It’s time to take a look at some of the best summer blockbuster comedies. Generally speaking, it’s much harder to hide a faltering comedy behind big set-pieces and special effects, although it can be done. Many of the bigger comedy blockbusters come out of nowhere (think Wedding Crashers, The Hangover, and Bridesmaids), but there are some that come along with the full-court press of studio marketing and star press tours. We’ll follow the Golden Globes precedent of adding “musicals” to the comedy category, just to cast the net a little wider. Here are some of our favorites.
So generally I will always say “comedy” is a distant 4th or 5th on my list of movie categories (sci-fi, action, and drama always strongly in front). However, when I stopped to think about it, I’ve enjoyed quite a few comedic movies, even during the summer months when big-budget, high-concept movies lure me into the theater like the smell of buttered popcorn. Before I get into my 3 picks, I was so pumped to write about my favorite comedy blockbuster, Beverly Hill Cop, only to find out it was released in December! The two inferior sequels were summertime releases, but not this one. Damn! Oh well. Here goes it.
Back To The Future (1985)
- Released: July 3, 1985
- Budget: $19 million
- First weekend: $11million
- Domestic Total Earned: $210 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $522 million
Although I liked Michael J. Fox in the TV sitcom Family Ties, I don’t recall being particularly excited for this film in 1985. Maybe it was the 1950’s setting, which I had zero interest in as a teenager. However, when I finally got around to seeing it, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and have only grown to like it more through subsequent showings, including recently with my kids. Robert Zemeckis took what could have been a goofy, cringe-inducing screenplay (I mean, it uses themes of incest for jokes), and made a light-hearted, fun, and adventurous tale that was something parents and their kids could both enjoy. The comedy-of-errors with Marty trying to get his parents together, or he won’t exist, gave the film plenty of humor, but also provided a certain urgency that propelled the story. Fox and Christopher Lloyd were great partners in crime, but the supporting cast, particularly Lea Thompson/Crispin Glover as Marty’s parents and Thomas F. Wilson as the iconic Biff, brought the film up to another level. Zemeckis would return for two more somewhat inferior but still entertaining installments, although the supporting cast was not utilized nearly as well. While Wilson had a much larger role in the sequel, the likable Thompson had her role reduced down to essentially a cameo by the third film, with Glover never returning due to his famous fight with the studio. He refused to be in the second film due to disagreement over compensation, then sued the studio for using his image in the film.
Bonus: The rights to the films are owned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who vowed that no reboot or remake would be authorized as long as one of them is still alive.
DJ: I am glad no remake or reboots are coming. This is now our second blog article to include the mention of Biff. Great movie, I loved Family Ties and so hence was a big MJF fan. I will admit though never saw the sequels, they can’t possibily live up to the original right?
MG: It’s bizarre to me that you still have never seen the sequels. Break out the trilogy with the family. They still hold up pretty well and my kids loved them. They enjoyed seeing how the second film envisioned 2015 compared to reality.
The Mask (1994)
- Released: July 29,1994
- Budget: $23 million
- First weekend: $23 million
- Domestic Total Earned: $120 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $254 million
Jim Carrey basically had his own subgenre of comedy blockbusters in the latter half of the 90’s, starting with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber – all released in 1994. While Ace Ventura was his big-screen breakout, The Mask made him a legitimate box-office sensation in the summer of 1994. I recently watched this movie again and it still holds up well 23 years later. It made me long for the time when CGI wasn’t the go-to solution for every film challenge. The film’s use of mixing live action with occasional traditional animation makes it fun for kids, while Carrey’s oft-improvised classic movie quotes appeal to adults. In her film debut, Cameron Diaz did a good job as the beautiful femme fatale, although it would be a few years before she honed the comedic abilities that made Something About Mary a huge summer blockbuster in 1998. Carrey’s films over the next 10 years were a mixed bag, realistically more duds than good ones, but you have to give him credit for going all out in nearly all his roles. In films, no one has replaced him in this type of physical, over-the-top mayhem form of comedy.
Bonus: Jim Carrey had agreed to a sequel, but later backed out due to a poor script. The Son of The Mask was released in 2005 and starred Jamie Kennedy instead. Film critic Richard Roeper said this was the closest he had come to walking out of the theater halfway through a film. I don’t know anyone who’s seen this and it has a 2.2 rating on IMDB.
