We all need a good laugh right now. So rest assured: you’ve come to the right place. Critic Luke Buckmaster picks the top 50 comedy movies available to stream on Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime.
During The Great Depression, comedies and musicals flourished as audiences went to the cinema craving escapism. In the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, when many people around the world are staying at home and self-isolating, going to the pictures is not an option.
We do have streaming, of course (thank god!) and we do have more comedies than we could ever find time to watch out there online, ready to tickle our funny bones. Here are the top 50 comedy movies currently available to stream in Australia on Stan, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Sign up for Flicks updates
In compiling this list I was limited to what was available on these platforms – which, generally speaking, do not offer a great deal in the way of foreign films, classics, and quality films directed by women and people of colour (though there are larger, systemic, industry-based biases and issues at play here that make them much scarcer full stop – particularly with regards to the latter two demographics).
We all need a good laugh right now, that’s for sure. This list will keep you going for a while – running the gamut from good films to great ones. So without further ado…
At the peak of his powers, Jim Carrey was more than just a brilliant physical comic: he warped the very nature of cinematic realism and pushed the medium away from verisimilitude into a kind of performative stupor. Tom Shadyac’s Doolittle-esque goofball comedy, starring Carrey as a private eye who specialises in animal-related cases, is sloppily structured but a decent showreel of the performer’s antics during his heyday in the 1990s.
The Ozploitation movement is the dirty underwear in the drawer of Australian cinema, and time has transformed these soiled bed sheets into archeological curios. Director Tim Burstall exploited changes in censorship laws to make a nudity and kink-filled farce about an average bloke (Graeme Blundell) who women find inexplicably attractive. This rambunctious comedy gave the public what they wanted and rubbed it in prudes’ faces.
Few films are as memeable, as quotable, and as stupidly enjoyable as Adam McKay’s 70’s-set cult classic about a chauvinistic news anchorman (Will Ferrell) threatened by the arrival of a female newsreader (Christina Applegate). Anchorman‘s shaggy pace works in its favour, giving the performances – particularly Ferrell’s – room to breathe and settle into a zany, stonerish tempo. Burgundy became kind of a big deal.
Romantic comedies don’t get much better than Woody Allen’s fourth wall-breaking portrait of a fledgling dramatist (Allen) and his free-spirited, aspiring actor girlfriend (Diane Keaton). These days Diane Keaton’s irresistible Oscar-winning performance might be thought of in the realm of a proto-Greta Gerwig – but that would be under-stating it. Annie is one of cinema’s greatest sweethearts, unable to be swayed by the conventions of rom-coms. We all fell for her; she didn’t fall for him.
Corporate ratbaggery, the patriarchy and temptation to succeed via ill-gotten means are key themes in Billy Wilder’s 1960 masterpiece. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine shine as a mild-mannered insurance company employee and a suicidal elevator operator respectively. Sounds heavy, plays light.
Edgar Wright’s sassy crime caper follows a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who is on the autism spectrum, putting his foot to the floor only if listening to killer tracks on his headphones. The story of a decent kid embroiled in a life of crime becomes a quasi-musical and a possessed jukebox of an action movie. By matching visual and audio in such a way, Wright made a genuine original.
Part black comedy, part kitchen sink drama and part Kafkaesque nightmare. Rolf de Heer’s 1993 cult classic follows a tortured soul who spent his first 35 years trapped in a grotty apartment and is set loose on society, with humorous and tragic consequences. The film is shocking – oh boy, that scene with the cat – but not gratuitous; it is in fact one of Australian cinema’s most unflinching portraits of mental illness.
Michael Keaton is manically transformative as a hyper-powered ghoul decked out in a pin-striped Halloween suit, whose house-haunting abilities are sought after by a couple of amateur ghosts (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). Tim Burton managed to film what is, in effect, a cartoon in live-action format, stuffing it full of kooky inventions and visual wit.
Describing Bernie as one of Jack Black’s best films might not mean much, but it’s also one of the best of director Richard Linklater – and that means a lot. This bizarre and beautifully crafted true crime story follows a charismatic small town undertaker (Black) and his, shall we say, relationship with an elderly widow, played by a deliciously unlikable Shirley MacLaine. Themes include how our perceptions and preconceptions inform our comprehension of justice.
It’s not Mr Lebowski, it’s The Dude. When he first drifted into cinemas in 1998, Jeff Bridges’ White Russian-drinking wastoid seemed like a minor addition to the Coen brothers’ impressive canon. How wrong we were. Spanning kidnapping, extortion, intense games of bowling and urination on rugs, The Big Lebowski has a wonderfully shaggy tripped-out vibe. It’s less a film than a state of mind, man.
