During these uncertain times, now more than ever the world could use a little laughter, and there’s no denying the magical healing powers of comedy. Some of the most groundbreaking and innovative filmmakers specialize in just that, bringing immense joy and happiness to audiences with sidesplitting jokes, wild and wacky characters, and hilarious storylines. There are some artists and visionaries who steadily deliver big laughs and have crafted a unique repertoire for themselves, whether they do so through slapstick, parodies, eccentricity, or dry wit. Only the most daring, confident, or inventive directors leave a lasting impression on the comedic cinematic landscape.
A plethora of outstanding filmmakers have tackled the farce genre, with many emerging triumphantly and cementing their statuses as comedy kings. From silver screen trailblazers like Billy Wilder and Mel Brooks to cherished ‘80s innovators like John Landis and Harold Ramis, the cinema has been home to some seriously spectacular directors. Many contemporary visionaries have beautifully blended genres, with the Coen brothers films often being notorious for their dark comedies and subversions of such styles. Though humor is in fact subjective, there’s no denying that these famous figures know a thing or two about laughter. These are some of the best comedy movie directors, outside the world of silent film.
11 John Landis
Revered for introducing the world to beloved ‘80s comedies like the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd classic The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos, and the Eddie Murphy smash hit Coming to America, John Landis was a constant cinematic presence for decades.
After having directed the 1977 independent sketch comedy The Kentucky Fried Movie (which launched the careers of the Zucker brothers of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame), Landis was given the opportunity to helm the iconically raunchy National Lampoon’s Animal House, describing the screenplay as “literally one of the funniest things I ever read. It has a nasty edge like National Lampoon. I told him it was wonderful, extremely smart and funny, but everyone’s a pig for one thing.” The filmmaker helped define the gross-out comedy movie genre, which went on to become a favorite Hollywood staple.
10 Paul Feig
An impressive presence in both television and cinema, filmmaker, actor, and comedian Paul Feig is known for frequently collaborating with the hilarious and extremely talented Melissa McCarthy, having worked with the actress in the critically-acclaimed blockbuster Bridesmaids, buddy-cop action comedy The Heat, Spy, and the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters. Feig also helmed the riveting dark comedy thriller A Simple Favor and festive holiday romantic comedy Last Christmas, while having worked on popular shows like Arrested Development, The Office, and Parks and Recreation, and creating the cult classic Freaks and Geeks. The funnyman is famous for casting dynamic and gifted female comedians in his projects, and is truly a jack of all trades in the entertainment industry.
9 Billy Wilder
With an outstanding filmmaking career that spanned five decades, Billy Wilder is widely regarded as one of the most esteemed and versatile directors of Classic Hollywood Cinema. The master of the romantic comedy, Wilder co-wrote and directed a slew of mega-successful pictures during the 1950s, including Sabrina starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, The Seven-Year Itch that contained one of the most iconic pop culture images of the 20th century (the movie featuring Marilyn Monroe standing on a subway grate in her iconic white dress), and the Golden Globe winning juggernaut Some Like It Hot, once again starring Monroe alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Wilder directed countless Oscar-winning pictures and was notorious for embracing any genre and style, and the creative genius is responsible for expanding the range of acceptable subjects within Hollywood censorship.
8 Wes Anderson
Renowned for his endearing eccentricity and quirky narration and visual styles, Wes Anderson is a decorated film director with a unique approach to humor that audiences either understand and love or simply don’t pick up on. Known for creating dry, offbeat comedy-dramas like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and most recently the star-studded The French Dispatch, Anderson first made waves with his 1996 debut feature-film Bottle Rocket, an adored cult classic.
His projects feature many recurring actors, such as Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman, all providing off-kilter and charming performers like the director. Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese praised Anderson’s profound ability to “convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness”, and the auteur director is considered a central figure in the American Eccentric Cinema tradition.
7 Edgar Wright
The energetic and thrilling Edgar Wright is a frequent collaborator with comedy dream team Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, having directed the hilarious duo in Spaced and his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy: the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, buddy cop flick Hot Fuzz, and sci-fi comedy The World’s End. Wright is noted for his sharp and witty humor, animated on-screen energy, and exceptional use of satire, as well as impressively incorporating action elements in his comedies.
