I’m of the firm belief that films work most effectively when their runtime is 90 minutes or less. It forces an economy of story and dialogue which propels the film into its best self. No bloated middle, extended ending, or wasted stories here. This goes double for comedies. They should never outstay their welcome. But they seem to be getting longer, as we recently pointed out here.
So to refresh your movie comedy palette, here are 25 films that are 90 minutes or under. I’ve tried to avoid the more obvious ones, and shine a light on those comedies which might have gone a bit unappreciated over the years, but are well worth a hour and a half of your time. This lean runtime isn’t a guarantee of greatness of course, but more often that not the shorter they are the better they work.
Waiting For Guffman – 84 minutes
(d. Christopher Guest, 1997)
Of course, Christopher Guest has made his career with brilliant comedies under 90 minutes. From the magnificent This Is Spinal Tap, which in the spirit of shining a light in this film hasn’t been included here, to his own directorial efforts Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Guest knows that less is more. Waiting For Guffman is a great example of this. An improvised mockumentary about a town putting on a stage musical about their own history, complete with several musical numbers, could have been a disaster. But in Guest’s hands its a lean, compact and dry satire on middle America, which ultimately paints a loving picture of the place its mocking.
How To Get Ahead In Advertising – 90 minutes
(d. Bruce Robinson, 1989)
Bruce Robinson’s follow-up to the seminal Withnail & I was probably a surprise to most people. While Withnail was a semi-autobiographical ode to friendship which everyone could relate to, How To Get Ahead In Advertising was a satire on corporate greed featuring Richard E. Grant’s ad exec growing a second head that dispenses cutthroat advice via a boil in his neck. It’s bitter, nasty, and absolutely hilarious though, and for anyone who enjoys that particular brand of dark British humour in the vein of League Of Gentlemen, this film is not to be missed.
Office Space – 89 minutes
(d. Mike Judge, 1999)
Office Space has been called the comedy counterpart to Fight Club, a title it shares with Old School. But while Old School explores the bonds of brotherhood, Office Space attacks the corporate world instead. What all three share though is an existential crisis at its heart. But I honestly believe Office Space lands the most insightful blows of them all, while being wrapped up in one of the smartest comedies of the last 30 years, and at a trim runtime too. Mike Judge, you are a genius sir.
Sightseers – 88 minutes
(d. Ben Wheatley, 2012)
I’ve yet to see High-Rise, but for me this is Ben Wheatley’s finest work, with a huge assist from writer/editor/wife Amy Jump, and leads Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who originated the characters and also earned a writing credit. I currently live in the USA, and when people there ask me what Britain is really like, I point them in the direction of this film. It’s our cultural sense of humour, our love of weird places of interest, and a hundred tiny details that make up the fabric of British life. Added to that is the funniest and sweetest serial murderer tale you’ll ever see, and this is a British comedy for the ages.
A Very Brady Sequel – 89 minutes
(d. Arlene Sanford, 1996)
The Brady Bunch Movie’s decision to transplant their 70s sitcom family into the 90s and play it for laughs was a stroke of genius. But while it was a great premise, it wasn’t fully realised until the sequel. A Very Brady Sequel ups the subversive elements to create a strange parallel universe in which the Brady’s live. You can tell the filmmakers felt far more relaxed and free in pushing the boundaries of what they could do, hence we have Greg and Marcia’s illicit romance, family dog’s being run over off-screen, knowing deadpan delivery of earnest 70s lines, and a plot involving a forgotten husband back from the dead. The first film shouldn’t have worked, but its sly wink to the audience bought it a lot of love. It’s sequel makes good on that potential in spades.
Zombieland – 88 minutes
(d. Ruben Fleischer, 2009)
While Deadpool has made writing/producing partners Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick the hottest tickets in Hollywood right now, and had many wondering where they came from, for us in the know it’s been a long overdue success. Their first stand-out marker for what they could achieve was 2009’s Zombieland, a hilarious, foul-mouthed, self-referential but ultimately sweet movie that poked fun at the established genre it was part of. Sound a familiar blue-print? With Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin as your four leads, you can rightly guess that this film has charm in spades. It’s story isn’t anything new, but its told with panache, and never outstays its welcome, hitting comedy beat after beat while advancing a zombie apocalypse effectively and fairly realistically. So a big hurrah for the recently announced sequel, let’s hope Reese and Wernick do it again.
