Sometimes, in order to really get the laughs flowing, it takes a group of gifted comedic actors to reach audiences’ funny bones. After all, much of comedy depends on the chemistry and interplay between characters, and this dynamic — often ripe with over-the-top conflict and more than a few shocking surprises — has resulted in some of the best comedic ensembles ever to grace the silver screen. Sure, countless films have featured a hilarious and star-making lead performance (Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop and Steve Martin in The Jerk come to mind). However, when a cast is able to bring out the funny in each other, it’s a thing of magic that is all too rare in movies these days. Here are a few of the best films to flawlessly translate the collective talent in a group of stars into a comedy hit.
Here are the 16 Funniest Ensemble Comedy Casts.
16. The Hangover (2009)
Even though the two sequels might have disappointed, there’s a clear reason why The Hangover managed to bring in $277 million domestically against a $35 million production budget. The chemistry between the three principal members of “The Wolfpack” — Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis — is so strong that it elevates the then-novel story structure. Audiences are just as clueless about the guys’ shenanigans as they are, and therein lies the fun. From the very beginning, director Todd Phillips keeps viewers in suspense about what really happened and allows the three leads to banter off of each other as they unravel the mystery together, with uproarious results. Let’s also not forget standout supporting players like Rob Riggle, Heather Graham, and Ken Jeong, whose Mr. Chow became an increasingly prominent figure in the follow-ups. Even boxing champion Mike Tyson makes an incredibly memorable cameo as himself, which he repeated in the sequel.
15. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Despite many popular films to his name, writer/director David Wain has yet to really break through as a major Hollywood player, with the only major exceptions being his work on Role Models and Wanderlust. In fact, the most indelible of his films seems to be this satire, which inspired a devoted cult following even though it barely got a theatrical release at all. Featuring an astounding number of future A-listers (Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, etc.), the film pokes fun at 1980s sex comedies in its depiction of a group of young people on a fictional camping ground. The cast is comprised largely of adult actors playing adolescents and, as such, is a comedic goldmine that truly showcases its diverse cast. A prequel Netflix series took this joke one step further in 2015, and a sequel series will follow the characters a full decade after the film’s setting.
14. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
John Cleese is widely regarded as a comedy legend (more on him a bit later). So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this satire written and co-directed by Cleese — though he was uncredited on the latter count — is considered a classic in its own right. Though it is rare nowadays for comedies to crack into the awards conversation, A Fish Called Wanda earned three Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor win for Kevin Kline’s outrageous role as Otto West. Jamie Lee Curtis, Kline and Michael Palin play a gang of diamond thieves in the critically acclaimed film, with Cleese himself rounding out the ensemble as an attorney who plays a key role in their latest scheme. The four actors reunited nearly a decade later for a spiritual sequel titled Fierce Creatures, but it failed to capture the same spark and deft comic timing as its predecessor.
13. Mean Girls (2004)
In the decade-plus since this Tina Fey-scripted teen comedy hit theaters, the film has only become more popular with fans, thanks to its clever social commentary, infinitely quotable dialogue (“so fetch”) and a breakthrough performance by Rachel McAdams as quintessential popular girl Regina George. Lindsay Lohan may take the lead as a home-schooled teen forced to navigate the politics of a new high school, but Mean Girls leaves plenty of room for everyone in the cast to shine, regardless of how much screen time they receive. Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried are pitch-perfect as Regina’s frustrated besties, while Fey’s frequent collaborator Amy Poehler takes on a scene-stealing role as a self-professed “cool mom.” Based on Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes, director Mark Waters’ film remains an enduring modern classic and the pinnacle of Lohan’s popularity as an actress before her very public personal struggles overshadowed her onscreen abilities.
12. Clue (1985)
A film based on a board game? Really? We all remember Battleship and Ouija. Yet, this irresistible adaptation of the Hasbro title subverts expectations to emerge as a worthy cult classic. Led with aplomb by an especially strong Tim Curry, Clue transforms the straightforward murder mystery premise of the source material into something far richer. Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean, Eileen Brennan and Martin Mull bring characters like Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet roaring to life in a film that’s unabashedly silly and eminently rewatchable. The fact that the entire film is set within a single mansion means that viewers are treated to 97 minutes of accomplished comedic talents playing off of each other in ever-changing combinations. Despite it status as a box office flop, Clue is now recognized for the gem it is. Naturally, a big-screen remake is inching its way through development over at Fox.
11. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Few Saturday Night Live alumni have developed the widespread popularity of Will Ferrell, who has emerged as one of the most popular comedic actors of the new millennium. However, though the actor has appeared in many hits over the years, his magnus opus thus far is probably this tongue-in-cheek look at the changing nature of television news. As the arrogant, clueless man-child of the film’s title, Ferrell is larger than life in all the best ways, alternating from wry one-liners to full-on freakout mode at a moment’s notice. Yet, what truly takes Anchorman to the next level is his interactions with co-stars like Christina Applegate as his romantic interest/competition Veronica Corningstone and the collective bravado of Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell as his news team. Sadly, the 2013 sequel is mostly considered inferior by the majority of fans, but at least the original just seems to get better with age.
10. Best in Show (2000)
Mockumentaries may largely be an acquired taste. For moviegoers whose sensibility meshes particularly well with this style of comedy though, Christopher Guest is the grandmaster of how to execute it well. Over the years, he and a regular group of collaborators have delivered films like Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, all of which Guest directed. This one, however, is considered by many to be the finest film in his growing filmography. Following a collection of five contestants in a prestigious dog show, the film’s script — written by Guest and Eugene Levy — essentially provides a framework for actors like Guest, Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey and Michael McKean to improvise an increasingly outlandish series of bits. Released to universal critical acclaim, Best in Show is often heralded as one of the funniest films ever made, and along with Guest’s other work, it has helped to reinvigorate interest in mockumentary comedies.
9. Caddyshack (1980)
Before Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters or even Stripes, it was this Harold Ramis-directed sports comedy that announced Bill Murray’s arrival as a movie star. As determined greenskeeper Carl Spackler, Murray brought perhaps the most famous character from Caddyshack, but his role was far from the only one to carry the film. Rather, the film marks a true ensemble with Michael O’Keefe as the straight man among a cast full of eccentric performances by Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. A bonafide classic, Caddyshack remains one of the most iconic movies about sports in cinematic history and earned nearly $40 million against a production budget of reportedly just $6 million. Moreover, it solidified the long-running collaboration of Ramis and Murray that had begun the year before with Meatballs. While Ramis returned to write the sequel eight years later, only Chase reprised his role, and it fell flat both with critics and audiences alike.
8. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Previously best known as an Emmy-winning TV actor for his work on All in the Family, this film proved that Rob Reiner had far more creative juice in him than simply playing Michael “Meathead” Stivic opposite Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker. In his directorial debut, Reiner — who would later go on to helm other classics like The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally… — brought the mockumentary format to the forefront of big-screen comedy. Largely relying on the ad-lib skills of lead actors Christopher Guest (see #10 on our list), Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, the film chronicles the inner workings of fictional British rock group Spinal Tap. Musical documentary meets full-on satire in this hilarious exercise in excess that skewers the musical milieu of the era in much the same way as this year’s highly underrated Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. With a deep-seated cultural relevance at its core, This Is Spinal Tap is works as both a time capsule and a timeless laugh riot.
7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Ask anyone what the funniest film of all time is, and we guarantee that Monty Python and the Holy Grail will come up in the conversation. Though the Monty Python gang (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) had already made a film before this one, 1971 release And Now for Something Completely Different was comprised of sketches from the group’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series, while Holy Grail features entirely new material. Perhaps that distinction explains why the film has remained such a favorite among comedy aficionados, despite the popularity of subsequent films like Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. The inclusion of such indelible scenes as the confrontation with the Black Knight and a cavalcade of unforgettable lines certainly don’t hurt the film’s legacy, which is stronger than ever more than 40 years after its initial release.
6. Airplane! (1980)
Before spoof films devolved into Date Movie (and its many follow-ups), this classic comedy — co-directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker (The Naked Gun) — proves that this style of comedy could be simultaneously absurd and brilliant. Robert Hays stars as an ex-pilot who is forced back into the cockpit when the captain of an airliner becomes ill. Initially conceived as a parody of disaster films (like the 1957 release Zero Hour!, from which it borrows key story elements and characters), Airplane! has transcended its initial inspiration to emerge as something much more accessible to mainstream moviegoers. Its broad comedy is remarkably well-balanced among the supporting cast, including veteran actors like Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and a standout Leslie Nielsen who had never done comedy before their appearance here. Though Hays may be the ostensible lead, Airplane! has a true ensemble feel to it, allowing nearly everyone their moment to shine.
