Top 50 underappreciated comedy films of the past 30 years
They don't make funny movies any more, right? Wrong. If you're looking for a laugh, then here are some you may have missed...
For this list, blame The Hangover Part III. It was whilst walking out of that film that I got into a chat with someone, who was bemoaning the lack of genuinely funny movie comedies. Certainly, big budget Hollywood comedies have no end of problems right now - with the occasional exception - but I couldn't help thinking of the many neglected gems that had gone through my DVD player over the past decade or so.
As such, I started to put this list together. It's inevitably subjective, as one person's comedy is another person's snore fest. But I've tried to dig out a mix of comedies from the past three decades that have either flown under the radar completely, or simply failed to ignite in the way they should have done. Some of these are well known, and some didn't do badly at the box office. All of them, however, deserved more. So, without further ado, my choices of the underappreciated comedies of the last 30 years...
I'll kick off with the ones that just missed the cut, for a range of reasons, but still deserve a mention:
Hocus Pocus, George Of The Jungle, Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy, Dude, Where's My Car? (the one joke when they're ordered drive through food gets it a mention), Without A Clue, Lucas, The Stupids, George Of The Jungle.
And now, on with the final selection...
Eddie Murphy's career, not for the last time, was in the doldrums when he teamed up with director Reginald Hudlin to make Boomerang. Reportedly, Murphy put in a proper shift too, attending rehearsals and turning in an underappreciated performance opposite Robin Givens in a chucklesome comedy.
Murphy's had one or two others that flew under the radar too - The Distinguished Gentlemen has its moments - but it was Boomerang that kickstarted the second successful phase of his career. A good, solid, funny comedy, that showed why he became such a strong comedy leading man in the first place.
49. Zack & Miri Make A Porno
Kevin Smith's final self-penned comedy to date, as the man himself has charted, severely underperformed at the box office. It kickstarted a period of his life that would see him change his approach to movies, and eventually take a step back from making them altogether.
Yet lost in the midst of all of this was the fact that Zack & Miri Make A Porno is a far funnier film that it's often given credit for. What Smith does, better than most comedy directors, is pull together not just compelling leads, but a collection of cameo and supporting characters that are enormously fun to watch. It's crude, but comfortably one of Smith's funniest films.
48. The Road To Wellville
Alan Parker's lost film, this. The Road To Wellville's weaker second half belies the sheer joy of the first. It's a film that tells the story of cereal inventor Dr Kellogg (played by Anthony Hopkins), and his bizarre early 20th century health facility.
Hopkins is great value in the lead role, and the lively supporting cast - Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, Dana Carvey, Bridget Fonda, Colm Meaney - are good value too. Check out too the fun score from Rachel Portman. It's brief, but has the best track of laughing ladies you'll ever want to hear.
47. Jack And Sarah
Lost a little post-Four Weddings And A Funeral, Jack And Sarah is a charming and funny film that gives Richard E Grant a rare and very welcome lead role. Samantha Mathis - so excellent in Pump Up The Volume, which we looked at here - plays a young American who takes on a nanny role in a British man's house. Said British man, Jack, is played by Grant, and his character is recently widowed. From that premise, Tim Sullivan's film delivers good laughs, a lot of heart and precious little schmaltz. It's an overlooked gem.
46. Over The Hedge
If you're looking for some of the best big screen comedy of the past decade, then check out the animated films. One that seems to have got lost in the midst of the assorted franchises and clutter and DreamWorks' wonderful Over The Hedge. It never found quite the mass audience it needed for a sequel, but it's often exceptionally funny, and scores bonus William Shatner points. DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg has admitted in the past that he has a soft spot for this one, and he'd like to have done another. We agree with him.
45. The Parole Officer
Off the back of the success of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan took to the big screen in this British comedy that saw him playing a character with about 20% of Partridge's DNA (not least in a glorious rant of sorts near the end). Directed by John Duigan - the director behind the brilliant Sirens and particularly Flirting - Coogan's parole officer finds himself framed for murder, with often very funny results. It's not vintage Coogan, perhaps, but it certainly deserves to be far more than bargain bin fodder. It's a good, solid British comedy.
Here's a great little British black comedy, about a group of disparate, neurotic characters and their experiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Stephen Mangan puts in a great performance as an arrogant and wildly successful comedian, while Chris O'Dowd and Lucy Punch are similarly fun as the less popular funny people attempting to make an impression on apathetic audiences. One of those UK films that was barely marketed for some reason, it's well worth seeking out on DVD.
