Published on February 17th, 2021
Rotten Tomatoes has ranked 150 essential comedy movies to watch now. It has included all forms of the comedy movie in its list. From slapstick (Dumb & Dumber, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) to silent (The General, Modern Times). Rom-coms (Moonstruck, Annie Hall) to screwball (It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby). Parody (Airplane!, Scary Movie) to postmodern (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Galaxy Quest). These 150 movies will take you to college (Animal House), past some fan favorites (Step Brothers, Super Troopers), and all around the globe (Kung Fu Hustle, Amelie).
Find the best 20 essential comedy movies ranked by the Rotten Tomatoes:
1. CITY LIGHTS
A tramp falls in love with a beautiful blind girl. Her family is in financial trouble. The tramp’s on-and-off friendship with a wealthy man allows him to be the girl’s benefactor and suitor.
The movie contains some of Chaplin’s great comic sequences, including the famous prize fight in which the Tramp uses his nimble footwork to always keep the referee between himself and his opponent. There’s the opening scene, where a statue is unveiled to find the Tramp asleep in the lap of a heroic Greco-Roman stone figure.
Drowning his sorrows after that botched mission during WWII, the traumatised former fighter pilot with a fear of flying, Ted Striker, still hasn’t got over his old flame and flight attendant, Elaine Dickinson. Determined to win her back, Ted boards a domestic flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, only to come face-to-face with a severe case of in-flight food poisoning that is threatening everyone’s lives.
Review: Empire Online
There’s a story that when Mel Brooks — until then acknowledged king of the movie spoof with the likes of Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein behind him — first saw Airplane! his heart sank. There were, he realised, some new kids on the block playing Mel’s game, and they seemed to be playing it as well and sometimes better than he did.
3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
History is turned on its comic head when, in tenth-century England, King Arthur travels the countryside to find knights who will join him at the Round Table in Camelot. Gathering up the men is a tale in itself but after a bit of a party at Camelot, many decide to leave only to be stopped by God, who sends them on a quest: to find the Holy Grail.
Review: The Guardian
Just after Robert Bresson’s Lancelot of the Lake and before John Boorman’s Excalibur there was Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), the Pythons’ classic Arthurian hallucination. Now rereleased in cinemas on its 40th anniversary, the film was their bridgehead into international stardom. Watched again now on the big screen, it is eerie to see how, without the gags, much of its cinematography and imagery could actually be taken entirely seriously.
4. SOME LIKE IT HOT
After two Chicago musicians, Joe and Jerry, witness the the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, they want to get out of town and get away from the gangster responsible, Spats Colombo. They’re desperate to get a gig out of town but the only job they know of is in an all-girl band heading to Florida. They show up at the train station as Josephine and Daphne, the replacement saxophone and bass players.
This legendary comedy, which fizzes from start to finish with great situations, wisecracking banter, breakneck pace, vulgarity, wit and sensational performances, is hysterically funny every time, no matter how many times, you see it. It mixes roaring 20s crime picture elements, of bootleggers, Tommy guns and chorus girls doing the Charleston, with the screwball staples of false identities, naughty repartee and madcap pursuits.
5. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
Ellie Andrews has just tied the knot with society aviator King Westley when she is whisked away to her father’s yacht and out of King’s clutches. Ellie jumps ship and eventually winds up on a bus headed back to her husband. Reluctantly she must accept the help of out-of- work reporter Peter Warne. Actually, Warne doesn’t give her any choice: either she sticks with him until he gets her back to her husband, or he’ll blow the whistle on Ellie to her father.
In his autobiography, The Name’s Above the Title, Frank Capra said that until It Happened One Night drama had four stock characters, the hero, the heroine, the comedian, and the villain.
6. THE BIG LEBOWSKI
When “the dude” Lebowski is mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, two thugs urinate on his rug to coerce him into paying a debt he knows nothing about. While attempting to gain recompense for the ruined rug from his wealthy counterpart, he accepts a one-time job with high pay-off. He enlists the help of his bowling buddy, Walter, a gun-toting Jewish-convert with anger issues. Deception leads to more trouble, and it soon seems that everyone from porn empire tycoons to nihilists want something from The Dude.
