Everyone loves a comedy, so we thought it’d be easy enough to assemble a list like this. Just get everyone in the office to share the movies they laugh hardest at. But what we found was, the comedy genre is constantly bleeding and blending into other genres. Action, drama, political thriller, and noir are just a few of the cross genre examples we have on the list and from what we can tell, there’s no archetypal comedy the way Die Hard hits action or The Matrix nails sci-fi.
Though, if anything, that’s encouraging. It means comedies aren’t limiting themselves to single ideas or plots and that innovation in the film industry is most likely coming with humor in tow. If that is the case, the future of the comedy is a strong one. If you’re in the mood for one, here are the 50 best comedies we’ve seen.
Some of the picks on this list absolutely are straightforward comedies. Laugh out loud, scripted jokes whose entire purpose is to make you laugh. But including In Bruges should tip you off that not all of these are going to be movies where Will Ferrell gets free reign. Nothing about In Bruges is a traditional comedy, though there are absolutely setups and punchlines, but there are less of those and far more instances of nearly musical banter between usually unwilling participants. Martin McDonagh’s use of language results in some of the most pleasing dialogue ever put to paper. There’s a high chance the success of the conversations have to do with the Irish and British accents flying around, which only goes to show McDonagh knows how to write to his strengths.
Anytime we make a big list of movie recommendations, we’re going to try and find a place for Guy Ritchie. His style jives exactly with what entertains us most, with plenty of action, intrigue, and plotting all wrapped up in a distinctly witty style. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was an excellent debut feature and we thought about including that one instead, but breaking it down, Snatch is really where Ritchie’s scripting talents solidified. Whether it’s Jason Statham’s completely deadpan delivery, the banter between the pawn shop owners and Bullet Tooth Tony, or Brad Pitt’s completely inimicable performance as the Irish gypsy, there are few moments where you aren’t at least chuckling. Not only is the dialogue excellent, but Ritchie’s kinetic directing style does a lot to emphasize punchlines. By itself, the “Replica” pub scene isn’t particularly funny, but with the slamming of the camera and screeching foley work, it becomes one of the most memorable parts of the movie.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black’s calling card seems to be intelligent, quick-witted banter that “accidentally” reveals key plot points, character motivation, and exposition. You can laugh the whole time you’re watching, then suddenly realize you’ve completely retained knowledge of character and plot. In fact, while you were laughing, Black sneakily made The Nice Guys one of the most well constructed, entertaining movies to come out since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (another one of his greats). Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are both entertaining surprises, as we absolutely did not expect them to have that kind of rapport with each other. We thought only Robert Downey Jr. was capable of treating Black’s script that well. This also isn’t our first time talking about The Nice Guys. If you generally follow our recommendations, you’ve already seen this movie, but take this as an invitation to rewatch it. It holds up to a second viewing.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
We just mentioned it, so we might as well include it. All the general stuff we said about The Nice Guys applies to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Excellent banter, tight characterization, enviously good chemistry between the main characters all come together to create one of the best noir detective inspired movies ever written. It’s one of those movies that we rewatch at least once a year, usually hitting somewhere closer to twice a year. This is also the movie we always point people towards when they start getting down on Val Kilmer. Gay Perry is one of the best characters we’ve ever seen on screen and we don’t think anyone could have played the character any better.
Despite Office Space being made as the world descended into Y2K fueled chaos, its subject is timeless. Begrudging office workers today commiserate with Peter just as workers from the ’50s probably would have, albeit with a bit more confusion as to how people fit a computer on a desk. There’s so much menial monotony inherent in office work that there’s no way we’re anywhere close to Office Space not being relevant. It’s half the reason Office Space and The Office can exist in the same world and not feel redundant. People have boring jobs and they want to watch someone make fun of their jobs. There’s a sort of solidarity in it.
