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Comedy is a genre of film in which the main emphasis is on humour. These films are designed to entertain the audience through amusement, and most often work by exaggerating characteristics of real life for humorous effect. Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending (the black comedy being an exception). One of the oldest genres in film, some of the very first silent movies were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. During the 1930s, the silent film comedy was replaced by dialogue from film comedians such as the W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. In the United Kingdom, film adaptations of stage farces were popular in the early 1930s. By the 1950s, the television industry had become a serious competition for the movie industry. The 1960s saw an increasing number of broad, star-packed comedies. In the 1970s, black comedies were popular. Leading figures in the 1970s were Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Most British comedy films of the early 1970s were spin-offs of television series. One of the major developments of the 1990s was the re-emergence of the romantic comedy film. Another development was the increasing use of "gross-out humour".
Comedy, unlike 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 Wag the Dog and Man of the Year).
|US||American comedy films|
|UK||British comedy films|
|FRA||French comedy films|
A Comedy of manners film satirises the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters. Also, the plot of the comedy is often concerned with an illicit love affair or some other scandal. However, the plot is generally less important 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 (The Three Stooges is an excellent example of this kind of comedy) relies predominately on visual depictions of events, and therefore does not require sound. Accordingly, the subgenre was ideal for silent movies.
In a fish out of water comedy film, the main character or character finds himself in an unusual environment, which drives most of the humour. Situations can be 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 and A Serious Man.
A parody or spoof film is a comedy that satirizes other film genres or classic films. Such films employ sarcasm, stereotyping, mockery of scenes from other films, and the obviousness of meaning in a character's actions. Examples of this form include 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 .
The black comedy film deals with normally taboo subjects, including, death, murder, sexual relations, 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), Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), Brazil (1985), The War of the Roses (1989), Heathers (1989), Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), Keeping Mum (2005), and Burn After Reading (2008).
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).
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's a Wonderful World (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Sabrina (1954), Annie Hall (1977), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).
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), Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), and more recently What's Up, Doc? (1972).
Films in this subgenre blend comic antics and action where the film stars combine wit 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 type of films are often buddy films, with mismatched partners such as in Midnight Run, Rush Hour, 21 Jump Street, Bad Boys, 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 or Kick-Ass.
Comedy horror is a type of horror film in which the usual dark themes are treated with a humorous approach. These films either use goofy horror clichés 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 Dead Alive (1992), Evil Dead (1981), The Toxic Avenger (1984), and Club Dread - 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.
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 Being John Malkovich, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Scared Stupid, Night at the Museum, Groundhog Day, Click and Shrek.
Sci-fi 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:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs (1924–1998, list made in 2000)
- List of American comedy films
- List of British comedy films
- List of Indian comedy films
- French comedy films
- "Comedy Films". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2012-04-29.
- "Comedy Films". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2012-04-29.
- "Absurd Comedy". Allmovies.
- Sexton, Timothy. "Anarchic Comedy from the Silent Era to Monty Python". Yahoo! Movies.
- Thomas W. Bohn and Richard L. Stromgren, Light and Shadows: A History of Motion Pictures, 1975, Mayfield Publishing.