Chuckle through the best comedies ever made
Having a hearty laugh is good for the soul. Of course it is; there's all sorts of scientific evidence out there proving that laughter lowers stress levels, turning us into happier humans. As luck would have it - oh come on, you knew where this was going - the history of cinema is filled with comedy!
From early Chaplin slapsticks through to modern R-rated grossouts, you can't say there's not a lot of choice when it comes to selecting a chucklefest. Even those flicks you've already seen bring their own special something. The repeated joy of reciting one-liners in everyday conversation or recalling a scene that reminds us of a particularly amusing time in our own lives. Comedies are just the best remedy for brightening your day.
It's also a genre that covers a broad spectrum, making it tough to narrow down the whole lot to a mere thirty titles. But we've done it anyway. Here's our top picks of the best comedies ever made.
30. Bridesmaids (2011)
Bridesmaids arrived at a time when the likes of The Hangover and Knocked Up had mostly sidelined women in comedy to the roles of nagging wives or sultry temptresses. Years of watching men engage in all sorts of ker-azy hijinks, Paul Feig's female ensemble craps all over the misguided assumption that women can't headline gross-out comedies. Literally. This bunch are just as capable of soiling themselves in public as their male counterparts.
But Bridesmaids is more than just an opportunity to watch a group of food-poisoned friends destroy a bridal shop bathroom - although that scene is a highlight. Whether written for men or women, it's the ratio of laughs per scene which makes this worth seeking out. Thanks to a super sharp script from Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, the main cast - Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McClendon-Covey - are given well-drawn characters, delivering a near-constant stream of comedy gold.
29. Clerks (1994)
"You fucked a dead guy?" is but one of the many one-liners Kevin Smith lets rip in his filmmaking debut, Clerks, the ode to convenience store employment. If you've ever held down a service industry job, there'll be something here you can relate to; irate customers, a pissy boss, a desire to close up early to play hockey...
The movie is told through the eyes of Dante, a twenty-something with no ambition, called into work on his day off. Despite his cries of "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" he really loves the place, loves getting paid to shoot the shit with his best pal Randal who works at the video store next door. Some of the film's stand-out scenes come from their amusing fanboy discussions (the Death Star debate, for one). Oh, and when they get kicked out of a funeral. This is a day-in-the-life flick that makes the mundane much funnier than expected.
28. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Two musicians on the lam decide to take refuge in an all-female travelling band in Billy Wilder's classic American comedy. Set during the 1920s, when Prohibition was still in play and gender roles were fixed, it manages to playfully introduce cross-dressing and homosexuality in a way that's surprisingly modern.
The duo who pull off the masquerade are played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Both are at the top of their game, riffing off each other with effortless banter all the while dressed up in drag as Daphne and Josephine. Joining Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators is, to them anyway, their only option for survival. It's that, or get iced by a bunch of mafia goons. Try as they might, their facades inevitably slip when the pair both fall for the group's breathy singer, Sugar Cane played by Marilyn Monroe.
Jam-packed with clever wit, what's most impressive is how Wilder mixes up slapstick with satire and romance with drama. Despite Curtis' later comments concerning Monroe's professionalism on set, what we're left with is a carefree comedy treasure.
27. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
The thought of getting stuck on a cross-country travel excursion with someone whose very being frustrates you might not seem funny. But hey, this is the movies! And in the hands of John Hughes, this doomed set-up turns into a warm, heartfelt movie about overcoming our own baggage (literally and figuratively) to acknowledge that everyone's got their problems.
In this case, it's Steve Martin's uptight tyrant Neal who finds himself saddled with John Candy's happy-go-lucky shower ring salesman Dell. As odd couples go, this pair are up their with Lemmon and Matthau. Naturally, this leads to a series of amusing capers, when they're forced to travel by plane, train and car to get back to their families for Thanksgiving. You'll laugh and you will most definitely cry. (But just a bit.)
