Comedy is one of the biggest genres in the world of film and has spawned almost every sub-genre possible. There is horror comedy, romantic comedy, zombie comedy, romantic zombie comedy, satire, black comedy… you get the point. With more comedies than you can shake a stick at hitting the big screen every year for the last two or three decades, why do so few find spots on lists of the greatest movies? Is there really a difference between comedy and quality?
With Empire’s Top 50 Funniest Comedies released not too long ago, I began asking myself, ‘Are these really considered the funniest movies ever?’ Despite the list being voted for by the readers, it seemed I was not alone; the comments section was full of negative statements. While, of course, humour is subjective, I don’t think anyone expected some of the neglected talents. No Chaplin? No Keaton? Are the classics not as funny in today’s society as they once were?
The point was raised that a great movie may not necessarily be the funniest. Take In Bruges as an example. It is recognised by critics worldwide as a masterpiece of modern cinema and black comedy. However, as the movie progresses, its tone becomes darker and more intense. Whilst not completely lacking in laughs, it is understandable that this would force it lower down the list than a movie that focuses entirely on making its audience laugh such as There’s Something About Mary or Superbad. Surely this then raises a question: can a full scale comedy also be one of the greatest movies or does trying for laughs take some of the quality away?
On IMDb, the first comedy in the top rated 250 is Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb and that falls in at 34. Like The Apartment, which is at 12on Empire’s top 500, these comedies are considered some of the best movies ever made, and surely that makes them the best comedies? Yet, according to Empire’s list, there are still 16 funnier films than Strangelove and The Apartment is not even in the top 50. So maybe they are just the best received. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, what about Airplane!? A film that constantly tops ‘Funniest Films’ lists and yet is nowhere to be seen on IMDb’s top 250 and is all the way at 368 on Empire’s top 500. Can a film really be thought to be the funniest and top of its genre, but not be considered alongside the greatest movies of all time?
If you handed me the Empire’s top 50 Funniest Films list and asked me to pick my favourite film, I would have no difficulty selecting In Bruges. However, if you asked for my favourite comedy, I would probably read the list several times before throwing it across the room and complaining over the lack of Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Guard, Submarine, and Little Miss Sunshine, despite none of those being my favourite comedy.
Whether or not it is possible to create a comedy that is worthy to be considered alongside the likes of The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, and Fight Club, there is one certain fact. It is not hard to make something that will make your audience laugh more than those films. Whether you go for a gag-a-minute type film like Airplane! or something a bit more sophisticated like The Big Lebowski, the truth of comedy is as long as it makes you laugh, it has done its job and it doesn’t matter how highly it is rated on other merits. A comedy is only truly a failure when it fails to make you laugh. (Here’s looking at you, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie.)