Here is Retrobacktive’s Eighties-ized list of the ten best comedy films from the 1980s… and why not? That doesn’t really sum up the experience of this list; it was just the first thing that came to mind. But what the hell?
10.) Revenge of the Nerds (1984) – It all started with John Landis’ 1978 watershed opus National Lampoon’s Animal House, and from there frat humor would go on to inspire generations upon generations of college comedies. While most successors were buffonish knockoffs, the exception was Revenge of the Nerds. The story follows established themes: a misfit fraternity stands up to the oppressive ruling body; marginalized protagonists win over objects of desire, and copious amounts of substances are abused. This film stands out due in no small part to the lavish parade of eccentric characters, and the particularly deft performances of Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine, who the audience never doubts for a moment are genuine nerds. Best line: Gilbert: She’s not that kind of girl, Booger. Booger: Why, does she have a penis? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCDDBjdJLjY
9.) The Great Outdoors (1988) – There were many gifts the cinema gods gave to comedy in the 1980s, and John Candy was one of them. The Canadian funnyman and SCTV alum had a knack for playing a variety of archetypes, including goofy authority figures and bumbling sidekicks. One his finer yet subtler performances was as straightman Chet Ripley opposite Dan Aykroyd’s obnoxious and brash Roman Craig in The Great Outdoors. Candy bitterly absorbs Aykroyd’s unrelenting boorishness until the film’s madcap climax. It’s one of the rare instances where Candy exchanges his broad sword for a scalpel. Best line: ROMAN: The rest of us are all probably going to die of heart attacks and strokes long before you. CHET: (mumbling) Ooooh I hope soooo… http://youtu.be/dxg0LRTHgAU
8.) Spaceballs (1987) – If you were a movie studio during the 1970s or 80s looking to produce a comedy hit, you sought out Mel Brooks. And if he wasn’t available, you waited. While Blazing Saddles is often recognized as his comedic masterpiece, Spaceballs is the oft-overlooked gem in Brooks’ line of parodies. Many critics note Brooks’ satirical truancy; the last Star Wars film was released four years prior and no longer at the center of movie-goers’ attention. There are, however, several remarkable performances from John Candy, Joan Rivers, and Brooks himself in multiple roles spoofing Yoda and Grand Moff Tarkin. But far and away it is Rick Moranis who steals the show as Lord Helmet. Taking megalomania to new heights, Moranis conjures up perfectly the most recognizable traits from almost every 80s villain and delivers them with stunning absurdity. Best line: RADIOMAN: I’m having trouble with the radar, sir. DARK HELMET: (throws radio in frustration) Now what is it?! http://youtu.be/8auGAJrnpY4
7.) Major League (1989) – David S. Ward wrote and directed this seminal baseball classic, and aside from the quirky characters that comprise the scrappy team in the film, it was the decision to include an actual major league baseball club, the Cleveland Indians, as the protagonist organization that made this flick resonate so deeply with fans. Connecting with baseball fans and movie audiences alike, the film found a wide array of devoted followers who often note the film for establishing the careers of Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Dennis Haysbert. Best line: PEDRO: Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball. EDDIE: You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball? http://youtu.be/bWdfDsLvm9I
6.) Stripes (1981) – The combination of director Ivan Reitman, writer Harold Ramis, and star Bill Murray would go on to landmark success in a few short years with Ghostbusters, but the three artists first had to cut their teeth together with Stripes, a comedy classic in its own right. Murray’s sardonic John Winger is not so far a stretch from Dr. Peter Venkman, but Ramis delivers an especially amiable moral compass as Winger’s best friend. Often overlooked in Murray’s sizable shadow, Harold Ramis proved he could not only write the lines, but deliver them, too. On another note: this is the third film in this countdown featuring John Candy. Best line: SERGEANT HULKA: Okay, Mr. Push-ups, let’s hear your story. JOHN WINGER: Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it’s usually something unusual. http://youtu.be/iTwIwfvNJLk
5.) Big (1988) – The comedy genre is divided into many different sub-sects. There’s slapstick, screwball, romantic, teen, sports, and so on and so on. But if you’re looking for that perfect blend of hilarity and sentimentalism, you can do no better than Big. Penny Marshall’s sophomore directorial effort found the former television star escape the comedic shadow of her father, all the while turning the lovable-yet-goofy Tom Hanks into an Oscar-worthy film icon. Indeed, in the hands of a lesser actor, Big would have sidled itself nonchalantly next to the plethora of age-reversal films that were popular in the late 80s (e.g. Vice Versa, 18 Again!), but thanks to Hanks’ uncanny performance as a 13-year-old trapped in a grown man’s body, the film now sits atop the highest echelons of American comedy excellence. Best line: Josh: What about golf? It’s a sport and you don’t sweat. Paul: It’s not a sport if you let a machine do all the work. Josh: What about car racing? Paul: Shut up, Baskin.