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel – 83 minutes
(d. Gareth Carrivick)
From the pen (or rather computer) of ace Doctor Who writer Jamie Mathieson came this charming, ambitious, if ultimately uneven comedy about a group of friends at a pub who are forced to deal with the intricacies of time-travel. It’s amazingly high-concept yet has a home-made, hand-stitched aspect to it which rewards multiple viewings. Watching the performances of Chris O’Dowd, Dean Lennox Kelly, Anna Faris and even Marc Wooton is like spending time with some of your best mates, except ones who time-travel. As you expect from Mathieson, the script sizzles with clever invention and also ties all the conundrum’s up fairly neatly, and all in less time than it would probably take you to drink a couple of pints.
Modern Times – 87 minutes
(d.Charlie Chaplin, 1937)
A comedy about the Great Depression which is sadly still relevant today, Modern Times sees Chaplin’s Little Tramp struggle to survive in a world in which increasing industrialisation is taking hold. He is force-fed by a feeding machine, and suffers a breakdown while trying to keep pace with other machines. What follows is series of skits loosely following the Little Tramp’s relationship with orphan Ellen, and their attempts to find a place in the new world. It’s also pretty notable for containing a scene where Chaplin’s character accidentally ingests a load of cocaine and causes havoc, a daring scene considering the production code in force at the time. Fun fact, the film was partly inspired by a discussion Chaplin had with Gandhi. As you do.
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan – 84 minutes
(d. Larry Charles, 2006)
Well, who doesn’t like Borat? Sacha Baron Cohen’s genius with Borat was making sure he didn’t outstay his welcome on his feature film debut, all the while packing every single scene in with comedy moments and lines which brilliantly land almost every time. Would Borat have been as funny if it had been ‘allowed to breathe’? No way! t’s the character’s inherent innocence that allowed him to flourish and become loved in a way that Cohen’s other characters never quite did (including Ali G). Borat is a character who didn’t need exploration, or much motivation, he just needed to be put in ever increasing bizarre situations and allowed to do his stuff.
Black Dynamite – 84 minutes
(d. Scott Sanders, 2009)
Michael Jai White’s blaxplotation spoof is a riot of quotable lines, laugh out loud jokes, and a loving tribute to the films it also sends up. A former Vietnam vet, Black Dynamite is the ‘greatest African-American action star of the 1970s’. With a plot involving revenge against ‘The Man’ after the death of his brother, and the discovery of a nefarious penis shrinking plot, you know you’re in a for a great time. It works on multiple levels, so there’s something for everyone here. First off it’s very very funny, with the humour ranging from clever meta jokes, to slapstick, and perfect line delivery. It’s also incredibly smart, with a ton of nods for film aficionados hidden within. It’s a film which rewards multiple viewings, and feels very much a labor of love for Michael Jai White, who excels in the lead role.
Sleeper – 88 minutes
(d. Woody Allen, 1973)
Is Woody Allen the master of the comedy under 90 minutes? He certainly has a strong case for it, and you could easily make a list almost exclusively of his work. Sleeper is a brilliant case in point. An early 70s effort, during Allen’s most creatively profitable period, it’s a sci-fi film about convenience store owner Miles Monroe who is cryogenically frozen in 1973 and wakes up 200 years later, to find the world run as a inept police state. Quickly finding himself caught up in a rebellion against the oppressive authorities, Miles must navigate the future while attempting to assassinate the Leader. While on the surface a pastiche of the sci-fi films of the era, Sleeper in fact shares more DNA with Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers than it does with its contemporaries. It’s Woody Allen doing slapstick, and making it work spectacularly.
Boy – 88 minutes
(d. Taika Waititi, 2010)
Taika Waititi has been quietly building up a hugely impressive portfolio of films over the last few years. While each of them are ostensibly comedies, they all have an incredible emotion at the heart of them which elevates it beyond most comedy. While What We Do In The Shadows was rightly his breakout film (more on that later), Boy is easily his most personal film to date, and encapsulated what makes Waititi so versatile as a director. Boy lives on a farm in New Zealand with his little brother, grandmother and several cousins. He dreams that one day his father will return and take him to see Michael Jackson perform live. But when his father does return, he instead becomes mixed up in criminal dealings. Tone is all in this type of film, and Boy nails it perfectly, knowing when to go for the laughs, and when to make your heart ache.