26. Borat (2004)
Sacha Baron-Cohen made his name in the UK performing skits on a late-night TV show as various fictional fools. Then he took his antics abroad.
Borat pissed off a lot of Americans. Not those watching the film, no. I'm on about the people who were in it. Under the guise of racist, bigoted Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev, Baron-Cohen explores - and exploits - middle America in an unscripted, 90-minute pisstake. No, seriously. To capture real people's responses to a figure like Borat, it meant that while there was a studio, director and all that jazz, there couldn't be a shooting script. Broad strokes were all the cast and crew had; Borat travels to America to discover what makes it great and along the way falls in love with Pamela Anderson. It was down to Cohen to freestyle his way through the film. And boy, does he.
25. Step Brothers (2008)
One of Will Ferrell's most criminally-underrated flicks finds him co-starring alongside frequent collaborator John C. Reilly. Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reilly) are lazy, layabout no-hopers pushing forty - who happen to still live at home. When their adult parents decide to marry the pair are forced to live together as step brothers.
It's a story that's ripe with the possibility for inane, juvenile antics, and none of those are left unexplored. Stealing each other's toys, touching each other's stuff, and making bunk beds from two twins without an ounce of understanding about weight-bearing. It's just ridiculous. The level of stubborn, emotional stuntedness that Brennan and Dale display at all times is impossible to believe; it's like watching Tom Hanks' performance in Big. Except they're adults who delight in adolescent pranks and camaraderie as if they were 13.
24. The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005)
Judd Apatow's first crack at a new demographic - thirty and forty-somethings - pokes fun at middle age through Carell's virginal SmartTech employee Andy. He's a loveable guy, whose nerdiness and social clumsiness has kept his cherry unpopped; a factoid that slips out when he compares the feeling of a breast to sand. It's this cluelessness which prompts his fellow employees to school him in the art of seduction. He's terrible at it, but somehow it works.
But this isn't just Carell's show; the ensemble cast deliver some superb supporting turns. Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco are great as his best mates and Jane Lynch as his predatory boss is just nuts. The highlight cameo has to be Leslie Mann's drunken clubgoer, whose idea of flirting is to yell "Let's get some fuckin' French toast!" Isn't that what everyone wants at 3am?
23. Office Space (1999)
Corporate America gets the middle finger in Mike Judge's modern workplace comedy. The boom of soul-crushing cubicle environments was also explored that same year - albeit quite differently - in Fight Club, yet it's Office Space that finds a solution not in punching the living daylights out of your fellow worker bees, but in starting a revolution.
Ron Livington's software employee Peter can't take the stress of his job at Initech, so opts for a spot of hypnotherapy to alleviate the pressure. When his therapist dies midway through his session Peter gains a new perspective on life. It's this sunnier, positive outlook that causes him to lead a Superman III-inspired uprising against the company and his hideous boss. Gary Coleman is the source of most of the humor, as Peter's vulture-like superior. A caricature of the boss who never sleeps, constantly hounding his employees, he's the one who receives the best one-liners ("I'm gonna need you to come in on Saturday") that turned this box office dud into a cult classic.
22. Animal House (1978)
Animal House changed the face of comedy. It did low-brow and gross-out collegiate humor decades ago, paving the way for the likes of Old School and Neighbors. How it manages to be both explicitly stupid and incredibly smart is part of its success, thanks to a team of comedy geniuses tapping out the script. Harold Ramis, Chris Miller, Douglas Kenney and Ivan Reitman spent months brainstorming their own college experiences before writing a single word.
Whether any of them actually did most of the stuff that the Deltas get up to, is another matter. Led by John Belushi this bunch of ragtag miscreants paint a picture of university life that consists of booze, drugs and sex. All the while causing as much mayhem as possible. It went on to inspire a whole generation of students to get loaded on campus.