The Dude is, in fact, a former 60s radical and political activist who casually claims to have written an early and uncompromised draft of the Port Huron Statement, but is now permanently at ease, wearing a dressing gown, sunglasses and athleisure-pyjamas combo with flip-flops indoors and out. He is passionate about just one thing – bowling.
7. DUCK SOUP
The country of Freedonia is in the middle of a financial crisis and on the brink of revolution. In order to gain a bail-out from the wealthy Mrs Teasdale, the government appoints Rufus T Firefly as its president. However, Mr Firefly shuns the pomp and pretentiousness of government; along with the prudence and rationality of it too. Meanwhile, the neighbouring country of Sylvania is plotting to overthrow Freedonia and sends Pinky and Chicolini to spy on Firefly.
My father loved the Marx Brothers above all other comedians or, indeed, all other movie stars. The first movie he ever took me to was “A Day at the Races.” All I remember about that experience was the fact of my father’s laughter. But there was something else, too, that I understood only much later: The sound of his voice as he described the brothers. He used the tone that people employ when they are talking about how someone got away with something.
8. DR. STRANGELOVE OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
Paranoid Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper of Burpelson Air Force Base, believing that fluoridation of the American water supply is a Soviet plot to poison the U.S. populace, is able to deploy through a back door mechanism a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union without the knowledge of his superiors, including the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Buck Turgidson, and President Merkin Muffley. Only Ripper knows the code to recall the B-52 bombers and he has shut down communication in and out of Burpelson as a measure to protect this attack.
Review: Empire Online
If any other director had optioned Red Alert, Peter Bryant’s 1958 novel about inadvertent nuclear conflict, it would doubtless have become an earnest Cold War thriller, wagging a sober finger at the folly of war. In fact, that was Stanley Kubrick’s original plan, but halfway through a draft he called The Edge Of Doom, the lightbulb popped over his head: a system so inflexible that one mistake could bring on Armageddon wasn’t just horrifying – it was blackly hilarious. Exit The Edge Of Doom. Enter Dr. Strangelove.
9. THE PRINCESS BRIDE
While home sick in bed, a young boy’s grandfather reads him the story of a farmboy-turned-pirate who encounters numerous obstacles, enemies and allies in his quest to be reunited with his true love.
This is one of those rare films that gets better each time you watch it. With something for everyone, The Princess Bride combines romance, action, adventure and parody to create the perfect movie.
10. GROUNDHOG DAY
A weather man is reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.
Review: The Guardian
I am holding for David O Russell, the Oscar-nominated director of Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, who has agreed to talk about one of his all-time favourite films: the comic masterpiece Groundhog Day, released in the US 20 years ago this month. (It reached the UK in May 1993.) But the person on the other end of the line doesn’t sound like Russell: it’s more of a shrill whine, the vocal equivalent of nails on a blackboard. Then the penny drops.
11. THE APARTMENT
As of November 1, 1959, mild mannered C.C. Baxter has been working at Consolidated Life, an insurance company, for close to four years, and is one of close to thirty-two thousand employees located in their Manhattan head office. To distinguish himself from all the other lowly cogs in the company in the hopes of moving up the corporate ladder, he often works late, but only because he can’t get into his apartment, located off of Central Park West, since he has provided it to a handful of company executives – Mssrs.
Dobisch, Kirkeby, Vanderhoff and Eichelberger – on a rotating basis for their extramarital liaisons in return for a good word to the personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake. When Baxter is called into Sheldrake’s office for the first time, he learns that it isn’t just to be promoted as he expects, but also to add married Sheldrake to the list to who he will lend his apartment. Dobisch, Kirkeby, Vanderhoff and Eichelberger are now feeling neglected as Baxter no longer needs
Review: Empire Online
When Billy Wilder saw David Lean’s Brief Encounter an idea began to take shape in his head. He made a note of it: “Movie about a guy who climbs into the warm bed left by two lovers.” Had Wilder’s notebook fallen into the hands of a lesser director, who knows what wrist-slitting aria of angst and unrequited lust we might have been subjected to. Thankfully, Wilder kept close hold of it. Fourteen years later, with cryogenic attitudes to sex beginning to thaw, he and writing partner I. A. L. Diamond spun this evocative fragment into the most perfectly tuned, bittersweet urban comedy of the pre-Woody era.
