Comedy persists across the decades, and today we visit the money-and-stimulants-filled 1980s for a tour of the ten funniest films from that glorious era. Celebrated comedians like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy take their turns in the leading light alongside younger breakout stars like Molly Ringwald, Michael J. Fox, and Matthew Broderick.
Many of these classic comedies spawned entire franchises of sequels — but no sequels here! We only offer the finest original content in this top ten list. You should expect some surprises and car chases along the way.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers grew out of a Saturday Night Live sketch and John Belushi’s scene-stealing success in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). The musical brothers (Belushi and Dan Ackroyd) set off to earn $5,000 to pay off a tax lien on the Catholic orphanage where they grew up, and they piss off everyone from the Chicago Police to a country band and a bunch of white supremacists.
Musical cameos include Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Ray Charles. There’s also Carrie Fisher wielding heavy artillery and blowing up buildings. The iconic car chase inside a Chicago shopping mall earned the Blues Brothers the “record for Most Cars Destroyed” during production, which stood for nearly twenty years.
Back To The Future (1985)
Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly in the famous (and famously 80s) orange vest. Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown defines the comedic mad scientist role. Calvin Klein displays the underwear of choice for Oedipus. An electric surge of 1.21 gigawatts sets the plot in motion. And there’s the time-traveling Delorean to steal the show from them all. Back to the Future is the only movie on this list with its own theme park ride at Universal Studios in Orlando. Need I say more?
Adventures In Babysitting (1987)
Chris Columbus debuts as a director in this hilarious teen adventure romp through the ridiculous urban wasteland of 1980s Chicago. Elizabeth Shue plays the seventeen-year-old babysitter hired for a quiet evening in suburbia watching the eight-year-old Sarah, but Sarah’s fifteen-year-old brother Brad and his best friend Daryl get involved and convince the crew to venture into the city to rescue their babysitter’s friend Brenda, who ran away to the city and is trouble. The car breaks down, they get held hostage at a chop shop, sing for their freedom at a blues club, and eventually rescue Brenda and make it back home just before the parents return from their oblivious night out. The script practically writes itself!
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Robin Williams plays Airman Cronauer, the jokester of Vietnam service radio in 1965 Saigon, boosting morale while infuriating tight-assed military brass. Williams won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his improv-heavy performance for the ages.
Cronauer befriends a local named Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana) and her brother Tuan (Thung Thanh Tran), who saves Cronauer’s life after his Jeep hits a mine on a dangerous trip arranged by the aptly-named Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh). Tuan turns out to be a Viet Cong operative, leading to Cronauer being discharged back home to New York City, but not before a softball game and heartfelt goodbye across enemy lines.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The Sausage King of Chicago drives his father’s red Ferrari out a window into a forest. Ben Stein takes attendance. The girl on the school bus offers you a gummy bear from her pocket. Do you accept? Will you eat of the forbidden fruit? Skip school and you might end up in detention, but a glance further down this list reveals such punishments are illusory. Life’s good when you have a girlfriend named Sloane.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy plays Detroit cop Axel Foley, who travels to Beverly Hills to investigate, on his own time, his best friend’s murder. He slowly befriends two local cops (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold), who eventually help Foley take down a corrupt art gallery owner who uses the business as a front for selling cocaine. You might recognize the synthesizer-heavy theme song, Axel F, which went on to perhaps even more fame than the movie over the years to come.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Detention never looked so cool as in this stylish romantic comedy from 1980s comedy powerhouse director John Hughes. Five cliched high school kids — Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall — arrive for their day of detention together in the school library. Initially, they resist each other, but soon they’re splitting a joint and forming an unbreakable bond. A true classic.
My Dinner With Andre (1981)
Tell me more! Erik Satie’s furniture music graces this actionless extended dialogue about writing plays and how to live in the grim New York of the late 70s. It’s hilarious and moving, and unlike most of this list, features no car chases. You’d be giving yourself a falsely narrow view of 1980s comedies if you skip over this timeless gem. A spiritual affair with a new way of living, the experiences of the film lead star and writer Wallace Shawn to confess his journey of the soul to his girlfriend at the end of the film. You have to watch this one to understand — even then you probably still won’t.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
“Those aren’t pillows!” Another classic comedy offering from John Hughes, and this one eschews teen romance for the love between two grown men. Steve Martin and John Candy get stranded in Thanksgiving travel delays and decide to find their way home together. Things get a little wild for this odd couple in their shabby hotel room, and they nearly die being sandwiched between two tractor-trailers. It’s a heartwarming paean to the working man and the eternal inconvenience of holiday travel.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
P-p-p-p-please watch my personal favorite 1980s comedy! Space Jam (1996) and Cool World (1992) wish they were half a good as this pioneering part-cartoon-part-live-action film that riffs on the Hollywood classic Chinatown (1974). Bob Hoskins plays a human private detective hired by the sexy Jessica Rabbit to investigate who is framing her husband, the cartoon comedian Roger Rabbit, for a murder that threatens to destroy Toon Town and turn it into a superhighway. Christopher Lloyd plays the evil Judge Doom, who revels in dissolving recalcitrant toons with his green vat of “dip.” Talk about a film that has it all.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
“These go to eleven.” One of the most beloved and quotable comedies ever made, this mockumentary set the standard for satire that persists to this day. Rob Reiner directs and plays the ersatz documentarian filming the fake over-the-top British rock band Spinal Tap, portrayed by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer alongside a revolving door of exploding drummers. Our top ten list is already over, but Spinal Tap goes all the way to eleven for an unstoppable comedy performance to rock you into the next millennium.
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