“The only honest art form is laughter,” said the great Lenny Bruce. “You can’t fake it.” So while comedies, like sci-fi, may be overlooked come awards season, there’s no denying their relative artistic merit. When all is said and done, for every escapist action movie, or heart-warming romantic comedy to ease you through a break-up, there’s a comedy out there to make you laugh when you really need it.
Of course, comedy is extremely subjective. What one person finds hilarious, another finds deeply offensive. When compiling this list, we’ve taken into account how big a hit the movie was originally, its legacy, quotable lines, and how much (if at all) the humour has aged in that time. Comedy movies are hard to get right, but when they do, they stick with us forever. Here are the Most Hilarious Comedies Of All Time.
15. Shaun Of The Dead
Shaun Of The Dead was so original when it was released that it spawned a whole new genre: the rom-zom-com. And while there have been fine additions to that growing genre (Zombieland is worth several repeat viewings), Shaun Of The Dead remains the best so far. The movie reunited the comedic talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright from their days on the TV show Spaced, and essentially re-worked an idea from that show into a full-length movie.
The plot is wafer-thin. Shaun and his hetero life-partner Ed round up their friends and family and hide from the zombie apocalypse in their local pub. The plan is weak, yet effective for the most part. Their weapons of choice leave a lot to be desired, though, as Shaun and Ed argue over which of their vinyl record collection can be used to decapitate the zombie lurking in their garden.
The results are undeniable: Shaun Of The Dead created numerous memes across the internet which circulate to this day especially the “Take car. Go to Mum’s. Kill Phil – “Sorry.” – grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.” line which became instantly quotable.
Far from gung-ho and heroic, Shaun is an everyman. That is, if an everyman is only interested in video games, beer, and cups of tea. It’s full of mayhem from start to finish and full of some of the best British talent of the 21st century.
14. The 40 Year Old Virgin
Making a movie about a 40-year-old man who has never taken things to the next level with a lady could easily have come across as mean spirited. But, despite so much over the top humour, The 40 Year Old Virgin is incredibly heart-warming, as well as hilarious. Disguised as a simple sex comedy – imagine American Pie made with an older cast – The 40 Year Old Virgin was a showcase for the next generation of American comedy talent and cemented the Apatow crew as the voice of grown-up slackers everywhere.
Director Judd Apatow wisely allows his cast to play fast and loose with his script and much of the comedy comes from the improvisational skills of Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen. The entire “You know how I know you’re gay” scene was just Rogen and Rudd trying to out-do each other and delivered pure brilliance.
The whole movie is, of course, held together by Steve Carell’s earnest performance, but many of the craziest scenes came from the subtle backing players such as Jane Lynch and Leslie Mann, who add polish to a masterpiece.
13. This is Spinal Tap
If you love The Office, or Parks and Recreation (and you should because they’re great) then you should thank Rob Reiner’s ground-breaking mockumentary for cementing the concept. Based on Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, This is Spinal Tap could almost be mistaken for a genuine rockumentary. What cemented This is Spinal Tap as a timeless classic is that it follows the golden rule of comedy: what’s funny isn’t people trying to “be funny,” but going about their business totally utterly oblivious to how ridiculous they are.
Not only is the comedy pitch-perfect throughout, This is Spinal Tap is a scarily accurate picture of life in a major rock band and presents an interesting social commentary of life through a celebrity lens.
Like a few other entries on this list, This is Spinal Tap relies of generous amounts of improv from its cast, but few other entries capture it with such authenticity. Unlike, say, The Office, you can easily be fooled into thinking you’re watching a genuine documentary, and many people have been since the movie’s release. The gags themselves come at you quicker than you can register on a single viewing, but always go all the way to eleven!
12. The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski often features heavily on Screen Rant lists, and with good reason. While many movies will make you laugh, and quote lines, few will inspire a religion! But there is a growing number of people world-wide who follow the philosophy of “The Dude”. The Dude (Jeff Bridges in a career best role) bumbles around in Philip Marlow-esque style and uncovers kidnapping, nihilist, and nymphomaniacs as he merely tries to find someone to replace his beloved rug.
While The Big Lebowski features the typically stunning visuals and razor-sharp dialogue one would expect from a Coen Brother’s movie, it’s Bridges, Goodman, and the rest of the cast who bring the whole thing together. In lesser hands, The Big Lebowski would have been an amusing Raymond Chandler-esque comedy crime caper, which would still be funny, but here it’s elevated due to almost not caring if other people find the movie funny. Everyone is at the top of their game, while not one person ever looks as though they’re “trying” to be funny.