12. MODERN TIMES
Chaplin’s last ‘silent’ film, filled with sound effects, was made when everyone else was making talkies. Charlie turns against modern society, the machine age, (The use of sound in films ?) and progress. Firstly we see him frantically trying to keep up with a production line, tightening bolts. He is selected for an experiment with an automatic feeding machine, but various mishaps leads his boss to believe he has gone mad, and Charlie is sent to a mental hospital – When he gets out, he is mistaken for a communist while waving a red flag, sent to jail, foils a jailbreak, and is let out again.
A lot of movies are said to be timeless, but somehow in their immortality they fail to draw audiences. They lead a sort of half-life in film society revivals, and turn up every now and then on the late show. They’re classics, everyone agrees, but that word “classic” has become terribly cheap in relation to movies. It’s applied so promiscuously that by now the only thing you can be sure of about a “film classic” is that it isn’t actually in current release.
13. BRINGING UP BABY
Mild mannered zoology professor Dr. David Huxley is excited by the news that an intercostal clavicle bone has been found to complete his brontosaurus skeleton, a project four years in the construction. He is equally excited about his imminent marriage to his assistant, the officious Alice Swallow, who is interested in him more for his work than for him as a person. David needs the $1 million endowment of wealthy dowager Mrs. Carleton Random to complete the project.
Review: Empire Online
Screwball comedy is defined by the eccentric characters, unconventional situations, slapstick, mishaps, sexual chemistry and snappy repartee of this landmark jape. Staples of the genre — an absent-minded professor, a madcap heiress, a contrary animal (or three in this case), a large sum of money being sought, pratfalls, cocktails, false identity, a pursuit, a car crash, an unwanted fiancee, and absurd confusion — are all present in mint condition in Howard Hawks’ breakneck-paced, maniacally funny picture; written by one of the top screenwriters of the 30s, Dudley Nichols (an Oscar winner for the John Ford drama The Informer.
14. BLAZING SADDLES
The Ultimate Western Spoof. A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lemar (Harvey Korman), a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable.
After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the Governor (Mel Brooks). Hedley convinces him to send the town the first Black sheriff (Cleavon Little) in the west. Bart is a sophisticated urbanite who will have some difficulty winning over the townspeople.
“Blazing Saddles” is like that. It’s a crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken. Mostly, it succeeds. It’s an audience picture; it doesn’t have a lot of classy polish and its structure is a total mess. But of course! What does that matter while Alex Karris is knocking a horse cold with a right cross to the jaw?
15. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE
Faber College has one frat house so disreputable it will take anyone. It has a second one full of white, anglo-saxon, rich young men who are so sanctimonious no one can stand them except Dean Wormer. The dean enlists the help of the second frat to get the boys of Delta House off campus. The dean’s plan comes into play just before the homecoming parade to end all parades for all time.
“What we need right now,” Otter tells his fraternity brothers, “is a stupid, futile gesture on someone’s part.” And no fraternity on campus — on any campus — is better qualified to provide such a gesture than the Deltas. They have the title role in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which remembers all the way back to 1962, when college was simpler, beer was cheaper, and girls were harder to seduce.
16. THIS IS SPINAL TAP
In 1982, the legendary English heavy metal band Spinal Tap attempt an American comeback tour accompanied by a fan who is also a film-maker. The resulting documentary, interspersed with powerful performances of Tap’s pivotal music and profound lyrics, candidly follows a rock group heading towards crisis, culminating in the infamous affair of the eighteen-inch-high Stonehenge stage prop.