21. Superbad (2007)
Crank up the raunch of American Pie to 11, toss in a dash of '80s John Hughes and you're somewhere close to Superbad. Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg wrote it in their teens, but it wasn't until the pair reached their twenties that they sold the script. By then they were way too old to star. Hence, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill stepped in to play two high schoolers desperate to lose their virginity over the course of one crazy night.
The film's all about the bonds of friendship before we leave school forever; stupid pranks and social awkwardness amped up for maximum humor. It never gets twee or bogged down in sentimental flimflam. Its crude edge makes that impossible, because let's not forget: this is a movie that uses a period stain as a motivating plot point.
20. There's Something About Mary (1998)
There's Something About Mary brought about a new era of R-rated comedies. Audiences were reintroduced to a brand of vulgar, debauched humor that hadn't been popular since the '80s. It marked the beginning of the 'Frat Pack' and turned Ben Stiller into a movie star.
What's the secret to its success? Sibling duo Bobby and Peter Farrelly have a knack for writing oddball characters whose bad luck naturally leads to some of modern comedy's most iconic sequences. And it all seems weirdly believable in its own way. Watching a guy catch his genitals in his zipper in a very, very lengthy scene doesn't feel forced in, ahem, as if to further some insane ratio of gags-per-minute. Stiller's superb as Ted, the schlub in question whose lifelong love for his high school crush Mary (Cameron Diaz) turns into a contest with Matt Dillon and Lee Evans for who can win her affections.
19. Team America: World Police (2004)
The team behind South Park set aside the 2D escapades of Cartman and co. for a chance to make marionettes pull even more juvenile crap. Team America is a farcical piece of faux-propaganda, a mockery of the left and the right. Feel sensitive about the political climate? Might be best give this one a miss. The only way to go into this cavalcade of silliness is to be prepared to laugh your balls off at every minority. No-one is left out.
The 'plot' which is, let's face it, an opportunity to rip the piss out of A-list celebrities, follows a special ops group sent overseas. If it weren't for Team America, we'd never have classic tunes like "Freedom Isn't Free" and "America, Fuck Yeah!" or had a puppet sex scene to rival the equally-repugnant one in Bride of Chucky. Forget niceties or even common sense with this one.
18. Ghostbusters (1984)
It's fortunate that horror and comedy mesh together so well, otherwise Ghostbusters would be a terrifying movie about demonic dog possession and giant brand mascots going on a Godzilla-esque killing rampage. Both those things still happen. Their scare factor isn't quite so nightmare-inducing because they're set in a film that places emphasis on the laughs.
The dream team of Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd scripted a perfect blend of chills and chuckles for what's arguably the best horror comedy ever made. The spectres and ghouls taking over New York City meet their match with the Ghostbusters, a trio of smart-mouthed scientists - and one guy who's just there for the money. Its special effects still stand up today - hey, that librarian is SCARY - and the terrific chemistry between the leads make it feel like you're watching a bunch of real friends try to avert the apocalypse.
17. Anchorman (2004)
Anchorman earned its status as a modern comedy classic years after its initial release, taking time to get its cult stripes. An army of loyal fans lapped it up on home video, savoring each daft one-liner and noticing jokes they'd missed the first time around. It's one of those movies that gets better on repeat viewings for that very reason; you look forward to the parts you know and those you'd totally forgotten about.
For saying it's his first movie, director Adam McKay brings out the best in a top notch ensemble, who each add a touch of the bizarre to the film due to their improvisational humor. Will Ferrell leads the pack in a career-best role as the mustachioed Ron Burgundy, a '70s news anchor whose sexism knows no bounds. He's utterly clueless to the changing world. Watching him spar with co-anchor Christina Applegate or try and understand his dim colleague Brick Tamland are just a couple of Anchorman's many highlights.
16. Withnail and I (1987)
Drunken louts with existential dilemmas. Doesn't sound funny does it? The genius of Withnail and I is in its rather bleak and foggy outlook on life. It's told through the eyes of unemployed actor Marwood (Paul McGann), who together with Richard E. Grant's inebriated intellectual Withnail tries to survive each day by getting wasted and waxing poetic.