No Australian film has ever – or will ever – be more John Hughes-esque than Nadia Tass’ 1990 revenge romp about a young man (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to impress his girlfriend (Claudia Karvan) but is driven to extreme measures after being dudded by a shonky car salesman (Steve Bisley). There is something wonderfully immature about The Big Steal’s sense of moral comeuppance; how its characters go about achieving the right thing in the wrong ways.
John Landis’ toe-tappin’ production became such a pop culture phenomenon, so ingrained in the collective psyche, one barely even thinks of it as a movie. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd play two cucumber-cool musos in matching suits, on a mission from God to save an orphanage. And of course to belt out some tunes. It’s dark, and they wore sunglasses.
This beloved David-vs-Goliath story, about an average bloke fighting against compulsory real estate acquisition, could easily have been a down-the-nose ridicule of blue collar Australia. But director Rob Sitch avoids ridiculing his characters despite sending up the way they talk and even the food they consume – bringing heart, warmth and lots of one-liners. Straight to the pool room!
A scene-stealing Joey Lauren Adams sparkles in the titular role. Chasing Amy is the third film in Kevin Smith’s Jersey trilogy, revolving around three professional comic book writers. The friendship between two best buds (Ben Affleck and Jason Lee) is strained when one of them explores a romantic relationship a woman (Adams) who is gay. The characters’ discussions oscillate from pop culture monologues to serious considerations of sex and gender identities. Smith matches crudity with maturity, profanity with pathos, kink with heart.
The first of Kevin Smith’s many yak-a-thons is a tribute to slackers and an ongoing inspiration for cash-strapped filmmakers, turning scrappy low-fi aesthetics into a selling point. The protagonist (Brian O’Halloran) goes to work at a convenience story on what was supposed to be his day off, accompanied by an antagonistic video store employee (Jeff Anderson). Gags run the gamut, all the way from Star Wars to necrophilia.
A leather jacket-clad manchild (Sam Neil) inadvertently sets off a gangland war in a crime comedy that uses its in-over-his-head premise as a metaphor for young, multiracial lovers aspiring to break down ethical obstacles. Sam Neil’s comedic timing is effortlessly good, and the late John Clarke is boisterously entertaining as a scene-stealing sidekick.
Armando Iannucci’s ferociously sharp tragicomedy explores – with bone-dry wit characteristic of the British auteur – power-grabbing among top-level Russian ministers in the aftermath of the titular event. The drama is farcical; the comedy hurts. Like Iannucci’s also terrific In the Loop, The Death of Stalin has an addictive quality; the more you watch it the better it gets.
Frances McDormand…what a performance! She is unforgettable and strangely funny as a pregnant, parka-wearing police detective in a daring, ice-cold, extremely deadpan film revolving incorporating a bungled kidnapping and an extortion attempt. Fargo is one of the high points in the career of the great Coen brothers, who might just be the best directing duos in the history of the cinema.
Bueller. Buelllller. Buellllleeerrr! John Hughes’ 1986 ode to skipping school – starring Mathew Broderick as the titular class-cutting rascal – has obviously aged, and yet it is obviously timeless. It is an ode to nothing, really: other than youth and good-natured, hooky-practicing rebellion.
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s hipstery slice-of-life dramedy follows a head-in-the-clouds dreamer (Gerwig) coasting – and sometimes literally dancing – between settings and circumstances in New York City. Baumbach’s direction is self-conscious but elegant. To say that Gerwig radiates charm in the lead role is to put it very lightly.
The comedy is so dark a prefix such as “black” or “jet” barely begins to cut it. This 1988 cult movie is up there with Election and Mean Girls as one of the great high school-set classics – but with a more potent air of irreverence. Winona Ryder joins a clique of students called the Heathers while Christian Slater plays the demon on her shoulder, encouraging her to kill them.
Edgar Wright’s flair for compact and innovative visual expression provides thrilling narrative economy. The second instalment in his beloved Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a genre-bending, buddy cop comedy about a London police officer (Simon Pegg) relocated to a boring, sleepy village. Boring that is until all those gruesome killings happen. Few filmmakers direct comedy as creatively and interestingly as Wright.
Armando Iannucci plonks viewers in the back rooms of power and spin-doctoring as the UK prepares to enter a war in the Middle East. The inimitable Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) leaps from the screen, hissing and yelling about purviews and lubricated horse cocks. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Margot Robbie’s celebrity-shedding performance is the mesmerizing centre of this real-or-not? biopic about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie). Director Craig Gillespie questions who is to blame for the knee-capping incident for which the athlete is best remembered, taking a fourth-wall-breaking approach that crackles and fizzes. The film’s most compelling themes run in contrasts: humour and sadness, reality and artifice.