Laced throughout many of Gore Verbinski's films - from The Lone Ranger and Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, to Rango (although perhaps not The Ring) - is a real adept comedy touch. Not surprising, though, to those of us who sat through and enjoyed Mousehunt. It's the kind of film that looks rubbish on the packaging, but it's a real delight when you sit down to watch it. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are an excellent comedy double act, and Verbinski basically compiles as close to a live action Tom & Jerry as you're likely to get.
Plus: Christopher Walken.
42. Bhaji On The Beach
A British comedy from 1993 from director Gurinder Chadha (who would go on to make Bend It Like Beckham, amongst others), Bhaji On The Beach is a funny and intelligent piece of work from the pen of Meera Syal. Its central plot concerns a bunch of British Asian women going on a daytrip to Blackpool, but where the film has plenty of fun is exploiting the age - and attitude - differences between the seasiders. Witty, sparky dialogue and some real depth to the characters help too, and Bhaji On The Beach doesn't shortchange on laughs either. A little gem.
In spite of its problems, there are lots and lots of things to like about 2004's Eurotrip. The music, one particularly excellent gag about the value of international currencies, and an ensemble cast who have a whale of a time with the idea of a road trip movie across Europe. Predictable? Yep, it's pretty guilty there. Funny? Very.
Did the 90s have a better ensemble cast in a comedy than the one Soapdish attracted? There's an argument for the film we've listed at number 26, but Soapdish pulls together Whoopi Goldberg (who had solid comedy hits throughout the decade, notably Made In America and the Sister Act films), Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey Jr (and just how young does he look in this?) and the hugely underappreciated Cathy Moriarty. It's a gleeful comedy too, taking place behind the scenes of hit TV soap opera, with everyone concerned willing to send themselves up a treat. Lots of good laughs, too.
Fascinating trivia time: PCU is directed by the man who played Ellis in Die Hard, Mr Hart Bochner (we interviewed him here). Bochner also helmed the comedy High School High. PCU is the best one though, and it's also a film that's not particularly well known outside of the US. Understandably perhaps: it's a campus comedy, in the style of Animal House, where you'll find a young Jon Favreau in the midst of the ensemble cast.
38. Addams Family Values
A surprise box office disappointment, this was comfortably the best of the Addams Family films, and Christina Ricci's performance as Wednesday is the best comedy work by a then-child actress in recent memory. Her trip into the happiness hut remains the comic highlight of Addams Family Values, but Barry Sonnenfeld's sequel packs in more laughs than he squeezed out of three Men In Black films. It's a real delight, and a surprisingly overlooked one. With extra points too for excellent supporting work by Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski (who we're going to talk about later)...
37. Stiff Upper Lips
The Merchant Ivory period drama was prevalent in British cinema in the 80s and 90s, and this fun spoof gleefully pokes fun at it all. Stiff Upper Lips, from Leon The Pig Farmer director Gary Sinyor, plays with class differences, snobbery, posh costumes and Britishness, and mines the genre efficiently for laughs. A sequel, in the Downton Abbey era, would be very welcome.
36. The Man Who Knew Too Little
Three Bill Murray projects next (and there's a case for his sole directorial effort, Quick Change, as well, which I'll talk about again in a minute). The Man Who Knew Too Little is a film that works precisely because of Murray's careful, excellent performance as a man mistaken for a spy. Rowan Atkinson covered similar ground in the fairly shitty Johnny English movies, but The Man Who Knew Too Little manages to put a solid film around a great central performance. That's the key difference. It's no classic again, but it's a lot of fun.
35. Osmosis Jones
A belter, this one. A mainly animated movie that bombed at the box office, Osmosis Jones is a comedy set inside the human body, where the race is on to stop a virus from killing the person that the film is set inside. It's from the Farrelly Brothers, and the switch to animation serves them well. Bill Murray plays the human concerned, and the mainly voice cast is rounded out by the likes of Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne and The Shatner. It's a hugely underrated movie this one, full stop.
34. What About Bob
Frank Oz's comedy joins Bill Murray with Richard Dreyfuss for a film about a psychiatrist who, on his holiday, is tracked down by one of his more obsessive patients. But whilst Murray's performance as said patient is suitably strong, much of the delight with What About Bob? comes from the brilliant Richard Dreyfuss. Furthermore, the interplay between the pair of them is excellent, and for a film that simply pairs two brilliant actors on strong form, What About Bob? would earn a recommendation alone. That it's also very, very funny helps enormously.