Tucker And Dale Vs Evil – 89 minutes
(d. Eli Craig, 2010)
A Canadian comedy horror starring Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk as well-meaning hillbillies Dale and Tucker who are mistaken by vacationing teens as two psychopaths living in a cabin in the woods, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil gleefully subverts every single cliche in the genre while also constructing a hugely entertaining and effective horror story of its own. It stands up to repeated watches with multiple crowds (I know that from experience), and without fail always lands the big laughs, yet at the same time gets you with a weirdly sweet love story which should be ridiculous. MVP is surely Alan Tudyk though, if only for his reaction to losing appendages.
Fantastic Mr Fox – 87 minutes
(d. Wes Anderson, 2009)
An adaptation which follows the spirit rather than the text of Roald Dahl’s text, this is a film which not only manages stands tall amongst the several superb Roald Dahl films already in existence (has any other author had their work adapted so well?) but also manages to be completely and utterly a Wes Anderson movie too. That the two seemingly disparate worlds can come together so fruitfully and complement each other seems an oddity at first, but within a few scenes of Fantastic Mr Fox you’ll be convinced they were made for each other. The most laugh-out-loud funny film from Anderson (until The Grand Budapest Hotel at least), it’s proof that animation liberated him and gave free reign to the comic talent we knew he possessed.
The Palm Beach Story – 88 minutes
(d. Preston Sturges, 1942)
Fast paced and full of rapid fire dialogue, this is a classic Preston Sturges screwball comedy. But unlike the majority of screwball comedies, it’s lean in runtime as well. While films like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday may be known for their quick zingers and fast back and forth, they’re actually surpassingly lengthy, especially for the standards of their day. Not The Palm Beach Story though, and it triumphs as a result. It’s a fairly convoluted plot on paper, and without spoiling anything it revolves around an unhappily married couple with a secret at the heart of their relationship, the world’s richest man and his man-hungry sister, and secret identities. But on-screen it all makes perfect sense, and a showcase of Hollywood in its most glamorous period.
Sherlock Jr – 45 minutes
(d. Buster Keaton, 1924)
It may only be the length of a TV episode, but in terms of iconic film comedies, you don’t get much bigger than Sherlock Jr. Written and directed by the master of silent comedy, with uncredited work from Fatty Arbuckle, Sherlock Jr. is the story of two rivals fighting for a girl’s affections. Keaton, a projectionist who dreams of being a detective, is framed in a crime and is banished. Cue one of the first ever uses of a film within a film, as he dreams he is Sherlock Jr. and solves crimes. But what stands the test of time is Keaton’s physical comedy. Every stunt was engineered and performed by the man, leading to numerous injuries (including a fractured neck) but setting the standard for slapstick and stunt comedy basically forever.
The Bank Dick – 72 minutes
(d. Edward F. Cline, 1940)
Stanley Kubrick’s eighth favourite film ever apparently, The Bank Dick is a W.C. Fields comedy classic in which he plays a drunk called Egbert Sousé (please pronounce the accent over the e…) who after accidentally foiling a bank robbery is chosen as the new security guard. Taking its cues from silent comedies, W.C. Fields provides a masterclass in inspired buffoonery, the plot soon takes a left-turn in wackiness involving scams, bank examiners, movie productions, and a climactic car chase, all of which plays to Fields immense comedy gifts. Proof that with the right performer, you can get comic gold on the oddest of plots.
The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! – 85 minutes
(d. David Zucker, 1988)
While now most famous for the film series, The Naked Gun started life as a spin-off from the comedy TV series Police Squad! Carrying on that series love of visual gags, non sequiturs and puns, The Naked Gun amped up all these elements to create a stone-cold comedy classic. Its rapid fire delivery of jokes should normally mean that for every one that lands, another doesn’t, but The Naked Gun is one of those rare examples where you’ll miss comedy gold as you’re too busy laughing at the last joke.
