In Hollywood, there are often actors who are typecast. Certain actors or actresses will find themselves consistently positioned as the leads in romantic comedies. Other men will be repeatedly cast as the bulky action heroes. And some will always find themselves in the role of the aloof parent in a slapstick comedy.
But sometimes, actors get the opportunity to “play against their type” – to try something a bit different. And often, those roles are extremely memorable.
Here are the 13 Best Comedy Performances By Dramatic Actors.
13 Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail (1998)
Tom Hanks is well-known for his dramatic work in acclaimed films like Saving Private Ryan and Castaway. But one of Hanks’ best performances was in the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. In his second rom-com with Meg Ryan, Hanks gets the chance to flex his comedic muscles, delivering one-liners and nailing facial expressions and creating an iconic rom-com lead in the character of Joe Fox.
Hanks gets the chance to work opposite Dave Chappelle in this film, as well, and the two click fantastically, Chappelle’s natural charisma and timing elevates Hanks’ scenes as well.
And let's be honest: we all swooned at the ending of the film.
12 James Caan in Elf (2003)
While James Caan’s character in Elf is not silly or really comedic, the juxtaposition of his curmudgeonly, angry Walter with Will Ferrell’s enthusiastic and childish Buddy makes for a great comedic performance from Caan. The fact that he is so great at being dramatic and serious actually serves to elevate the film.
The thing that’s so great about James Caan in Elf is that the prickly nature of his character actually helps ground the film and prevents it from being too absurd. While a lot of the film’s funniest moments are slapstick-style comedy shenanigans, the funniest moments from Caan are the more relaxed, easy ones (like the abject horror on his face upon meeting Santa Claus, or his complete bewilderment when opening his present from Buddy). Caan’s dramatic background makes Elf as great as it is.
11 George Clooney/Brad Pitt/Matt Damon in Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Eleven is an ensemble movie, containing some of Hollywood’s most notable dramatic actors. Chief among them? George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. While Ocean’s Eleven may not be billed as a comedy, this heist dramedy is iconic for letting its main stars let loose.
All three men deliver great and subdued comedic performances. That's what truly sets them apart in this movie – the heist that the team carries out is elaborate and grand, so the comedy is subdued. Facial expressions from Clooney and Damon are enough to make any audience member laugh, and Pitt’s delivery of lines (as well as physical comedy like eye-rolling) is perfection.
10 Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride (1987)
Now well-known for his role on Showtime’s acclaimed series Homeland, Mandy Patinkin portrayed the iconic Inigo Montoya in the romantic comedy The Princess Bride in 1987. A host of elements make this film the classic that it is today, and one of those elements is the stand-out performances from the film’s ensemble. Patinkin portrays this character with a sense of bemusement and yet purpose that makes him so memorable.
In addition to that, however, Patinkin adds depth to Inigo when necessary, drawing from his dramatic background in order to demonstrate the character’s deep desire to avenge his father’s death.
9 Meryl Streep in It's Complicated (2009)
Perhaps one of the most beloved and respected actresses in Hollywood, Meryl Streep is no stranger to dabbling in comedy. And though her performances in Julie and Julia, Mama Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada are noteworthy, it’s her comedic presence in It’s Complicated that truly allows her to shine. While Streep is usually more accustomed to playing in Oscar-worthy films, it is clear that she had an absolute blast opposite Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated.
Apart from having impeccable comedic timing, Streep’s laughter itself is enough to incite smiles from audience members and her physical comedy is absolute perfection. Plus, is there any woman in Hollywood these days who is more versatile than Streep?
8 Scarlett Johansson in Scoop (2006)
Scarlett Johansson is better known for her role as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than she is for her comedic acting, but her role in Scoop proved that Johansson has what it takes to succeed in comedy. Consistently, it is Johansson’s facial nuances and expressions that make audiences laugh out loud. With a tilt of her head or narrowing of her eyes, she can convey humor.
But her physical comedy (and chemistry opposite Hugh Jackman) in Scoop is impeccable as well. Not many people are talented enough to be able to play comedy in the low-key and quirky way that Johansson does, which just proves that she needs to do more of it.
