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The 13 undisputed best comedy movies of all time

These comedies are sure to soothe your soul, and they have stood the test of time for decades

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally
Sunica Markovic/Flickr

There are plenty of people who believe that certain kinds of movies are harder to make than others. Sure, a great war movie has a massive budget, and it has to both excite its audience and leave them thinking, and great action movies have to coordinate complicated stunts that feel inventive and daring, but there may be no genre more difficult to nail than comedy.

A great comedy can soothe your soul, but great comedy means writing the kinds of jokes that stand the test of time, and are still funny decades after they were written. Because comedy is always changing, that can be almost impossible. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of great comedy movies, but the movies on this list are the ones that rise above the pack. Their jokes endure, and no matter when they were released, you’ll find watching them delightful whenever you happen to turn them on.

If you’re looking for something a little narrower, we’ve also rounded up the best comedy movies on Netflix.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Genre Comedy
Stars Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins
Directed by John Hughes
The best comedies not only make us laugh until our sides hurt, but they also warm our hearts and bring tears to our eyes. This comedy with Steve Martin and the late John Candy is a holiday classic in many households because it finds this balance so well. The two men find they are becoming a lot closer than they ever imagined as Martin’s character tries to find a way home for Thanksgiving. John Hughes usually focused on coming-of-age comedies, but this story centered on these middle-aged men might just top all of them.

A Night at the Opera (1935)

A Night at the Opera
Genre Comedy, Music
Stars Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx
Directed by Sam Wood
“When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That’s the price she has to pay.” Let’s kick things off with a classic, featuring three undisputed icons of comedy. The Marx Brothers, a real-life family that rose to fame as a vaudeville troupe, took Hollywood by storm with a series of raucous comedy movies. A Night at the Opera is their very best, thick with rapid-fire wordplay, ingenious insults, and racy innuendo that they only got away with because there were no real rules in Hollywood yet. In this film, Groucho Marx plays Otis B. Driftwood, the squirrelly business manager for a wealthy opera investor, while brothers Chico and Harpo Marx play the bumbling sidekicks of a humble background singer who is on the other side of a love triangle with a famous tenor. All of them end up on a steamer ship sailing from Italy to New York, where hijinks ensue. The plot isn’t so much the point in this movie as the frenetic pacing that moves the brothers from one gut-busting situation to another. As amazing as the Marx Brothers are in this film, their zany antics wouldn’t be half so hilarious without their straight woman, Margaret Dumont, who finds a hundred different ways to look aghast as the brothers run circles around her hand-wringing image of propriety.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers
60 %
r 133m
Genre Music, Comedy, Action, Crime
Stars Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, James Brown
Directed by John Landis
“106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses. … Hit it.” This movie showcases Saturday Night Live founding legends John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in their comedic prime. As retired musician Jake Blues, Belushi says more with an eyebrow in this movie than most actors can muster in three acts. Pair him with Aykroyd’s Elwood Blues, and you have cinematic and comedic gold. At its core, this movie is about Jake and Elwood’s quest to get their band back together, but each sequence features its own mixture of goofball physical comedy and subtle-as-a-razor’s-edge delivery. As if that weren’t enough, The Blues Brothers is a roll call of celebrities from the late 1970s, with each cameo player clearly relishing their chance to get a piece of the action. And don’t get us started on the musical performances from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Cab Calloway, with Jake and Elwood grooving hard in the background.

When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

When Harry Met Sally...
76 %
Genre Comedy, Romance, Drama
Stars Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher
Directed by Rob Reiner
One of the definitive romcoms of all time, When Harry Met Sally… features the kinds of immortal lines that don’t seem to pop out of movies as regularly these days. The movie tells the story of two friends who clearly have a spark, and ultimately fall into one another’s arms. Billy Crystal has never been better, and this movie kicked off a decade in which Meg Ryan completely dominated the genre. Nora Ephron went on to make a couple of other classic romantic comedies in the years that follow, but this may always be her best.
When Harry Met Sally (1989) - Official Trailer (HD)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
91 %
pg 91m
Genre Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Stars Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle
Directed by Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” Monty Python and the Holy Grail was among the easiest picks for this list. The four lads from London take on the roles of King Arthur and his round table of knights, including legends such as Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, as well as lesser-known heroes like Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot and Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film, as they caper around the English countryside in search of the Holy Grail. Along the way, they encounter villains such as the knights who say “Ni!,” a three-headed knight, a castle occupied by rude French soldiers, and a ferocious rabbit. But don’t be confused into thinking this thing has a linear plot. The movie meanders down all sorts of absurdist sidetracks, with plenty of anachronisms, snide camera commentary, looks behind the scenes, and a musical number for no good reason at all. In other words, it’s a lot easier to follow than the Monty Python TV show.

Tommy Boy (1995)

Tommy Boy
46 %
Genre Comedy
Stars Chris Farley, David Spade, Brian Dennehy
Directed by Peter Segal
“No wait, it’s gotta be your bull.” It wasn’t easy to pick just one Chris Farley movie to put on this list. The prize alumnus of 1990s-era Saturday Night Live made a lot of great buddy comedies, but this one has to be the most endearing of them all. In it, new college graduate Tommy Callahan returns home to find he must save the family business by stepping into his father’s shoes, with a little guidance from a snide secretary played by David Spade. A cross-country trip’s worth of hilarious shenanigans ensues, as well as severe damage to a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX. Never has Farley and Spade’s frenemy rapport been sharper — like a late 20th century Laurel and Hardy, the two were born to work together. We dare you to watch this movie for the first time and not die laughing.

