Does comedy come with an expiration date? Scholars of the field both amateur and professional have long debated the question, but only one aspect of the answer has become clear: the best comedy films certainly don’t. That notion manifests in the variety of cinematic eras represented in BBC Culture’s recent poll of 177 film critics to determine the 100 greatest comedy films of all time. Most of us have seen Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day at some point (and probably at more than one point) over the past 24 years; fewer of us have seen the Marx Brothers’ picture Duck Soup, but even those of us who consider ourselves far too cool and modern to watch the Marx Brothers have to acknowledge its genius.
That top ten runs as follows:
- Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
- Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
- Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
- Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
- Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
- Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980)
- Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
- This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
- The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
The BBC have published the top 100 results (the last spot being a tie between the late Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man and Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy) on their site, accompanied by a full list of participating critics and their votes, critics’ comments on the top 25, an essay on whether men and women find different films funny (mostly not, but with certain notable splits on movies like Clueless and Animal House), another on whether comedy differs from region to region, and another on why Some Like It Hot is number one.
Though no enthusiast of classic Hollywood would ever deny Billy Wilder’s gender-bending 1959 farce any honor, it wouldn’t have come out on top in a poll of American and Canadian critics alone: Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove wins that scenario handily. “Intriguingly, Eastern European critics were much more likely to vote for Dr Strangelove than Western European critics,” adds Christian Blauvelt. “Perhaps the US and countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain appreciate Dr. Strangelove so much because it ruthlessly satirises the delusions of grandeur held by both sides. And perhaps Some Like It Hot is embraced more by Europeans than US critics because, although it’s a Hollywood film, it has a continental flair and distinctly European attitude toward sex.”
Other entries, such as Jacques Tati’s elaborate modernity-critiquing 70-millimeter spectacle Playtime, have also been received differently, to put it mildly, at different times and in different places. But if all comedy ultimately comes down to making us laugh, the only way to know your own position on the cultural comedic spectrum is to simply sit down and see what has that singularly enjoyable effect on you. Why not start with Keaton’s The General, which happens to be free to view online — and on some level the predecessor of (and, in the eyes of may critics, the superior of) even the physical comedies that come out today?
The Art of Making Intelligent Comedy Movies: 8 Take-Aways from the Films of Edgar Wright
The General, “Perhaps the Greatest Film Ever Made,” and 20 Other Buster Keaton Classics Free Online
The 10 Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers
The 10 Greatest Films of All Time According to 846 Film Critics
1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
These are great films, and great comedies. But funniest? Do people really laugh more often while watching Some Like it Hot than they do, say, Young Frankenstein? It would be interesting to know the thought processes of the critics when they made their choices. The thing we call “comedy” has more elements than just “making us laugh.”
I agree with Pryor, these are great comedies but not the funniest. “Blazing Saddles,” “High Anxiety,” any Monty Python and Laurel and Hardy films were all side-splitting funny, and though I enjoyed the “Top Ten,” none provoked the laughter that others have. Comedy is so subjective at any rate, and it is a most difficult task to compile a rational list, so I appreciate the effort, but we all have our favorites.
Yep, I agree with everyone’s comments. These are funny movies but not the funniest. Funny thing about that, before I even saw the article I knew it would be wrong. I referenced Caddyshack. Critics said it sucked, prompting the producer to kill himself. It opens in theaters and is a HIT! Critics are idiots when it comes to movies. Only the fans know how good a movie is.
I’m shocked Airplane is towards the top, I loved it but didn’t know critics like it too.
Mel Brooks needs to fill the top 10 list or split it with Leslie Nielson.
Dr Strangelove makes me laugh, but it is not a comedy: no happy end.
Pulp Fiction ends well (black comedy ?) but you don’t really laugh, really.
Is a COMEDY a story with an happy end ?
What is a FUNNY movie ? (in italian language the genre COMICO is different from the genre COMMEDIA)
Open Culture resorts to click bait? NOOOOOOOooooooooo!!!!!