Farrelly brothers romp was one of the best of the 90s.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Writer-director John Hughes’ legacy may be largely known for his teen comedies, but he also struck gold in 1987 with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Of course, when you have Steve Martin and John Candy in your movie, it’s tough to go wrong. This is like the anti-buddy flick, with two guys who don’t get along, trying to make it home for Thanksgiving, and making you crack up along the way.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Most of us have experienced, at least once, the mind-and-ass-numbing torture of a long family road trip. Vacation captures that misery perfectly and makes us laugh along the way, with Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, the mostly well-meaning dad who can’t catch a break. And dang, we just realized Harold Ramis directed this too. Impressive.
The highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time, The Hangover makes no attempts at being anything other than stupid and funny—check and check. The bachelor-party-gone-awry theme is the low-hanging fruit here, and director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) snags each and every piece, whether it’s Mike Tyson’s crazy cameo or that poor baby (played by three sets of twins and a dummy) suspended draped around the always appealing Zach Galifianakis’ neck.
The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers have a knack for creating compellingly quirky characters, and in The Big Lewbowski, you can argue that they created at least three of them. But perhaps the ultimate Coen Bros. character is “The Dude,” the slovenly slacker played by Jeff Bridges to rug-pissing perfection. Bizarre, absurd, foul-mouthed, and entirely original, The Big Lebowski is admittedly an acquired taste, but one with an unforgettable bite to it.
The Wedding Singer
While some of Adam Sandler’s funniest moments can be found in Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy, we think The Wedding Singer might be his most complete film. You’ve got gobs of tasty 80s goodness, some nice chemistry between Sandler and Drew Barrymore, and a final product that appeals to both genders and a wider span of ages. And come on, that grandma doing “Rapper’s Delight”? Just try to turn away.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Every kid has played hooky – or wanted to – at some point. But seeing Matthew Broderick play it to such epic smartass proportions was more inspiring to 80s teens than a week’s worth of ABC Afterschool Specials and with The More You Know commercial breaks. Director John Hughes creates an ode to the creative slacker with a film that’s funny, feisty, and a great ad for Chicago.
The Blues Brothers
Born out of a popular SNL sketch that somehow made the out-of-control John Belushi and stiffish Dan Akroyd work as a pair of soul singing white dudes in suits and shades, The Blue Brothers is a truly oddball mix of comedy and car chases, and appearances by R&B legends like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Ray Charles. The production was a disaster, and Belushi would die just a couple of years later, but rare is the guy who has seen this movie and doesn’t have a soft spot for it.
Best comedies of all time? There’s gotta be a Marx Brother film on that list. And of course, it’s gotta be Duck Soup. Legends of slapstick and zany wordplay, the Marx Brothers are practically pioneers of the comedy film itself, and that trailblazing talent is fully on display in this film about “Freedonia.” Go watch the mirror scene now and boost your film history I.Q. by 15 points.
Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worry and Love the Bomb
Considered by some to be Stanley Kubrick’s finest film, Dr. Strangelove is the defining black comedy, taking the white-hot (especially in 1964) topic of nuclear war and totally F-ing around with it. You wouldn’t think mutual assured destruction would be a fertile farm on which to cultivate laughs, but with exuberant performances by George C. Scott and Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove ranks among the very best satires ever put on film.
The commitment that Sacha Baron Cohen has to his characters – and to getting the laugh – is seriously on some other level. Borat delivers Richter scale-worthy laughs as the Cohen poses as journalist from Kazakhstan, all in an effort to bumble and fumble his way through as many awkward situations as possible. The hotel wrestling scene? One of the funniest ever. Ever! Just don’t watch it on a full stomach.
The critics hated Tommy Boy, and we don’t know a ton of women who liked it either, but we think the gone-too-soon Chris Farley was all kinds of funny, and this is his best film. With oodles of juvenile slapstick, dumb-but-funny jokes at the star’s expense, and wisecracks by Farley’s lil buddy David Spade, Tommy Boy wins a place in our hearts.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The very funny Steve Carrell became a true star with this 2005, Judd Apatow-directed hit. Carrell also co-wrote the film, which makes him and his empty sex resume the butt of most of the jokes. The always solid Paul Rudd adds to the fun, and there’s enough raunchy humor to build up a buffer of fun, so that we don’t totally mind the clichéd sentimental turn the film takes. We’re not sure how many chest-waxing scenes there have been in Hollywood history, but this one stands at the top.
