10 Best Screwball Comedy Movies
(DM) — Many, if not all 10 best screwball lists on the Internet do not know what screwball is! You can’t put a movie on a list if it doesn’t fit the genre! We separate the two to create a true 10 best only screwball comedies.
Due to so many false top 10 lists everywhere that mix up slapstick with screwball, let’s separate the two with a quick definition of screwball and slapstick comedy.
|Romantic comedy – defining aspect
Unlikely farcical situations
|Physical comedy – defining aspect
Silly facial expressions
Screwball Comedy Definition
Slapstick Comedy Definition
Doesn’t it feel great to know the difference between screwball and slapstick?
Romantic comedy is the key to being a screwball comedy. How much slapstick is applied can confuse the definition but yes, some or a lot of slapstick is involved. Some romantic screwball movies are loaded with slapstick. But it does not have a romantic pairing, it simply can’t be a screwball comedy and won’t make this top 10 best screwball comedy list.
Let’s have fun building-up to number one. It makes for a better presentation and fun! If you don’t agree with our order, leave a comment or reach out for an edit!
(1963) — Tom Jones featured a dashing young Albert Finney. The hijinks take place in this 18th century period going against type in its time of release. The societal norms of the 1960s made this dirty adult humor a surprise in the film. The film is filled with close calls and chases of young Tom Jones as he journeys to understand lust and love.
Tom Jones stands the test of time for various reasons. As a period piece, it’s an oxymoron, because the story is timeless. As the lead, Albert Finney is engaging and sells the randy young buck as a good-natured fellow despite his misdeeds. It’s not your typical romantic comedy as Tom is sowing his wild oats throughout the story, but it does land in the right place. The characters are well defined, every player is great in their role. The screwball element of light-duty slapstick makes this a solid choice for #10 on this list.
(1984) — Perhaps Tom Hanks’ most funny film, he’s out to have one last night out with the guys and stay true to Tawny Kitaen. It’s got a ton of adult humor and strange as it may seem the sexual humor is non-explicit.
There are numerous gags and laugh out loud antics. It’s not for everyone. Number 9# suits this flick well as it’s dated, crude not family-friendly, or universally funny to everyone.
(1981) — Arthur is a more subtle screwball comedy than any in the top ten. Arthur injects silly and cerebral humor. Dudley Moore is Arthur Bach, a lonely drunk. He just happens to be a millionaire. Arthur is an utterly endearing satyr, hiding his loneliness in humor. It’s easy to miss Arthur’s loneliness when he’s making us laugh at the upper crusty.
Unlike other screwball comedies, Arthur follows the most linear path with a predictable outcome. Periodic screwball humor is filled in with. Arthur shares a trait with many other top ten screwball comedies. Without Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach, Arthur wouldn’t work. What is more is that without Moore in Arthur, there is no screwball. His execution as a lovable drunk is all the reason to experience Arthur.
7The Nutty Professor
(1963) — What if Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were a comedy? Exiting Hollywood’s buddy formula of Martin and Lewis, Jerry goes it alone this comedic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. The premise was Lewis’s. Create a potion that alters your mind and body to make you …cool.
Considered a masterwork of Jerry Lewis at the time, it has some first act issues holding it back from greater recognition. Unlike other films, it does not hold up over time as well as others on this list. A classic with original concepts, but here it reaches #9.
(1994) — There is a $#!+ ton of slapstick in The Mask. The full-on romantic pursuit clearly places it in the screwball comedy camp.
No one can dispute this was Jim Carrey’s defining role in a comedy. He’s a slapstick legend, but in this screwball, he brings a cult comic book character to life in flawless representation. It’s as if The Mask has jumped straight from the pages of the Dark Horse Mayhem comic book anthology released a few years prior in 1989.
Jim portrays the everyman with the sudden hero power with a twist. The Mask infuses the wearer with the personality of Loki. The Norse god of mischief. Most know Loki from the Marvel universe. Marvel’s Loki is based on the Norse God, taking the same name. Lore of Loki is great fun to explore but in The Mask, all you really need to know is that the person wearing it is mischievous. It’s no wonder the girl falls for the man behind the mask.
The Mask holds up to the test of time due to special effects that were tuned to the characteristics of a Tex Avery cartoon theme. It’s surprising more films have not borrowed this style of CGI comedy animation.
The comic book version of The Mask is a bit of dark comedy. The film is family-friendly. It’s expanded accessibility is one more reason it reaches #7 on our list of best screwballs.
5Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
(1986) — More of a traditional comedy it does scrape its way into the screwball genre, making it well worth including on this list. Come on, being chased all day by your school principal is every high-school teen’s dream.
(1987) — At the height of his career, Nicolas Cage had a quirky boyish charisma and comedy chops. He worked his facial expressions as if he was channeling Cary Grant. It’s safe to say Raising Arizona wouldn’t have worked with any other male lead. Holly Hunter was his perfect pairing. These two mixed it up like Tracy and Hepburn.
While the film itself is dated in time, every bit of it plays well years after. There is clearly portions of slapstick. Raising Arizona’s charm stems from the exuberant sarcastic approach of its directors Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s hard to believe, Cage and the Coens struggled in making the Raising Arizona as Nicolas Cage had opinions the Coens ignored. Like Nicolas Cage, the Coens were uniquely quirky. The result is a distinctive timepiece capturing the 1980’s zeitgeist.
With a thoughtful and almost profound ending, Raising Arizona’s highly imaginative roller coaster tension lands gracefully. You want more, but glad the story has a clear end to which no sequel will ever come to ruin.
3Arsenic and Old Lace
(1944) — Cary Grant was a slapstick genius. He was raised on it in vaudeville. Too bad he hated this comédie noir gem. His countless facial expressions in this 1944 classic set the standard for the idyllic screwball comedy leading man. The story is such fun for the audience, it’s been a stage production favorite for decades.
Arsenic and Old Lace was a new tale at the time of its release. Recently penned by Joseph Kesselring in 1939. It’s hard to believe a comedy this funny has an evil dark history rooted in a truth is stranger than a fiction story that took place back in 1910.
2His Girl Friday
(1940) — Rosalind Russell stands toe to toe with Cary Grant in this timeless hit. One could argue Rosalind was the star of this film.
1What’s Up Doc
(1972) — Director Peter Bogdanovich pays tribute to past screwballs and slapsticks by creating the best romantic screwball comedy ever.
What’s our argument that What’s Up Doc is, in fact, the best screwball ever made?
- The story is perfect. The perfect start, middle, and end
- The running gags get better every replay
- Every character is a caricature. There’s a host of quotable lines
- Amazing replay value. You could watch this film once a year and the humor remains
- The tension and build-up to a payoff is perfectly paced and timed
- The onscreen couple shows chemistry
- It’s funny to everyone. For a rated G film, it’s just perfect for everyone
- The humor is sustained. From the opening scene to the very end, the fun never leaves a scene
What Peter Bogdanovich produced was a classic using a classic storyline of mistaken identities. In this case, not people but things. Carry on bags.
This is indeed the perfect screwball comedy featuring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. The two were so good with onscreen chemistry, knock-off movies followed and of course future pairings similar to on-screen couples like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.