The Best Sci-Fi Comedies Ever Made

Science fiction has a reputation for being a genre folks take too seriously, yet some of the funniest movies ever made love taking the piss out of pew-pews, aliens, and laser swords. Here are the funniest of them.

Galaxy Quest cast photo with Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver
Photo: Getty Images

Comedy is an art form that to truly succeed requires mastery of both subtlety and audacity, and a keen sense of timing. But usually two out of three is enough to pull some chuckles from an audience, and so a veneer of comedy finds its way into a lot of genres besides its own. And a little like how science fiction comments on our current era, comedy also tends to highlight current storytelling trends and topics, making it a natural companion to the speculative genre.

Unlike how Airplane killed the disaster movie in the ’70s by brutally skewering every trope that that genre relied on, comedy’s place in science fiction is often evolutionary and frequently affectionate. Something about this blend simply enhances the way sci-fi comments on us as a species. Call it symbiotic—a raucous relationship similar to Eddie Brock and Venom’s bonkers movie marriage. But don’t call it Shirley. These are the best sci-fi comedies so far, and if we missed one of your faves, here’s another reminder that comedy is ever subjective.

Spaceballs (1987)

Mel Brooks took a turn as George Lucas’ Weird Al decades before Al’s detective work pieced together the entire Phantom Menace plot ahead of release. And the result is a go-to classic that should never be watched on BBC America. All the best jokes, from the ship full of assholes to Tim Russ’ exasperated cry that he ain’t found shit, never make it into the TV cut. 

As a satire of Star Wars, it’s a little funky in places. Brooks is not a dedicated franchise fan (you hear that, you weird little freaks?), with the villainous relationship between Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and Luke/Han menu combo special Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) frankly a mess. But Brooks still knows what’s funny about making movies, and Spaceballs takes some fine shots at sci-fi in general. The capper is an Alien joke so absurdist, so perfectly executed, that you’ll never finish a rewatch without a big smile.

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Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest, in contrast to Spaceballs, is so lovingly crafted around the entire holistic fan experience of Star Trek that it’s unofficially regarded as a Trek movie in its own right. It zaps all the right targets for the right reasons, with a perfectly cast Tim Allen (as actor and in-universe series lead Jason Nesmith) who is forever less self-aware about how others feel about him than the famously prone-to-feuding William Shatner.

But it’s not the potshots that make this movie a classic. It’s the knowing grins about how the sausage is made, from funky prosthetics and dodgy sets to the exuberant atmosphere of a fan convention. A young Justin Long plays Fandom Incarnate, chock full of nerd herd factoids and a keen grasp of the sciences that pertain to his hyper-focus. Through him we live our dream: a fan saves the day, ascending to their own role in the canon.

Ghostbusters (1984)

There are only two Ghostbusters movies worth discussing anymore, and only one of them is genuinely great. That’s the original, which features Sigourney Weaver at her hottest, Ernie Hudson at his most relatable, some comedy guys that are pretty funny, I guess, and a Slimer that hasn’t had the Joe Pesci In Lethal Weapon overdose effect applied yet.

It’s a film that works because Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis aren’t acting so much as being explicitly, absurdly themselves in an equally absurd situation that we all kind of wish would actually happen—which Aykroyd very well might since the movie is based on his family’s own pseudo-scientific theories about the afterlife. And if it were to happen, of course it would start in New York City. Of course we’d want some of our most dickish downtown brothers on the front lines when the gates to Oblivion open in Central Park West. Those guys aren’t fazed by anything. And frankly, I still want a job with the ‘Busters. No, today’s ghost hunter shows are not the same.

Dark Star (1974)

Much to John Carpenter’s annoyance, the quality of his movies are often directly correlated to how thin his budget was while making them. Give him as little money as possible and he will reinvent cinema. That same spirit permeates his fuck-around film school project, co-produced with Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star. Made for less than you’d pay for a new Corvette, it not only revolutionized the special effects of space travel, but it did so with a painted beach ball as the ship’s somewhat malicious alien mascot.

Not only is this film the launchpad for O’Bannon’s Alien script (that beach ball was later reworked into the xenomorph), but it aptly treats AI as a hilarious shitshow of unwanted outcomes. The result lambasts Kubrick twice over; once as the whole-body parody of 2001 that it is, and in the finale, which is Dr. Strangelove’s ending on Space Cocaine.