The talented Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill) absolutely nailed the mind-numbing misery of cubicle culture with this ’99 cult favorite. Ron Livingston is great as Peter Gibbons, a computer programmer who just can’t take the memos, corporate speak, and office politics anymore, and finally lashes out. Office Space surely wasn’t a hit at the time it came out, but as more people get sick of their 9-5s, we’re not surprised to see the film gain more and more fans.
The Odd Couple
Director: Gene Saks
Purchase: Amazon DVD
Before there was the TV show, and after there was Neil Simon’s play, there was this big screen version of The Odd Couple. Jack Lemmon is Felix Ungar, the OCDish neat freak, while Walter Matthau is sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison. The chemistry between Lemmon and Matthau is undeniable (as further evidenced by their team-ups in the Grumpy Old Men movies and several others), and there’s a timeless quality to watching these Hollywood legends try to deal with each other’s issues.
Combining suspense, action, romance, and comedy, Silver Streak is the first time Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder teamed up, and while it might not have been their funniest film, we think it’s their best. With a very Agatha Christie-Alfred Hitchcock-style plot, the film doesn’t focus too much on the laughs until Pryor and Wilder meet up, fairly late in the film, but by then we’re all aboard.
Mel Brooks roasts the Old West and racism in this film that was fairly outrageous for its time. All of Brooks’ best players are there – Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman – and they contribute heavily, along with the charismatic Cleavon Little as the black sheriff in an all-white town. Hearing the N-bomb might make new viewers wince, but knowing Richard Pryor was a co-writer certainly explains that a bit.
This 1960 Best Picture winner is considered one of Billy Wilder’s best, and one of the standout comedies of the entire decade. Starring Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, a lonely New York City office worker who lets his bosses use his pad to have their extramarital affairs, The Apartment falls much more into the ‘dramedy’ category. Wilder’s sharp script and a fine performance by Shirley MacLaine help keep this one in the classic category.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The SNL-bred duo of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell made their first big splash with this modern day comedy classic. First of all, the premise – a dense, male chauvinist TV news anchor in the mid 1970s – is incredibly ripe for humor, because, let’s face it, the level of inherent cheese in that industry is already sky high. From “leather bound books” to “I’m Ron Burgundy?” to “I love lamp,” Anchorman is among the all-time league leaders in quotable lines from a comedy—and with good reason.
Coming to America
There may have been bigger laughs in some of Eddie Murphy’s other comedies, but Coming to America seems to be the one everyone still loves. As Prince Akeem, Murphy’s impeccable comedic skills aren’t fully tapped, but when he gets to dip into other characters, like Saul, the old Jewish guy with jokes in the black barber shop, his versatility shines.
The pairing of the scrawny and sensitive Michael Cera with the outgoing and chunky Jonah Hill resulted in superb chemistry and catapulted both of them to stardom in this raunchy romp about two teens looking to bust out of their geeky shells. Co-written by and featuring Seth Rogen, Superbad has justifiably taken hold as one of the new comedy classics for millennials.
With the ninja skills of a liger, Napoleon Dynamite wins you over with its quirky charm and boneheaded but believable characters. The deadpanning Jon Heder is a treat to watch as the uncannily awkward title character, and the film’s decidedly offbeat approach to high school angst makes this indie film (made for just $400, 000) a breath of fresh air.
The Princess Bride
An “inconceivable” (say it with a lisp for maximum effect) hybrid of a film that mixes comedy with adventure and romance, The Princess Bride is also one of those movies that people are still quoting lines from decades later. A fairy tale with a feisty sense of humor and smarts, it’s also full of famous faces like Peter Falk, Fred Savage, and Andre the Giant in relatively small roles.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Writer Cameron Crowe went undercover at a San Diego high school for Rolling Stone magazine, and those experiences turned into a book which turned into this famous Amy Heckerling (Clueless) film. With a tremendous soundtrack, Sean Penn’s star-making turn as stoner-surfer Jeff Spicoli, and what may be the greatest topless scene of all time courtesy Phoebe Cates, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the defining teen comedy for anyone who grew up in that era.
