Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
The best comedies in the history of cinema achieve more than just making you laugh. Photo: Wealthy Gorilla

The best comedies in the history of cinema achieve more than just making you laugh (although, granted, it’s not a great comedy if it barely makes you crack a smile). Classic romcoms like ‘Notting Hill’ have us yearning for true love while teen movies like ‘Mean Girls’ get us cringing at memories of being too dorky to join the cool gang at school (and ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ ticks both boxes). Then there are the political satires, like ‘The Death of Stalin’, which serve up uncomfortable truths alongside the funnies. And finally, when we need to get into the festive spirit, the Christmas film archives are crammed with titles that leave you giggling into your eggnog, according to Time Out.

Here are the top 23 best comedy movies of all time:

1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

‘What’re the hours?’

Director: Rob Reiner

Cast: Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner

You're asking, how much more fun could this be? And the answer is none. None funnier. Yes, our experts have cast their votes and the winner by a clear margin is Rob Reiner's genre-setting mockumentary – or, if you will, rockumentary – about England's largest-livin', heaviest-riffin', filthiest-lyric-singin', biggest-hair-havin', fluffiest-jumper-ownin' heavy rock combo. Sporting arguably the most quotable script in movie history ('no... these ones go to eleven') and some of the meatiest metal melodies this side of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, this is simply a perfect film: from the first chord of 'Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight' to the very final line ('I dunno, what are the hours?'), there's literally nothing about it that could be improved.

It also, lest we forget, defined an entire genre, accidentally inventing everything from 'The Office' to 'The Blair Witch Project' (not to mention lead ax-man Christopher Guest's entire subsequent career). Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer would keep gigging as Spinal Tap for three decades – proof that they were so much more than just a joke band in a funny movie. Spinal Tap: for those about to rock, we salute you.

2. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Twitter

‘He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.’

Director: Terry Jones

Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin

The Pythons’ second feature is their masterpiece. The story is rooted in the purest farce, as the Three Wise Men arrive at the wrong manger and unsuspecting everyman Brian Cohen is declared the Messiah. He duly bumbles alongside The Greatest Story Ever Told, ending the film on a Calvary Cross for a reluctant chorus of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

What a dizzying achievement this is. ‘The Life of Brian’ takes potshots at everything from schoolroom Latin to Biblical epics (most of which it shames with its attention to period detail) and religious hypocrisy – but, crucially, never religion itself. Needless to say, this didn’t stop predictable accusations of blasphemy.

3. Annie Hall (1977)

‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.’

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

'Annie Hall' is as Woody Allen as Woody Allen gets – hilarious, neurotic and occupied by the realization that whatever happens, life is going to trample all over you. It’s also one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made (with some of the funniest lines: ‘Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love’). Allen is Alvy Singer, who’s just split from scatty singer Annie (Diane Keaton, his real-life ex). What follows is an anatomy of their relationship. Allen has said that the film is not autobiographical – he co-wrote it with Marshall Brickman – but that’s not what we want to hear.

4. Groundhog Day (1983)

‘Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.’

Director: Harold Ramis

Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell

It’s been more than 20 years since Bill Murray starred as the cynical weatherman trapped in a time loop in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – reliving the same day over and over again. But ‘Groundhog Day’ hasn’t aged a bit. What makes it stick? Maybe it’s because under that uproarious humor are a few home truths: life is a groundhog, full of boring repetition, but a little kindness and love go a long way.

5. Withnail & I

‘I feel like a pig shat in my head!’

Director: Bruce Robinson

Cast: Richard E Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths

The funniest parts of ‘Withnail & I’ are the early scenes, when, festering in a Camden flat resembling the inside of a cancerous lung, Withnail and Marwood stumble towards the end of an epic speed and booze bender. There are delirious flights of fancy, bouts of druggy nonsense (‘my thumbs have gone weird’), an abortive attempt to clean the kitchen and a cherishable visit from terrifying drug dealer Danny (Ralph Brown). Later, though, tragedy looms large – and Withnail’s despairing traipse through rain-sodden Regent’s Park ranks among the most heartbreaking closing scenes in all cinema.