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The Ice Pirates (1984)

I am obnoxious about The Ice Pirates. It’s a film that’s either adored or reviled, and if you’re the latter, we’re going to have to never speak about this. Is it a good movie? No. Is it a fantastic comedy that spears every pretentious trope about high-concept space opera? Oh boy!

The premise is in the label: In The Future, water is a high-priced commodity controlled by fascistic militants and market forces. Nothing realistic here. Pirates have it made in the shade, liberating cargo and selling it to planets in need. But these Ice Pirates are single-brain-celled dipshits with a hodge-podge galaxy-liberating plot ahead of them. What carries the day are who these pirates are: Ron Perlman, Anjelica Huston, and Robert Urich, all of whom are clearly having a ball and also want you to have fun with them. Bonus if you’re a fan of movie costuming: The Ice Pirates is the apex of Space Togas and Crystallized Greece, with a level of care I’d expect in a Yorgos Lanthimos joint.

Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948)

eah, I know. “Where’s Young Frankenstein?” Frankly, Young Frankenstein, as magnificent as it is, is even better after you watch the movie that capped off the Universal Monsters era with a clown nose. It’s not even Frankenstein’s Creature (Glenn Strange stepping in for Karloff) that’s the best part, it’s Up-For-Anything Bela Lugosi reprising Dracula.

Dracula is one of horror’s greatest jerks and here he gaslights the hapless baggage slinger Wilbur (Lou Costello) from the comfort of his coffin. For about three wonderful minutes, Wilbur cannot get his buddy, Chick (Bud Abbott) to believe him that the Real Dracula is mixed in with a bunch of props on delivery to a wax museum. That’s just in the first act of the movie, which goes on to chuck in the Wolf Man (Lon MFing Chaney Jr.), Frankenstein’s Creature, and a finale spoiler cameo on par with anything the MCU puts out. Yes, it’s from 1948. No, you won’t be bored. Go find it.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Bring back absurdist pulp sci-fi in all its glory, and I’ll finally get you to understand that the MCU’s MODOK is right to look like that. The furthest fringes of sci-fi are at their best when you’re allowed to get real weird with it, and Buckaroo Banzai is a fantastic crash course. It’s a banana smoothie blend of ‘70s Kung fu action and ‘50s alien invasion stories, and the taste hits just right. 

Like those Cold War warning flicks, Buckaroo is tasked to inject himself into the midst of an interstellar civil war that could start World War III. That’s where the sensible part of the plot ends and the fantastic amounts of batshittery begins. It’s futile to summarize, but when I can tell you that the cast is chock full of genre greats, from Clancy Brown and Peter Weller, to John Lithgow having the greatest time of his life, I don’t need to.

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Idiocracy (2006)

Idiocracy was funnier before 2016 when reality began to jet ski down the slope of political madness and the worst people in the world started spitting out babies like Super Monkey Ball. It’s still hilarious, but it’s a bitter humor when you just know a State Department guy who loves this film joked about using Gatorade on Midwest crop failures to Felonious Trump and he took it seriously.

Anyway, Idiocracy is another example of how Mike Judge continues to understand the outcomes of capitalism, poverty, and underfunded education better than a lot of us, implications of eugenics in this movie notwithstanding. Luke Wilson’s befuddled exhaustion is all of us heading into November as we face this carnival yet again. Now the bleakest of comedies, Idiocracy is also poignant, human, and still able to pull a full on belly laugh out of us.

The World’s End (2013)

The finale of the Cornetto Trilogy is a grand laugh, but it’s also Edgar Wright’s most human film to date. It’s easy to chortle at Simon Pegg’s aging goth failure Gary King, unless you were him growing up. If you were, the finale—which reveals why King has been so steadfast about his goals throughout this Aliens in Cardiff cozy catastrophe—is gonna make you cry like the first time you saw Artax go down. 

That somber discussion of depression is beautifully balanced by how on point everyone else is, from Martin Freeman’s robotic businessman to Nick Frost’s exhausted lawyer. And look! It’s Paddy Considine, who like fellow Wright regular Olivia Colman, taught us he can act the beans out of anything. The result is the most heartfelt of the three Pegg/Frost/Wright films, and, in my opinion, even funnier than the beloved Hot Fuzz.

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

We’ve reached the point of the curve where there’s occasionally some ridiculous backlash about this movie being overhyped going around, but y’all can sit down. Everything Everywhere All At Once isn’t a slapstick laugh riot, it’s the emotional Asian soul of The Joy Luck Club wrapped in an upscaled take on Dreamscape, the movie Inception ripped off.

