The Most Underrated Movies Of 1980s Comedy Stars

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The 1980s were a very important time for comedy. There were more of the all-time greats working at their peak during that decade than in any other - Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, and so many others. Unsurprisingly, they turned out a series of movies that have gone on to become certified classics. Some they did individually, and others they did in various pairings. Audiences continue to enjoy them many years after their initial releases.

Those same actors also had their share of pictures that were overlooked, either because they were a bit too ahead of the curve or got lost amid crowded release dates. In many cases, they're great demonstrations of the stars trying new ideas or showing off sides to their talent that they hadn't been able to show up to that point. Now is a good time to discover any of them that you may have missed. You're guaranteed to get a few good laughs from these overlooked movies.

Photo: Brewster's Millions / Universal Pictures

  • Joe Dante's Innerspace features Dennis Quaid as Tuck Pendleton, a drunken and disgraced Navy pilot who volunteers for a risky scientific project. He's supposed to be placed in a special pod, shrunken to microscopic size, and injected into a rabbit. During the process, the lab is attacked by a group seeking to steal the technology, so the supervisor of the experiment flees with the syringe and, to keep Tuck safe, injects him into the first person he comes across. That ends up being Jack Putter (Martin Short), a hypochondriacal grocery store worker. Once he realizes he's not possessed by a demon and actually has a miniature person inside of him, Jack works with Tuck's girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) to safely get him out. 

    On one level, Innerspace is a terrific sci-fi story along the lines of Fantastic Voyage, which it was clearly inspired by. But it's also a great goofy comedy. As Tuck travels around Jack's body, the hapless host endures a variety of hysterical complications. The role gives Martin Short endless opportunities to engage in his patented physical humor. He mugs, flails around, falls down, and just generally gives the kind of exuberant performance that leaves you in stitches from start to finish. 

    524 votes

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  • Richard Pryor sometimes had trouble finding movie projects that melded with his distinct style of comedy. Many of them were watered down or left him miscast. Brewster's Millions is nowhere near as explicit as his stage material, yet it successfully shows a softer side to his talent. His character, Montgomery Brewster, is a former minor league baseball player who stands to inherit $300 million from his deceased great-uncle. In order to do that, he has to spend $30 million in 30 days - and he can't donate it to charity. The task proves much harder than he initially suspects.

    Whereas Pryor often floundered in PG or PG-13 rated fare, Brewster's Millions works because it puts him in an irresistible situation. With the stress of trying to spend so much money in such a short period of time, he has the chance to work in a lot of the facial expressions and bodily mannerisms that helped sell his jokes onstage. There's even a nice rapport with co-star John Candy, who plays his best friend. Multiple versions of this story have been made over the decades. Pryor's winning turn makes this one particularly notable.

    354 votes

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  • Overboard was a middling box office performer in 1987. This quirky rom-com has amassed a fan base in the years since, in part due to frequent cable TV airings. However, the general public never quite embraced it. Goldie Hawn assumes the role of Joanna Stanton, a snooty socialite who falls off her yacht and ends up with a case of amnesia. Kurt Russell co-stars as Dean, a carpenter she screwed over. He gets a taste of revenge by trying to convince her that they're married.

    The premise of Overboard is obviously preposterous. That said, real-life partners Hawn and Russell have potent chemistry together. You can feel the spark between them. They play off each other very effectively, earning laughs with their polar opposite characters. Hawn was paired onscreen with many male actors over the years, to varying degrees of success. Overboard may not be her best film, but working with Russell absolutely gives this rom-com a special charm. 

    375 votes

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  • Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor made four movies together of varying quality. Stir Crazy is easily at the top of the list. Skip (Wilder) and Harry (Pryor) are best friends who get set up to take the fall for a crime they didn't commit. A judge sentences them to 125 years in jail. Both guys panic once they end up behind bars because they're not the hardened types. Looking for a way out, they fake insanity. When that doesn't work, they plan an escape centered around the prison's upcoming rodeo. 

    Wilder and Pryor have off-the-charts comedic chemistry in Stir Crazy. They're completely on the same wavelength, feeding off one another in a way that is side-splitting. You can feel the fun they're having working together. It also helps that the material is perfectly suited to their strengths, giving each a chance to do what he does best. The film was directed by Hollywood luminary Sidney Poitier, who knows just when to let his stars riff and when to focus on the story. It's a dream team pairing of actors and director. Stir Crazy was a hit in 1980. Younger audiences don't seem to have discovered it. Here's a classic comedy that's still as riotous and timely as it was then.

    319 votes

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  • Clue was definitely ahead of its time. In 1985, the idea of making a movie based on a board game was, quite frankly, considered stupid. These days, any and all forms of IP become the basis for films. In this comic murder mystery, Madeline Kahn is Mrs. White, Christopher Lloyd is Professor Plum, Martin Mull is Colonel Mustard, and so on. They all gather at a dinner party where a killing takes place, leading to a scramble to identify the culprit.

    All the performances are fun, and the actors do a terrific job of investing their characters with colorful personalities. Aside from its unusual source material, Clue was slightly impacted by a gimmick designed to entice viewers that actually just left them confused. The movie was released to theaters with three different endings, each of which named a different killer. You'd get a different ending depending on which theater you saw it in. One version was chosen for the home video/cable TV/streaming releases, but the DVD/Blu-ray special features contain the alternate endings too. That idea also plays much better today, when audience are more receptive to such experimentation. 

    350 votes

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  • Ruthless People is a movie that inexplicably got lost to time. It was one of Summer 1986's biggest smashes, yet nobody talks about it anymore. Danny DeVito is Sam Stone, a man who is very unhappily married to wife Barbara (Bette Midler). For that reason, he's ecstatic when two kidnappers (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) abduct her. They want half a million dollars in ransom. When Sam refuses to pay - hoping they'll follow through on their threat to kill Barbara - they have to resort to other measures to get his money. And since Barbara annoys them just as much as she annoys Sam, they have to do it fast.

    That's a clever premise, and the witty screenplay by Dale Launer, inspired by O' Henry's classic story “The Ransom of Red Chief,” is packed with stinging dialogue. Ruthless People was directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the team behind Airplane! and Top Secret! It was their first foray into traditional screen comedy. They give the movie a riotous screwball feel by focusing on the characters and the desperation created by their respective predicaments. DeVito is particularly good, making Sam's glee over his wife's abduction highly amusing. The film has a killer soundtrack, too, with songs from Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen.

    242 votes

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