DJ: I can take this movie or leave it. I am sure it still holds up but it’s just not interesting to me and I can’t tell you why. Maybe I should see it again. Although that Jamie Kennedy sequel sounds delightful, I may have to search for that one in the bargain bins.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
- Released: July 15, 2005
- Budget: $40 million
- First weekend: $34 million
- Domestic Total Earned: $210 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $288 million
Wedding Crashers had a respectable opening weekend tally, but it was really word-of-mouth (pre-social media no less) that made this R-rated summer comedy into a box-office smash. I remember going to the theater to see this based on the positive buzz and good reviews, and still being pleasantly surprised by what a funny and complete film this was. Comedy films can sometimes be only great the first time, but Crashers has become a cable TV staple, and it still holds up pretty well on repeat viewings, even if the ending feels tonally out of touch now. Oddly enough, the director, David Dobkin, was unable to parlay the films’ success into his own career, having subsequently directed a few middling feature films and is now directing TV episodes and Maroon 5 videos. The cast, on the other hand, used the films runaway success to become bonafide stars, particularly Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Unfortunately, their stardom trajectory would be a troubled one, with neither of them ever seeming comfortable carrying a film as the lead actor. Supporting cast members Rachel McAdams and Bradley Cooper would do a much better job picking their subsequent roles and developing their film careers. It’s truly amazing that the studio was never able to put out a sequel to this film, unlike the similarly crowd-pleasing The Hangover.
Bonus: There were a total of 110 “Rules of Wedding Crashing” included on the DVD of the film, including #40 “Dance with the old folks and kids. The girls will think you are ‘sweet'”, and #87 “Know something about the place you say you are from. Texas is played out. For some reason, New Hampshire seems to work”.
DJ: This one I love. Vince Vaughn is always Vince Vaughn, not a ton of range but when he has good writing his timing is brilliant and he is funny as hell and he is in this film. I am typically not an Owen Wilson fan but he does well here also. Like you mention great supporting cast. No mention of Christopher Walken? He is great as always.
I definitely get excited about comedies way more than you do, sometimes to my detriment (see Hot Tub Time Machine II, Anchorman II or any Chris Farley movie not named Tommy Boy). It comes down to life is sometimes a drag and I want to laugh my ass off. An unfunny comedy is the worst, though, but luckily we have picked some of the best here. I almost went with Midnight Run, one of my favorite action comedies and it proved Robert DeNiro (along with the criminally underrated and forgotten We’re No Angels) could do comedy. But when I looked at the gross it just did not qualify as a “blockbuster”. I also thought maybe a Michael Bay film, but I figured they need to be intentional comedies.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
- Released: July 29, 1983
- Budget: $ 15 million
- First weekend: $8 million
- Domestic Total Earned: $61 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $168 million
So right up front, I did not see this film in the theater, it was actually on videocassette back in the height of the VCR. Some will argue that Fletch may be his best film but Vacation is Chevy Chase’s best film and it’s not even close. It has a simple premise: Clark Griswold wants to take his wife and their two children on a cross-country trip to Wally World. On the way let’s say they have a lot of bad luck, some accidentally brought on by Clark himself. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie is introduced in this film and steals his scenes. Imogene Coca in one of her final roles plays mean Aunt Edna and gets to join their trip, kind of. Seeing Clark Griswold slowly lose his cool as things continue to go wrong is comedic gold. Harold Ramis who directed Caddyshack and Groundhog Day knows how to handle comedy. The Christie Brinkley scenes are what every teenage boy could ask for with the exception of nudity. Watching Clark get hot for her are some of the funniest moments. There are great cameos from John Candy, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Eugene Levy. I even loved the movie poster, it’s very Star Wars like. Of course due to the success of this film they had to go the sequel route and even a recent reboot with Rusty the son now the father. Most of the sequels are just awful, European and Vegas are abysmal to watch. I will say at least Christmas Vacation is somewhat redeeming and has a few laughs but it’s dated. Christmas Vacation II, Cousin’s Eddie’s Island Adventure is without Chevy Chase and without conscience.
Bonus: John Hughes wrote the script based on an ill-fated trip to Disney World with his family when he was a kid and wrote the short story Vacation 58.