Review: Empire Online
When they first showed This Is Spinal Tap to the British press, the distributors handed out only biographical notes on the fictional band, complete with a lot of priceless detail not included in the film (like a list of all 37 people who had played with the band). Since its stars came out of US sitcoms (All In The Family, Laverne And Shirley) without much of a profile in the UK, it was disturbingly easy to accept the “if you will, rockumentary” as genuine and Rob Reiner in his Scorsese beard and Spielberg hat as “filmmaker Marty DiBergi”.
17. THE THIN MAN
fter a four year absence, one time detective Nick Charles returns to New York with his new wife Nora and their dog, Asta. Nick re-connects with many of his old cronies, several of whom are eccentric characters, to say the least. He’s also approached by Dorothy Wynant whose inventor father Clyde Wynant is suspected of murdering her father’s mistress (his former secretary ).. Her father had left on a planned trip some months before and she has had no contact with him.
Nick isn’t all that keen on resuming his former profession but egged-on by wife Nora, who thinks this all very exciting, he agrees to help out. He solves the case, announcing the identity of the killer at a dinner party for all of the suspects.
Review: The Atlantic
“The important thing is the rhythm,” the man at the bar is explaining, cocktail shaker in hand. “You always have rhythm in your shaking. Now, a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time. A Bronx, to two-step time. But a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.” He’s joined a few moments later by his wife and his wire-haired terrier. The former inquires how much he’s had to drink and is told he’s on his sixth martini. As she downs her first, she flags a waiter: “Will you bring me five more martinis and line them up right here?”
18. THE GENERAL
Johnnie loves his train (“The General”) and Annabelle Lee. When the Civil War begins he is turned down for service because he’s more valuable as an engineer. Annabelle thinks it’s because he’s a coward. Union spies capture The General with Annabelle on board. Johnnie must rescue both his loves.
Consider an opening sequence in “The General” (1927), his masterpiece about a Southern railway engineer who has “only two loves in his life” — his locomotive and the beautiful Annabelle Lee. Early in the film, Keaton, dressed in his Sunday best, walks to his girl’s house. He is unaware that two small boys are following him, marching in lockstep–and that following them is Annabelle Lee herself (Marion Mack).
19. THE JERK
Navin is an idiot. He grew up in Mississippi as the adopted son of a black family, but on his 18th birthday he feels he wants to discover the rest of the world and sets out for St. Louis. There everyone exploits his naivete, until a simple invention brings him a fortune.
The Jerk is a 1979 Steve Martin comedy that is — while certainly one of Martin’s best and best-loved movies — filled with frequent profanity as well as the use of racial slurs. Although the use of racial slurs is used to heighten a scene in which mob goons are trying to keep minorities out of real estate in more upscale neighborhoods, the nuance of the scene might be lost on younger viewers. In an extended scene, a young boy is shown wearing a T-shirt that reads “Bull S–t.” There is some sexual innuendo: Navin’s adopted mother had referred to his penis as having a “special purpose,” and he finds out just what that means when he loses his virginity to a tough-acting, foul-mouthed motorcycle stuntwoman.
20. MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN
The story of Brian of Nazareth (Graham Chapman), born on the same day as Jesus of Nazareth, who takes a different path in life that leads to the same conclusion. Brian joins a political resistance movement aiming to get the Romans out of Judea. Brian scores a victory of sorts when he manages to paint political slogans on an entire wall in the city of Jerusalem. The movement is not very effective but somehow Brian becomes a prophet and gathers his own following. His fate is sealed however and he lives a very short life.
One of my fave films of all time, this film has so many laugh-out-loud jokes and ridiculous thought processes that it would probably be unfair to pick out just a few. Though – I’m going to: John Cleese as the legionnary Latin teacher rebuking Brian not for daring to use graffiti on the Roman fort but for using the wrong tense, Michael Palin trying to find his place in life as an ex-leper, Terry Jones as Brian’s mother trying to protect him from myrrh – let’s face it, we’ve all wondered what myrrh is !