The 1980s introduced audiences across the world to some beloved and fan-favorite comedies, but many of these cinema greats are often overlooked. While the decade was full of memorable box office hits like Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there were many remarkable comedies that failed to get the praise and recognition they deserved. A great deal of these farces have gone on to become cult classics and have retrospectively been lauded, finally receiving their rightful appreciation.
Comedian extraordinaire Jim Carrey made his cinematic splash when he starred as a hapless teenager targeted by a powerful female vampire in Once Bitten, while Michael Keaton demonstrated his hilarious skills as a performer in Ron Howard’s sidesplitting gem Night Shift. Let’s take a look at some of the most underrated comedy movies of the ‘80s.
9 After Hours
The great Martin Scorsese directed the 1985 black comedy After Hours, which centers on mild-mannered word processor Paul Hackett as he finds his night go from bad to worse after meeting a beautiful but unwell woman who inadvertently sets off a chaotic chain of events throughout the unfortunate night.
For the low-budget independent flick, Scorsese embraced a more low-key and underground style of storytelling and nabbed the award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. It earned widespread praise from critics for its delightfully bizarre elements, sharp humor, and lively performances, and since its release After Hours has been regarded as a widely underrated Scorsese film.
8 Something Wild
Touting a phenomenal cast led by Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Liotta, the 1986 action comedy Something Wild is one of Jonathan Demme’s often overlooked hits before he made waves with Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. The film follows the fun-loving and spontaneous Lulu as she finds herself enamored with a straight-laced banker; their clandestine affair becomes complicated when Lulu’s dangerous ex-convict husband shows up in hopes of reconciling.
Daniels earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as the reserved yuppie businessman, showcasing his comedic chops and ability to embrace the zany and strange. The film helped repopularize the screwball comedy genre at the tail end of the ’80s and showcased Griffith’s widespread mass appeal, leading to her nabbing the lead role in Working Girl.
7 Once Bitten
The always hilarious Jim Carrey nabbed one of his earliest starring roles in the 1985 teen horror comedy Once Bitten, in which he portrays a sex-obsessed high school virgin who becomes the target of a centuries old vampire (Lauren Hutton) that must drink his blood in order to stay young and attractive.
The teenager finds his life turned upside down when he begins to exhibit strange cravings and symptoms that have him wondering if he’s actually turning into a vampire himself. While the film failed to make a major splash with both critics and audiences, it has since gone on to become a celebrated cult classic that demonstrates Carrey’s early star power and exceptional range as a comedian.
6 Night of the Creeps
Taking on both the undead and malicious alien parasites is one tall order for even the bravest of heroes, a fact two geeky teenagers learned firsthand in the 1986 sci-fi horror comedy Night of the Creeps. The Frank Dekker flick pays homage to the B movies of cinema’s past and fully embraces the slasher genre, delivering a hearty helping of blood and gore, zany humor, and entertaining characters that helped establish it as a charming cult classic.
The main characters in the comedy are all named after horror movie directors (like George A. Romero, John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi), and the ’80s gem uproariously chronicles two nerdy fraternity pledges’ efforts to take on alien invaders who are infecting the students on campus and turning them into zombies.
5 Top Secret!
Val Kilmer landed his first big acting break when he nabbed the lead role in the 1984 spy movie comedy spoof Top Secret! The film has him appearing as an American rock star who gets swept up in a German underground resistance movement and sets out to help save a brilliant scientist captured by nefarious forces.
The sidesplitting farce was directed by ZAZ (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker), the comedy geniuses who brought the world hits like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and served as a parody of popular film styles like war and spy movies. Top Secret! helped establish Kilmer as a certified leading man and displayed his range as a performer and ability to take on any genre.
4 The Man with Two Brains
The always delightful Steve Martin served up some serious laughs when he portrayed a gifted neurosurgeon whose world is turned upside after falling for a femme fatale in 1983’s The Man with Two Brains, a Carl Reiner picture co-starring Kathleen Turner as his devious wife.
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr meets a mad scientist while at a medical conference in Vienna, and begins to develop romantic feelings for one of the crazed scientist’s living brains that he can telepathically communicate with. The Man with Two Brains was a modest box office success, though Martin’s zany performance as the lovelorn doctor in the outrageous farce earned rave reviews and demonstrates his phenomenal comedic prowess.
3 Better Off Dead
John Cusack stars as a lovesick high school student determined to end his life after being dumped by his girlfriend in the 1985 black comedy Better Off Dead, which follows the depressed Lane Meyer’s and his inept crusade to commit suicide after becoming completely consumed by his misery. After multiple failed attempts, Lane decides to instead challenge his ex-girlfriend’s new suitor to a dangerous ski race with the encouragement of his oddball buddy and a French exchange student.
Better Off Dead is one of Cusack’s earliest roles, and it led to the actor playing another charming loser, Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s beloved 1989 hit Say Anything… His edgy and eccentric portrayal of Lane helped make the comedy a fun and goofy cult classic.
2 Night Shift
The talented Michael Keaton skyrocketed to stardom when he headlined Ron Howard’s criminally underrated 1982 comedy Night Shift, in which the revered comedian appears alongside Henry Winkler and Shelley Long in his first starring role. The flick tells the story of reserved night shift attendant Chuck (Winkler) as he finds his stress-free existence overlooking a New York City morgue compromised by the wild antics of his spirited co-worked Bill (Keaton).
When Bill concocts an outrageous plan to turn the morgue into a brothel and become pimps, uproarious chaos and hijinks naturally ensue. Night Shift was both a critical and commercial success, with Winkler earning a Golden Globe nomination and Keaton becoming an overnight sensation while also receiving widespread praise.
While there is no denying that the 1989 black comedy Heathers has gone on to become one of the greatest coming-of-age movies of all time, the cult classic still remains often overlooked for its sharp, dark, and biting humor and offers a scathing commentary on the high school social hierarchy.
Winona Ryder is phenomenal as popular girl Veronica Sawyer, who becomes smitten with the rebellious new student J.D, with their relationship causing an uproar among her mean girl clique and results in murder and mayhem. Heathers was a provocative and groundbreaking film that helped establish the careers of its young leads, and was lauded by both audiences and critics; its enduring legacy led to both a television adaptation and musical, with rumors of a potential sequel constantly swirling.