Everyone likes to have a good laugh and comedic movies are one of the best ways to do so. But while movies such as Anchorman and Mean Girls have contributed a plethora of instantly recognizable quotes into our vernacular, there are many comedies that continue to go largely overlooked. If you’re tired of laughing at the same old jokes and are looking for something new to tickle your funny bone, consider checking out one of these underrated comedies.
In celebration of Michael Keaton’s 67th birthday, here are 15 of the most underrated comedies released over the past 50 years. Enjoy!
15. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Though Wet Hot American Summer is more popular than ever thanks to two Netflix revival series – the prequel First Day of Camp and the sequel Ten Years Later – it’s easy to forget that the original movie was a gigantic critical and commercial flop. Released in 2001, Wet Hot American Summer feels like a spiritual successor to the Zucker brothers school of comedy, such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun, in that it’s packed with all sorts of visual and audio gags (who can forget the repeated window-smashing sound effect?).
The film’s cast is also ridiculously stacked, featuring then largely unknown actors such as Bradley Cooper and Elizabeth Banks in supporting roles. While the absurdist humor on display is certainly juvenile, there’s a charming, timeless quality to Wet Hot American Summer that helps explain why it was able to become such a beloved cult classic in spite of its initial failure.
14. Saved! (2004)
If you haven’t seen Brian Dannelly’s 2004 teen dramedy Saved!, there’s a good chance you’ve written it off as a religious movie catering exclusive to the Christian crowd. While it’s true that Saved! does explore a lot of religious themes, it’s critical, often humorous exploration of topics such as homophobia, teen pregnancy and ostracism are universal and totally relatable even if you’ve never spent a day in church. It helps that the cast is overflowing with talent, with Mandy Moore, in particular, playing against type as an evangelical queen bee bully. Strip away the “Christian movie” veneer and Saved! is a great high school comedy right up there with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mean Girls.
13. The Overnight (2015)
The sex comedy subgenre really hasn’t been the same since the American Pie series went stale, but every so often a film comes along to remind us that awkward, lust-fueled setups can still make for a hilariously good time. The Overnight from writer-director Patrick Brice is a perfect example. Starring Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott as a married couple who are invited over by their new friends for a playdate between their sons, but things quickly get weird and raunchy once the children are put to bed. The Overnight accomplishes a lot with its small cast and short runtime thanks to a witty script and unpredictable gags, and is a fun watch for anyone who adores good cringe-comedy.
12. Brewster’s Millions (1985)
Bringing together two of the best comedic actors of all time in the same movie should have been a recipe for success, but the combination of John Candy and Richard Pryor wasn’t enough to lift Brewster’s Millions above being a now largely forgotten mid-80s sports comedy. Understandably, there was a lot of expectation placed on Brewster’s Millions to be a gut-busting comedy classic due to the presence of Pryor and Candy, but when the film failed to deliver big laughs, critics were mixed on it. However, if you go into Brewster’s Millions already knowing it’s not going to blow you away in the laughs department, there’s a lot to like about it.
The film’s biggest strength is its plot, which sees a former minor league baseball player (Pryor) inherit a $300 million from his deceased uncle, with the stipulation that he needs to spend $30 million in 30 days in order to get the rest of the fortune. This leads to some great scenes of Brewster trying to spend money in a careless fashion, even launching a bid to become mayor of New York City at one point. While it’s true that the script could have made better use of its talented cast (Rick Moranis also turns up in a small role), it’s entertaining enough just to watch Pryor and Candy work, making Brewster’s Millions an underrated work in both late actors’ filmography.
11. Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
The film that would lead to filmmaker John Landis landing (no pun intended) the directing gig on National Lampoon’s Animal House the following year, Kentucky Fried Movie is an anthology comedy featuring a number of different sketches. Delivering a nonstop flurry of deadpan jokes, Kentucky Fried Movie was also the launching pad for the Zucker brothers and co-writer Jim Abrahams, who would go onto write and direct the 1980 satirical classic, Airplane!, as well as the Naked Gun series. While some of the film’s sketches haven’t aged as well as others, Kentucky Fried Movie still provides enough big laughs to make it worth seeking it out today, especially for the Airplane! fans out there.