Love And Death – 85 minutes
(d. Woody Allen, 1975)
Showing his incredible range (and absolutely wonderful creative partnership with Diane Keaton), Allen’s mid 70s found him embarking on a satire of Russian literature, with a War And Peace like tale of a tortured protagonist in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. Allen plays Boris Grushenko, a coward who is forced to join the Russian army and inadvertently becomes a war hero. Returning to marry his cousin (twice removed), played by Keaton, the two engage in amazing and very funny philosophical debates, leading to an assassination attempt on Napoleon himself. Keaton is the real star turn here, proving a master of her craft when imbuing the dialogue heavy scenes with a comedic physical presence, and a developed character beyond the laughs. It’s Allen at his best.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – 88 minutes
(d. Carl Reiner, 1982)
Almost a forgotten picture of Steve Martin’s incredible 12 year run from the late 70s to the early 90s (The Jerk to LA Story), this film noir homage and pastiche has a lot going for it. From the love letter to the films its mocking via use of archive footage, to the compelling performance of Steve Martin, who pitches each scene exactly right, and the astounding costume design in her final film from Edith Head, one of the most celebrated designers in history. The plot may be exactly the type of nonsense you expect, but when its this well done you can’t complain.
What We Do In The Shadows – 85 minutes
(d. Taika Waititi, 2014)
A romantic horror turn away from the autobiographical relationship comedy of Boy, What We Do In The Shadows was a huge surprise for many audiences, but not for anyone familiar with Taika Waititi. After honing his comedy chops on Flight Of The Conchords, Eagle Vs Shark, and Boy, this New Zealand set flat-sharing comedy about a group of vampires was the culmination of everything fans of his had hoped for. It intimately knew its genre, representing the various vampire tropes (and skewering them) perfectly, from the Anne Rice foppery of Viago (played by Waititi himself) to a Gary Oldman as Dracula inspired Vlad (Jemaine Clement). But beyond the quotable lines such as instant classic ‘we’re Werewolves not Swearwolves’, lies a beating heart of a film about loneliness and the price of immortality, served to the audience with more insight than a hundred other films about the undead.
A Town Called Panic – 75 minutes
(d. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, 2009)
Remember those amazing Cravendale ‘MILK!’ stop-motion ads from a few years ago? Well here’s the basis for it, a utterly delightful and totally original animated film about a cowboy, an Indian, and a horse who share a house, accidentally order 50 million bricks, and journey to the centre of the earth. To be honest, the plot is the most incidental thing in this lovingly animated adventure, as instead you’ll be swept away by the gorgeous visuals, and utter joy of the nonsense proceedings.
The Time Of Their Lives – 82 minutes
(d. Charles Barton, 1946)
Released during the most successful year ever for cinema (in terms of bums on seats), this Abbott and Costello picture is something of a curiosity for them. Gone is the vaudeville humour of previous outings, and in fact gone is most of their sparring repartee (mainly due to tension between the pair at the time) but in its place is a rich comedy well worth checking out. Costello is mistaken for a traitor during the American Revolution and shot, leading his ghost to haunt the mansion where it happened until the 1940s, where Abbott (playing a descendant of a man who helped get Costello killed) helps rebuild the destroyed house and prove the innocence of the wrongfully executed ghost.
Duck Soup – 68 minutes
(d. Leo McCarey, 1933)
Almost the shortest film on the list, but possibly the most significant. Duck Soup is hailed as the Marx Brothers finest film, their masterpiece of comedy, and a defining work for the ages. Yet it wasn’t always so. Upon release Duck Soup was poorly reviewed, and it’s box office was considered a disappointment. Made during a tumultuous period in the Marx brothers lives, which included the death of their father and a contract dispute with Paramount, Duck Soup was a rush release which cribbed material from several sources. Yet out of this chaos came something magnificent. A war story which is still as fresh and insightful now as it was then (although perhaps that’s more a reflection on our society than the Marx Brothers genius), a mirror scene to end all mirror scenes, and a hatful of quotes which made you glad they invented talkies.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – 86 minutes
(d. Tom Shadyac, 1994)
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was at the forefront of what we consider ‘modern’ comedy. It kept the freewheeling zany element of the 70s and 80s Airplane and Caddyshack style of films, helped kickstart the gross-out 90s comedies, yet retained a engaging emotional story which pointed towards the 00s. Not bad for a film clocking in at 86 minutes. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective still contains some of Jim Carrey’s finest comedy work, and rightfully made him a huge star. Of course a lot of the jokes are dated, and questionable now, but remember how fresh it felt when released? How you knew comedy wouldn’t be the same again?
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