A comedy film is a category of film which emphasizes humor. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement. Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending (black comedy being an exception). One of the oldest genres in film—and derived from the classical comedy in theatre—some of the earliest silent films were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films took another swing, as laughter could result from burlesque situations but also dialogue.
Comedy, compared with other film genres, puts much more focus on individual stars, with many former stand-up comics transitioning to the film industry due to their popularity. While many comic films are lighthearted stories with no intent other than to amuse, others contain political or social commentary (such as The King of Comedy and Wag the Dog).
In The Screenwriters Taxonomy (2017), Eric R. Williams contends that film genres are fundamentally based upon a film's atmosphere, character and story, and therefore the labels "drama" and "comedy" are too broad to be considered a genre. Instead, his comedy taxonomy argues that comedy is a type of film that contains at least a dozen different sub-types.
The first comedy film was L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895), directed and produced by film pioneer Louis Lumière. Less than 60 seconds long, it shows a boy playing a prank on a gardener. The most noted comedy actors of the silent film era (1895-1927) were Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton.
The anarchic comedy film, as its name suggests, is a random or stream-of-consciousness type of humour which often lampoons a form of authority. The genre dates from the silent era. Notable examples of this type of film are those produced by Monty Python. Others include National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and Marx Brothers films such as Duck Soup (1933).
Gross out films are a relatively recent development and rely heavily on vulgar, sexual, or "toilet" humor. They often contain a healthy dose of profanity. Examples include Porky's (1982), Dumb and Dumber (1994), There's Something About Mary (1998), and American Pie (1999).
This sub-type uses comedy to explore serious ideas such as religion, sex, or politics. Often, the characters represent particular divergent world views and are forced to interact for comedic effect and social commentary. Some examples include both Bob Roberts (1992) and MASH (1970).
A comedy of manners satirizes the mores and affectations of a social class. The plot of a comedy of manners is often concerned with an illicit love affair or some other scandal. However, the plot is generally less important for its comedic effect than its witty dialogue. This form of comedy has a long ancestry which dates back at least as far as Much Ado about Nothing created by William Shakespeare, published in 1623. Examples for comedy of manners films include Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003).
The black comedy film deals with taboo subjects—including death, murder, crime, suicide, and war—in a satirical manner. Examples include Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Ladykillers (1955), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Loved One (1965), MASH (1970), S.O.B. (1981), The King of Comedy (1983), Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), Brazil (1985), After Hours (1985), The War of the Roses (1989), Heathers (1989), Wag the Dog (1997), Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), Dev.D (2009), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Panchathanthiram (2002), Keeping Mum (2005), Thank You for Smoking (2005), Burn After Reading (2008), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), The Favourite (2018), Parasite (2019), AK vs AK (2020), Doctor (2021), The Palace (2022), and Scream (2022).
Farcical films exaggerate situations beyond the realm of possibility—thereby making them entertaining. Film examples include In the Loop (2009) and Some Like It Hot (1959).
Mockumentary comedies are fictional, but use a documentary style that includes interviews and "documentary" footage along regular scenes. Examples include The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best In Show (2000), and Reboot Camp (2020).
Musical comedy as a film genre has its roots in the 1920s, with Disney's Steamboat Willie (1928) being the most enduring of these early forays. The subgenre exploded in growth in the 1970s, with movies like The Aristocats (1970), Grease (1978), and The Muppet Movie (1979) all proving to be box-office juggernauts. The popularity of the subgrene remains strong to the day; other examples of this genre include A Hard Day's Night (1964), The Blues Brothers (1980), Sister Act (1992), A Goofy Movie (1995), Hercules (1997), Pitch Perfect (2012), and The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022).
These films find humor in the common practices of everyday life. Some film examples of observational humor include Carnage (2011) and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002).
A parody or spoof film satirizes other film genres or classic films. Such films employ sarcasm, stereotyping, mockery of scenes from other films, and the obviousness of meaning in a character's actions. Examples of this form include Mud and Sand (1922), Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane! (1980), Young Frankenstein (1974), Spaceballs (1987), and Scary Movie (2000).
The humor in sex comedy is primarily derived from sexual situations and desire, as in American Pie (1999) and EuroTrip (2004).
Humor that comes from knowing a stock group of characters (or character types) and then exposing them to different situations to create humorous and ironic juxtaposition; case in point: Galaxy Quest (1999) and Madea's Big Happy Family (2011).
This broad sub-type applies to films that do not attempt a specific approach to comedy but, rather, used comedy for comedic sake. Clueless (1995) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) are examples of straight comedy films.
Slapstick films involve exaggerated, boisterous physical action to create impossible and humorous situations. Because it relies predominately on visual depictions of events, it does not require sound. Accordingly, the subgenre was ideal for silent movies and was prevalent during that era. Popular silent stars of the slapstick genre include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd. Some of these stars, as well as acts such as Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges, also found success incorporating slapstick comedy into sound films. Modern examples of slapstick comedy include Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007) and The Three Stooges (2012).
Although not specifically linked to the history of surrealism, these comedies includes behavior and storytelling techniques that are illogical—including bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations and unpredictable reactions to normal situations. Some examples are Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Swiss Army Man (2016).
According to Williams' taxonomy, all film descriptions should contain their type (comedy or drama) combined with one (or more) subgenres. This combination does not create a separate genre, but rather, provides a better understanding of the film.
Films in this type blend comic antics and action where the stars combine one-liners with a thrilling plot and daring stunts. The genre became a specific draw in North America in the eighties when comedians such as Eddie Murphy started taking more action-oriented roles, such as in 48 Hrs. (1982) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
Sub-genres of the action comedy (labeled macro-genres by Williams) include:
Slapstick martial arts films became a mainstay of Hong Kong action cinema through the work of Jackie Chan among others, such as Who Am I? (1998). Kung Fu Panda is an action comedy that focuses on the martial art of kung fu.