10. The Tall Guy (1989)
The feature film debut of the late Mel Smith, The Tall Guy is emblematic of Smith’s career in that both never took off with American audiences. Starring Jeff Goldblum as the titular “tall guy” and Emma Thompson as the nurse he falls in love with, The Tall Guy is a rom-com that also surprises, as the final third is basically a parody of modern musicals. That the film has a charming, whimsical air about it should really come as no surprise given that it was written by Richard Curtis, who has written and directed such beloved rom-coms as Love Actually and About Time. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re either a Goldblum or Love Actually fan (or both!). Not enough to convince you? Well, Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean is also in it, so add The Tall Guy to your queue immediately.
9. Dick (1999)
At first glance, Dick looks like any other teen comedy released in the genre’s late 90s heyday, with a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams getting star-billing as two ditzy teenagers. However, Andrew Fleming’s film is actually a surprisingly effective political satire focused on the Watergate scandal that has become something of a comedic companion piece to All the President’s Men. Dunst and Williams play two best friends who inadvertently become the legendary “Deep Throat” informant who tipped off Bob Woodward and Carl Burnstein. Also co-starring Will Ferrell, Dick is a delightfully quirky parody and its lessons still resonate to this day, which really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the current state of the Oval office.
8. Frances Ha (2012)
Noah Baumbach’s biggest claim to fame lately is actually making Adam Sandler watchable again in his excellent 2017 film The Meyerowitz Stories, but his 2012 black-and-white dramedy Frances Ha remains one of his best and most underappreciated works. Starring Ladybird director Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the film) as a 27-year-old New York City dancer just trying to make ends meet and figure her life out, Frances Ha is incredibly relatable.
It’s also an occasionally maddening film that very well could have come off as pretentious navel-gazing, but it all works thanks to Gerwig’s performance, as her character navigates various life situations with humor and just a little bit of terror. Sure, there are a ton of movies that also depict characters navigating young adulthood, but you could do much worse than the underrated Frances Ha.
7. After Hours (1985)
Martin Scorsese is a filmmaker whose filmography definitely steer more towards the dramatic, but he has crafted a few noteworthy comedic works over the years. The King of Comedy (1982) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) prove that Scorsese is a master of black comedy but while those films have received a ton of attention and accolades over the years, film history has mostly forgotten about After Hours.
Scorsese’s 1985, which stars Griffin Dunne as a New York working stiff who experiences a series of misadventures on his way home from work one night, was not well-received by critics but has since attracted a cult following. The film’s tight script keeps things moving at a fun, frantic pace and even if After Hours isn’t Scorsese at his best, it’s still an entertaining and funny character drama that doubles as a love letter of sorts to the director’s favorite city.
6. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Kevin Smith’s post-Clerks 2 filmographies have largely been one big misfire, but the writer-director has notched at least one legitimate gem in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Right from moment one, the film proved controversial (the title certainly didn’t do the film any favors), with Smith having to fight with the MPAA to give Zack and Miri an R-rating and not NC-17, which would have been a financial death sentence.
Unfortunately, the film still didn’t perform to expectations and was a box office disappointment, which is a shame because despite featuring some raunchy scenes, Zack and Miri is surprisingly heartfelt, anchored by the endearing chemistry shared by Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen. With Smith increasingly losing his way with low-hanging fruit like Yoga Hosers, Zack and Miri stand as a blueprint for how the filmmaker might recapture his former directing magic.
5. Best in Show (2000)
Most people probably know Christopher Guest from his acting roles in 80s films such as This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride, but he’s also built a successful career as a mockumentary filmmaker. Best in Show is one of Guest’s best, following a group of outrageous owners and handlers as they compete at a prestigious dog show.
