Since comedy is based in transgressing social norms, the line for what is funny changes based on what is normative. For this reason, comedy is the movie genre that ages the fastest, but it also means a director or screenwriter can always find something new at which viewers can laugh.
Nevertheless, such creatives do not always care to look for new ways to transgress. This makes comedies that find new ways to do so much more exciting. With each new generation of films, there are rare but exceptional comedies that stand out from the rest. Cinema history has its fair share of innovative, thoughtful and (of course) hilarious comedies that continue to influence comedy of all stripes to this day.
10 Coming To America Was Important For Black Representation In Comedies
Coming to America (1988), which follows Prince Akeem of Zamunda (80’s comedy juggernaut Eddie Murphy) as he searches for love in the U.S., received mixed reviews upon release. However, it was one of the highest grossing films of 1988, and earned itself two Oscar nominations. It has remained popular in the years following its debut.
The earnest and heartfelt comedy also proved important for starring an all-Black main cast. Its popularity made room for later films like The Nutty Professor (1996), Black Panther (2018) and its own sequel, Coming 2 America (2021).
9 Bridesmaids Illustrated That An All-Female Comedy Could Succeed
Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig’s 2011 blockbuster hit, Bridesmaids, follows Annie Walker (Wiig) as she faces the trials and tribulations of serving as maid of honor in her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. The Judd Apatow-produced ensemble comedy earned $288 million at the box office, two Oscar nominations and praise from critics.
The film was groundbreaking for many reasons, not the least of which is that its primary cast is entirely women. Furthermore, the central conflict between Annie and fellow bridesmaid, Helen (Rose Byrne), arises out of a desire for Lillian’s friendship, rather than a man’s attention.
8 This Is Spinal Tap Is The First American Mockumentary
Rob Reiner’s 1984 film, This is Spinal Tap, trail-blazed the mockumentary genre. The movie follows the exploits of fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap, spoofing rock documentaries and their subjects.
The movie was not a significant commercial success upon release but is consistently rated one of the best comedies ever, as well as one of the most important films in cinema history. It is similar to the 1978 English film, All You Need is Cash, but continues to have greater staying power than its British predecessor, having been selected for preservation at the National Film Institute in 2002.
7 Borat Is The Most Famous Mockumentary
If Rob Reiner pioneered the mockumentary genre, Sacha Baron Cohen popularized it. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) remains the highest-grossing mockumentary ever and a critical success.
Playing Borat Sagdiyev, a character from his series Da Ali G Show (2000-2004), Baron Cohen traverses the United States to make a documentary about the U.S. at the behest of the Kazakh Ministry of Information. In the process, Borat falls in love with (and becomes determined to marry) Pamela Anderson. The character has a knack for exposing American jingoism and the Outgroup Homogeneity mindset in actual Americans.
6 Some Like It Hot Helped End The Hays Code
Some Like It Hot (1959) is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Despite its release over 60 years ago, the screwball comedy still holds up, and for good reason. It was produced without Hays Code approval since it features cross-dressing, and its success, financially and critically, is considered a contributing factor to the Hays Code’s replacement in the 60s.
The plot centers on Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), two musicians who disguise themselves as women to protect themselves from the Mob, and join an all-women band where they befriend ukulele player and vocalist Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).
5 Monty Python And The Holy Grail Kicked Off A New Genre Of Comedy Films
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) earned mixed reviews upon release but is currently considered one of the greatest comedies in film history. Monty Python would go on to create other, arguably funnier movies and stage productions, like Life of Brian (1979) and Spamalot (2005), which is based on The Holy Grail. None of these other media would have been possible without The Holy Grail, though.
Buoyed by the popularity of variety comedy shows like Laugh-In (1968-1973) and SNL which premiered later in the year, The Holy Grail became the highest-grossing British film exhibited in the U.S. in 1975. Its sketch comedy style would pave the way for the troupe’s later works.
4 Dr. Strangelove Is A Top-Tier Satire
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1978) satirizes the Cold War. Premised on an unhinged Air Force officer (Sterling Hayden) ordering a strike on the Soviet Union and the U.S. President’s (Peter Sellers) attempt to stop this, the film ridicules nuclear war planning. Sellers’s additional roles as RAF exchange officer Lionel Mandrake and the titular Dr. Strangelove only heighten its absurdity.
Dr. Strangelove earned $9.2 million at the box office and four Oscar nominations. It was also one of the first 25 movies selected for preservation at the National Film Institute.
3 Mean Girls Is One Of The Most Quoted Movies Of All Time
The cultural importance of Tina Fey’s 2004 hit high school comedy Mean Girls cannot be overstated. While some consider the film a chick flick that uses adolescent popularity contests for cheap laughs, this view undermines the very issues the movie satirizes.
Mean Girls centers on formerly homeschooled new student, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), who befriends two social outcasts. They encourage Cady to infiltrate The Plastics, the popular clique at their school. While it is not without its issues, the film is surprisingly insightful almost twenty years later and remains extraordinarily quotable.
2 Bringing Up Baby Only Became Popular In The 50s
Upon release, Bringing Up Baby (1938) was a box office flop. Furthermore, the Cary-Grant-and-Katharine-Hepburn-led screwball comedy was not the first of its kind. However, Bringing Up Baby became the most important of Hollywood’s early screwballs, gaining traction in the 50s as it was played on television, and thus contributing to the staying power of the screwball.
Bringing Up Baby tells the story of a paleontologist (Grant) and a scatterbrained heiress (Hepburn) as they attempt to raise a leopard named Baby. Hijinks ensue when Hepburn’s character falls for Grant’s while he is engaged to another woman.
1 Blazing Saddles Is Still A Sidesplitting Masterpiece
Not every joke has aged well, but Blazing Saddles (1974) remains one of Mel Brooks’s crowning achievements. Written by Richard Pryor, Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Alan Uger and Norman Steinberg and directed by Brooks, the film satirizes Western movies as a genre and skewers American racism. It was chosen for preservation at the National Film Registry in 2006.
Blazing Saddles tells the story of a Black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little) as he is appointed sheriff of the town Rock Ridge to make the townspeople abandon their homes. With the help of alcoholic gunslinger Jim (Gene Wilder), Bart instead rallies the people of Rock Ridge to prevent an industrialist from building a railroad through their town.
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