11. The Jerk
While he may be a little less high-profile these days, the legendary comic Steve Martin was for quite some time one of the most bankable comedy stars in the world and arguably tied with Bill Murray as the funniest man in the world. Fresh from making a name for himself as a huge hit on stage as an absurdly funny one man show, Steve Martin took to movies as most comics try to do. Unlike many, who would simply cash-in on the first big payday to come along, Steve Martin delivered a movie so incredibly stupid, so insane, so full of ego, that it managed to show his talents as a timeless comedy genius. It takes genius, true genius, to be this dumb and pull it off.
The Jerk is a smart, well-structured movie that takes a guy from simply being the wild man of comedy and shows that his screen presence can truly hold a project together. In today’s Hollywood, The Jerk would never be made. The script about a white man raised by a poor black family, not knowing he’s not black until he’s an adult, would be unlikely to be green-lit. but it’s a product of its time and the script by martin himself (and co-writer Carl Gottlieb) is as sharp as ever.
10. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Today’s audiences may be familiar with Chevy Chase from his time on the much-missed comedy show Community, but more mature readers will be familiar with him from his time as one of the biggest comedy stars in the world with hits such as Spies Like Us and Fletch under his belt. But it’s as Clark Griswald is National Lampoon’s Vacation that he truly reigned supreme as a comedy star.
The put-upon Clark Griswald’s quest to get his family to the amusement park Wally World resulted in a madcap road-trip movie of proportions not seen since the days of Greek myth. Not since the labours of Hercules himself has anyone gone to such lengths to get where he was going, possibly… history isn’t our thing. Of course, while many of the obstacles along the way were nightmarish, there’s always Chase’s charm and Christine Brinkley as supreme eye candy in any era to ease the tension.
Directed by comedy god Harold Ramis and written by John Hughes, with cameos by John Candy and a host of other stars, National Lampoon’s Vacation had all the pedigree of a classic. While the sequels are still funny, the original is by far the best of the bunch.
1980’s Caddyshack is one of the most quotable movies on this list and features Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield, and of Course Bill Murray, at the height of their talents. In fact, Dangerfield and Murray only had small parts to begin with, but due to stealing the show with ad-libbing such classic lines as “Oh, this is the worst-looking hat I ever saw. What, when you buy a hat like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh? Oh, it looks good on you though.“; “So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself.” and “So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” saw their parts greatly expanded.
8. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Probably more than any other movie on this list, Anchorman really shouldn’t work. A surreal, and illogical movie about a misogynistic and insane news anchor in the ‘70s doesn’t sound like the kind of movie that would pack in that many winning gags. And yet it does, in fact it had so many hilarious, and unused, gags, scenes, sub-plots, and out-takes that a whole other movie was made from them titled Wake Up, Ron Burgundy.
While Anchorman didn’t make epic money at the box-office, the positive word of mouth and decent sales on home media saw it grow into a cult-favourite. Numerous memes celebrating the instantly quote-worthy lines “That escalated quickly!” meant that Anchorman became part of the everyday conversation among its many fans. It also remains, arguably, Will Ferrell’s greatest comedy achievement (besides maybe Elf). If you haven’t seen it do so. It more than lives up to the hype.
7. The Naked Gun
When the hilarious show Police Squad was cancelled after a mere six episodes, due to ABC fearing it required audiences to pay too much attention (!!!), fans feared they’d seen the last of Frank Drebin. After drifting for six years, the show was resurrected for what would become a trilogy of classic comedies.
As with Airplane, the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker spoof of Airport disasters of the ‘70s, the biggest gag in The Naked Gun was Leslie Nielsen’s straight faced response to the world he’s in. unlike Airplane, Nielsen is in centre stage as he sends up every cop-movie trope in the book and unknowingly causes chaos wherever he goes.
Taking ‘70s hard-boiled cop movies such as Dirty Harry and adding an absurdist spin delivered an epic and chaotic movie. But instead of merely being unrelated tropes thrown together, there’s a tender love story between Drebin and his new love, played by Priscilla Presley. Props must go to Drebin’s long-suffering partner played by George Kennedy who sends up his own persona from so many of his previous movies. As the only person who seems aware of how ridiculous the world he’s in really is, he’s the glue that holds the movie together and provides much of the humour.
6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the most absurd and surreal movies ever to be made. It also has some of the sharpest writing in comedy, or any other genre.
The first real movie made by the notoriously funny Pythons, Holy Grail tells the story of King Arthur and his knights as they search for the titular Holy Grail. While many movies would go to clever lengths to hide their shoe-string budget, The Holy Grail makes a joke out of it and substitutes coconut halves for horses galloping and seems to revel in the fact that the whole thing is being made for less than the cost of a decent meal.
The gags are insane, the production looks like something students threw together in their dorm rooms, and in every sense it’s a movie that shouldn’t have worked at the time, let alone become a much-beloved classic. But a classic is what it is. If nothing else, the Trojan rabbit gag will make you laugh.