The movie takes place in the late sixties where the two housemates find themselves desperate for work. Withnail drags his pal into a string of self-induced crises, most of which involve drinking top shelf tipples like battery acid, and they wind up on holiday at his uncle Morty's countryside retreat. It's here that things veer into the weird, surreal end of the comedy spectrum thanks to Richard Griffiths' performance as Withnail's older relative.
15. The Jerk (1979)
Steve Martin's first starring role put him on the map as the nice-but-dim Navin Johnson, a white man raised by a black family who says things like "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?" when he discovers the truth about his adopted heritage.
He's both loveable and dumb, a buffoon who embarks on a series of amusing adventures that introduced Martin's wild and outlandish humor to the world. Where other comedians might have begged director Carl Reiner for the chance to play it cool, Martin does the exact opposite. At every opportunity he makes Navin into an even bigger fool than we imagined, whether he's joining the circus or cooking up inventions. Like all good comedies it doesn't laugh at him, but instead makes us treasure his goofiness. It set the bar for the Farrelly Brothers comedies of the '90s and even some early Adam Sandler's movies - well, back when they were funny.
14. Caddyshack (1980)
Caddyshack might look like it's a comedy set on a golf course. Which it is, of course, but more than that it's an ode to the weirdos and oddballs of the nation. Director Harold Ramis struck gold bringing in Chevy Chase, Michael O'Keefe, Rodney Dangerfield and a young Bill Murray, as the determined greens keeper's assistant, for this early eighties blast of silliness.
The story takes place over the summer, when a young up-and-coming caddy lands the gig of working for a star golfer. Like all good cult classics, it truly shines in its flat-out bizarre plot choices and character development, that for one poor schmuck consists of whether or not he catches a wily gopher. The raft of batty one-liners, from: "I've often thought of becoming a golf club" to "I smell varmint poontang" only add to Caddyshack's legacy.
13. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick's reputation for pushing his actors makes the stuff David Fincher gets up to seem breezy in comparison. But buried inside his desire for perfection, lay a dark wit. Barely perceptible before, Kubrick's wicked sense of humor surfaced when he chose to helm this superb cold war spoof.
Peter Sellers stars in multiple roles, contributing much of the amusement, while the movie deals with the seriousness of conflict. Well, it does in its own special way. Like all the best comedies, Kubrick takes a pop at an important issue through satire. In this instance, his attention is aimed at people in power during wartime.
Things go awry when the US Air Force General loses his marbles. Believing that communists are out to pollute Americans, he initiates a nuclear attack on Russia. It's up to the President and his Chiefs to put things right, leading to classic one-liners like "You can't fight in here! This is the war room!"
12. Clueless (1995)
It's true, Jane Austen's Emma is the loose inspiration for this 90s teen comedy. But Emma's plotting is a skeleton for a razor-sharp script, stuffed with gags. The credit belongs to writer-director Amy Heckerling, who managed to make a witty, fashion-centric expose on high school life that's still hilarious today.
The movie transformed model Alicia Silverstone into a star for her turn as spoiled Valley girl Cher Horowitz. It's a shame she didn't pursue comedy post-Clueless, as its best jokes are down to her impeccable timing.
Where darker movies tear apart high school as an experience to be endured Clueless happily skips along, making clear that it ain't easy but it's ultimately what you make of it. Cher's journey from supposed airhead (which she never really was) to considerate member of society is proof. Very, very funny proof.
11. Zoolander (2001)
Dumb, beautiful models are the butt of the joke in Zoolander. The movie asks one pertinent question, over and over again through joke after joke: what's the point of being really, really good looking if you don't harbor any common sense whatsoever? The point is, we get a really funny film that achieves slapstick perfection in practically every scene.