4.) Bachelor Party (1984) – Tom Hanks was no stranger to comedy in the 1980s. After his myriad of critically acclaimed performances in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as his multiple Academy Awards for acting, it became easy to forget that arguably the greatest living actor got his start on the cross-dressing comedy series Bosom Buddies. He also made comical waves in early 80s screwball farces such as Bachelor Party. An early predecessor of the Judd Apatow-inspired frat-pack productions (The Hangover owes a lot to this one), Bachelor Party highlights the misadventure of a care-free bus driver and his juvenile friends’ attempt to throw him the ultimate stag party. The hijinks are sophomoric and simple, but Hanks’ affable goofiness makes him undeniably amiable even amidst the locker room antics. Best line: Hotel Manager: Just wear do you think you are? Jay: The Library of Congress? Rudy: Detroit? Brad: Beyond the sun? http://youtu.be/g6LhrNIVI7k
3.) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – If there was one director that kept a stranglehold over the ever capricious attention of a young Generation X, it was John Hughes. And among his many enduring hits throughout the 80s and 90s, none remain as fundamentally funny as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Absent of gonzo humor (Sixteen Candles) or egregious introspection (The Breakfast Club), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off strikes a perfect balance of silliness and charm. And while the principle cast members all excel in their archetypal roles, it is the oft-overlooked Jeffrey Jones as the hapless but determined Vice-principal Ed Rooney who comes up with the film’s most frequent laughs. Whether you’re looking for lighthearted amusement or a makeshift itinerary for a trip to Chicago, you could do worse than this film. Best line: Maitre D’: You’re Abe Froman? Ferris: That’s right. I’m Abe Froman. Maitre D’: The sausage king of Chicago? Ferris: Uh, yeah. That’s me. http://youtu.be/PDoYXZHK9aQ
2.) This is Spinal Tap! (1983) – In an era where Hollywood’s seemingly sole objective is to release nothing but sequels, prequels, remakes, and rehashes, it’s consistently reassuring to find no one even attempting to re-image Rob Reiner’s masterful This is Spinal Tap!. Of all the comedy treasures on this list, this is the one that truly lives in a vacuum. The pretentious and eventually bloated phenomenon of heavy metal rock in the late 70s and early 80s came about at a time when popular musicians still hid behind a veil of mystery and impossible charisma. This was long before social media captured an artist’s every movement, and rumors still remained a valuable tool among rock stars’ arsenal of intrigue. This is Spinal Tap! revealed all the secrets but without anyone realizing it. For later generations growing up with VH1’s Behind the Music, it may seem all par for the course, but the tongue-in-cheek improvisational performances of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer continue to make This is Spinal Tap! roll-on-the-ground, laugh-out-loud fun. Best line: it’s endless, but… Nigel: Eleven; one louder. Marty: Why don’t you just make ten a little louder, and make ten the top one, and make that a little louder? Nigel: … these go to eleven.
1.) Ghostbusters (1984) – What The Great Gatsby did for books; what Muhammad Ali did for boxing; what M.A.S.H. did for television, Ghostbusters did for comedies. An inventive script, a battle-tested comedy director, a cast of ace performers all at the top of their game; the result is an enduring legacy that never seems to exhaust itself. Another example of a cinematic institution that has remained protected from the hands of re-imaging, Ghostbusters has been perched upon the bated breath of Generations X and Y with nearly 25 years of supposed scripts and talks and contracts and casting, and all ire of development hell. Sadly, the hopes of those eternally exuberant fans were laid to waste this past February when co-writer and original cast member Harold Ramis past away at the age of 69. While Bill Murray’s performance is often singled out, the genius behind Ghostbusters is that the group has always been bigger than the sum of its parts. The institution loses its foundation without the equal contributions of Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore. Ramis’ death remains nothing less than tragic; thirty years after Ghostbusters‘ release, America lost perhaps its greatest comedy screenwriter, but the legacy left is a masterpiece that can never be touched; Ghostbusters sits upon an acme of exalt, adored and unfettered. Best line: Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave! Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! http://youtu.be/O3ZOKDmorj0
Ed. note: not all lines had accompanying videos.