5. Dumb and Dumber
Putting an idiot front and centre isn’t anything new in cinema. The Jerk beat Dumb and Dumber to the punch and even that wasn’t the first example. But putting two equally stupid characters together who seemingly exist to prop the other up, and you wind up with a classic. Essentially, the Farrelly Brothers took the contents of a hyperactive toddler’s mind and put it on film. And it worked better than anyone could have expected.
While Jim Carrey was hot off the success of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, it was Dumb and Dumber that cemented his place as the biggest comedy star of the ‘90s. and while Jeff Daniels is one of the finest serious actors of his generation, his spin on his own persona almost steals the whole thing.
It’s a road trip movie across America with the two well-meaning buffoons attempting to return a briefcase. It’s also loaded with butt jokes, toilet humour (literally!), and has the most low-brow comedy you can imagine. But, somehow, the movie isn’t as low-brow as it appears. There’s a sentimental side to the Farrelly Brothers buried under all those snot jokes.
4. Blazing Saddles
When it comes to vulgar, crude, and even racist humour, there’s nothing that does it better than 1974’s Blazing Saddles. Combining the Western Genre and comedy has been attempted since, with Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West a notable attempt, but none have ever quite gotten it right. That’s largely due to the enduring popularity of Blazing Saddles, nothing else can ever match it.
Starting out with the image of a chain gang, and ending with the characters watching themselves on screen, Blazing Saddles is insanely meta, but also has all the hallmarks of a traditional western.
While he sheer volume of jokes is impressive, the movie never forgets to tell its story. A black sheriff in a white town has a lot of social commentary about a genre that is full of racism. It’s not Django Unchained, but it still has a lot to say.
Largely lampooning the western genre, Blazing Saddles gets funnier with the more westerns you see as the tropes become more noticeable. Try watching Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman in Unforgiven and keep a straight face after seeing this. The jokes will come back to you long after the movie ends.
3. Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks romped through the ‘70s and ‘80s with an impressive run of movie parodies. Right in the middle of his creative high, he came up with Young Frankenstein. Obsessively devoted to the Universal monster movies to the point that the movie re-used props from the original 1931 movie, Young Frankenstein pulls you in with authenticity, and then trips you up with unexpected physical comedy and even a dance number.
Many comedies have great stories behind them (Blazing Saddles has Richard Pryor taking the train to work instead of flying as it allowed more drinking time) but Young Frankenstein’s is one of the sweetest. Everyone got on so well and enjoyed each other’s company so much that Brooks added extra scenes to keep production rolling a little longer. This of course meant a disaster of a first cut but the movie was saved by an epic editing session which gave us the 106 minute slice of comedy perfection we know and love.
Ghostbusters is what happens when Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murry all at the top of their game at the same time. It’s the 1927 Yankees in cinematic comedy form. As mentioned before, the golden rule of comedy is to see funny people in action, not to see people trying to be funny. If ever there’s a movie that gets this right, it’s Ghostbusters.
The Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) role was written for John Belushi, and Rick Moranis’ role was supposed to go to John Candy. But considering the sheer perfection of Ghostbusters, it’s hard to see the formula working with anyone else in the role. Which is one of the many reasons why the remake didn’t work so well. Bill Murray’s ad-libbing is legendary, and makes the movie have the gag per minute rate of The Simpsons in its prime.
Ghostbusters had eye-popping special effects for its day, but they never distracted from what was at its core a hilarious adventure romp which squeezed every ounce of comedy from its inspired premise. When it comes to mixing chemistry, special effects, and comedy, only Guardians of the Galaxy comes close to replicating this perfect formula.
“Surely Airplane isn’t number 1?” we hear you cry. Yes, it is, and don’t call us Shirley. Airplane is one of the most quotable movies of all time and easily one of the funniest.
Each joke is so carefully crafted that every single character plays it straight. There’s no character that sees the absurdity and there are no winks to the camera – except when there are, literally, winks to the camera. It’s a straight-up spoof that will leave you in stitches no matter how badly you may want to keep a face as straight as the cast. Even though the whole thing is played for laughs, there’s no denying the audience genuinely begin to root for washed-up former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) as he attempts to land the plane after the crew is stricken with food poisoning.
While the airport disaster movies of the 1970s (Zero Hour and Airport) have faded into history, the movie that lampooned them is as fresh and as funny as ever. The kings of spoof, Zucker, Abrams and Zucker, were utterly brutal with the editing of Airplane. They showed dozens of rough cuts to college students and any gags that didn’t get a massive laugh were ruthlessly discarded resulting in a streamlined cut that has a gag-rate of three wet-your-pants gags a minute. The perfect blend of parody, wit, and surrealism, Airplane has many imitators but thus far nothing to surpass it.