MG: It took a while for me to see this too, due to the R rating and my catholic fear of sex and nudity (R-rated movies due to only swearing and violence were my first forays). If I remember correctly, Brinkley is not nude but Beverly D’Angelo is early in the film. I would say this is the best Chase film, but Fletch was his best character. People say they love Christmas Vacation, but watch it again – it’s just ok. Never heard of the Christmas Vacation 2 sequel though. Sounds awesome.
DJ: You are correct on nudity, Christie Brinkley refused to do a nude scene although the producers wanted her to and yes D’Angelo was.
City Slickers (1991)
- Released: June 9, 1991
- Budget: $ 27 million
- First weekend: $ 13 million
- Domestic Total Earned: $ 124 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $255 million
Looking back at Billy Crystal’s career I was shocked to see how few films he has made. I thought he was prolific but he just wasn’t. His best is When Harry Met Sally, Throw Momma from the Train, Analyze This and City Slickers, that was pretty much it, at least in my mind. Outside of When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers is his best. Another simple and relatable story, middle-aged man is bored with life and needs some kind of jump start to “enjoy” life or to find his purpose. For Mitch Robbins, it’s a birthday gift from his two friends played by the late Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern to go to the southwest for two weeks for a “real old-fashioned” cattle drive. They meet Curly played by veteran tough guy Jack Palance, a tough cowboy who toughens up these “city slickers” and gives them life lessons. Palance won an Oscar for this role and famously did his one hand push-ups at the Oscar ceremony creating an iconic moment. The chemistry between Palance and Crystal is what makes this cliched “fish out of water” story work. Everyone that turns 40 can relate to Mitch’s feelings of growing old and wondering if this is all there is. Realizing that the best years may be behind them. Watching the trailer I mostly forgot about how good this movie is, the great supporting cast also includes Josh Mostel and David Paymer. Once in a while I actually still quote Curly, “Day ain’t over yet”.
Bonus: Of course success breeds a sequel but City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold is not good. Jack Palance is shoehorned in and Bruno Kirby is replaced with the joyless Jon Lovitz.
MG: For some reason I have a distinct memory of seeing this film in the theater during the summer. Perhaps because I was dragged to it by my girlfriend and then was happy it turned out to be a good movie. I was never a big fan of Crystal’s shtick, but it worked here and as host of the Oscars. Whenever I have to trim ear hair I think of this movie and the scene at the beginning when Crystal is lamenting it.
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
- Released: July 19, 1998
- Budget: $23 million
- First weekend: $13.7 million
- Domestic Total Earned: $176 million
- Earnings Adjusted for Inflation: $325 million
There’s Something About Mary is the beginning of the era of the gross-out, raunchy comedy. Not that there weren’t others before, but this one was the first huge hit. It has subtle humor, over the top humor, it’s a sweet romance and has some raunchy and totally politically incorrect humor. Except for the original Dumb and Dumber, I am just not a fan of the Farrelly brothers work. Most of the time they go for shock and raunch and it hurts the plot but Mary is a winner. It may be in my best comedies of all-time list, it’s that good. Cameron Diaz will never look better than she does here. Ben Stiller was never this funny again. Probably my favorite character in this film is Matt Dillon’s detective who, while trying to find Ben Stiller’s past obsession Mary, also falls in love with her. Dillon, not known for comedy, is a riot. He was quoted as saying comedy is tough to do because of timing, but he was spot on here. The movie is consistently funny throughout and it never lets down. I am not a Jonathan Richman fan, but for this movie, his music works. The gags work including the infamous hair gel scene which at the time was probably the biggest “oh no” moment I had seen in a comedy. Thankfully, and unlike Dumb and Dumber, no sequels have been made or talked about leaving its legacy completely intact.
Bonus: I had mentioned earlier I am a sucker for a comedy and often get stuck at bad ones. Chris Elliot who did his job in this also starred in Cabin Boy which embarrassingly I saw in a theater and it was god awful.
MG: To think we were actually excited to see Cabin Boy. Ouch. The Farrelly brothers were another comedy brand for a while – it was movie news whenever their latest project was announced – but this was their best, far and away. The writing was sharp, the comedic timing spot on, and the supporting cast was great. I loved Keith David as Mary’s father and his reactions in the “franks and beans” scene. Both Stiller and Diaz were never more likable.