A comedy film is a genre of film in which the main emphasis is on humor. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement and most often work by exaggerating characteristics for humorous effect. 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 very first silent movies 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).
Silent Film Era
The era of Silent Film began with the release of the motion picture itself. Many films were released in the late 1870s and 1880s that are widely considered to be the first instance of movies like The Horse in Motion (1875) by Eadweard Muybridge, Roundhay Garden Scene (1888), and Arrival of a Train (1895) by the Lumière Brothers. However, the first comedy film can be classified as L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895) also created by the Lumière Brothers. These films were silent, and began the Silent Film era that was then defined by comedy actors like William Haines, Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton.
Comedy of Manners
A comedy of manners satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters. Also, satirical comedy-drama & the plot 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, dating back at least as far as Much Ado about Nothing created by William Shakespeare.
Slapstick films involve exaggerated, boisterous 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.
Fish Out of Water
In a fish out of water comedy, the main character or character finds himself in an unusual environment, which drives most of the humour. Situations can be neo noir crime comedy, satirical comedy-drama & black comedy as sometimes as fantasy comedy which is behind swapping gender roles, as in Tootsie (1982); an age changing role, as in Big (1988); a freedom-loving individual fitting into a structured environment, as in Police Academy (1984); a rural backwoodsman in the big city, as in Crocodile Dundee, and so forth. The Coen Brothers are known for using this technique in all of their films, though not always to comic effect. Some films including people fitting the "fish-out-of-water" bill include The Big Lebowski (1998) and A Serious Man (2009).
A parody or spoof film is a comedy that satirizes other film genres or classic films. Such films mockumentary, 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), and Scary Movie (2000).
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, and the most famous examples of this type of film would be those produced by Monty Python. Others include Duck Soup (1933) and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).
The black comedy film deals with normally 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), 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), Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), Keeping Mum (2005), Burn After Reading (2008), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).
Gross out films are a relatively recent development and rely heavily on vulgar, sexual or "toilet" humour. Examples include Porky's (1982), Dumb and Dumber (1994), There's Something About Mary (1998), and American Pie (1999).
It was not uncommon for the early romantic comedy film to also be a screwball comedy film. This form of comedy film was particularly popular during the 1930s and 1940s. There is no consensus definition of this film style, and it is often loosely applied to slapstick or romantic comedy films. 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 the screwball comedy are: It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), and more recently, What's Up, Doc? (1972).
Films in this sub-genre blend comic antics and action where the film stars combine with and 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. and Beverly Hills Cop. These types of films are often buddy films, with mismatched partners such as in Midnight Run, Rush Hour, 21 Jump Street, Bad Boys, Starsky and Hutch, and Hot Fuzz. Slapstick martial arts films became a mainstay of Hong Kong action cinema through the work of Jackie Chan among others. It may also focus on superheroes such as The Incredibles, Hancock, Kick-Ass, and Mystery Men. It may focus on kung fu such as Kung Fu Panda.
Comedy horror is a type of film 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, Little Shop of Horrors, Haunted Mansion, and Scary Movie where campy styles are favoured. 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), Re-Animator (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.
Comedy thriller is a genre that combines elements of comedy and thrillers, a combination 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.
Fantasy comedy films are types of films that uses magic, supernatural and or mythological figures for comic purposes. Most fantasy comedy includes an element of parody, or satire, turning many of the fantasy conventions on their head such as the hero becoming a cowardly fool, the princess being a klutz. Examples of these films include The Chipmunk Adventure, Big, Being John Malkovich, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Scared Stupid, Night at the Museum, Groundhog Day, Click, and Shrek.
Science fiction comedy
Science fiction comedy films, like most hybrid genre of comedy, use the elements of science fiction films to over the top extremes and exaggerated science fiction stereotypical characters. Examples of these types of films include Back to the Future, Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, Evolution, Innerspace, Galaxy Quest, Mars Attacks!, Men in Black, and The World's End.
Military comedy films involve comic situations in a military setting. When a film is primarily about the experience of civilians called into military service and still feeling out of place, it may be referred to as a "service comedy". Because war is such a grim subject, many military comedies are set in peacetime or during wartime but away from battle zones. Military and service comedies include Good Morning, Vietnam, M*A*S*H, Forrest Gump, and more.
The romantic comedy film subgenre typically involves the development of a relationship between a man and a woman. The stereotyped plot line follows the "boy-gets-girl", "boy-loses-girl", "boy gets girl back again" sequence. Naturally, there are innumerable variants to this plot, and much of the generally light-hearted comedy lies in the social interactions and sexual tensions between the pair. Examples of this style of film include It (1927), City Lights (1931), It's a Wonderful World (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Sabrina (1954), Annie Hall (1977), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), and There's Something About Mary (1998).
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- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs (1924–1998, list made in 2000)
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