Crazy over-the-top performances by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder propel this (first) Mel Brooks film into classic comedy status. Of course the ludicrous plot – needing to put on a horrendous play to get out of a financial jam – lends itself to plenty of hijinks as well. And when it comes to musical, what does it say about us that we’d take Springtime for Hitler over Cats any day?
Even in the worst of SNL episodes, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were always worth watching as Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World. Bringing the sketch to the big screen worked quite well, as the film lands tons of laughs, catchphrases, and that “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-a-long scene that’s burned into all of our memories.
A Shot in the Dark
Duh dun, dun dun… duh dun… You know the Pink Panther theme, the iconic cartoon character, and perhaps the fact that there were a ton of sequels, but did you know the best of the series didn’t have the words “pink” or “panther” in its title? Peter Sellers gets to fully flex his slapstick muscles here as Inspector Clouseau, with plenty of sight gags and absurdity to go around.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
This was the first film that put the legendary comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in the midst of Universal’s classic monster roster, and it is – to invoke a corny phrase – comedy gold. That unmistakable Abbott & Costello chemistry is fully intact, only this time the silliness is amped up with appearances by Dracula, the Wolf Man, and more.
Thanks to the brilliantly bizarre imagination of Tim Burton, some creative special effects, and a leave-it-all-on-the-floor performance by Michael Keaton, Beetlejuice earns its spot on our list. If you like your comedy dark, twisted, and with “Banana Boat Song” dinner table dance numbers, this is your best only choice.
The Naked Gun
What happens when your hysterical TV show gets the axe after just six episodes? You wait six years then turn it into a hit movie. After ABC network numbskulls decided Police Squad! wasn’t good enough for their 1982 prime time lineup, the power trio of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker kept the sensational Leslie Nielsen at the ready for this 1988 sequel starter. With a rapid-fire barrage of jokes that almost always work, The Naked Gun is worthy of the same rarified comedy air that Airplane! is.
It’s really just a story about two guys hanging out on their porch in the hood, but the shenanigans they get into with their crazy family, friends, and neighbors make Friday an enduring piece of weed-loving West Coast comedy. Ice Cube may have co-wrote it and co-starred in it, but Chris Tucker steals the show as the hysterically hyper Smokey. With notable performances by John Witherspoon, Bernie Mac, Nia Long, and of course Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr. as Deebo, Friday is proven a fan favorite, even some 20 years later.
The always enjoyable Jimmy Stewart plays the town drunk who has a 6’ 3.5” tall rabbit for an imaginary friend. Despite the weighty subject matters of alcoholism and mental illness, Harvey still manages to deceptively breeze its way into your heart with its message about societal acceptance.
With Bill Murray fresh off of SNL and at his most wise-assiest, Stripes is a lot of fun. Watching Murray, Harold Ramis, and John Candy try to slog their way through Army boot camp results in an often hilarious mix of irreverent comedy and plain old crass guy stuff.
The Muppet Movie
While The Muppets in 2011 was certainly great, we still have to give the nod to the big screen debut of Jim Henson’s lovable felt friends as the best Muppets film to date. From Kermit’s classic rendition of “Rainbow Connection,” to seeing his gangly legs on a bicycle for the first time, to the cameos from Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, and Steve Martin, The Muppet Movie is an example of multigenerational entertainment at its best.
After an impressive debut with Billy Madison, Adam Sandler leapt to comedy superstar status with Happy Gilmore. All of golf’s pretentious and stuffy formalities get whacked hysterically by Happy, a bitter former hockey player who discovers a talent with his driver. Sandler’s at his adolescent best here, and if the boxing match with Bob Barker (and the classic line about Mr. Barker not quite having the correct price) isn’t in the comedy Smithsonian, we don’t know what is.
Another entry on our list from director Harold Ramis, the love for Groundhog Day has grown over the years with repeated viewings of this movie about a weatherman’s repeating days. The great Bill Murray nails the part as the bitter and jaded Phil, while Andie MacDowell and the criminally underrated Chris Elliott shine in supporting roles.
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