The preposterously entertaining 1963 farce is highly distinctive if not unique: a comedy epic that is in effect one great big chase scene. A large group of strangers scramble to locate what they believe to be buried loot, triggering an unsubtle message about human greed. The running time is long but the pace is eruptive, with various kinds of slapstick – from vehicular mayhem to the ol’ slipping on a banana peel routine.
The lengths an aspiring comedian (Robert De Niro) will go to in order to chase fame – including kidnapping his idol (Jerry Lewis) and demanding TV airtime as a ransom – elevates Martin Scorsese’s 1983 classic from a portrait of a social misfit to a satire of celebrity. Robert DeNiro is unnervingly good, painfully good in fact, in what one might nervously describe as the titular role – given the painful irony it encompasses.
Greta Gerwig’s beautifully constructed dramedy opens with a Joan Didion quote: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento”. Her big-hearted and sensitively drawn film, charting the chaotic coming-of-age of Christine aka Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is full of small acts of defiance. It’s about commanding respect when you don’t deserve any, and asking others to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.
While driving a convertible with no hands (naturally) Arnold Schwarzenegger fires a bullet at an assailant. This inadvertently causes an ice cream cone to kill a man by flying into the back of his head. “Iced that guy,” says Arnie, “to cone a phrase.” Best or worst one-liner ever? Last Action Hero is nothing if not self-conscious. The film – about an 11-year-old kid who enters an alternate universe – is half-hearted as a satire but trashily enjoyable.
Buongiorno principessa! Rarely do light and dark come together so exquisitely, yet with such force than in Roberto Benigni’s WWII tragicomedy about a jokester (Benigni) who hides the truth of being imprisoned in a concentration camp to his son by pretending it’s all make believe. You laugh while your stomach turns.
When cardshark Eddy (Nick Moran) loses big in a rigged poker game, he and his pals set out to settle their debts by stealing from weed dealers. Surprise surprise, there are complications. The various elements of Guy Ritchie’s cockney gangster movie really gel: the snappy performances, the even snappier dialogue, the washed-out cinematography, the disciplined and energetic editing. This was Ritchie’s first film and remains his best.
Sofia Coppola’s melancholic comedy-drama about two Americans (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) meeting and bonding in Tokyo evokes a strong sense of location. However the landscape of Bill Murray’s face, which looks sagged by pathos, is more important to the film than any physical location – as is the exquisite presence of Scarlett Johansson, balancing youthful blitheness with deep thought and dignity. The central relationship is not quite platonic but not quite romantic; like this subtle and elegant film it refuses to be boxed in.
The one-person tram! The remote controlled rubbish bins! The getaway car that splits in half! It’s the crazy inventions in Nadia Tass’ oddball comedy that really linger in the mind. Although Malcolm (Colin Friels) himself is memorable too: a peculiar and awkward individual who proves an unlikely asset for career criminal Frank (John Hagreaves). The small touches made a big difference in this highly unusual crime caper.
The spritzy, prickly dialogue in Tina Fey’s very sassy Mean Girls script is delivered by the cast faster than usual, in the great tradition of screwball movies pumped full of verbal gymnastics. Lindsay Lohan is the new kid on the block at an Illinois high school, unwittingly thrust into a cutthroat classroom hierarchy. Director Mark Waters eschews the familiar gloss covering teen movies in favour of an edgier, peppier approach. It is imminently rewatchable.
Woody Allen’s enchanting rumination on art, romance and history follows a well-off writer (Owen Wilson) who is transported back in time to the 1920s while strolling the streets of Paris. Soon he meets the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard). Midnight in Paris contemplates the foggy charms of nostalgia, and the fun and folly of romanticising the past.
PJ Hogan’s portrait of a love-hungry sad sack, brilliantly played by Toni Collette, has a dark and complicated soul. Muriel (Toni Collette) is, as one character famously puts it, a rather terrible person. The film is a twisted tragicomedy in which weddings are bitterly ironic and beautiful friendships are squandered. Collette makes dweebiness dangerous, and turns self-pity into flagellation.
Tilda Swinton plays the Willy Wonka-esque CEO of a company that produces a not-so-sweet product: giant genetically engineered pigs to carve up and sell worldwide. Chaos ensues when a young girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) puts up a fight to save the titular character’s bacon. There’s Spielbergian largesse to some elements of Bong Joon Ho’s brisk direction, but he goes places Spielberg wouldn’t – with prickly messages about anti-meat consumption and corporate malfeasance.