Some action films focus on superheroes; for example, The Incredibles, Hancock, Kick-Ass, and Mystery Men.
Other categories of the action comedy include:
See also: Buddy film
Films starring mismatched partners for comedic effect, such as in Midnight Run, Rush Hour, 21 Jump Street, Bad Boys, Starsky and Hutch, Booksmart and Ted.
Comedy thriller is a type that combines elements of humor and suspense. Films such as Silver Streak, Charade, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, In Bruges, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Grosse Point Blank, The Thin Man, The Big Fix, and The Lady Vanishes.
See also: List of comedy–mystery films
Comedy mystery is a film genre combining elements of comedy and mystery fiction. Though the genre arguably peaked in the 1930s and 1940s, comedy-mystery films have been continually produced since. Examples include the Pink Panther series,Scooby-Doo films, Clue (1985) and Knives Out (2019).
A hybrid mix of crime and comedy films, examples include Inspector Palmu's Mistake (1960), Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), Take the Money and Run (1969) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
Fantasy comedy films use magic, supernatural or mythological figures for comic purposes. Some fantasy comedy includes an element of parody, or satire, turning fantasy conventions on their head, such as the hero becoming a cowardly fool or the princess being a klutz. Examples of these films include Big, Being John Malkovich, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Scared Stupid, Night at the Museum, Groundhog Day, Click, and Shrek.
Comedy horror is a genre/type in which the usual dark themes and "scare tactics" attributed to horror films are treated with a humorous approach. These films either use goofy horror cliches, such as in Scream, Young Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors, The Haunted Mansion, and Scary Movie where campy styles are favored. Some are much more subtle and don't parody horror, such as An American Werewolf in London. Another style of comedy horror can also rely on over-the-top violence and gore such as in The Evil Dead (1981), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), Braindead (1992), and Club Dread (2004) – such films are sometimes known as splatstick, a portmanteau of the words splatter and slapstick. It would be reasonable to put Ghostbusters in this category.
Day-in-the-life films takes small events in a person's life and raises their level of importance. The "small things in life" feel as important to the protagonist (and the audience) as the climactic battle in an action film, or the final shootout in a western. Often, the protagonists deal with multiple, overlapping issues in the course of the film. The day-in-the-life comedy often finds humor in commenting upon the absurdity or irony of daily life; for example The Terminal (2004) or Waitress (2007). Character humor is also used extensively in day-in-the-life comedies, as can be seen in American Splendor (2003).
Romantic comedies are humorous films with central themes that reinforce societal beliefs about love (e.g., themes such as "love at first sight", "love conquers all", or "there is someone out there for everyone"); the story typically revolves around characters falling into (and out of, and back into) love. Amélie (2001), Annie Hall (1977), Charade (1963), City Lights (1931), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), It (1927), The Lobster (2015), My Wife, the Director General (1966), My Favorite Wife (1940), Pretty Woman (1990), Some Like It Hot (1959), There's Something About Mary (1998) and When Harry Met Sally... (1989) are examples of romantic comedies.
A subgenre of the romantic comedy, screwball comedies appear to focus on the story of a central male character until a strong female character takes center stage; at this point, the man's story becomes secondary to a new issue typically introduced by the woman; this story grows in significance and, as it does, the man's masculinity is challenged by the sharp-witted woman, who is often his love interest. Typically it can include a romantic element, an interplay between people of different economic strata, quick and witty repartee, some form of role reversal, and a happy ending. Some examples of screwball comedy during its heyday include It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941); more recent examples include What's Up, Doc? (1972), Rat Race (2001), and Our Idiot Brother (2011).
Science fiction comedy films often exaggerate the elements of traditional science fiction films to comic effect. Examples include Back to the Future, Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, Evolution, Galaxy Quest, Innerspace, Iron Sky, Mars Attacks!, Men in Black, and The World's End.
Sports comedy combines the genre of comedy with that of the sports film genre. Thematically, the story is often one of "Our Team" versus "Their Team"; their team will always try to win, and our team will show the world that they deserve recognition or redemption; the story does not always have to involve a team. The story could also be about an individual athlete or the story could focus on an individual playing on a team. The comedic aspect of this super-genre often comes from physical humor (Happy Gilmore - 1996), character humor (Caddyshack - 1980), or the juxtaposition of bad athletes succeeding against the odds (The Bad News Bears - 1976).
War films typically tells the story of a small group of isolated individuals who – one by one – get killed (literally or metaphorically) by an outside force until there is a final fight to the death; the idea of the protagonists facing death is a central expectation in a war film. War comedies infuse this idea of confronting death with a morbid sense of humor. In a war film even though the enemy may out-number, or out-power, the hero, we assume that the enemy can be defeated if only the hero can figure out how. Often, this strategic sensibility provides humorous opportunities in a war comedy. Examples include Good Morning, Vietnam; M*A*S*H; the Francis the Talking Mule series; and others.
Films in the western super-genre often take place in the American Southwest or in Mexico, with a large number of scenes occurring outside so we can soak in nature's rugged beauty. Visceral expectations for the audience include fistfights, gunplay, and chase scenes. There is also the expectation of spectacular panoramic images of the countryside including sunsets, wide open landscape and endless deserts and sky. Western comedies often find their humor in specific characters (Three Amigos, 1986), in interpersonal relationships (Lone Ranger, 2013) or in creating a parody of the western (Rango, 2011).
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