The American Film Institute has curated lists of the top movies in several genres. They recently created a list titled AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs that featured the best of the best when it comes to comedy films. So, what movies made the top 10 out of 100? These films capture the respective eras in which they premiered.
From a cross-dressing soap opera star to a man riding a bomb, these movies introduced viewers to unforgettable characters. They make viewers laugh, cry, and think (though some of the films have arguably aged better than others). Take a deep dive into the history of cinema with these top 10 comedy movies that have stood the test of time.
10 ‘Airplane!’ (1980)
Leslie (“Don’t call me Shirley”) Nielson proved he had comedic chops when he played Dr. Rumak in the slapstick comedy, Airplane! The film follows the story of a doomed plane flight when the crew and passengers come down with food poisoning. A neurotic ex-military pilot must take control to land the plane safely.
Airplane! is raunchy, crass, and filled with jokes that would never fly today. Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, this movie led the way for Nielson to become the king of absurd comedies like Airplane 2, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad, and Spy Hard. It’s a must-watch for fans who don’t take comedy too seriously. Airplane! is far from politically correct, and despite a PG rating some of the humor pushes boundaries even by today’s standards.
9 ‘The Graduate’ (1967)
The Graduate is one of the most iconic romantic comedies of the 1960s. It’s about a recent college graduate who must decide between an older seductress and her daughter. Dustin Hoffman stands out as a disillusioned young man. There’s a stellar supporting cast, starring Anne Bancroft as the ultimate cougar and Katherine Ross as the ingénue.
Directed by Mike Nichols (who later directed Working Girl in the 80s), the film features a killer soundtrack with hits like “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel and “The Sound of Silence” by Paul Simon. Part drama and part comedy, The Graduate is a must-see film for anyone interested in cinema history.
8 ‘It Happened One Night’ (1939)
Let’s kick it way back to one of the first landmark comedies It Happened One Night. It follows a young heiress who jumps ship to be with her husband (who her father disapproves of). During her journey, she meets up with a newspaper reporter who agrees to help her in exchange for a big story. Hilarity ensues.
The movie features Tinseltown royalty like Clarke Gable (who is one of the best classic Hollywood actors), Claudette Colbert, and Walter Connolly. Directed by Frank Capra (the genius behind iconic filmslikeIt’s a Wonderful LifeandMr. Smith Goes to Washington), It Happened One Night is an example of the classic comedy genre in its finest form.
7 ‘M*A*S*H’ 1970
There can’t be a conversation about the funniest comedies of all time without mentioning the movie M*A*S*H. The movie inspired the hilarious television series and delivers just as many laughs as its counterpart. The film centers around the antics of the staff of a field hospital during the Korean War who filter everything through humor to deal with the trauma of war.
It features an unforgettable ensemble cast with actors like Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, and Sally Kellerman. Grittier and bloodier than the primetime sitcom, the M*A*S*H movie wears an “R” rating like a badge of honor. Don’t miss the comedy directed by Robert Altman.
6 ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
Blazing Saddles has gone down in history as one of the most groundbreaking comedies. Funnyman Mel Brooks wrote this movie as a satire of racism, breaking down the inappropriate tropes often seen in classic Western films. Vulgar and irreverent, it more than likely could never be made in our modern times.
The movie is about the first Black Sheriff of a small Western town. It features comedic heavy-hitters Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, and Slim Pickens. Be prepared for racial slurs(mentioned as something of a disclaimer in the TCM-curated intro on Max). While controversial, the film shines a light on America’s narrow-minded past, not to mention its present.
5 ‘Duck Soup’ (1933)
Fans of The Marx Brothers consider Duck Soup to be a comedy masterpiece. The plot centers around the bankrupt nation of Freedonia. The wealthy benefactor declares Rufus T. Firefly (played by the one-and-only Groucho Marx) and hijinks unfold. It’s classic slapstick comedy in its original form.
Directed by Leo McCarey (who later directed the1950s film An Affair to Remember) Marx stars alongside Harpo Marx and Chico Marx. It’s a biting political satire that remains funny in our modern times. Hollywood just doesn’t make comedies quite like this anymore. Be sure to add Duck Soup to the must-watch list.
4 ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)
Woody Allen‘s film Annie Hall features a breakout performance by Diane Keaton (who became a fashion icon from the character’s unconventional wardrobe). It’s about a neurotic divorced comedian (portrayed by Allen) who thinks back on his relationship with a woman named Annie Hall. The humor ranges from self-deprecating to self-reflective, which is Allen’s signature style.
The movie swept the 1978 Academy Awards, winning four Oscars for “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, “Best Original Screenplay”, and” Best Actress”. There’s a reason Annie Hall received so many accolades. It’s an enduring comedy that is considered to be one of the best movies of 1977. Allen’s reputation has taken a serious hit in recent times, but this film endures as a comedy landmark.
3 ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying And I Learned To Love The Bomb’ (1964)
Another classic comedy that made the AFI Top 10 is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Bomb. This political satire is about a disturbed American general who nearly triggers a nuclear attack. It’s a dark comedy that was way ahead of its time and remains absurdly hilarious.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (the mastermind behind the horror film The Shining), the film features Peter Sellers in a triple role, playing Group Captian Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Stangelove.Filled with irony and biting wit, this movie lets viewers in on the joke and seems timely in the current political climate.
2 ‘Tootsie’ (1982)
Tootsie took the world by storm, receiving a staggering 10 Academy Award nominations (Jessica Lange took home the only award for Best Supporting Actress). Dustin Hoffman dominated the role of Dorothy Michaels (aka Michael Dorsey). It tells the story of a down-on-his-luck actor who dresses up as a woman to land a role in a soap opera.
Directed by Sydney Pollack (who also directed the epic film Out of Africa), Tootsie featured a phenomenal ensemble cast including Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, and Charles Durning.This film is laugh-out-loud funny and should be required viewing for movie buffs who love 80s comedies.
1 ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959)
What’s not to love about the classic Some Like It Hot? Marylin Monroe dazzles as singer Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon are hilarious as two men on the run from the mob disguised as women within an all-female band. Part crime caper and part comedy, this one hits all the right notes.
Some Like It Hot is one of those films that seem to have it all (great music, funny dialogue, and gorgeous costumes). Directed by Billy Wilder (who also wrote classic films like The Apartment and Sabrina) it swept the 1960 Oscars, taking home six awards (although Monroe wasn’t even nominated). This one deserves the top spot.