Featuring a number of actors who pop up in many of Guest’s films, including the Canadian dream team of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Best in Show simultaneously makes fun of its subject matter while also offering a nuanced, in-depth examination of its many foibles, which is a tough balance to make in a satire. While the film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, not many outside of Guest’s dedicated fanbase seem to be aware of it. Consider this entry a blanket recommendation to check out Christopher Guest’s other great comedies, including A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, For Your Consideration, and Mascots.
4. What About Bob? (1991)
This 1991 comedy directed by Frank Oz features one of Bill Murray’s greatest performances, which is reason enough to give it a wholehearted recommendation. However, What About Bob? seems to get ignored when discussions about Murray’s best comedic roles arise and this is something that really needs to be remedied. Following a psychiatric patient (Murray) who follows his doctor (Richard Dreyfuss) on his family vacation, What About Bob? benefits from great comedic chemistry between its two leads, with Dreyfuss matching Murray’s manic title character with his performance as the put-upon doctor who is driven to the brink of madness by his patient’s overstepping. What About Bob? definitely falls into the camp of black comedy, which certainly isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but it’s still worth checking out just to see two actors of Murray and Dreyfuss’ stature at the top of their games.
3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Popstar was arguably 2016’s best comedy but got absolutely destroyed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and was officially a box office bomb. The writing team of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone (of The Lonely Island fame) deserved a better fate, as their pop music star mockumentary is gut-bustlingly clever and features an entire soundtrack of catchy, satirical tracks. Following buffoonish popstar Connor4Real (Samberg) and his rap group The Style Boyz, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is arguably the modern successor to This is Spinal Tap but the film’s poor box office performance and lack of attention have turned it into a forgotten flop rather than a comedy classic. Seriously, this movie’s worth it just for the bee scene alone.
2. Night Shift (1982)
It’s easy to forget now, but Michael Keaton’s casting in Tim Burton’s Batman was quite controversial at the time because he was primarily known as a comedic actor up to that point. While Keaton’s best known pre-Batman work arguably came in the 1983 gender roles comedy Mr. Mom, one of his best and most unsung performances came the year prior in Ron Howard’s sophomore directorial effort, Night Shift.
Co-starring Henry Winkler and Shelley Long of Cheers fame, Night Shift follows a pair of morgue attendants who hatch a scheme to turn their place of work into a brothel (think Risky Business but with dead people as the backdrop). While that setup sounds like it would be in poor taste, Night Shift is a surprisingly heartfelt comedy that gets a lot of mileage out of the chemistry between its two leads. Keaton’s manic, braggadocios Bill and Winkler’s mild-mannered Chuck are an excellent pair and their friendship helps ground the film’s otherwise outrageous premise. Night Shift, with its smart script and excellent cast, definitely deserves to be talked up more as one of the best comedies of the early 80s.
1. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
A spoof of prestige music biopics like Ray and Walk the Line that rose to prominence in the mid-2000s, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story represents a rare box office misfire for Judd Apatow-produced comedies. Much of this can be attributed to it being an R-rated comedy starring John C. Reilly, a talented character actor better known for playing second fiddle to Will Ferrell, but it also probably has something to do with Walk Hard’s marketing doing little to differentiate it from the many other Apatow productions that were being released at the time. It’s unfortunate because more than a decade later, Walk Hard has achieved true cult classic status and is every bit as funny as other standout mid-2000s comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers.
Reilly commits fully to his washed-up rock star character and gets to show off his musical talents in a series of hilarious original songs (“Lets Duet” is an innuendo-laden masterpiece). The supporting cast is also universally excellent, with Tim Meadows’ drug-pushing drummer being a fan-favorite, as well as a number of famous actors and musicians turning up as various historical figures closely associated with the era (if you need any more convincing of this movie’s brilliance: Paul Rudd and Jack Black turn up as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, respectively, and trade insults before getting in a fistfight). Simply put, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the funniest films of the 21st century and one that nobody would have ever predicted would turn out to be so awesome.