This Is Spinal Tap
Plenty of movies and shows have attempted the mockumentary style to varying degrees of success. The Office showed modern audiences liked the format for TV, spawning format copycats like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation. In movies, Christopher Guest’s career is defined by the style. But to us, no one, not even Guest himself, has beaten his early work on This Is Spinal Tap. Most of the movie is improvised, allowing for a great sense of authenticity, creativity, and freedom. Spinal Tap the band is an excellent parody of bands of the time and similar style too, with a weird obsession with onstage antics, personality, and showmanship. So much of the humor comes from the band members emphasis on style over substance, where appearances are everything, even on their amps.
It’s a totally far criticism of the superhero genre to say you’re suffering from franchise fatigue. Even those of us who are fans of the movies are starting to feel like we’re being saturated with films. Deadpool, however, is the answer to that fatigue. It’s the first superhero movie to completely shake off most tropes beyond its basic revenge/save the girlfriend plot, going to far darker places than other movies are comfortable, while also revelling in its R-rating, both in violence and humor. The cinematic Deadpool finally lives up to his moniker “the merc with a mouth,” after years of waiting and one disastrous attempt (the real victim of X-Men Origins was Wade Wilson). Deadpool is an original, irreverent, hilarious superhero movie and is the perfect movie for people who are starting to forget why they like the genre in the first place.
Napoleon Dynamite was over quoted and we hope that didn’t leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. You can only take so many breathy, mutterings of “Dang it” and “Gosh” before you start to involuntarily hate the thing that spawned it. But we think it’s been enough time that you can revisit the movie without running into those kinds of issues. We did, and we were reminded why this movie found such quick success. The writing is clever and the characters are just down to earth enough that their personal quirks and idiosyncrasies hit an interesting mix of absurdity and realism. Everyone has weirdness to them, but no one’s weird the same way, so there’s a very strong sense that this movie takes place in the real world. Plus, now that you’re older, you’ll find so much more to appreciate hidden behind the initial quotability.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is on the short list of required viewing in the world of cinema. The title might be a little off-putting but associated with this movie is a long tradition of fathers forcing their sons to watch a movie with a girly title, then having the sons love it, even if it does get a little sappy. Interestingly enough, there’s some crossover here between both Snatch and This Is Spinal Tap, the first sharing Dennis Farina and the second sharing Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner, though it’s the latter that seems to have the most effect. The wordplay is clever, the characters are entertaining, and the world mixes magic and reality in original ways. Plus, this is one of the only movies where André the Giant doesn’t play André the Giant, instead getting to play around as an actually fleshed out character, albeit an extremely large one.
What We Do In The Shadows
Another mockumentary, What We Do In The Shadows sets itself apart in its treatment of its subject matter. It’s essentially a roommate comedy about vampires and the reason an idea as outlandishly weird as that one works is how faithfully the idea is treated. There’s winking at the camera, but it’s never done in a way that undermines its core idea. Everything these vampires encounter is treated the way a ramshackle college house might treat it. If they didn’t do that, the movie would fall apart. Instead, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement created the kind of genuine entertainment most studios aren’t bothering to take a chance on.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Picking one John Hughes movie was tough, especially for the high school genre. Hughes’s efforts in secondary education are almost legendary, but if we’re going for the funniest one, we have to pick Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It spawned more classic lines and moments than any other Hughes movie and is quite possibly the reason Ben Stein had any sort of career in film. We challenge you to go a month without quoting something. Specifically without any sort of “Oh… Yeah.” This movie’s also made it exceedingly hard to see Matthew Broderick as anyone other than an overly confident teenager, so any time we see him pop up in a movie or TV show, we’re always expecting some kind of life advice to be delivered directly to camera. Admittedly this complicates our viewings of Glory and The Lion King, but we get over it somehow.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
We’ll admit on our first viewing of Dr. Strangelove that we were a bit confused. There’s a lot going on in the movie and it can be difficult to keep track of. But if you put the time in, Dr. Strangelove is one of the most cutting satires of Cold War era politics you’ll encounter. The pure insanity of nuclear proliferation is laid out in a great monologue by Dr. Strangelove himself, as he explains exactly why the world kept making bigger and bigger bombs despite the fact that an atom bomb is more than capable of waging full nuclear war. There’s also the great central thread of the closet fascist Dr. Strangelove getting more and more excited as the War Room keeps accidentally stumbling into Nazi-esque policy. You can also find pure comedy gold in the phone conversation between the US President and Soviet President.