There’s nothing smarmy or preachy about it. Emotional intelligence fuels this movie, from the empathetic blur of realities caused by either dimensional hopping, ADHD, or both, to the realization that Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) is the exact hero that both Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and we need in our lives. It’s not that suddenly he’s more powerful than our female protagonist, it’s that his gentleness is the eleventh hour superpower that pulls Evelyn up into the Super Saiyan God form she needs to become. At last, she can simply understand that her daughter needs love. Nothing else. Just love. If you don’t adore the sequences where these two women, as two rocks, learn to finally talk, we’re not going to be friends.

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Re-Animator (1985)

If Re-Animator’s Dr. Herbert West looks familiar to you, you’ve probably seen him eat scenery, furniture, and co-stars whole in a variety of modern Star Trek roles. Jeffrey Combs is one of those performers who quickly understands what kind of production he’s in. Herbie’s not quite like Weyoun, the constantly-cloned Vorta attached to the Dominion, yet there’s something in that immutable prissiness that tells us Weyoun would go nuts on the DS9 station with a lime green syringe in a heartbeat.

Director Stuart Gordon’s take on Lovecraft’s world understands that those purple-prose horrors would only translate into modern English with a total embrace of camp. It works because its two stars never act like this is camp. Cain (Bruce Abbott) is a normal med student who needs a roomie, and West is the poster child for Movie Autism. Everything else around them is utterly insane, including the Big Bad, Dr. Hill (David Gale). The result is a movie that maybe wasn’t always meant to be a comedy, yet remains the funniest Lovecraft movie ever made.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Nothing reveals the inner nature of ‘80s film critics like a silly movie aimed at The Youths. The first reactions to Bill S. Preston Esquire and Theodore “Ted” Logan’s historical exploits were a little grumpy and a lot befuddled by the airhead Californian slang. They were generally dismissive. What fools mortals be.

Bill & Ted is The Day the Earth Stood Still of comedy sci-fi, a plea to each and every human on this planet to just be excellent to each other wrapped in a corny yet delightful plot about a garage band duo. It ruined the pronunciation of Socrates for a generation, and prepared us for Ridley Scott’s lurching recital of Napoleon Bonaparte. In its deliberately inept handling of history, it made history human and approachable. 

Slither (2006)

The first era of James Gunn went heavy on the gross out, yet buried in these early scripts is a blend of earthy humanity and a sharp grasp of sci-fi and horror tropes. Slither is an alien invasion flick by way of the ‘70s barfo flick Squirm, one of the only horror movies to genuinely freak me out for years. That sounds pretty generic, but add the go-to Gunn duo of Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker to the charisma and humor of Elizabeth Banks (now a horror queen in her own right), and it’s a proper boxed lunch.

Slither isn’t here to comment smartly on much. Mostly it’s here to show that Troma-style movies can be truly awesome under all that campy gore. And as a testament to later Gunn work, his female characters have aged better here than Joss Whedon’s oeuvre.

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Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block is not only one of the best British sci-fi movies of the modern era, but it’s a cheeky introduction to a side of the island us Yanks rarely glimpse. While there’s no true parallel between Compton and anywhere in Frog-Upon-Toodle-Toadstool country, there are council home neighborhoods that get the Thatcherite trickle-down (yes, I mean she’s still pissing on the poor from her grave), and it’s among them that our Vantablack furry aliens crash land.

It’s not the best choice, turns out. A local street gang drops an alien straightaway, and things escalate sharply from there. Tune in for why John Boyega still deserves to be a proper Jedi, and stay for Jodie Whittaker’s pre-Doctor Who audition. It’s funny, it’s scathing, and it’s about us in a very John Carpenter way.

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s humanistic explorations of people stuck in the worst situations imaginable work because they are so very human. Every day in the real world,  when any given horror happens, someone’s gonna crack a joke about it. They Live is that principle distilled. It’s Ronald Reagan’s America buried in capitalism up to its neck. Blue collar lives are driven into poverty. Then you find out aliens are behind it. Ya gotta laugh, demonstrates Roddy Piper.

They Live holds enough quotable one-liners to be an honorary Schwarzenegger movie, with Piper and Keith David sharing the comedy load—and that fantastic fight scene—with an often exhausted stubbornness. Even realizing that their own friends and allies will sell out to invasive capitalism for high thread count bedsheet sets is just another morning in America for these two, and their laughter reminds us we can survive this nonsense too. Or at least go down fighting.