New York, NY – May 16, 2020: Bel Aire Diner set up pop-up drive-in movie theater on a parking lot to entertain people during COVID-19 pandemic in Astoria section of Queens (Photo: Lev Radin/Gildshire)
Movie lovers, we realized just this morning that Gildshire has done you a grave disservice. If you search our archives, from “Best Romantic Movies” to “Best Car Movies,” we have detailed lists of best movies. However, as much as we like to laugh, Gildshire has never put forth the definitive list of best movie comedies. Mea culpa, indeed, Mea maxima culpa. Today, we atone. After consultation with movie critics everywhere…and our wife, here are the greatest movie comedies of all time, in no particular order.
Airplane, starring Robert Hagerty and Julie Hays, released in 1980. Rotten Tomatoes, 98.
If quotable scenes are the main component of great comedy, this movie belongs on the list. The “white zone” audio from this movie is still recreated at airports around the country. We know because we recreate it. Other memorable scenes include “The Mayo Clinic,” “Hare Krishna,” and June Cleaver jive-talking on an airplane.
The Gods Must Be Crazy, starring N!xau and Sandra Prinsloo, released in 1980. Rotten Tomatoes, 85.
Forget its “lukewarm for a hit,” Rotten Tomatoes score! The Gods Must be Crazy (pictured above) is a comedy triumph! An empty Coke bottle falls on a bush village and creates all manner of havoc. One man’s trip to “the end of the Earth” to dispose of the offending piece of glass is a roadshow for the ages. The “gate” scene may be the best in the whole film.
It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, released in 1934. Rotten Tomatoes, 98.
Some people won’t watch movies made before color, but they are missing out on a couple of gems. The first is this road trip/buddy comedy with sexual tension. Rewind to 1934. It Happened One Night is the story of a well-to-do socialite who falls in love. Instead of falling for someone in her socioeconomic class, she falls for a newspaperman who is recently unemployed.
There is some backstory here that is almost as interesting as the movie. Columbia Pictures (now Sony Pictures) didn’t expect much from this movie but, released it hoping that Gable’ s considerable star power would help it break even. As it turned out it this was the first movie to sweep the categories of Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Writer, and Best Picture at the 1935 Academy Awards.
Raising Arizona, starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. Released in 1987. Rotten Tomatoes, 92.
When an ex-con and an ex-cop fail to produce offspring, they select one of a set of quintuplets belonging to a wealthy furniture man. Raising Arizona is a movie that defies an explanation that serves the humor. Scene after scene delivers more than it might because this cast throws itself into their parts. Holly Hunter meets her new child and loves him so much. Sounds pedestrian, right? Watch the scene.
Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. Released in 1952. Rotten Tomatoes, 100.
Almost every list, such as The Greatest Movie Comedies of All Time, will include this gem. To find out that Gene Kelly almost died from pneumonia that he caught filming the iconic song is only to love the film all the more. The transition from silent movies to ones that spoke was a harder one than many know. Scores of actors (cowboy star Tom Mix, for one) lost careers because their voices didn’t “sound right.” This movie combines high spirits, flawless footwork, and a believable storyline into a spot on our list and the top spot for many.
Napoleon Dynamite, starring Jon Heder, John Gries, and Tina Majorino. Released in 2004. Rotten Tomatoes, 71.
There are two crimes here. One that this movie scores a paltry 71 on the Tomato-meter, and the second that this isn’t the top movie under Tina Majorino’s bio. Actually, we aren’t completely surprised by the first, as Napoleon Dynamite is truly one of those “you get it or you don’t” movies. Gildshire gets it, and rumors that we road-tripped to see Napoleon’s town and filming locations aren’t entirely false. (Actually, we made a detour there on the way home from another vacation.)
Napoleon Dynamite is a fish-out-of-water tale in which the fish is put-upon by his Uncle, and the water is everywhere. Still, Napoleon and his friends come off as endearing and sweet… despite themselves. This movie may not make your list, but you have three friends who will wonder why.
His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Released in 1940. Rotten Tomatoes, 98.
When the term “screwball comedy” was coined, this movie could have been the reason why. The two leads are ex-spouses, but the sparks still fly even as the printing presses in the background rumble to life. She wants to quit because she is engaged to a boring man. Her boss/ex-husband wants her to stay on, because she’s his best reporter, and he still loves her. Listen as Grant inserts the name “Archie Leach” into the fast-moving dialogue. Archibald Leach is Cary Grant’s real name.
Remember when we said there were two gems from before color? This is the other one. Watch it for the plot, or just listen to it and try to keep up with the dialogue, spoken twice as fast as you talk in real life. That was the actors showing off. It was the way movies, especially comedies, were written back in the day.
We knew a list called “The Greatest Movie Comedies of All Time” was a fool’s errand unless we were writing another book the length of The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken (available as a link on this page). Of course, there was more than one great comedy filmed between 1940 and 1980. So make up your own list and use ours for inspiration. Because, we can’t think of a thing this country needs more right now than a good comedy.