Pranks, as juvenile as they are, still have a universal appeal rooted in their natural ability to both shock and cause us to erupt in laughter. There’s something both cringe-worthy and hilarious that keeps audiences coming back for more. After all, that’s why practical jokes are often a go-to gag for our favorite sitcoms, films and reality shows. Hell, there’s even a dedicated holiday for them. One whole day when pranks aren’t just accepted, they’re expected and often thoroughly planned out.
And so, in honor of April Fools’ Day (just two days away—start planning!) and those classic practical jokes that have kept us laughing, horrified us or just plain surprised us over the years, we’ve gathered 10 of the greatest pranks from our favorite movies and TV shows.
It’s suspenseful, funny and packs a surprise twist at the end. Also, the prankster in the opening scene of the movie manages to not only trick his friends but also goes on to freak out the potheads sitting in the back of the cop car. For once, on this list anyway, the cops get to be the funny pranksters this time, not the humorless victims and it’s awesome.
This is the quintessential “prank gone wrong.” It involves a horse, breaking into the dean’s office at a college and a gun filled with blanks. The prank unintentionally goes too far with the accidental death of the horse. A perfect and darkly funny example of what can happen if you fail to keep your pranks simple.
It wasn’t for revenge. It wasn’t really done for comic effect. The motive behind American Graffiti’s cop car stunt doesn’t have all of the hallmarks of a traditional practical joke. But the prank was shocking in its choice of victim and involved sheer mindless destruction of property like many other pranks.
Poop jokes are hilarious, and Jeff Daniels’ bathroom performance should be given its propers but Jim Carrey’s portrayal of a best friend hell-bent on exacting Looney Tunes-style, Turbo Lax-fueled revenge shouldn’t be ignored either.
This is one of those horrifying, cringe-worthy pranks. The kind that renders you silent and slack-jawed in disbelief. A moment of triumph for the long-suffering titular character is quickly and ruthlessly ripped away by her cruel classmates. And then she goes on to murder her fellow students using her telekinetic powers. Carrie shows you that not every prank is funny and that some pranks are just a reflection of the darkest facets of human nature.
In this prank you can see how Amelie’s penchant for practical jokes as an adult began. As a child, Amelie gets revenge on a man who thoughtlessly blamed her for a car accident she had nothing to do with, causing her to be filled with unnecessary guilt. She in turn, wreaks havoc on his favorite pastime, watching soccer.
All Sheldon wanted to do was trick Howard with what was really a harmless, garden-variety prank. Honestly, Sheldon’s commitment to a simple, almost-wholesome handshake buzzer gag is too precious for words. But Howard turns the tables on Sheldon, and takes reverse pranking to a very devious level. With a fake, ominous-looking syringe and a convincingly hysterical Bernadette, Howard retaliates by faking a heart attack and scaring the bejeezus out of Sheldon in the process. Poor Shelly.
On a quest for revenge, The McPoyles—the inexplicably always greasy, milk-and-incest -loving family that occasionally plague the lives of the It’s Always Sunny gang—hold the gang hostage. Only they don’t have real guns and the entire hostage situation was an elaborate prank and you, along with the gang, don’t find out until the very end. Not until you’ve seen every creepy thing the gang experiences while at the mercy of the McPoyles. It’s a prank you can’t unsee and makes you feel just as gross as the McPoyles look.
What makes this prank so great, isn’t so much the senseless violence or even that the Janitor was able to involve the whole hospital in his prank on J.D. What’s awesome is that for it to work as well as it had, the Janitor had to have a strong working knowledge of how J.D. thinks. The Janitor is no amateur prankster: He studies his victims. And he knew that, rather than admit that he didn’t know what Jiggly Ball is, J.D. would stubbornly feign expertise about a game that doesn’t exist just to keep up appearances. Genius.
Jim is the king of TV pranksters. Even though at this point, Jim no longer works with the other employees of the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin, he still manages to prank Dwight from afar without letting the quality of the practical joke suffer. In fact, his oddly simple fax prank elicits one of the strongest, funniest reactions Dwight has ever had to a joke played by Jim. Plus, any prank that has the unintended consequence of angering Stanley and causing Dwight to launch into an epic pratfall is an automatically successful prank.