It seems like they just don’t make great comedy films any more. By this, I mean genuinely funny movies that are as good now as they were back in the 80’s and which you could watch again and again. Most of the rubbish they churn out these days sacrifices laughs for crudity or gross-out humour, neither of which stands the test of time.
So, with plenty of great films to choose from, here are my 10 favourite comedy movies from the 80’s.
Airplane! (1980)/Airplane II (1982)
Ted Striker (Robert Hays) saves the day when the passengers on an airplane, including the pilots, fall ill from food poisoning. The sequel, Airplane II, has a similar plot only this time Ted Striker is aboard the Mayflower One, a commercial lunar shuttle on its maiden voyage that goes awry when the in-flight computer malfunctions.
What makes both of these a pair of fantastically funny movies is that everyone plays it deadpan straight and they’re absolutely rammed with both visual and verbal gags. If you miss one, there’s another along in half a minute with plenty of scenes having something hilarious going on in the background. As parodies of umpteen disaster movies, they also expertly nail all the clichés. The sequel reprises most of the cast and is even better with a great comedic turn by William Shatner as Buck Murdoch.
Stir Crazy (1980)
Skip Donohue (Gene Wilder) and Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) are two out-of-work friends who, after being fired from their jobs in New York, head for Hollywood. En route, they are wrongly convicted of a bank robbery and end up in the slammer from where they plan to escape during a prison rodeo.
This is the second movie of four starring both Wilder and Pryor and their best I reckon, with the interaction and chemistry between the two serving up much of the comedy as they adjust to prison life, a corrupt warden and a collection of motley inmates.
Trading Places (1983)
The uber rich Duke brothers hatch a social experiment plot to see if they can turn their managing director, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), to a life of crime and poverty whilst at the same time taking a poor street hustler, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), and making him a successful and rich commodities broker.
This is my most favourite comedy film of the 80’s and I’ve watched it so many times that, like most of my favourite movies, can pretty much quote the whole thing. It’s not just the sharp script, witty dialogue and comedy timing between the stellar cast but also the fab soundtrack that veers between classical music (The Marriage Of Figaro) and funk. The trading parts are also great and you’ll never look at OJ futures in the same way again.
Police Academy (1984)
When the doors are thrown open to let anyone become a cop, a group of misfits join the Police Academy and are assigned to D Squad, (the D stands for Dirtbags). With the Chief lamenting that when he joined the force “every cadet was the right weight, the right height, the right colour and they all had johnsons”, the academy staff do their best to force the cadets to quit.
Forget the rubbish sequels after part 2, the original is still the best and a damn funny movie. With so many diverse characters, everyone will have their favourites (mine’s Tackleberry!) with most of the laughs derived from the pranks played by D Squad on Lieutenant Harris and his two cadet stooges.
Ruthless People (1986)
Sleazy millionaire Sam Stone plans to murder his wife Barbara but before he can execute his dastardly plan, Barbara is kidnapped and a ransom demanded. Unwilling to pay the ransom and with the hapless but kindly kidnappers prone to drop the price so they can get rid of Barbara, Sam’s mistress and her lover soon become embroiled in the plot along with the Chief of Police who unwittingly finds himself the star of an amateur video.
This is a hilarious, often overlooked film full of back-stabbing double-dealing charlatans all held together by the wonderful performance of Danny DeVito as Sam Stone. The humour is derived from the plot rather than the script with everyone out to scam everyone else which doesn’t always work out well for the kidnappers who are about as ruthless as a rubber duck.
Three Amigos (1986)
Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase), Lucky Day (Steve Martin) and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) are the Amigos, three stars of the silent screen who in the movies always end up beating the bad guys and saving the village folk. When real life villain El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) takes over a small Mexican town, one of the residents sends a telegram to the Amigos asking for help. The Amigos, thinking it’s a lucrative new movie opportunity accept and unwittingly take on El Guapo and his gang.
A gloriously silly movie with a cast at the peak of their game. There are plenty of absurd moments and despite the different personalities of the Amigos, they’re all equally clueless when it comes to dealing with real life villains.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Uptight marketing executive Neil Page (Steve Martin) is in New York on a business trip and trying his best to get home to Chicago on the eve of Thanksgiving. Reluctantly teaming up with nice guy Del Griffith (John Candy), a travelling shower curtain ring salesman with annoying habits, after the flight and then the train to Chicago is cancelled, the two set off to try and get Neil home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
A wonderful comedy about two guys who really don’t get on but learn to muddle through together. Although this is a comedy, it’s equal parts road movie and buddy movie with an ending that hits all the right notes. I reckon both Steve Martin and John Candy have never bettered their roles here and it’s tragic that a decent DVD with all the alleged hours of deleted scenes has never been released.
Coming To America (1988)
Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy), together with his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) heads to America to find his bride. Determined to find a woman who loves him for who he is rather than what he is, the two pretend to be a poor foreign students and take up a low paid job in a local burger bar where the Prince falls in love with the daughter of the proprieter.
This is a marvellously funny movie with both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall playing several other comedy characters. The laughs are based mainly around the Prince and his best friend as they do their best to fit in with the locals including a slum landlord, jealous boyfriend and a trio of barbers who love nothing more than talking about boxing. There’s a wonderful cameo scene as Prince Akeem helps a couple of tramps who turn out to be two down-on-their luck commodities brokers.
The Naked Gun (1988)
Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) of Police Squad is tasked with investigating a drugs bust that went wrong and put his friend (OJ Simpson) in hospital. The trail leads to the sinister Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán) and his glamorous assistant Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley). Meanwhile Police Squad are put in charge of security for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II and it’s not long before Drebin puts the two together to foil an assassination attempt.
Nobody does deadpan better than Leslie Nielsen and this is a fitfully funny movie that, like Airplane!, is just stuffed with rapid fire slapstick. A lot of the gags are lifted from the series Police Squad upon which the movie is based (and also starred Leslie Nielsen) but this no bad thing, especially since the series never got a huge airing, at least here in the UK. If you like Airplane! this is a must see and if you haven’t, this is even more of a must see.
The Burbs (1989)
Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) lives in a normal suburb with his wife and kids and whilst mooching around the house on vacation, begins to obsess about who his strange new neighbours, the Klopeks, really are. Enlisting the help of his other neighbours, the paranoid Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) and military enthusiast Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), the trio begin to spy on the Klopeks in an attempt to discover what is really going on in their house.
A perfect example of a film that is just wildly entertaining, I never tire of watching The Burbs. The humour is very much situation driven and what makes this funny is that you recognise the characters in the neighbourhood and the seemingly humdrum day-to-day life of the residents which is nothing out of the ordinary meaning they just can’t help poking their noses into the Klopecs business.