After a year like 2020, where practically no film production was taking place for the majority of the year, to get as many films this year offering up some much needed laughs is definitely a treat. Yes, some of the films on this list were holdovers that were supposed to come out in 2020. But regardless of that, it definitely was just what we needed to see.
However, the majority of the comedy films of 2021 are a departure we’ve seen coming down the pipeline for a while now. It’s getting harder and harder for comedies in the theatrical sense. Of every film on this list, there’s only one that had a standard theatrical run, and not simultaneously on streaming or VOD. There’s also been a gap of the broader comedies we’ve been used to in the past – like Bad Trip – in exchange for a film that happens to have funny moments in it – like Don’t Look Up. But we’re not going to get into a whole “Is comedy dead?” thing.
Instead, we’re going to highlight our top 10 comedy films that came out this year. This year featured a long-awaited sequel to a comedy classic, a surprising sleeper hit that broke streaming records, and an indie film that produces more cringe than we thought was possible in a simple setting.
10. Coming 2 America
Coming 2 America – a sequel to 1988’s Coming To America starring Eddie Murphy – is a film that fans had been waiting for for years. And by the time it finally came out in March, it was one of the most viewed movies in Prime of all time. The performances from Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall this time around were good, not great. (Save for their turn as the barbers, who are in a camp all on their own). The breath of fresh air brought by newcomers Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Jermaine Fowler, and an impressive Wesley Snipes totally made up for it, however. It still has some fun moments throughout, however, for anyone looking for some good laughs.
9. The Mitchell’s Vs The Machines
More and more we’re seeing films about what happens when the robots we rely on so heavily turns on us and tries to conquer the world. It’s not a unique thought, but for an animated family movie, it kind of manages to work in a quirkier way. The film follows a family driving their daughter to college who encounter assistant robots who have turned on their creator and are ready to get revenge. And it also boasts a comedy heavy cast that includes Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, and Conan O’Brien, among many others. If you’re looking for a movie to watch with the whole family, this definitely has some solid and funny moments in it.
8. Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay spent years making comedies before he became an Oscar winning director that started taking on more serious pieces. Don’t Look Up finds McKay wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. And in many ways, it does work. While we generally wouldn’t call a film like this a comedy, the satirical plot of two astronomers who are the laughing stock of the nation for trying to warn them all of impending doom definitely has some solid laughs throughout. Some of the best laughs definitely come out of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence on their media blitz doing morning talk shows against tone-deaf anchors.
7. Bad Trip
Originally slated to come out last year theatrically before being moved to Netflix this past March, this is exactly the sort of starring film vehicle we expected from Eric Andre. In Bad Trip – which is produced by Jackass’s Jeff Tremaine, bringing forth a crossover we didn’t know we needed -, Andre is traveling cross country with his best friend (and being chased by his crazy sister) to declare his love for his high school sweetheart. And being an Eric Andre film, pranks and unsuspecting participants play heavily into the film’s loose plot. But most surprisingly is that none of the pranks distract from the movie’s overall storyline. It all seems to blend in, even an opening musical number.
6. Free Guy
Free Guy is one of this year’s lone comedies to open in theaters and not on a streamer or VOD. The film – which is one of two Ryan Reynolds comedies to be released this year – follows Reynolds as a guy who discovers that he’s actually inside a video game, and has to save his friends from deletion by the game’s creator. Like Don’t Look Up, it’s not exactly your conventional comedy, but there enough funny moments here to overlook that. And the fact that it did over $300 million dollars at the box office makes it one of the year’s better performing films in theaters.
5. Vacation Friends
Vacation Friends unexpectedly broke all sorts of records this summer when it became the highest opening a film ever did on Hulu in its history. The film follows a couple who is just about to be wed when the obnoxious couple they met on vacation crashes it. The couple getting married quickly realizes that their new friends have no intention of leaving. The film doing impressive numbers lead to Hulu being fast to pick up a sequel a mere few weeks after its debut. And coming out during a summer where tensions were high due to COVID cases rising again, it was the perfect chaotic inducing comedy for the moment. We desperately needed it this year.
4. Licorice Pizza
Licorice Pizza is the newest film from Paul Thomas Anderson. The film – which has naturally been getting rave reviews as most of Anderson’s films do – follows a young actor and a photographer’s assistant who fall in love in the San Fernando Valley in the 70’s. The unconventional romantic dramedy works on many levels, but mainly due to a good script from Anderson and Star-making performances from leads Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. The two actors are the glue that holds it all together.
3. Red Rocket
Sean Baker is known for more dramatic fare like 2017’s coming-of-age story The Florida Project. So the comedy-drama film Red Rocket is a slight departure, that he managed to score a home run with. The film follows a washed up adult film star who, strapped for cash, finds himself moving back to his hometown in Texas, where he can’t help drawing attention to himself. The film – which features a riveting performance from star Simon Rex – was a big hit at Cannes this year, where it received an impressive 5-minute standing ovation. There’s also a surprising sweetness to the film that meshes well with the more comedic moments that arise in the fish-out-of-water situation.
2. Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar
Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo teamed up again to write their first screenplay since the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids. The film follows two lifelong friends (also played by Wiig and Mumolo) who decide to leave the safeness of their small town for the first time ever and go on vacation. The film, which became a sleeper hit with both critics and audiences alike, has enough over-the-top and silly gags peppered in throughout to make this comedy work. And while it may not have quite the same staying power as Bridesmaids, we wouldn’t be surprised at all if the film became a cult hit over the years.
1. Shiva Baby
If you’re looking for a good anxiety-inducing dark comedy with high cringe factor, then we’ve got the perfect thing for you. Shiva Baby follows a young bisexual college student who runs into both her former lover and her current sugar daddy at a wake. If that wasn’t awkward enough, she also meets her sugar daddy’s wife and newborn baby. The film features a strong debut performance from Rachel Sennott, who knocks it out of the park here and we definitely want to see more from in the future. The director – another first timer Emma Seligman – manages to perfectly capture the understated comedy in what is probably the most embarrassing day of the protagonist’s life.