6. Team America: World Police (2004)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Letterboxd

'I’ve got five terrorists going south-east on Bakalakadaka Street!’

Directors: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had no idea what they were taking on when they decided to make a ‘Thunderbirds’-style puppet movie about the War on Terror. A year of 20-hour days later – Stone described it as ‘the worst time of my life’ – the film was unleashed and justified every minute of the duo’s hard work. As concerned with skewering the twin pomposities of mainstream action cinema and liberal Hollywood as it is with the terrorist armies of Durkadurkastan and North Korea, the film borders on genius in its self-aware use of wooden marionettes, particularly in the notorious sex scene. Even Matt Damon thinks it’s funny.

7. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

‘Apparently, my son was on something called acid, and was shooting a bow and arrow into a crowd.’

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd

Will Ferrell stepped up from the big-boned manchild of ‘Zoolander’ and ‘Elf’ to musky, manly movie star in a film that recalls a simpler, polyester time. A time when a man was not judged by the contents of his character but on the raw, unchecked ferocity of his cologne, the lustre of his mustache and the quantity of leather-bound books that lined the mahogany shelves of his apartment. But although everyone is ultimately in the shadow of the glistening chestnut bombast of Ron’s towering hair, ‘Anchorman’ is very much an ensemble effort, and everyone brings their A-game to the bullpen.

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8. The Big Lebowski (1998)

‘This aggression will not stand, man.’

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore

When stoner Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski is mistaken for a local millionaire with the same name, he sets out on a big adventure with his bowling team. There are so many one-liners in this Coen Brothers comedy that you could easily credit the film’s success to its pithy dialogue alone, but with a supporting cast including Walter John and Julianne Moore, it brings so much more to the table, including life lessons about friendship and heroism.

9. The Naked Gun (1988)

‘I promise you: whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he’s behind bars. Now let’s grab a bite to eat.’

Director: David Zucker

Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, OJ Simpson

Second only to ‘Airplane!’ in the gag-for-gag hit-rate stakes, ‘The Naked Gun’ never met a dumb pun, slapstick pratfall or deadpan one-liner it didn’t like. The film made Leslie Nielsen a bigger star than he’d ever been playing straight-man roles in ‘proper’ disaster movies – though it has to be said, he tossed away that goodwill almost immediately in the likes of ‘Dracula: Dead and Loving It’ – and spawned a fistful of sequels, of which the first is well worth watching for the amazing ‘awfully big mustache’ line alone

10. Dumb & Dumber (1994)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Gone With The Twins

Hey, want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? ARGHHHGHHHER...’

Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

Imagine the contents of your hyperactive little brother’s brain splatted onto a TV screen and you have ‘Dumb & Dumber’. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels star as a pair of stupendously stupid no-hopers who head on a road trip across America to return a woman’s briefcase. Unapologetically gross-out, the movie’s a mulch of butt jokes, toilet jokes, snot jokes and sex jokes. It’s totally regressive but in a whoops-just-snorted-my-drink-everywhere-laughing kind of way.

11. Trading Places (1983)

‘It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.’

Director: John Landis

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis

America’s love-hate relationship with capitalism has rarely been more cannily explored than in this sadistic fairytale of two conniving businessmen who decide to replace one of their finest employees – Harvard elitist Dan Akyroyd – with Eddie Murphy’s sharp-witted street bum. The image of Aykroyd, drunk and suicidal in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve, says more about the realities (and brutalities) of Wall Street than a hundred financial-crash docs – and means that when he and his erstwhile rival pull together for the big climactic switcheroo, you’re firmly in their corner.

12. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

‘Those. Aren’t. PILLOWS!!!’

