Now, I’m aware before even beginning to compile this list that the whole “80’s comedy genre” is filled with some amazing films, and that means that I will have to leave out some true gems and films that many people would consider their favourites. This list will take into account quality and broad opinion, but will fall, at the end of the day, on my personal preferences and opinions. This is my list of ten comedy films from the 1980’s that I love and consider the greatest of the era. Apologies in advance for inevitably leaving out one or more of your favourites. Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know which your favourite 80’s comedy flicks are.
I’ll also mention that, in an attempt to limit myself and make the list easier to do, I gave myself rules. I didn’t include more than one film in which the same actor was in the lead role and I didn’t include films that leaned more towards another genre yet still had comedic elements, like The Breakfast Club, which I think of more as a “Teen Drama” than a comedy film. This was done to keep things simpler and restrict me from having a top ten that was half filled with John Candy.
1 – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
The ultimate road-trip movie (and air, but that doesn’t last), this is one of my personal favourite movies of all time, and so was a shoe-in for this list, and the inspiration to compile it in the first place. John Candy, at his very best, and Steve Martin, still knocking comedy-performances out of the park at this point, travel across America together. Martin’s character, Neal, is reluctant and finds Candy’s’ Del flawed and anger-inducing, causing the two to butt heads regularly. Candy plays the clumsy yet kind hearted character, while Martin plays a guy who is frustrated and is doing all he can so that he can get home to his wife and kids for Thanksgiving. It is a heart-warming film with some of the greatest comedy moments in history, and Candy and Martin had a chemistry seldom seen today. They played off one-another so well and created a film that wasn’t just slapstick humour, but also soulful, at times sad, and at times painfully hilarious. There hasn’t been a more timeless or entertaining comedy film made in my view. Pure brilliance.
2 – Big (1988)
Tom Hanks has had an incredibly successful career, but when I think about his roles, the first one that comes to my mind is “Josh” in Big. A child wishes he were “big” and wakes up with his wish coming true, with Tom Hanks playing a young kid in a grown man’s body. It is a coming of age story with a difference, and Hanks threw himself into the role of the “big kid” with his whole heart and gave a performance that is entertaining and sparkles with childish naivety. There is lots to laugh about, and Hanks brings a sympathy to the character too, allowing us to imagine how scary certain situations would be for a child if other people thought that they were an adult. I always remember wishing I could have a massive apartment filled with games and a giant trampoline and work a job where I test out toys, and I still intend to learn how to play gigantic floor-piano so I can get a round of applause in the middle of Debenhams, but until then I will watch this incredibly fun flick and continue to enjoy its fantastical comedy greatness.
3 – Ghostbusters (1984)
Who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTAAHS! Man, I loved Ghostbusters, both in animated and live-action form, and it is still a blast to watch today. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson busting ghosts and feelin’ good was a staple part of my childhood, and who doesn’t still find the library ghost pretty damn freaky? The film that brought stone statues to life and introduced us to Star Puft and Slimer, Ghostbusters is as funny as it is memorable, and, for me, is one of the best 80’s movies. The scene in which we first take a glimpse of the Marshmallow Man, as well as the Ghostbusters logo, gives me those nostalgic shivers that remind me of how damn cool it was to be a kid in the 1980’s. Classic.
4 – Trading Places (1983)
John Landis is a director I enjoy, and it is likely that this, a tale of class being turned on its head, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, is at the top of the list. A snobby businessman (Aykroyd) named Winthrope and a homeless con artist, Billy Ray Valentine, see their situations in life reversed, with the brash and energetic Valentine taking his place in the home and life of the rich Winthrope, and Winthrope finding himself on the street with nothing. It’s a fun concept, and Murphy and Aykroyd were on top form here, delivering comedy gold amidst a solid chemistry. Adding Jamie Lee Curtis to the mix adds a female flair, and brings the whole thing together. Ultimately re-watchable and completely hilarious, it remains one of my favourite comedy flicks of all time.
5 – Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Chris is a teen girl who wants to spend some time with her boyfriend, but is forced into babysitting for a couple of kids, one of whom is a couple of years younger than her and has a crush on her. Elisabeth Shue as Chris is pretty, funny and strong, and, when her friend, Brenda, gets lost in the big, scary city, she makes the decision to take the kids, Brad and Sara, and their friend, Daryl, with her to pick up her friend. This is where the “adventures” begin, with the group’s car breaking down they find themselves on the run from a group of car-jacking criminals, they sing the blues in a dive bar and encounter a number of crazy moments as they try to find a way to get back to their safe suburbia before the kids’ parents make it home from their party. It’s fun, it’s cute and it’s entertaining from start to finish. It also looks about as “80’s” as a film could look, Hell, it even begins with Shue singing into a hair brush. Good stuff.
