The 1980s were a great decade for movie comedy, starting with Airplane! and The Blues Brothers in 1980. Blockbusters like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Police Academy, Caddyshack, The Cannonball Run, 48 Hrs and Beverly Hills Cop got the most attention.
Despite their big box-office returns, though, many of the most popular 80s comedies have dated badly. The world has changed enormously in 30 years, and what was once cutting edge, topical humour doesn’t seem relevant anymore.
However, the decade also produced some delightful cult classics. They may not have impressed with their original ticket sales, but they drew a dedicated following that has persisted through the years, and many are as funny today as they were when first released. Here are four of the best:
Three Amigos, 1985
Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short do sterling ensemble work in this screwball comedy about mistaken identity. They play silent-movie era action stars, famous as the campy “Three Amigos” who fight for justice in the old West. They’re mistaken for the real thing by poor Mexican villagers being terrorised by villainous El Guapo, and they accept a protection job under the false impression they’re being hired to do a song and dance show. Hilarity ensues.
When it was released, it confused viewers and critics alike and grossed only $39.2 million. Dedicated fans turned it into a cult hit, however, and today it is still introducing new enthusiasts to the possibilities of the word “plethora”.
Another great ensemble of stars, including Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Lesley Anne Warren and Eileen Brennan. Set in the 1950s and involving a complicated, absurd plot, it’s based on the board game Clue or Cluedo. Six strangers are invited to an isolated dinner party, which turns into a frenetic murder mystery when their host, who has been blackmailing them all, turns up dead. It’s a wonderful blend of McCarthy-era satire and madcap comedy.
The Princess Bride, 1987
Arguably the greatest cult classic comedy ever and as perennially popular as real money Blackjack games, The Princess Bride combines family adventure and romance in the sword-and-sorcery genre with lashings of modern humour. Every role has great comic potential, and Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant milk them for all they’re worth.
It has a 97% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and loads of memorable quotes that are still treasured as in-jokes by fans. You haven’t seen it yet? Inconceivable!
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 1988
Another stellar role for Steve Martin in a career littered with them, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels also starred Michael Caine and introduced Glenn Headly to the movie-going public. Caine plays a classy conman on the French Riviera, while Martin is the coarse US grifter trying to horn in on his territory. Headly is their supposedly “innocent” mark.
Although not a major hit when it was released, its has maintained a dedicated fan following ever since, largely due to Martin’s outrageous physical comedy as he adopts new personas. His “cousin Ruprecht” character still evokes screams of laughter, and renowned critic Roger Ebert called his jail-cell scene “absolutely inspired”.