The 40 Best Comedies on Netflix (January 2019)

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ghostbusters original poster netflix.png 10. Ghostbusters
Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
As the slew of ‘80s merchandise and a cartoon series would prove, Ghostbusters had mass-appeal with kids. The film followed a team of parapsychologists—played by Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray—who tackle big-ghost issues in New York City. Sure some of the effects are dated, but this one has staying power. And although the bad guys come from beyond the grave, they’re also kid-friendly, with the begging-to-be-a-plush-toy Slimer and a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Pass this classic comedy along to the next generation.—Tyler Kane


heathers_poster.jpg 9. Heathers
Year: 1988
Director: Michael Lehmann
Heathers might look like another teen comedy, but it’s probably the darkest and most brutal movie on this list. It’s a cynical deconstruction of the typical high school comedy, turning peer pressure fatal and elevating the stakes from social lives to actual lives. It smartly subverts one of the stalest genres of comedy, and still remains edgy almost 30 years later.—Garrett Martin


ASeriousMan.jpg 8. A Serious Man
Year: 2009
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Working with few recognizable stars, the Coens have made a funny but odd and inquisitive film about guilt. It’s also their most Jewish film to date, a film about physics professor Larry Gopnik and the Jewish subculture of a medium-sized late-’60s American town. Larry’s life begins to fall apart when his wife says she wants a divorce, and in the great unraveling that follows, the Coens have made Kafka’s implications explicit. The K word is often slapped onto any old symbolic nightmare, but Kafka’s own work was actually very funny, even though he could slip into gray areas without much warning. The Coens can, too. A Serious Man is one of the most fascinating, maybe even heartfelt, renderings of a Kafkaesque sensibility that I’ve seen. —Robert Davis


happy gilmore poster.jpg 7. Happy Gilmore
Year: 1996
Director: Dennis Dugan
Adam Sandler could’ve retired in 1998, after his first three movies, and his comedy legacy would’ve been secured. (He maybe should’ve retired then, but let’s not get into that.) It’s hard to pick between The Wedding Singer, Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, but that last one is the only one of the three on Netflix, so let’s talk about that. The tale of a failed hockey player becoming a champion golfer is an ideal vehicle for Sandler’s inchoate frat boy rage, and the absurd streak that elevated Madison above most Hollywood comedies of the day is even more visible here. It has some of the same problems as most Sandler movies—an underwritten, unbelievable love interest (here played by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen), a bare bones story that’s little more than a launching pad for jokes—but Gilmore is an ideal character for Sandler, and a great supporting cast (including Carl Weathers, Ben Stiller, Richard Kiel, Joe Flaherty, and Christopher McDonald as the iconic villain Shooter McGavin) help turn this into a legitimate classic. Also there’s a great chance this is the main thing younger people know Bob Barker from, which is actually kind of sad.—Garrett Martin


shes gotta have it poster.jpg 6. She’s Gotta Have It
Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee 
Spike Lee arrived as a fully-formed talent with this small-budget, black-and-white debut, which wound up being one of the most important movies in the rise of independent films in the 1980s. Lee brought a voice and verisimilitude to the screen that hadn’t been seen before, with a movie that’s smart, funny and audacious. The central theme—that women can sleep around as much as men, and that they shouldn’t be judged or scorned for it—is still relevant 30 years later. In fact, it’s so relevant Lee adapted the movie into a Netflix series that premiered last year.—Garrett Martin


6.TheBigLebowski.NetflixList.jpg 5. The Big Lebowski
Year: 1998
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
If you truly loved your kidnapped trophy wife, would you really ask a guy like Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski to deliver ransom money to her captors? Sure, he’s got plenty of time on his hands—enough to while away the days chasing down a stolen rug, at least—but he can hardly get himself dressed in the morning, chugs White Russians like it’s his job (incidentally, he doesn’t have a real one) and hangs around with a bunch of emotionally unstable bowling enthusiasts. Any mission you set him off on seems bound to fail. And yet that’s the great joy, and the great triumph, of the Coen BrothersThe Big Lebowski and its consummate slacker-hero. The Dude is a knight in rumpled PJ pants, a bathrobe his chainmail, a Ford Torino his white horse. Through strikes and gutters, ups and downs, he takes life in ambling, unshaven stride—and all without dashing good looks and unparalleled strengths. Isn’t that something to which we should all aspire? —Josh Jackson


hot-fuzz.jpg 4. Hot Fuzz
Year: 2007
Director: Edgar Wright 
The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up.—Dom Sinacola


life of brian poster.jpg 3. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Year: 1979
Director: Terry Jones

Pretty much made on George Harrison’s dime and considered, even if apocryphally, by the legendary comedy troupe to be their best film (probably because it’s the closest they’ve come to a three-act narrative with obvious “thematic concerns”), Life of Brian got banned by a lot of countries at the butt-end of the ’70s. As a Christ story, the telling of how squealy mama’s boy, Brian (Graham Chapman) mistakenly finds himself as one of many messiah figures rising in Judea under the shadow of Roman occupation (around 33 AD, on a Saturday afternoon-ish), Monty Python’s follow-up to Holy Grail may be the most political film of its ilk. As such, the British comedy group stripped all romanticism and nobility from the story’s bones, lampooning everything from radical revolutionaries to religious institutions to government bureaucracy while never stooping to pick on the figure of Jesus or his empathetic teachings. Of course, Life of Brian isn’t the first film about Jesus (or: Jesus adjacent) to focus on the human side of the so-called savior—Martin Scorsese’s take popularly did so less than a decade later—but it feels like the first to leverage human weakness against the absurdity of the Divine’s expectations. Steeped in satire fixing on everything from Spartacus to Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and buttressed by as many iconic lines as there are crucifixes holding up the film’s frames (as Brian’s equally squealy mother hollers to the swarming masses, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”), the film explores Jesus’s life by obsessing over the context around it. Maybe a “virgin birth” was really just called that to cover up a Roman centurion’s sexual crimes. Maybe coincidence (and also class struggle) is reality’s only guiding force. Maybe the standard of what makes a miracle should be a little higher. And maybe the one true through line of history is that stupid people will always follow stupid people, whistling on the way to our meaningless, futile deaths. —Dom Sinacola



the grduate poster.jpg 2. The Graduate
Year: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
In the undisputed king of movies for those headed out into the real world, a hyper-accomplished recent grad (Dustin Hoffman) panics at the prospect of his future and falls into an affair with the much older wife of his father’s business partner (Anne Bancroft). It helped define a generation long since embalmed by history, but the sense of longing for an alternative hasn’t aged.—Jeffrey Bloomer


netflix poster monty grail.jpg 1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Year: 1975
Director:
It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler

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