Everyone remembers the scene where a group of pals engage in a car wash montage, but forget they're actually dousing each other with petrol at a gas station and blow themselves up. Or the one where Derek Zoolander fails to grasp the concept of a scale model. There's just so many of these sight gags, it's easy to forget the bananas plot at its core. You know, where it turns out models are behind every major political assassination.
10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Not every comedy appeals to every palette. Some people like broader physical humor, others might prefer satire. When it comes to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it's tough to imagine who wouldn't enjoy it. It's got everything. Slapstick shenanigans, fourth wall-breaking, innuendo, deadpan delivery and surrealism all play a part.
The story is a loose reimagining of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. That medieval set-up makes way for some of Monty Python's most memorable jokes; the Knights who say NI, the French soldiers who sling insults at Arthur and his knights ("Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"), the coconut-horses gag... There's loads.
Watching it today, you can spot styles and ideas pinched by later comedians, but no-one does this mishmash of absurdity better than this bunch. After all, a great joke is only told the first time once.
9. The Naked Gun (1988)
What makes a spoof genuinely funny? We'd be here all day to be honest if we're going to count everything, but ultimately it boils down to the cast and the script. Without either, a potentially good idea can flounder (see: every spoof movie of the last decade). The team who cooked up The Naked Gun understand what makes broad slapstick work. They should: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams gave us Airplane, before turning to their hands to the cop movie genre. The result is The Naked Gun. It's simply one of the funniest spoofs ever made.
The fact that the screenwriters penned it with Leslie Nielsen in mind helps; he had already played the character in a short-run TV series. Reprising the role of idiotic Lt. Frank Drebin again for the big screen, Nielsen plays Drebin like a true dolt. His bad luck and absent-mindedness are unrivalled in the whole of cinema. This is an officer of the law who leaves his car unlocked, watches it roll down a hill, assumes it's been stolen and starts shooting at it. A man who can't frisk a suspect without accidentally kickstarting an international incident. You'd be hard pressed to find this many visual and verbal puns in any another movie.
8. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Dumb and Dumber. How many friendships were formed over endlessly quoting its dialogue or re-enacting the most annoying sound in the world? That's what's so timeless about this modern slapstick. It's the type of movie that you can sit and watch with your besties, and fall about laughing over. Every. Single. Time.
It works for many reasons. Mostly because The Farrellys know how to make you care about characters who are total imbeciles. Harry and Lloyd are prime examples. Neither is particularly smart, but they're not so stupid that you're facepalming their every blunder. Both behave like juveniles, and yet the biggest laughs come when they're pranking each other, when we're chuckling along at their victories.
7. The Big Lebowski (1998)
"I'm The Dude!" Jeff Bridges probably had no idea the first time he uttered that iconic line that he'd forever be associated with the character. The Coens cast Bridges against type as Jeffrey Lebowski, a layabout whose idea of a good time is kicking back with his buddies down at the alley. Until life beckons and he's caught up in a giant case of mistaken identity that involves a truly cracking supporting cast, including John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro.
It's one of the sibling filmmakers' most unexpected hits. Now universally adored, it's a madcap caper bristling with energy and wit. It defies proper labelling - because how can you quickly slap a label on a detective-mystery-comedy that's fundamentally about a stoned bowler? Oh, and there's musical interludes, too.
6. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks pokes fun at Frankenstein with a knowing wink and a lot of affection for the original. His 1974 spoof zips over the same story we've heard before, packaging in a new twist: the madcap scientist who creates a patchwork man is actually the grandson of Victor Frankenstein. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is played with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Gene Wilder, who sets about recreating his grandfather's experiments and ropes in a motley crew to help him.