We’re not really shy in our enjoyment of what the Coen brothers make, so obviously a list like this was going to include at least one of their movies. Of course, everything the Coen brothers write has some humor in it, but for a straightforward comedy, Raising Arizona might be the best example. Even the premise stands out among Coen movies. Where most of the others incorporate murder, Nic Cage and Holly Hunter simply can’t have babies, a fairly tame premise for something cooked up by these guys. Maybe our favorite part of the movie is the fist fight in the cramped trailer. It’s a huge departure from regular Hollywood fight scenes that are in pretty much any movie with a fight. It’s also surprising that the bounty hunter works so well in the movie, considering he’s jarringly different from everything else in the movie. Plus, the dialogue is amazing. It’s a Coen brothers movie, after all.
For whatever reason, some writers have an exceptional handle on the nuances of certain dialects. We already covered how well Martin McDonagh writes Irish dialogue, so we’ll use that as a segue into how the Coen brothers treat their native Northern United States. Fargo has some of the easiest to listen to dialogue in cinema, which is nice, because there’s a hell of a lot of talking in this movie. Not that we’re complaining. We wish the Coen brothers wrote dialogue for our everyday lives. Something else about Fargo we love is how dark the movie gets while maintaining the superficially carefree attitude of the American Midwest. People are getting murdered all over the place, violently and in a small town, yet everyone acts like it’s just another day and not a horrible crime spree.
This isn’t meant as an insult to Ben Stiller, but we were surprised Tropic Thunder was as good as it was. If it had been average it could have coasted by on its star power. Instead, they put actual effort into the movie and made one of the funniest mash up meta movies we’ve ever seen. The movie pulls humor from everywhere it can, with method actors, gratuitously violent war movies, insane directors, overzealous pyrotechnicians, and even lying veterans. But what’s good is the movie never feels cobbled together. There’s still coherency and a stable plot, even with three separate comedies worth of material injected into a single movie.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Every so often and infrequently, there is justice in the world and a great show like Police Squad! gets to avenge its unjust cancellation with an amazing movie. The Naked Gun is the perfect mix of visual and verbal comedy, with sight gags, puns, wordplay, and absurdity firing off at nearly unheard of levels. And unheard of only because so few people watched Police Squad! when it was originally on. This was also the movie that convinced us there was a such thing as high brow slapstick. Before, our main exposure to it was the Three Stooges smacking each other around a bit. Don’t get us wrong, that’s good stuff, but watching Frank Drebin desperately try to mitigate the damage done to a luxury apartment showed us that you can write intelligent slapstick, and we were hooked.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Don’t take this as a slight on Holy Grail. We love that movie as much as most other people and we would have picked it if it were for other people. Quick tip on watching Holy Grail. Let the Pythons deliver the lines. No one’s impressed if you can quote along with the movie in real time. That’s why, to us, Life of Brian is more enjoyable. You can watch it without having to worry about your friends getting in the way. Some favorite moments for us include the debate over what the Romans have done for Jerusalem (it turns out quite a bit), Brian’s linguistics lesson at the hands of a grammatically militant centurion, and the breaking of the hermit’s vow of silence. Monty Python also strikes a difficult balance here by making fun of the mindless followers of religion without making fun of religion itself, something that seems to escape most comedians.
Being John Malkovich
We can’t think of a weirder movie on this list. A puppeteer trying to make some money as an office worker on the 7 ½ floor of a New York City building finds a small portal into the consciousness of John Malkovich’s head and starts charging people money for the privilege. Nothing about that blends together, but the script is so masterfully crafted the idea has to be taken seriously. And reading around, that’s the most common praise for the movie from the actors involved. They all thought the script was too good to pass up. In a weird way, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman created a completely unfilmable script, thereby guaranteeing it would be filmed.
