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The 100 best comedy movies: 20-11

The 100 best comedy movies, picked by experts from across film, TV and comedy


Trading Places (1983)

‘It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.’

Director: John Landis

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis

Defining moment: Any straight man who hit puberty in the mid-‘80s will have a very definite answer to this question. But as we’re grown up now, we’ll go for the wonderfully tasteless costume-swapping, accent-rogering scene on the New Year’s Eve express.

A definition of comedy greatness: a movie you can watch in the depths of winter, on a low-rent Canadian cable channel, dubbed into French (and you don’t speak French), and it’s still ridiculously funny. The Eddie Murphy we loved in the ’80s may be long gone, but we still have the memories, and movies like this. ‘Trading Places’ may not be as slick as ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, as confrontational as ‘48 Hrs’ or as raw as, um, ‘Raw’, but it’s still the best Murphy vehicle on the road: whipsmart, close to the bone, unashamedly capitalist but unexpectedly decent at the core. A bit like the man himself. Tom Huddleston

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South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

‘Hey Stan, tell them about the part where Terrence calls Phillip a testicle-shitting rectal wart.’

Director: Trey Parker

Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes

Defining moment: The epic key change in Satan’s big musical number ‘Up There’ is one of the great lighters-in-the-air moments in popular music.

What’s the greatest musical of all time? ‘Singin’ in the Rain’? Too cute. ‘West Side Story’? Too butch. ‘Meet Me in St Louis’? If Judy Garland had called Margaret O’Brien a 'donkey-raping shit eater', it might have stood a chance. Surely, the finest example of the musical form in cinema has to be this wistful rites-of-passage tale of life in a quiet Colorado mountain town, where all the folks need to worry about is parking provision, bad language, gay dogs, an impending land war with Canada, Satan’s fuck-buddy Saddam, whether it really was Cartman’s mother in that German scheisse video and, of course, those goddamned Baldwins. Aw, shucks. Tom Huddleston

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The Naked Gun (1988)

‘I promise you: whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he’s behind bars. Now let’s grab a bite to eat.’

Director: David Zucker

Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, OJ Simpson

Defining moment: Leslie Nielsen’s unflappable expression as he rips his suit in half and proceeds to make passionate love is pretty unforgettable.

In the wake of ‘Scary Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans’, it’s hard to remember that the scattergun, slapstick, movie-pastiche genre started out with the noblest of intentions: to level the comedy playing field by making even the smartest moviegoers laugh like total idiots. In translating their criminally overlooked TV show ‘Police Squad!’ to the big screen, the Zuckers delivered the purest expression of the form outside of their own masterpiece ‘Airplane!’. ‘The Naked Gun’ is a film so devastatingly daft it leaves the stoniest of cynics gasping for breath and shrieking, ‘It’s Enrico Pallazzo!’ Tom Huddleston

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Duck Soup (1933)

‘I could dance with you till the cows come home... But I would rather dance with the cows till you come home.’

Director: Leo McCarey

Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx

Defining moment: Groucho’s jawdropping mirror schtick, one of the most astonishing feats of physical comedy ever captured on celluloid.

Journalists ritually cite George Orwell’s ‘1984’ when bemoaning the rotten state of contemporary politics. Let's put that down to the fact that they’ve probably never seen ‘Duck Soup’. Groucho Marx plays Rufus T Firefly, the dangerously daffy autocrat of the sovereign state of Freedonia, whose anarchic style of governance is as much a rib-crackingly hilarious indictment of power-hungry tyrants as it is a harrowing harbinger of things to come. We may chuckle when he attempts to squeeze ‘financial assistance’ from a status-hungry dowager. We may guffaw when he inducts a pair of friendly nitwits (Chico and Harpo Marx) into high government posts. We may snigger when the boys break into song at a war crimes trial. But is this not also a bracing vision of a grim future (and, of course, a very funny one)? David Jenkins

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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

‘How’s that for a slice of fried gold?’

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield

Defining moment: The scene where our two heroes use a variety of household obejcts – but most definitely NOT ‘Sign O’ the Times’ – to ward off the undead invasion.

Our voters declare this the funniest of the films made by the reigning kings of British comedy, the triumvirate of Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Previous beloved Brit comedy duos – from Eric and Ernie to Cannon and Ball and the great Hale and Pace – failed to make, or faltered on, their elevation from the small to the silver screen. It was more than the making of perky Pegg and frolicsome Frost – the surprise hit of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ catapulted them to just below demi-god status (as enjoyed by, of course, the Pythons) and to the second highest spot in the poll for British performers. ‘Shaun...' is not a film about survival: this genuinely suspenseful rom-zom-com is about respect, and the getting of it. That what’s Pegg/Frost/Wright give to the living dead of Crouch End, Highgate and North Finchley in spades, with due compassion, not a little heroism and without losing their sense of humour and essential Britishness. Wally Hammond

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Blazing Saddles (1974)

‘What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?’

