The Most Underrated Comedies Of The 1980s
The 1980s were a great decade for comedy. On top of the teen and family films of John Hughes, the various releases launching the film careers of Saturday Night Live cast members, and the countless memorable parodies now thought to be classics of the genre, there are plenty of underrated comedies, as well. Some of these films were once beloved but have been forgotten over time, while others were lost in the shuffle and never got the attention they deserved. Whether underappreciated or overlooked, each of these 1980s comedies is worth revisiting.
This was a decade of blockbusters, big names, and a preoccupation with consumerism. This led to multiple massively successful comedies, and even more imitators looking to capitalize on their success. Independent cinema would explode the following decade, filling the 1990s with plenty of its own underrated comedies, but in the '80s, these were more typically passion projects funded by studios. They may have failed to make enough at the box office to be considered a success, but sometimes this was just a sign the films were ahead of their time. In an age where more and more of film history is becoming available through various streaming options, modern audiences can reevaluate and decide for themselves.
- 13,805 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker were a filmmaking team well known for parody and satire films by the mid-1980s, following the release of The Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! The trio of directors set their sights on musicals, spy films, and war films for the 1984 parody, Top Secret!
In his film debut, Val Kilmer stars as American rock star Nick Rivers, who travels to Germany on a secret mission under the guise of performing at a cultural festival. Although Top Secret! doesn’t have much in terms of plot, the jokes come fast and don’t let up. Irreverent at its core, Top Secret! is just plain silly fun, poking fun at popular movies of cinema’s past.
- 23,465 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
Better Off Dead is a dark comedy presented with such zany irreverence that even suicide attempts are humorously depicted. Following a devastating break-up with his girlfriend, high school student Lane Myer (John Cusack) is resigned to taking his own life, though he fails at multiple attempts. Desperate to overcome the shame of being dumped for the popular captain of the ski team, Lane challenges him to a race down the most dangerous mountain in the area, with the help of an attractive new French foreign-exchange student named Monique (Diane Franklin).
Although Better Off Dead is not as well-remembered as some of Cusack’s other teen roles, the surreal humor of the film results in several memorably absurd sequences and quotable lines.
- 34,050 VOTESPhoto: Universal Studios
Although it was written and produced by John Hughes, The Great Outdoors isn't as well remembered as most of his other 1980s releases. The film is one of the multiple '80s comedies involving a family vacation gone wrong. Chester Ripley (John Candy) attempts to have a peaceful family trip at a lakeside resort in Wisconsin, only to be invaded by his extended relatives.
Chester is particularly annoyed by the arrival of his loud-mouthed brother-in-law, Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd). With talking raccoons, a massive steak challenge, a bald bear, and countless other notable moments, it is a shame that The Great Outdoors isn’t better remembered.
- 43,350 VOTESPhoto: Universal Pictures
For Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, the British comedy troupe brought out their absurdist impulses in examining each aspect of life, from birth to death. Although the film won the Grand Prix at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, The Meaning of Life hasn’t had the lasting success of two earlier Monty Python films, Holy Grail and Life of Brian.
This may be due in part to the film’s structure, which is a collection of sketches connected thematically, rather than a single narrative presented. In reality, this makes The Meaning of Life closer to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the TV show and format that first catapulted the comedy troupe to fame.
- 53,382 VOTESPhoto: MGM
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a remake of the 1964 film, Bedtime Story, with Steve Martin and Michael Caine starring as two con men who specialize in conning money from wealthy older women. The rival grifters each set their sights on soap heiress Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly) as their latest mark, agreeing that the first to con her of $50,000 will be allowed to stay in town, while the loser must leave.
The film gleefully embraces the amoral behavior of its dual protagonists and has just as much fun watching them fail in their deception. Despite the 2019 release of The Hustle, a female-centered remake of the 1988 film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is rarely given the credit it deserves.
- 63,362 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Tom Hanks rose to fame in the 1980s, breaking out with fantasy comedies like Splash and Big, but the horror-comedy The 'Burbs was considered a box-office failure despite the creativity of the premise. The film works both as a light horror movie and a satire of suburban life, a balance easily found by Gremlins director Joe Dante.
Hanks stars as average suburban homeowner Ray Peterson, who begins to suspect nefarious activity is occurring in the home of his odd new neighbors while spending a week on vacation at home. Although Ray's wife (Carrie Fisher) has little patience for his wild theory, his neighbors (Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun) join in a delightfully spooky investigation of the newest homeowners.