Parodies rarely succeed when it comes to mimicking their source - usually because there's only a couple of gags worth telling. But they flow and thick and fast here, from the batshit song and dance number Frankenstein orchestrates to prove his monster is civilised, to Igor's helpful decorating tips when the Dr. realises his lab is a mess (“I don’t know…a little paint, a few flowers, a couple of throw pillows…”)
5. Blazing Saddles (1974)
Blazing Saddles is one of Mel Brooks' finest spoofs. To some, it's his best work. To him? "It’s the funniest movie, I think, by far," he said after it landed at number four on the AFI's best comedy countdown. "No matter what the AFI list says. Five should be the next number. One to four should be Blazing Saddles.”
It satirises all the cliches of the Hollywood western, the work of writers Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, resulting in a ridiculously silly film. Told from the perspective of a black sheriff in an all-white town, Cleavon Little's lawman tries to stop the place getting torn down to make way for railway tracks. Brooks wrings this set-up for as many gags as he can without a jot of concern for historical accuracy.
It's offensive, chocked with political incorrectness, and makes mockery of the blatant racism inherent in early Westerns. Hard to imagine anything this subversive hitting screens today.
4. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
A rock mockumentary that frequently tops 'best of' comedy countdowns, This Is Spinal Tap is both sharp and supremely daft. It's a bemusing look into the lives of an English rock band told by a film crew following them on tour. The three leads, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, even bonded like a proper band and ad-libbed most of their scenes, giving the film that added wacky edge. Not like it needs it. Spinal Tap's one of those movies that's full of so many stand-out moments, it's impossible to pick a favorite. Alright, so the tiny Stonehenge being lowered onto the stage does come close.
The film's gone on to become such a cultural treasure it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry, and entered into Library of Congress. Forever. See? Even the government's not running the risk of this movie ever getting deleted.
3. Groundhog Day (1992)
Bill Murray's sarcastic news reporter Phil Connors is tasked with covering the annual Groundhog Day event. "This is one occasion where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather," he says to his viewers. One of many lines delivered with Murray's trademark wit, hours before Connors stumbles into a headfuck of a scenario.
Living the same day over and over is a superb premise. It's easy to imagine it being slotted into any genre, but it works as a great vehicle for comedy. Connors is unlike most people, who'd perhaps see this gift as a blessing and not a curse, his grumpy behavior and suicidal tendencies getting rid of any potential dips into cheesy sentimentalism. Murray is at his best here, being a curmudgeon who takes decades - or according to one rumor hundreds of years - to realise what life's all about. He just happens to be a very funny ole' bastard in the process.
2. Airplane! (1980)
After the Roland Emmerich era of disaster movies it's only a matter of time before we get a new spoof. But will it top the best disaster parody ever made?
Airplane's writers Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker stitch together as many debauched, juvenile and downright crass jokes as possible into the film's brisk running time. A drunk airplane pilot discovers that his passengers are coming down with a hideous stomach bug, so it's up to him and his stewardess girlfriend to land safely. Not that that matters, really. The plot isn't the point of the movie; the amount of zany antics the characters can get up to is.
No matter how many terrible movies it influenced, not one comes close to Airplane's slapstick prowess. Probably because Meet the Spartans doesn't have Robert Hays or Leslie Nielsen doing stuff like this.
1. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Life of Brian is what happens when a group of top-of-their-game comedians orchestrate a razor-sharp takedown of organised religion. Monty Python's most talked about features is a subversive stab at Christianity. It's a movie that stirred up so much controversy upon release that it was refused screenings in certain parts of the UK. You know, on the account of it being blasphemous... which is entirely its point.
Decades later it's a widely-loved movie that pokes and prods at topics through sharp observation and even sharper wit. What's the best way to do that? To re-tell Christ's journey of course! Jesus' humble beginnings are nixed in favor of a chap called Brian - Jesus' next door neighbor who'd do anything to not be called the messiah.
In true Monty Python fashion, any and every opportunity to highlight hypocrisy of both church and state is leapt upon with glee. What makes Life of Brian special is that none of it's done with malice, it's actually incredibly cleverly done. Through plenty of slapstick, one-liners ("he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!") and political rants disguised as comical outbursts, of course.