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Dumb and Dumber
41 %
pg-13 107m
Genre Comedy
Stars Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly
Directed by Peter Farrelly
Filmed and completed during one of the great runs in any actors; career, Jim Carrey is joined by Jeff Daniels in an absolutely ridiculous pair of performances, as two well-intentioned imbeciles who just want to do what’s right. When Lloyd (Carrey) intercepts a briefcase left behind by a woman he drives to the airport, he and his friend Harry (Daniels) go on an unnecessarily difficult journey halfway across the country in the hopes of winning her heart and returning her briefcase, and the adventure only escalates when they discover the contents of said luggage. This film ranked pretty high on the list for best Jim Carrey movies, and with good reason.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like It Hot
98 %
Genre Comedy, Music, Romance, Crime
Stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe
Directed by Billy Wilder
One of the great comedies from Hollywood’s golden era, Some Like It Hot is anchored by three wonderful performances from Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and above all, Marilyn Monroe. Telling the story of two musicians who accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and are forced to dress in drag to join an all-female band, the movie holds up to modern standards far better than you might expect. Marilyn Monroe’s image as a star is often flattened, but in Some Like It Hot, we get to see all that she was capable of. She’s sensitive, vulnerable, strong, and has perfect comic timing. It’s a remarkable performance, and still funny after all these years.
Some Like it Hot (1959) Movie Trailer HD

Caddyshack (1980)

48 %
r 98m
Genre Comedy
Stars Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight
Directed by Harold Ramis
“I was born to rub you, but you were born to rub me first. What do you say we take this out on the patio?” Caddyshack has it all. Chevy Chase plays the dude we all aspire to be, a rich ladykiller with effortless sports skills. Bill Murray plays a dimwitted slacker with a Zen master’s dedication to groundskeeping. Rodney Dangerfield plays himself. Like so many comedies, the actual plot is almost entirely beside the point, as is the main protagonist. It’s all the “side characters” that make this comedy gold, and Caddyshack is also one of the best Bill Murray movies of all time, so it has that going for it as well.

Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
97 %
pg 95m
Genre Drama, Comedy, War
Stars Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room.” Dr. Strangelove is pretty easily one of the greatest black comedies ever made. Director Stanley Kubrick is not typically thought of as a comedic director, but his style matches perfectly with this movie’s secret weapon: Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers. An actual genius who plays three parts in one of the greatest performances in film history, Sellers makes every part work so well you might not even notice he’s all over the place. On top of all of that, Strangelove is one of the smartest movies ever made about the nuclear age, comedy or not.

The 'Burbs (1989)

The 'Burbs
45 %
Genre Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher
Directed by Joe Dante
“In Southeast Asia, we’d call this kind of thing bad karma.” There are Tom Hanks lovers out there who have never seen him in the funniest role of his career. To those people, allow us to present The ‘Burbs. Nothing too exciting happens at the end of a cul-de-sac on a normal summer weekend, right? Wrong. Bruce Dern as a veteran with a trophy wife delivers a legendary performance to support Hanks. Add in Rick Ducommun as the other incompetent neighbor, and you’ve got a recipe for overwhelming success. The ‘Burbs hits from beginning to end.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

National Lampoon's Vacation
55 %
r 99m
Genre Comedy, Adventure
Stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Imogene Coca
Directed by Harold Ramis
“Ah, that’s the Mississippi. The mighty mississip. The Ole Miss, the Old Man.” In 1979, an apocalyptic blizzard trapped writer John Hughes in his house. To pass the time, Hughes wrote a short story about a family of Midwesterners who take an unfortunate trip to Disneyland, tracking their story along the way on a Rand McNally road atlas. This, friends, is how the world got the Family Truckster, Aunt Edna, “We like to send out a mailer,” dog piss sandwiches, The Old Miss, The Old Man, one of the greatest sex symbols of the 1980s in a red Ferrari, an actual 1980s station wagon flying 80 feet through the air, and a dog that tried to keep up for the first few miles. By the end, your stomach will be more worn out than that sad station wagon.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski
71 %
Genre Comedy, Crime
Stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
“This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.” Loosely based on the detective novels of Raymond Chandler, this Coen brothers comedy follows consummate slacker Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, who is rudely interrupted mid-toke by a pair of thugs who have mistaken him for a wealthy philanthropist with the same last name. When they realize their error, one of them takes a contemptuous piss on The Dude’s rug, sending The Dude on a mission to get a replacement from the rich guy they mistook him for. But the Big Lebowski has a different mission for The Dude — to find his missing trophy wife, Bunny. Against orders, The Dude enlists the help of his bowling buddies, rageaholic Walter and dimwitted Donny. From there, the plot twists and coils in on itself like a riled-up rattlesnake. Aside from the bizarre characters and the labyrinth of red herrings, one of the best things about this comedy is how it demands multiple viewings to fully appreciate it. You’ll know you’ve watched it enough times when you can have an entire conversation just using Lebowski quotes.

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Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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