The beloved marmalade addict became an allegorical stand-in for outsiders in general and refugees in particular in 2014’s Paddington and its even better sequel. The protagonist is embroiled in a crime caper involving a highly valuable pop-up book and Hugh Grant as an irresistibly hammy villain. Director Paul King’s visual approach is informed by greats of the silent era, such as Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s left-of-field rom-com matches Adam Sandler’s awkward, coupon-collecting small business owner with Emma Watson’s sweet executive. From an unexpected early appearance of a harmonium the film is delightfully unpredictable. Its most impressive achievement is tonal, with a surreal quality that feels like visualisation of music. You can hear the colours and see the melody.
Kriv Stender’s ode to the power and personality of a great pooch – inspired by a gregarious real-life stray kelpie who was beloved in a small town mining community in the 70s – trots a fine line between sentiment and sop. The director gets the balance right, ultimately providing an emotionally nuanced message for children – about how all things come to an end, but beautiful friendships form a part of who we are.
You’ve got red on you! Edgar Wright’s zany debut feature introduced us to the director’s innovative approach to visual comedy, and heralded the arrival of a new (admittedly small) genre: the rom-com-zom. The titular salesman (Simon Pegg) is dumped by his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) but his personal apocalypse is nothing compared to what’s happening outside – when the dead rise up and get bitey. The tone is George Romero after a few beers.
“Nobody’s perfect” is the famous final line in Billy Wilder’s 1959 masterpiece, which delights, surprises and tickles funny bones until the very end. In a gender and sexual identity-bending on-the-run narrative, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play cross-dressing musicians who hang out with Marilyn Monroe. What a stunning presence Monroe brings, taking the archetype of the emotionally vulnerable sexy naif in sublimely heartfelt directions.
The funniest superhero movie of all time explores a connection rarely made in this genre, between vigilantism and mental illness. An outrageously entertaining Rainn Wilson – accompanied by an equally outrageous Ellen Page – embarks on a mission to “shut up crime” after his wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Super delights in offering no moral assurances of any kind – even that good and evil exist in the first place.
This is admittedly a bad movie but it’s GOOD bad: a late night guilty pleasure. The hero Rachel Buck (Lori Petty) is at the centre of a Mad Maxian plot involving a desert wasteland and a despot controlling water resources. What Tank Girl lacks in brains it makes up for with style – sporting a fetching steampunk production design and the kind of visual playfulness sadly absent from contemporary comic book movies.
Peter Weir brilliantly fleshes out a simple premise: what if somebody was the star of their own reality TV show but they didn’t know it? The story of goofy insurance salesman Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), whose voyage of personal discovery reveals the fraudulent nature of his reality, springboards many interesting discussions – including the exploitative consequences of voyeurism and the end of privacy.
A then little-known Heath Ledger leads the classic Australian 1999 crime caper, playing a simple-minded wannabe criminal opposite Rose Byrne’s country girl love interest and Bryan Brown’s (very funny) hard yakka gangster. The film works surprisingly well given its disparate tones and kooky flourishes, including the protagonist’s poetry-reciting dead brother (Steven Vidler) who periodically emerges to narrate the story and wax philosophical.
George Clooney is superb as an unflappably slick “career transition counselor” whose job is to fly across America firing people. His business is booming while the economy is flailing. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick give very fine supporting performances as a travelling businesswoman and corporate upstart respectively. Jason Reitman’s dramedy is politically pointy, told with the kind of wryness and cynicism one might expect from Billy Wilder. That’s no small compliment.
Lovingly crafted claymation – from those patient and very talented folk at Aardman Animations – meets a self-aware, midnight movie premise in this delightful and witty film. Eccentric inventor Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) has done it again, managing to turn himself into a beastly werewolf-like rabbit thing. Lucky he has his trusted pooch Gromit to help out.
After Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Stephan Elliott ramped up his quota of cor-blimey Australianisms, dunking audiences into a bizarro backwater burg where an American visitor (Johnathon Schaech) marriages a local (Susie Porter) leads a rebellion against the town ringleader (Rod Taylor). Welcome to Woop Woop is gloriously kitschy and tongue-in-cheek, and was massively undervalued by critics at the time of its release in 1997.
One of the great scripts from Nora Ephron explores the platonic then romantic journey of the titular characters (Billy Crystal and Megan Ryan) who take 12 years to fall in love. The famous “I’ll have what she’s having” fake orgasm scene showed audiences that films can break taboos while retaining wit, humour and heart.
Martin Scorsese dines on tales of personal and corporate excess, not to mention outright misogyny, drawing on the debaucherous memoir of former stockbroker (and convicted criminal) Jordan Belfort. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort and Jonah Hill as his right-hand man, hubris and hedonism is the name of the game – in a loud, fast, incongruous film that runs for three frantically paced hours.