5. Bridesmaids (2011)
Director Paul Feig may have caught a lot of flack this past summer with his all-female reboot of a fan-favorite franchise, but with this film, he also takes a lot of credit for proving to the industry that R-rated comedies starring women could be just as successful as those featuring predominantly male casts (e.g., #16 on this list). Bridesmaids may serve as the breakout film role for Kristen Wiig — who also earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay with Annie Mumolo — but it features an entire bridal party of brilliant supporting performances. Maya Rudolph stars as Wiig’s best friend and the bride-to-be, and Rose Byrne brings class and a bit of deviousness to her role as Wiig’s rival. However, the real standout is Melissa McCarthy, who earned a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance and used her popularity here to catapult into her own successful film career.
4. Office Space (1999)
Sure, Gary Cole may take the lion’s share of memorable lines for his eerily accurate portrayal of a corporate middle manager in this comedy written and directed by Mike Judge (King of the Hill). Yet, Office Space has a lot more to offer than simply one unforgettable turn. Ron Livingston nails the plight of the everyman who hates his 9-to-5, and Stephen Root is both endearing and terrifying as the office oddball Milton. The latter was actually carried over from a series of animated short films Judge made in the early-to-mid-1990s. Since the workplace is often populated by all manner of colorful characters, Judge’s film wisely stays true to this notion, allowing his gifted cast to elevate his writing to new heights. Like many of the other films on this list, Office Space was a box office disappointment, barely recouping its $10 million production budget domestically. Of course, it’s since become a modern classic.
3. Ghostbusters (1984)
Moviegoers in the mid-1980s must have found something strange in their neighborhoods because they all flocked to see Ghostbusters during its initial theatrical run. On a budget of just $30 million, the Ivan Reitman film went on to earn $229 million, a total that nearly made it to the number one film of 1984 (it was closely beaten by Beverly Hills Cop). In any case, an entire franchise sprung from that film’s success, riding off of the exceptional chemistry between Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as the titular paranormal investigators. Sigourney Weaver added another signature role to Alien’s Ripley, and Rick Moranis set the stage for his own string of hits throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Plus, let’s not forget William Atherton as meddlesome EPA attorney Walter Peck, years before the actor played a meddlesome journalist in Die Hard. If only Ghostbusters II had been as fun as this initial entry.
2. The Big Lebowski (1998)
The films of Joel and Ethan Coen tend to have two modes: moody thriller (No Country for Old Men) and outlandish comedy (Hail, Caesar!). When it comes to the latter, The Big Lebowski is largely considered their best work. Though the film was hardly a box office behemoth (earning just $17 million domestically), its cultural impact looms large. Jeff Bridges’ performance as The Dude became instantly iconic, as did supporting turns by John Turturro and John Goodman as Jesus Quintana and Walter Sobchak, respectively. Julianne Moore, Sam Elliott and Coen regular Steve Buscemi also help the film’s absurd humor work like gangbusters. Though The Big Lebowski still inspires a divisive response among some moviegoers, there is no arguing with how well it has stood the test of time. Nearly 20 years have gone by, and fans are still clamoring for a follow-up, which is finally (sort of) in the works.
1. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks stands as a comedy legend for his many decades of bringing hilarious ensembles to the screen. We could have easily slipped Blazing Saddles, The Producers or Spaceballs on to this list. However, Young Frankenstein is considered by many to be among the filmmaker’s best work, thanks in no small part to the late great Gene Wilder. The actor brought such a manic energy to the role that perfectly fit his status as a mad scientist, and his very presence brought a certain style to the entire production that would otherwise have been lacking. Yet, Wilder’s supporting cast — Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars — was just as committed to making the film work as both a spoof of Universal monster movies and a venerable comedy in its own right. Bonus points for a cameo appearance by Oscar winner Gene Hackman as a blind hermit.
While our list of the most hilarious comedy ensemble casts is far from exhaustive, we do feel like the ones we’ve discussed represent not only the funniest ones ever put to film but also some of the most culturally significant ones in cinema history. Some stars carry enough name recognition to headline a comedy solo, but we’re of the mindset that comedy is at its best when it’s a team effort. The films listed above — from a diverse group of filmmakers ranging from comedy directors like Mel Brooks and Paul Feig to more versatile selections like Rob Reiner and the Coen brothers — effectively assembled their own superhero teams of comedic talent and made history as a result. Without a doubt, these are the films we’ll still be re-watching and laughing at for years to come. We can only hope that the years to come will bring along some more worthy additions to the films we’ve highlighted here.
Which comedy has your favorite ensemble cast? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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