Now that we all must have HBO Max to watch Hollywood’s latest blockbusters, it’s time to dig deep into its large catalog of library titles to see what else the service has to offer. And after the year we all just experienced, what could be more appropriate than a great comedy? Luckily, HBO has quite a few to choose from. There are new films, of course, but they have a lot to offer when it comes to library titles, particularly from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Here are some of the best chances you have for a hilarious night in. And this is just at the moment, too; more titles are arriving all the time.
This is Spinal Tap
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner
Cast: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, June Chadwick, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby
This is Spinal Tap isn’t just one of the funniest movies on this list – it’s one of the greatest comedies ever made. Rob Reiner’s mockumentary witnessing the decline of a formerly great rock band hits viewers with one classic joke after another, delivered by three of the best improvisers out there: Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, who would famously go on to make a beloved series of hilarious improvised fake documentaries like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. The format has only grown more popular, but This is Spinal Tap is where it all began. Not only is it super funny, but the actual songs are genuinely good as well.
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler
Cast: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Julie Bowen, Carl Weathers, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, Ben Stiller
Adam Sandler’s career has had some definite ups and downs, but all Sandler fans know his first few films were his funniest. Luckily, HBO Max has both Billy Madison and this golf classic. Between the two, Happy Gilmore earns a slight edge because it’s the only one to feature Carl Weathers. It’s also the only one to offer Ben Stiller threatening a nice old lady. Furthermore, Billy Madison’s Bradley Whitford simply cannot compete with the glory of Shooter McGavin. Early Adam Sandler films benefit from a stronger focus on absurdity for its own sake, and Happy Gilmore provides a great showcase for that side of the comedian.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol
Cast: Paul Reubens, E. G. Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Judd Omen
Classic doesn’t begin to cover it. This showcase for Paul Reubens’ signature character; Tim Burton’s signature directing style; and America’s signature love for tricked-out bicycles is a film you can – and many of us do – watch over and over. The jokes in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure come from all over the place, but it offers different things to appreciate each time you see it, no matter how old you are. From the biker bar, to Large Marge, to the animal shop, to the climactic chase scene, there is almost too much perfection for any one movie to boast. Okay, that might be slight hyperbole, but Pee-Wee would approve.
Director: Mike Judge
Writers: Mike Judge and Etan Cohen
Cast: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, Justin Long
You’ve probably already heard people ponder whether or not Idiocracy – the story of a guy who becomes the smartest man alive simply by getting frozen and thawed out in a future where brain-drain has robbed humanity of intelligence – has become more of a sad prophecy than an enjoyable comedy. While some of Idiocracy’s predictions can hit uncomfortably close to home, Mike Judge’s film is luckily still a tiny bit too silly for reality to ruin. And let’s be honest, President Comacho at least means well. Idiocracy may be angry, but who cares when that anger is this hilarious.
National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1
Director: Gene Quintano
Writers: Don Holley and Gene Quintano
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Tim Curry, Kathy Ireland, William Shatner
The ‘90s had a lot to offer when it comes to farce. Airplane might have kicked the subgenre off in 1980, but the ‘90s delivered a whole lot of Leslie Nielson and Mel Brooks movies (and one movie that’s both!). Among those offerings, National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 often gets overlooked. That’s too bad as it offers a pitch-perfect parody of (mostly) the ‘80s action genre, jumping off from Lethal Weapon and going from there. The film boasts a great early Samuel L. Jackson role, but the revelation is how good Emilio Estevez is at this form of comedy. It doesn’t hurt that the film features William Shatner as a villain doing a silly voice, either.
Director/Writer: Juzo Itami
Cast: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Rikiya Yasuoka
Anyone who enjoys eating food (in other words, everyone) absolutely must check out this 1985 gem from Japan which celebrates the act of eating in pretty much every way you can think of. Tampopo surrounds a central story of a woman striving to perfect her ramen recipe (aided by a young, dashing Ken Watanabe) with brief vignettes all centered around delicious, glorious food. It’s like if Kentucky Fried Movie really were about Kentucky Fried Chicken. The film offers a little bit of everything: thrills, cute kids, sex, gangsters… but above all, it’s hilarious. Just don’t try to watch it on an empty stomach.
The Dead Don’t Die
Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Austin Butler, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits
There’s nothing wrong with taking the zombie genre down a notch, and The Dead Don’t Die certainly takes that on as a goal. Director Jim Jarmusch has always utilized a dry humor in his films, but here he goes all out comedy-wise, to the point of pure parody. Despite featuring an all-star cast including names like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and Danny Glover, The Dead Don’t Die isn’t all that interested in characters or plot or much of anything really. It just wants to get as many laughs from zombies as possible, a goal it achieves admirably.
Shaun of the Dead
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton
If you like your zombie comedies with a bit more heart, plot, character and flashy filmmaking, HBO Max also offers Edgar Wright’s iconic Shaun of the Dead. The first of a trilogy of films uniting the director with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead oozes with love for the zombie films that inspired it, while also telling a unique and complete zombie story of its own. Yes, there is gore. Yes, it can even be a bit sad. But above all, Shaun of the Dead features a ton of great jokes both poking fun at the zombie subgenre and displaying a ton of respect for it at the same time.
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Lee Hall and Tom Hooper
Cast: James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward
Hey, sometimes the film you watch to have an uproarious time with your friends was never meant to be funny. That’s how some people enjoy the ill-advised cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical Cats. While the stage show and soundtrack are near and dear to the hearts of many, it’s hard to deny that something is hilariously off about the conceit in its overly self-serious, cinematic form. The lack of plot, the stunt-casting, and the strange makeup effects all add up to a comedy experience unlike any other. Watch it with friends and you’ll get the idea.