7 Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Many people are used to seeing Stanley Tucci perform in dramatic roles. He’s exceptional at portraying stoic characters, after all. But it’s difficult to deny that he brings a certain charm and humor as the witty Nigel (especially the line “gird your loins”). It’s refreshing to see Tucci play it a bit looser with a character who is full of dry sarcasm and deadpan humor, but who also genuinely cares about his job and the people around him.
His scenes with Anne Hathaway’s character are full of the kind of witty banter that Tucci excels at (the scene where Nigel analyzes Andy’s wardrobe is particularly notable). Tucci has gone on to do more comedic roles – including playing opposite Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia, and hopefully he continues to seek out more comedy in the future.
6 Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Apart from Crazy, Stupid, Love featuring an ensemble of very funny people (Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, most notably), it also features a comedic performance from an actor who typically sticks to drama – Ryan Gosling. The reason that Gosling’s character is so memorable and funny in the film is because the actor himself excels at making underrated things funny.
With a raise of an eyebrow, cock of his head or deadpanned line, Gosling can make audiences laugh. And his interactions in particular with Steve Carrell are some of the funniest in the film. Petition to have Ryan Gosling do more comedy?
5 Kate Winslet in The Holiday (2006)
Kate Winslet is an iconic and versatile actress, usually cast in dramatic, award-worthy films (Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs, etc.). But her role in The Holiday proves that Winslet does not only excel at comedy – it’s also something that appears to come rather natural for her.
Her character in the film, Iris, has emotional breakdowns, loud outbursts, and gets to experiment with physical comedy, too, when helping out her elderly neighbor, Arthur (Eli Wallach). The sense of class and charm that Winslet brings to all of her roles is present in this one as well, and her chemistry opposite Jack Black is delightful and sweetly romantic.
4 Robert De Niro in Meet The Parents (2000)
Robert De Niro is a legendary dramatic actor, starring in films like Goodfellas, Limitless, and The Godfather Part II. And yet in spite of the fact that De Niro is well-known for drama, his comedic performances are just as notable – specifically his role in Meet the Parents.
De Niro brings a sense of stoicism to the role that is gruff and funny. His comedic scenes with Ben Stiller are delightful to watch, as is De Niro’s character and his secret hatred of Stiller’s Gaylord Focker is awesome. And let's not forget that De Niro spent a majority of the movie cuddling up to a cat.
3 Sam Rockwell in The Way Way Back (2013)
Sam Rockwell’s role as, essentially, a man-child in The Way Way Back is nothing short of hilarious and poignant. He is the glue that holds the cast together, and the dripping sarcasm that he brings to the character immediately elicits delight. Though Rockwell is known for more serious performances and work, he absolutely excels in comedy, playing a snarky yet compassionate adult and mentor for the film’s lead with ease.
Bonus: It’s fairly impossible to not laugh during any of Rockwell's scenes with Maya Rudolph, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash at the water park. Rockwell’s banter with Rudolph is spot-on, and the romance between their characters is an absolute joy to behold.
2 Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Well-known for playing the role of the dark wizard Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise, Ralph Fiennes excels at playing the villain. He often tends to favor serious, darker roles. But one of Fiennes’ finest is his role in Grand Budapest Hotel.
Ralph Fiennes puts so much into M. Gustave that it's impossible not to love him. ome of the film's funniest moments come from him randomly snapping at his lobby boy. By the end, it's clear that the story being told is as much a dedication to M. Gustave's legacy as it is the Grand Budapest Hotel itself, because really, it's impossible to separate the two.
1 Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998)
How to even begin to describe The Dude? Jeff Bridges' performance as the laidback stoner slacker in The Big Lebowski is iconic. He has two simple loves: bowling and his rug. Bridges is able to take his dramatic background and use it to flesh out The Dude, so despite how simple and straightforward the character and his objectives are, the audience can't help but root for him.
What could have been a one-note role is saved by Bridges' dedication and commitment, and it's entirely due to his performance that The Dude has become one of the most famous comedic roles in recent years.
Can you think of any other actors we may have missed? Let us know in the comments!