Director: John Hughes

Cast: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean

So much more than just a jolly fat man, John Candy was one of those performers who seemed to have comedy right down in his bones. When he added a pinch of pathos, the results could be devastating. By far the finest in that elite subgenre of movies about stressed-out guys trying to get back to their loved ones for the holidays, ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ works not because both its frontmen (Candy is joined by Steve Martin) are effortlessly hilarious – though they are, and it’s wonderful. But it’s all leading up to that finale, a sequence of unforgettable, tear-jerking poignancy.

13. Four Lions (2010)

‘Rubber-dinghy rapids, bro!’

Director: Chris Morris

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak

This first (and so far only) feature from British TV and radio comedian Chris Morris dared to mock the stupidity of homegrown British jihadis in the wake of 2005’s terror attacks on London. Framed as a slapstick sitcom and built on solid satirical foundations, Morris and his co-writers based much of their script on evidence and court transcripts relating to real cases of DIY terrorism. In the years since, the film has become a regular reference point in the news as life – tragically and comically – continues to imitate art.

14. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Rotten Tomatoes

‘For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.’

Director: Mel Brooks

Cast: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle

Mel Brooks’s finest genre parody succeeds as a hilarious send-up because it’s also a love letter to the classic 1930s ‘Frankenstein’ movies. As the old Baron’s grandson (co-writer Gene Wilder) brings the family business back to life, Brooks milks the familiar material to the point of absurdity – notably when Wilder performs a tuxedo-ed song-and-dance duo to prove his monster (Peter Boyle) is a civilized creation. The knockabout is great fun, but knowing the originals only increases one’s appreciation.

15. Tootsie (1982)

‘I have a name. It’s Dorothy. Not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll.’ ‘Oh, Christ!’ ‘No, just Dorothy.’

Director: Sidney Pollack

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray

Sure, this is Dustin Hoffman’s show – he’s the gut in a dress, after all. But it’s Bill Murray who sticks in the memory: the source of most of the film’s big laughs and a goodly portion of its soul. Looking back, the concept of a guy dressing up as a woman to get a better job is a vaguely uncomfortable one, and its approach to feminism is badly out-dated. But the performances still shine, the script still sparkles and director Sydney Pollack’s smooth ’80s style still charms. Now hang on while I fix my lippy.

16. Bridesmaids (2011)

'Help me I'm poor...'

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy

'Bridesmaids' is way more than just a lads comedy with the genders switched. Sure, there are some of the bad-taste trappings, but it more than outgrows them with its silly-but-smart script and the lively direction from 'Freaks and Geeks' legend Paul Feig. Even better, though, is the note-perfect casting. Kristen Wiig's performance as Annie is raucously hilarious (her impersonation of a penis is a highlight), as is Rose Byrne, whose deadpan performance as Helen is severely underrated. Mostly, though, it works because the relationships between the women feel real and honest.

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17. Zoolander (2001)

‘Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking?’

Director: Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell

Did someone say fish in a barrel? Okay, so the fashion world isn’t exactly a challenging subject for satire but Ben Stiller’s tale of international intrigue, haute couture and ludicrous pretension has such great gags, committed performances and cod sincerity that it’s hard not to guffaw. Stiller’s Zoolander is a supermodel on the slide, threatened by up-and-comer Owen Wilson, exploited by grasping designer Will Ferrell and constrained by his gargantuan stupidity, source of most of the big laughs. But he’s also insecure, well-meaning and basically quite sweet, which makes his story all the more amiable.

18. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Youtube

‘Hey Stan, tell them about the part where Terrence calls Phillip a testicle-shitting rectal wart.’

Director: Trey Parker

Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes

What’s the greatest musical of all time? ‘Singin’ in the Rain’? Too cute. ‘West Side Story’? Too butch. ‘Meet Me in St Louis’? If Judy Garland had called Margaret O’Brien a donkey-raping shit eater, it might have stood a chance. Surely, the finest example of the musical form in cinema has to be this rites-of-passage tale of life in a quiet Colorado mountain town, where all the folks need to worry about is parking provision, bad language, gay dogs, an impending land war with Canada, Satan’s fuck-buddy Saddam, whether it really was Cartman’s mother in that German scheisse video and, of course, those goddamned Baldwins. Aw, shucks.

19. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

‘How’s that for a slice of fried gold?’

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield

Previous beloved Brit comedy duos – from Eric and Ernie to Patsy and Edina – faltered making the transition from the small to the silver screen. But ‘Shaun of the Dead’ was the making of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, a surprise that catapulted them to demi-god status. This is not a film about survival: this genuinely suspenseful rom-zom-com is about respect and the getting of it. That what’s Pegg/Frost/Wright give to the living dead of Crouch End, Highgate and North Finchley in spades, with compassion, heroism and without losing their sense of humor and essential Britishness.

20. Meet the Parents (2000)

‘I have nipples, Greg. Could you milk me?’

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro

Meeting your partner’s parents is bound to be stressful – but Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) has it worse than most. Turns out his potential father-in-law (Robert De Niro) is a former CIA agent with a suspicious nature – and a polygraph lie-detector machine at his disposal. Over the course of an eventful visit, Focker’s misfortune builds to a farcical crescendo as his intended (Teri Polo) looks on. Stiller is on hilarious, hapless form and De Niro has never been funnier.

21. Mean Girls (2004)

Top 30 Best Comedy Movies of All Time
Photo: Mean Girls (2004)

'You can't sit with us.'

Director: Mark Waters

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Jonathan Bennett

When Cady (Lindsay Lohan) moves from being home-schooled by her parents in Africa to an American high school, she has a rude awakening. Confronted by the school's hierarchy where popularity means everything, she finds herself infiltrating the girl clique The Plastics. Loaded with laugh-out-loud moments, the script, penned by Tina Fey, is filled with zingers. It's a film that provides genuine insight and empathy as well as a hefty dose of putdowns and comeuppances.

22. Hot Fuzz (2007)

‘You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off up the model village.’

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman

Edgar Wright’s follow-up to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is a bigger, busier, slightly less focused ramble through small-town cop-movie clichés, but it might just be the better film, benefiting from a script packed with smart one-liners and neat riffs on everything from Hammer horror to cosy ITV dramas. It also, lest we forget, sports arguably the finest supporting cast ever assembled, with (very deep breath) Paddy Considine, Jim Broadbent, Billie Whitelaw, Martin Freeman, Olivia Colman, Edward Woodward, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, The Actor Kevin Eldon, both Adam and Joe, Rory ‘The Hound’ McCann and even a masked Cate Blanchett all getting in on the action.

23. Local Hero (1983)

'We've been invaded by America. We're all gonna be rich!'

Director: Bill Forsyth

Cast: Peter Riegert, Burt Lancaster, Peter Capaldi

If you’re ever suffering from chilly cockles, Bill Forsyth’s twinkly, good-hearted comedy will warm them right up – and in the wake of Donald Trump’s terrifying ascendance, it’s even more timely. Peter Riegert plays an American lawyer dispatched by his oil-baron boss to Scotland to secure the site for their next refinery. But whaddaya know – it’s right on top of a quaint little fishing village populated by wise, loveable Scotspersons. Epic adorable-ness ensues.

Comedy generates an immediate, undeniable audience response. If audiences are smiling and laughing, then there's a good chance you made an effective funny movie. Thousands of comedies fall under the "effective funny movie" umbrella, of course, but what about the movies that exist beyond that, in another sphere? What about the films that are both hilarious and emotional, hilarious and innovative, hilarious and profound in a way that keeps us thinking about them years and even decades later?

We're here to talk about those movies—but first, a few caveats: One, for the purposes of brevity and sanity, we're talking about English-language comedy movies only this time around. Two, nothing ages faster than comedy, so some films aren't here by virtue of viewing them through a 2020 lens. And three, comedy is extremely subjective, so if your favorite didn't make the list ... hey, at least it still makes you laugh, said Metal Floss.

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