6 – Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
When I think about the late Robin Williams’ career in film, and try to choose a favourite, this one always comes to mind. It is a comedy movie at its heart, but also deals with much deeper, darker and more serious matters. Adrian Cronauer (Williams) is a disc jockey who is assigned to Vietnam during the war and takes his individual and outlandish style with him, causing him to have problems with the people in charge as he tries to play rock and roll and tell jokes in order to keep the fighting soldiers entertained as they encounter hardship and fear as they fight to stay alive. It’s moving and shocking at times, but Williams’ trademark energy is at an all-time high and he brings a sympathetic yet unapologetic character to the screen. Blending war with comedy obviously isn’t an easy “do”, but it is done brilliantly here. Williams is at his best too, and that’s saying something.
7 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Revolutionary is a word that could be used for this film. Blending live action with classic 2D animation, this was done at a time where it wasn’t thought of as possible to blend the two forms together successfully. This changed that, and it is still great to see the late Bob Hoskins’ grumpy and bitter detective, Eddie, have actual chemistry with the animated Roger Rabbit. A story of a man attempting to find out who was responsible for the death of his brother, and done in a film-noir style, it follows Eddie, who must go to “Toon Town” to investigate, and Roger, our famous bunny, helps him. This film also gave us the excellent performance of Judge Doom from Christopher Lloyd and the iconic and sexy animated pin-up, Jessica Rabbit. It’s funny and it is a pure joy to see real people interact with “toons”. It is also pretty memorable for the way it used famous Disney and Warner Brothers characters on the screen together. Breaking ground and tickling funny bones, it would be a crime to ignore this film when compiling this list.
8 – Beetlejuice (1988)
Tim Burton’s trademark quirkiness, along with a bloody fantastic performance from Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice himself and a cast that featured the likes of Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder, this is one of those movies that comes to mind when I start thinking about films I watched a great deal when I was a youngster. The story of two recently deceased ghosties who seek the help and services of Beetlejuice, a “bio-exorcist”, who promises to drive away the new owners of their dream home, the weirdness and creepiness is upped, and the comedy turned to eleven, as we see our two protagonist-phantoms attempt to adapt to life as ghosts, while trying to cling to their home that is being changed by the mean-spirited family who have moved in after their death. It’s so fun, and the special effects work is great. The scene when the two ghosts visit the underworld and witness other dead things is completely crazy and so enjoyable. Who can forget the dinner table scene which remains one of the most memorable comedy moments of all time. Awesome.
9 – Weird Science (1985)
Two nerds decide to jump onto their computer and create their perfect woman, the woman in question being 80’s model Kelly LeBrock who plays Lisa, the often scantily clad, British accented girl who teaches our two young teens, Wyatt and Gary, the meaning of love, life and having fun. I’ve seen this film so many times, and I still think it’s a blast. Scenes involve the house being trashed and invaded by mutant bikers, Wyatt’s older bully-brother Chet being turned into a slimy farting shit monster and other wild moments. At the end of the day though, it’s a coming of age film about two young guys being shown what it is to be men. LeBrock shines as Lisa, and Bill Paxton is a blast as Chet. “How about a nice, greasy pork sandwich, served in a dirty ash-tray?” Brilliant.
10 – National Lampoons Vacation (1983)
Chevy Chase’s first Vacation film was this one in 1983 which saw the Griswold family take a trip to Walley World Theme Park, with their drive there being much more than they had expected. I love the Vacation films, with this, European and Christmas, and this is where it began. Chase is great as Clark, delivering his finest performances across this series, and this one stands out due to it being the first one. Silly and funny with a good natured family values story beneath it, it is hard to dislike this film, and it is a classic, without doubt. The characters that the Griswold’s meet on their journey are what make the film so special, especially Eddie, played by Randy Quaid, who would go on to appear in the Christmas entry of the series.
So, there it is. My picks of the ten best comedy films from the 1980’s. Sure, there are some I haven’t mentioned, and I will undoubtedly regret leaving some out when they’re pointed out to me, but I do think that these are ten of the best, and ten films that should be seen by any fan of the comedy genre.
Thanks for reading.