Director: Mel Brooks

Cast: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens

Defining moment: The beans scene may still set the schoolboys chortling, but the film’s genuinely startling moments of racial confrontation – particularly the one with the sweet old lady – are both hilarious and shocking.

Mel Brooks was on a roll in the late-’60s and ’70s with a string of intermittently hilarious spoofs, from ‘The Producers’ to ‘Silent Movie’. In between, in 1974, he wrote and helmed this mostly very funny western send-up starring regular Gene Wilder. It’s a typically bizarre close-to-the-bone scenario: with a view to procuring their land, a local swindler tries to shock the residents into leaving by organising the employment of a new sheriff. It looks like his ruse might work when a clean-cut black man rides in to take the job… Brooks doesn’t shy away from the race issue; in fact, he charges straight in with a sarcastic and very amusing sideswipe at bigotry and ignorance. There are so many cracking scenes to savour, but for me the most memorable sequence by far is that unique, sprawling ending when the whole cast of hundreds spills over into the movie lot. Brilliant. Derek Adams

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

‘I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.’

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Peter Sellers, George C Scott, Sterling Hayden

Defining moment: In a film more stuffed with iconic images than most directors’ entire CVs, the sight of Slim Pickens riding the atomic express to obliterationsville still stands out.

It takes some kind of genius to make a comedy out of a thermonuclear holocaust – and arch pessimist and master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was that very genius. Originally intent on a serious treatment (based on Peter George’s book ‘Red Alert’), Kubrick abandoned the attempt because most of his ideas for it ‘were so ludicrous’. The black comedy that resulted – detailing the terminal implications of a mad, lone general’s decision to push the nuclear button – was arguably Kubrick’s greatest achievement, offering towering work from scriptwriter Terry Southern, the multi-role-playing Peter Sellers, designer Ken Adam and little-known cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, among others.

Kubrick once said, 'Most of the humour in "Strangelove" arises from the depiction of everyday human behaviour in a nightmarish situation,' but his film certainly impugned the masters of war and named the guilty. Strangelove himself, in film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s peerless summary, was ‘a savage extrapolation of a then-obscure Henry Kissinger conflated with Wernher von Braun and Dr Mabuse to suggest a flawed, spastic machine with Nazi reflexes that ultimately turns on itself’. Shit! Some guys will conflate anything to get a laugh! Wally Hammond

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The Big Lebowski (1998)

‘Nice marmot.’

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore

Defining moment: Any scene involving Jeff Bridges driving to Creedence.

Just when ‘Fargo’ had people thinking maybe the Coens weren’t so freaky after all, along came this wilfully bamboozling film-noir pastiche. Following a regrettable episode of urination, a burned-out ’60s radical known as The Dude (Jeff Bridges) finds himself miscast as a private investigator looking into… well, it doesn’t really matter, but it takes him on a tour of LA’s various strata of weirdo pretension while reinforcing the pleasures of the simple things like bowling and friendship. Amazing dialogue, brilliant performances and an irreverent affection for Hollywood history add up to one hilarious movie – not to mention the inspiration for an ever-burgeoning cult fandom that borders on religious devotion. The Dude abides. Ben Walters

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

‘She had golden hairs, teeth as white as pearls, and the asshole of a seven-year-old.’

Director: Larry Charles

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Defining moment: The mankini may be more iconic, but the bear in the ice cream truck made us snort entire popcorn kernels through our noses.

It takes a lot of front to keep a straight face while winding up gullible members of the public, but Sacha Baron Cohen is a past master. What this wince-inducing odyssey across America lacks in dramatic nous, it more than makes up for in hilarious, cringe-worthy, base humour. Travelling under the guise of an unsophisticated radio host from Kazakhstan, Cohen trawls the byways of the USA, inveigling himself into the welcoming arms of locals before shocking them with an outrageous arsenal of faked Kazakh cultural mores. Although a damn fine comedy at heart, the film also serves as a sobering reminder of the level of sexism and anti-semitism that still seem to be very much a part of some sectors of the American community. 'Borat' is reactionary comedy in the real sense. And fucking funny it is, too. Derek Adams

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Team America: World Police (2004)

‘I’ve got five terrorists going south-east on Bakalakadaka Street!’

Directors: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller

Defining moment: We could go for that eye-popping sex scene, those terrifying tigers, or the first appearance of ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’. But no, the greatest moment in ‘Team America’ can be summed up in two words: ‘Matt Damon!’

If there’s one single area in which musical theatre beats the movies, it’s in prize-giving. ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone cleaned up at the 2011 Tony awards for their Broadway show ‘The Book of Mormon’, yet their 2004 puppet opus ‘Team America’ reaped how many Oscars? Sure, it’s a hate-fuelled, take-no-prisoners, liberal-baiting, America-bashing, borderline racist satire of everything Hollywood holds dear. Not to mention it's complete with vicious, near-libellous sideswipes at everyone from Michael Moore to Alec Baldwin and more swearing than a Teamsters meeting. But you’d think a group of open-minded, forward-thinking creative types like the Academy could have seen past all that. No? Tom Huddleston

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