A quick tip of the hat too for another Murray project that we couldn't quite squeeze onto the list, Quick Change. That one has its moments as well...
33. Funny Bones
Director Peter Chelsom has made some strong films - Hear My Song is a real standout - but it's the delightful Funny Bones we're giving a nudge to on this list. The story of a man after a comedy partner, the movie's not strictly a full-on comedy - Jerry Lewis' role is a straight one here - but it's a wonderfully quirky piece of cinema. Plus, Lee Evans is excellent, and Oliver Platt - in a rare lead role - is strong too. With Oliver Reed and Leslie Caron helping round out the cast, this is a fascinating oddity, and an amusing one.
32. Death Becomes Her
Robert Zemeckis doesn't do much in the way of comedy now, which is a shame, given that his CV includes the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Romancing The Stone. Perhaps the commercial disappointment of his effects-driven comedy Death Becomes Her was partly to blame. Uniting Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, truthfully, this wasn't a film I warmed to a lot first time I saw it (nor did lots of reviewers, it seems), but it stands up, and there's screwball fun and black comedy to be had. It seems strange that a film gets knocked for having ambitions not too far beyond being fun, but Death Becomes Her definitely deserves a reappraisal.
31. Party Girl
That Parker Posey, one of the best acting talents of her generation, has never enjoyed more mainstream success is baffling. Sure, her commitment to independent and smaller movies has a part to play there, but from good films to bad, she's consistently shone. Looking for proof? How about the 1995 movie Party Girl, a very funny flick that gives Posey a big, strong lead role. Her character is tinged with grey areas, and the film itself has brains, and has fun. Further Parker Posey recommendations? Apart from any Christopher Guest film, Josie And The Pussycats is pretty much a must.
30. My Cousin Vinny
I've always had a softer spot than most for director Jonathan Lynn's Sgt Bilko remake, but My Cousin Vinny was the film of his that broke through (not withstanding the wonderful Clue, of course). It notoriously won Marisa Tomei an Oscar, but otherwise seems to be a bit forgotten about. It doesn't deserve that, though. Joe Pesci's central performance is very funny, the script crackles with good lines, and Herman Munster himself - Fred Gwynne - gets an excellent final big screen role as Judge Haller. In fact, the interplay between Pesci and Gwynne alone is enough to justify digging the DVD out.
29. Crazy People
The late Dudley Moore's big screen comedies were patchy towards the end of his career, but Crazy People stands out. It's a great concept here, a movie about an advertising professional who decides to simply tell the truth in his commercials. And inevitably much of the fun follows his new found career direction. A sort-of Jerry Maguire, if he'd been allowed to keep his job. That said, some of the material feels quite uncomfortable now...
28. 2 Days In Paris
Followed by a sequel, 2 Days In New York, it's best to start with the French-set opener, which is written and directed by Julie Delpy, who also stars. It feels a bit like a loose cousin of the Before Sunset/Sunshine/Midnight films, as Delpy and Adam Grunberg play a couple attempting to put the spark back into the relationship. They do so by visiting her mother in Paris, a city that just happens to also house several former lovers.
Delpy's script is very, very funny in places, and like many of the best comedies, there's quite a lot bubbling below the surface. A bit too long perhaps, but a quality comedy.
27. Brewster's Millions
There's a decent argument that Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy See No Evil Hear No Evil should be on this list, although truthfully, I've always found it just a little patchy. For concentrated Pryor genius, the Pryor-centric take on Brewster's Millions was and is far more fun. Co-starring John Candy (and with Walter Hill directing), Pryor's Brewster has to blow $30m in 30 days so that he can inherit $300m.
Truthfully, it's the performances rather than script that seem to breathe so much life into Brewster's Millions, but it does seem to be the overlooked Richard Pryor movie. He gives a golden performance here, even if pretty much everyone watching could have worked out more efficient ways to spend the money quicker.
26. The Paper
With Parenthood, director Ron Howard delivered one of the very best ensemble comedies of the 1980s. He went on to prove that it was no fluke, once again assembling a strong ensemble and putting them together with very funny and very entertaining results.
Unlike Parenthood, though, The Paper all but sank. The setting is a New York tabloid newspaper, with a grizzled collection of characters and a daily deadline to hit. That instantly lends the film an energy and a pace to it, but it's the sparks between the company of actors - including Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall - that makes it work so well. The late, great Jason Robards is on fine form too.
And while we're here, Howard's satirical comedy EdTV, released after The Truman Show but made around the same time, deserves a bit more love too.