We love comedy of all kinds, but comedy movies from the ‘90s will forever hold a special place in our hearts. It’s not that comedy in the ‘80s wasn’t good, but some ‘90s comedy movies brought in fresh ideas or revitalized old ones in new and interesting ways. Don’t get us wrong – we love Mel Brooks and John Hughs, but some ‘90s comedies deserve recognition for ensuring that comedy stayed fresh and ever-evolving. After all, what’s comedy if not surprise and delight?
Pop some popcorn and get the floss at the ready because you’re about to be taken down memory lane. The ‘90s marked a new era of comedy that was somehow more outrageous and more real at the same time. A change that inspired great comedies for decades to come.
Here are 10 movies that saved comedy in the ‘90s.
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#10 Rush Hour | 1998
There’s certainly no shortage of buddy-cop comedies, but Rush Hour has been the one to beat since its release in 1998. Bringing together the comedic abilities of Chris Tucker and the incredible action prowess of Jackie Chan was a genius move that absolutely paid off. Tucker and Chan don’t just shine in their own wheelhouses, they manage to learn from each other in a way that feels genuine and has us loving the duo as much as the film itself. The film is equal parts hilarious and action-packed which is as rare as it is incredible. The comedy is uniquely refreshing because it manages physical comedy in a way that isn’t over the top, and that’s on top of the many solid dialogue based jokes. Loving this movie is as guaranteed as the urge to say “You want any fives with that?”
#9 The Big Lebowski | 1998
Having seen any of his other movies, no one would have guessed that Jeff Bridges would become the middle aged-stoner bro icon of our dreams – except the casting directors. The Coen brothers have made a career on their unique brand of weird comedy, and the Big Lebowski is probably their most famous – and for good reason. They’ve somehow also made a career on only using plots involving kidnaps and ransoms, but that’s a list for another time. The Dude is so well loved because deep down we all want to be the dude. Sure, he’s unemployed. Sure, he spends all day wearing bathrobes and taking in far too much diary. But does that get him down? No, because he’s The Dude and nothing phases him. “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” became an anti-battle cry for everyone who yearns to be as chill as The Dude. His chillness in opposition with threats, ransoms, and cut off toes became a beautiful comedy cocktail – a funny white Russian, if you will. Add to that John Goodman’s endless insults thrown at a meek Steve Buscemi and there was no hope for us.
#8 Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood | 1996
Don’t Be A Menace takes parody farther than any comedy since Airplaine! Even its title is an outrageous jab at the movies it parodies by jamming in as many titles of Black, coming-of-age in the hood films as possible. It takes everything to the extreme: Ashtray’s father had him so young he’s actually younger than Ashtray, Dashiki has so many kids one of them is somehow not even Black, and a “who has the biggest gun” standoff ends with a full on USSR missile. In case the messages weren’t clear enough through all of that, there’s a mailman who pops up and yells “message!” every time a character says something overly poignant. Throw in the famous self-referential line “She got more kids than Mrs. Wayans!” and the ridiculousness is irresistible.
#7 Office Space | 1999
Office Space is comedy mecca for anyone who’s ever hated their job, and that’s just about everyone, right? From Gary Cole’s insane caricature of every boss we’ve ever hated to Stephen Root’s very strange but simply delightful Milton, this movie has you laughing about your crappy job rather than wanting to find the nearest bridge. When Ron Livingston decides he no longer gives a damn and then gets rewarded for it, we all vicariously live out our own work fantasies. With any satire, it’s the finer touches that really do it, and Office Space has that in spades – even Jennifer Anniston, a waitress, isn’t fee from boss tyranny as she’s told her vest doesn’t have enough “flair.” Even though few of us have been told our vests don’t have enough flair, we all related. Thanks to Office Space, we will forever be saying “that would be great, mmmk?” and fantasizing about destroying outdated technology.
#6 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery | 1997
Austin Powers is one of the most iconic comedy films in general, let alone the ‘90s. The fact that it parodies James Bond and other spy series gave it a unique position to be able to achieve somewhat rare comedy franchise status with an ongoing series. The beauty of Austin Powers is it cuts right to the heart of the things that spy movies so transparently attempt. All Mike Myers has to do is say “Do I make you horny?” and we all wonder why we ever thought James Bond was cool and not just a well-dressed man desperate for validation. Couple the razor sharp parody skills with irresistible catchphrases like “Throw me a frickin’ bone here,” “Get in my belleh,” and the simple yet effective “One million dollars,” and the whole series is a hallmark of ‘90s comedy – just ignore the fact that the last one was released in 2002.