He also co-wrote and directed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver, and Last Night in Soho, showcasing his impeccable range as a filmmaker and visionary. Wright has expressed that John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona, and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead were all pictures that inspired him to become a director.
6 The Farrelly Brothers
Peter and Bobby Farrelly are an exceptional filmmaking duo who regularly use slapstick and toilet humor in their comedies, in addition to crafting obscene and memorable in-your-face characters. The brothers got their start in Hollywood with the goofy and equally amusing 1994 buddy comedy Dumb and Dumber, launching not only their careers but helping Jim Carrey stand out as one of the most prominent comedic performers of the 1990s. They would later helm pictures like Kingpin, renowned romantic comedy There’s Something About Mary, Me Myself & Irene, and Shallow Hal, among others. Though their approach to comedy may not be for everyone, those who enjoy slapstick and off-color humor can’t get enough of the pair’s enduring and entertaining flicks.
5 Harold Ramis
Harold Ramis was an esteemed and respected director and actor, having starred as Egon Spengler in the beloved 1980s supernatural comedies Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II before transitioning behind the camera with beloved farces like Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This. Not only did Ramis direct two of the most sidesplitting classic comedies, he also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1978 gross out flick National Lampoon’s Animal House and aforementioned Ghostbusters alongside Dan Aykroyd. The creative mind was known for his tongue-in-cheek approach to humor, with his projects being distinguished for attacking “the smugness of institutional life…with an impish goodwill that is unmistakably American.” The admired filmmaker’s final picture was 2009’s Year One, passing away in 2014 from complications from an infection.
4 The Coen Brothers
Few directors have mastered the art of dark comedy better than the revered American directors Coen brothers, having created some hallowed cinematic comedy treasures like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading. The duo continue to dominate with their superb blend of genres and styles, oftentimes parodying and skewing such themes while fearlessly embracing any and all subject; they are also notorious for casting certain actors in their projects, such as Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, and John Goodman. Many of the Coen brothers’ comedies have received widespread praise and accolades, with the filmmakers winning Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the 1991 dark comedy thriller Barton Fink.
3 Adam McKay
Having began his career as a head writer for the long-running sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, director, writer, and comedian Adam McKay skyrocketed to fame in the 2000s due to his ongoing collaborations with the great Will Ferrell. Together the pair would co-write and co-produce numerous admired comedies, with McKay serving as director for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys.
His goofball humor, wild antics and jokes and uproarious characters helped him become an in-demand and deeply admired filmmaker, as he would branch out and tackle more dramatic territory after his comedy success. Despite McKay professionally parting ways with Ferrell (having founded Gary Sanchez Productions together), the director hasn’t slowed down a bit, most recently helming the 2021 apocalyptic black comedy Don’t Look Up and some of the HBO show Winning Time.
2 Judd Apatow
Arguably the most prolific and contemporary director with a comedy empire, Judd Apatow has had an immense impact on the entertainment industry by directing, writing, and producing an abundance of popular flicks. As the founder of Apatow Productions, the accomplished filmmaker directed smash hits like The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up, and Trainwreck while producing unforgettable comedies such as Superbad, Bridesmaids, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Step Brothers.
Apatow has curated endearing professional relationships with Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill, while continuously casting his wife Leslie Mann in his uproarious pictures. The Broadcast Film Critics Association president Joey Berlin praised Apatow and his contributions to the entertainment industry, stating, “In a stunningly brief span of time, Apatow has become a giant in Hollywood. His comedy is both hysterically funny and deeply human.”
1 Mel Brooks
Hollywood’s king of comedy is arguably the one and only comedian, actor, and director extraordinaire Mel Brooks, a constant and decorated cinematic presence with a career spanning over a whopping seven decades. After getting his start in television and co-creating the hit parody series Get Smart, Brooks focused his attention on the big screen, going on to shape the face of comedy with his beloved classics like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Spaceballs.
Credited as the creator of genre parodies and broad farces, the visionary displayed his playful sense of humor in all his projects, appealing to audiences both old and young with his zany and comical pictures. Brooks joined the elite list of EGOT winners in 2001, having nabbed an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award; three of his films ranked in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 comedy films of the past 100 years. He has influenced endless fellow directors with his unique brand of slapstick, satire, and refreshing humor, and remains a respected and deeply admired filmmaker.
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