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Gods Must Be Crazy has a sort of Naked Gun/Airplane! in Africa feel to it, utilizing a lot of the same kind of absurd dialogue and well staged slapstick, though sadly with a distinct lack of Leslie Nielsen. It adds to the formula with a David Attenborough-like voice over, almost turning the movie into a comedic BBC documentary about the the time an African movie studio tried to remake Police Squad! If all that’s not doing anything for you, then maybe the plot will help convince you. The central mission of the movie is an African tribesman’s quest to return a Coke bottle to the gods at the end of the world. It’s a heavily fish-out-of-water tale, since this is pretty much the man’s first time away from his isolated tribe and plenty of humorous misunderstandings ensue.
Zombieland was originally proposed as a television show and we have to say we’re glad it didn’t happen. The concept may not have been able to support a TV show for even one season. A two hour movie is perfect for exploring Zombieland. That being said, we’re surprised there’s no news about a sequel. It could be that Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone have gotten too big to make the movie for the relatively low budget of the first one, but we’d be surprised if they didn’t agree to a pay cut to make it happen, provided the script was good enough. We’re satisfied with the Zombieland we got, but we wouldn’t say no to a little more.
Picking just one entry from the Cornetto trilogy is a challenge. They’re all great movies for different reasons and we recommend them all highly, but if we had to pick an absolute favorite, we have to go with Hot Fuzz. It’s a nice break from Pegg’s usual roles as a slacker, but it still feels like a Cornetto movie. That’s mostly thanks to the writing, as just about every cop movie trope is scoffed at in the beginning of the movie, then ends up happening by the end. And a fun bit of trivia, the Hound plays the guy who only says “Yarp.”
Dumb and Dumber
It’s hard to say why the first Dumb and Dumber worked. Apparently it’s so hard to say that not even the people who made it could figure it out for the sequel. Maybe it’s one of those movies you can just turn your brain off and enjoy. Maybe it’s deceivingly clever. Maybe it’s both. It’d take us a long time to actually parse out what sets it apart from other movies like it. But Dumb and Dumber has endured and we’re still laughing at it, so we’ll take a cue from Harry and Lloyd and not think about it all that much.
Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused has to be the quintessential movie of Richard Linklater’s career. He made it early on in his career, setting the bar extremely high for anything that would follow. That’s why it’s the movie that makes this list. When your entire career is defined by a high school comedy you made in the early ’90s, we’d say that’s the highwater mark for anything you’re going to produce. Plus, Dazed and Confused sets the stage for another great movie in Everybody Wants Some!, one of our favorite movies from last year. And if Dazed and Confused is a who’s who of the early ’90s, take note of who’s in Everybody Wants Some! You’ll be seeing them for a little while.
If your main exposure to M*A*S*H is its sitcom, it might take you a few minutes to adjust to the tonal shift of the movie. Even though it came first, and was as arguably successful as the sitcom, there’s a serious difference between the material of the movie and show. The movie was much more willing to go to darker, more R-rated places and was, in all ways, a black comedy. Don’t take that as a disparaging of the show, because they’re equally good for different reasons. But if you want the full, undiluted M*A*S*H experience, prepare yourself for the movie. It’ll take you to some heavy places, but the journey’s not without some great comedy.
Bottle Rocket, which came out in 1996, gave us our first glimpse into the weird workings of Wes Anderson’s mind. Rushmore, which came out two years later, informed us we hadn’t seen the half of it. Starring Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, an overeager prep school student, obsessed with clubs and hobbies, Rushmore is the classic tale of unrequited love, only this unrequited love is between a student and his teacher—and then Bill Murray gets involved. What makes Rushmore work is what makes all Wes Anderson movies work—quirkiness and a sense of whimsy. The difference here is there’s some real emotional heft obscured by that whimsy, and it makes Rushmore far more impactful than some of his other flicks. Oh, and the soundtrack is incredible.