#5 A League of Their Own | 1992
A League of Their Own is one of those rare cases where we just love to see movie dad Tom Hanks be an asshole. From sassy insults lobbed at both players and umps to him literally knocking out an annoying child, we find ourselves rooting for him and his temper. The awesomeness doesn’t stop there, though. A League of Their Own is unique in that it has both a hilarious lead and a hilarious ensemble. The team of women that Hanks begrudgingly coaches is just as entertaining as he is and each in their own unique way. As we know, there’s no crying in baseball and there’s certainly no crying while watching this movie, unless it’s tears of joy. And I guess also there are some heartfelt moments. Okay, maybe there’s some crying in baseball movies.
#4 The Birdcage | 1996
It’s a wonder The Birdcage doesn’t often make it onto iconic ‘90s comedy lists, because it’s truly one of the funniest movies of all time. Perhaps its comedy is so transcendent that people don’t relegate it to decade movie status. What isn’t surprising, though, is that with comedy icons like Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Hank Azaria, and Dianne West, the movie is painfully funny throughout. The Birdcage is perhaps the best example of the ‘90s figuring out that the key to great comedy is, well, great comedic actors. The outrageous plot – the son of gay drag club owners getting engaged to the daughter of a conservative republican senator – would have fallen flat without the balls to the wall performances from every single cast member. With such deliveries as “Oh god, I pierced the toast!” “Are you afraid of my Guatamalenness? My natural heat?” and “You do an eclectic celebration of dance! But you keep it all inside,” The Birdcage gives us as many laughs as it does gifs.
#3 My Cousin Vinny | 1992
The premise of My Cousin Vinny is funny as is: two teens get wrongly accused of murder in a podunk town and one of them looks to his unpolished, unsuccessful personal injury lawyer cousin Vinny for help. But what really makes this movie comedy gold is the performances of Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci. The two play perfectly off one another in a hilariously antagonistic relationship, which is made even better by their over-the-top yet still perfectly believable New York accents. Juxtaposed with the slow-talking southerners they’re suddenly thrust into courtrooms and restaurants with, Tomei and Pesci’s characters are diabolically funny. The way these two play every scene, it’s clear they could make just about any script hilarious. And we can’t ignore how awesome it was to watch a female character in the ‘90s absolutely slaughter a pompous white dude on automotive knowledge in a court of law.
#2 Clerks | 1994
Clerks didn’t invent the “just people standing around and talking” genre (writer/director Kevin Smith attributes Clerks’ existence to his experience watching Slackers) but it thrust it into the comedy limelight in 1994. Sure, there is a plot, but the heart of Clerks is the incredibly hilarious conversations the characters have and the fact that it’s stuff you and your friends could talk about on any given day. Anyone who’s ever spent a day with their friends stoned and dissecting the less oft discussed parts of pop culture felt truly seen when Dante and Randall discussed the morality of Jedis inadvertently killing the contractors who chose to work on the Death Star. The quoteable-ness of the less nuanced conversations is just icing on the comedy cake. Fans will forever be quoting Jay, the Berserker scene, and, of course, the ever infamous “In a row?!”
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#1 Sister Act | 1992
Whoopi Goldberg escaping from her mobster boyfriend (Harvey Keitel) by hiding in a nunnery where she butts heads with Maggie Smith and befriends Kathy Najimy – need we say more? No, but we will. Not only is Sister Act special because it’s one of the few female led comedies out of the ‘90s to gain mainstream success, it’s just a joyful combination of everything we didn’t know we needed. Did we know we needed a sassy lounge singer to have to make nice with nuns? No, but they showed us. Were we aware that all we wanted was to watch a group of screeching nuns to turn into a perfect and soulful choir? No, but we are now. We also have to acknowledge that it brought us the sequel which brought us the incredible line “Sister Mary Fake!” Whoopi knocks it out of the park in this role but even if she didn’t, the rebellious nuns, the musical numbers, and the nonstop comedy would have won us over anyways.
What other comedies made the ‘90s worth laughing at? What’s on this list that made you cringe and shouldn’t be here? Should we all try to pretend the ‘90s didn’t happen or try to invent a time machine to go back and play with pogs? Let us know in the comments below!
Writer: Arielle Andreano
Editor: AB Scarlett
Voice: Scott Tunnix
Video: Cheenie Equinan & Angel Gustanski
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See Hosseinzadeh v. Klein, 276 F.Supp.3d 34 (S.D.N.Y. 2017); Equals Three, LLC v. Jukin Media, Inc., 139 F. Supp. 3d 1094 (C.D. Cal. 2015).