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: William Davies, Timothy Harris, William Osborne, Herschel Weingrod
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, Tony Jay
Sometimes the most basic ideas are just what the doctor ordered. Positioning Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as twin brothers certainly counts as one of those ideas. It doesn’t matter how old you are or even what language you speak, the sight gag alone is worth a chuckle. Luckily, the rest of the film lives up to it. DeVito plays a predictably sleazy ne’er-do-well with a deeply buried heart of gold, but it’s Arnold who steals the show as a sheltered and naive innocent unleashed upon the bigger world for the first time. It turns out action cinema’s greatest star can handle comedy as well. And even if you don’t find his childlike awe funny, you can at least laugh at DeVito’s little ponytail.
A Hard Days Night
Director: Richard Lester
Writer: Alun Owen
Cast: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, Wilfrid Brambell
The Beatles. What couldn’t they do? It should be enough that they got to be the best rock band ever. But no, it turns out they were really funny too. Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night makes this clear, offering each of the Beatles (but especially Ringo) their own showcases to aver their personalities, acting skills, and comedy chops. Meanwhile, the film is filled with a ton of great songs to go with all the still-effective comedy bits. Lester and the band would team up again a year later for the broader Help! but this one is the gold standard rock and roll film for a reason.
Defending Your Life
Director/Writer: Albert Brooks
Cast: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, Buck Henry
There are no bad Albert Brooks comedies, and this one is especially memorable thanks to its premise. Rather than examine the absurdities of mundane life, here Brooks pokes fun at the absurdities of the afterlife. Or his idea of the afterlife, anyway. Brooks’ dead character must endure a trial of the life he led, confronting all the times he let fear get in the way of his desires. It’s funnier than it sounds. While all this is going on, he falls in love with Meryl Streep, eats whatever he wants without worrying about his weight, and gets to absolutely destroy a bad standup comic. They say over and over it’s not Heaven, but it doesn’t seem like Heaven could be much better.
Director: Paul Flaherty
Writers: Jay Dee Rock and Bobby Von Hayes
Cast: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman, Richard Kind, Ben Savage
This really shouldn’t work. In fact, the idea that it got made at all is a bit of a puzzler. Nevertheless, Clifford exists and HBO Max has it in all its weird glory. For those who perhaps forgot about this one, Clifford stars Martin Short as, well, an annoying little boy. He does this by getting some glow on his cheeks with makeup, pitching up his voice, and doing that old trick where he walks with his knees in his shoes. And it’s really funny. It shouldn’t be, but alas. It helps that Clifford’s main focus of antagonism is the delightfully grumpy Charles Grodin, but at the end of the day, this is a Martin Short showcase, and it’s a worthy one. Despite how bizarre the whole thing sounds, it somehow manages to earn big laughs throughout.
Director: Joe Dante
Writers: Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Vernon Wells
Let’s say you like Martin Short, but the idea of watching him pretend to be a child gives you an allergic reaction. HBO Max also has you covered with Joe Dante’s cool sci-fi comedy Innerspace. The film focuses on a hotshot cowboy-type played by Dennis Quaid who gets shrunk down to the size of a blood cell and injected into a nerdy Martin Short. The two must work together (with the help of Meg Ryan) to get Dennis Quaid out of there and back to his normal size, all while dodging villains who want to kill them both. It’s quite possible they were just better at making movies in the ‘80s.
Director/Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Gommé, Marie Bunel
If you like your comedy on the weird side, it doesn’t get much stranger than this recent entry from Quentin Dupieux, who excels at this sort of thing, whatever it is. Dupieux once made a whole film about a killer car tire; this time he offers a film about a guy with a jacket he loves so dearly that he wants to be the only person in the world to even have a jacket and murders anyone who will not give theirs up. If that sentence makes no sense, welcome to Deerskin. It is not the most sensible film, but that’s the point. Dupieux’s comic voice is an acquired taste to be sure, but for those on his wavelength Deerskin is certain to have you howling. And maybe going out for a slick jacket of your own.
Grumpy Old Men
Director: Donald Petrie
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis, Daryl Hannah
You can put Walter Matthau in anything and it will be watchable. The same goes for Jack Lemmon. And the two had already shown their chemistry as a comedy team long before 1993’s Grumpy Old Men. Nevertheless, for many, this is the one they’ll be remembered for. And it’s hard to argue with as Grumpy Old Men has enough charm and comedy to be a classic in its own right. It’s just too much fun watching these old jerks waddle through the cold, waging war on each other for the love of a beautiful woman (Ann-Margaret). The inclusion of the cantankerous, foul-mouthed Burgess Meredith as Jack Lemon’s dad puts it over the edge. HBO Max has the equally-good sequel as well.
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Writer: H. M. Walker
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young
You’re undoubtedly familiar with Charlie Chaplin and probably know a bit about Buster Keaton as well. Thanks to HBO Max, you can also become acquainted with another esteemed voice from the silent era, Harold Lloyd. Safety Last! offers a perfect place to start thanks to its iconic climax in which Lloyd hangs from the minute hand of a ticking clock. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve definitely seen something ripping it off. And even though the film is almost 100 years old, you’ll still marvel at how they pulled off the effect. But it’s not all daring clocktower stunts – the rest of the film is great as well. The plot focuses on a guy trying to make enough money in the big city to finally propose to his girlfriend, a pursuit that gets him into all kinds of trouble for our benefit. Lloyd has a unique everyman quality about him that is hard to dislike.
The film’s conclusion feels icky when placed in a larger context.
About The Author