March 25, 2019

Lessons from the Best Comedy Movies (Free Screenplay Downloads)

the Best comedy movies
It's hard to be funny. We assembled some of the best comedy movies of all time to help you learn how to write a comedy screenplay. 

Lists of the best comedy movies rarely have lessons or things that can benefit the writer. Most are designed to get people talking, and sometimes they even want to annoy us, so I decided to pick ten comedy movies I think are representative of some amazing screenwriting lessons to help you on your screenwriting journey. 

Humor and comedy are both subjective. It would be impossible to get a comprehensive list of the best comedy movies without one hundred spits - so feel free to ask about your favorite comedies in the comments. 

For now, let's jump into the list and see what comedy writing tips we can garner. 

Watch out for banana peels and other pratfalls.

It's about to get goofy. 

The Best Comedy Movies 

1. There's Something About Mary (read the script HERE)

While The Farrelly brothers are off collecting Academy Awards right now, there was a time when they were the biggest names in comedy. This movie is non-stop funny. It starts with maybe the funniest 15 minutes of all time, where we get the entire backstory of the movie, and continues to shock, surprise, and make us double over in laughter again and again. 

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Conflict is what pushes every movie forward. Frequently, these conflicts are used in comedies to provide hilarious set pieces. And none are better than the conflicts in this movie. Every scene matters and builds on the next, and every scene contains conflict. If we're watching a movie, we want to see the characters struggle. This story adds the struggle into every scene. While the "hair gel" gag might be the most memorable, my favorite involves a zipper. The lead character can't even go to the bathroom without things going from bad to worse. 

2. Groundhog Day (read the script HERE)

If I told you a movie would build on the repetition of the same scenes, you'd call me crazy. But there's an endearing perfection to Groundhog Day. It lulls you into thinking it's a goofy comedy, but the true heart of it lies in the existential. It's a doctoral thesis on love, mortality, and a life well-spent. These lessons are disguised behind the laughs. It's a movie you can go back to again and again and always find something new.  

Best Comedy Movie Lesson:

A character is the most important part of any story. I know that because half the stuff I write here is about character development, arcs, and even their namesGroundhog Day has one of the most compelling lead characters of all time. Phil Connors has problems, and there are lots of conflicts, but he's a real prick when we meet him. We get invested in the plot, but his character keeps us interested. When you have a plot that repeats itself, you need to love the person going on the journey with you. 

3. Airplane!  (read the script HERE)

This movie ushered in some of the best lines in movie history. Making a movie full of zany antics is hard, but Airplane! excels because it never lets the foot off the gas pedal. Jokes come rapid-fire, almost three per page. While the story takes on a serious situation, a plane that's lost control, it does an excellent job flipping the tropes on their head and staying fresh. 

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Airplane! debuted at a time when disaster movies were incredibly popular. Having your finger on the pulse of the industry means that you can take a hot topic and flip in on its head. This movie leans into the disaster tropes at hand and fuels them with comedy. The structure here is impeccable, they use all the classic beats of a disaster move to help ease along the pot, so you have more time for the humor.   

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (read the script HERE)

We all know about the classic story of Arthur and the search for the grail, but this movie spins that legend and adds some lunacy. There are other ensemble comedies on this list, but they all rely on tight plots. This is a loose and goofy movie that proves storytellings is sometimes about the funniest finished product and not what makes story sense on paper.   

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Search the Public Domain. Seriously, do it. This movie is great and zany and unpredictable, but the way they drew audiences in was by telling a familiar story. We all know that intellectual property is hot in Hollywood now. If you're trying to get your comedy screenplay off the ground, base it on something that development execs already know and can draw more of an audience into the theater. 

5. Blazing Saddles (read the script HERE)

Would they make this movie today? I have no idea. But I am happy they made it back then. It was hard only having one Mel Brooks movie on this list. But it's so freaking perfect. This movie gets in your face and confronts the darkest parts of society with a wink and a nod. It takes on the traditional western and the values of the west. What I love about this movie the most is that it's not afraid to be goofy while pointing out the goofiness of racism at the same time. It's a movie about the most pressing topic of that decade, and it lets you laugh.  

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Get political. Look, people want to laugh and tune out. You don;t always have to let them. Sometimes the funniest things can be the injustice and inequalities we face as a society. Sometimes the best way to get people to listen is to make them laugh. You can push an agenda or a change if you can make them laugh and see how crazy the other side can be. Mel Brooks is a master at that. 

6. Bridesmaids (read the script HERE)

This movie sets up a universal premise. We've all had experiences where a friend begins to drift away. But this one elevates that with the feeling that you're on an island drifting while everyone else moves forward. Not only does this female-centered story push the envelope, but it takes emotions and makes us care, while still making us laugh so hard we crap our pants. Or that might have been the Brazilian food. 

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Open up the B characters. Bridesmaids has a strong central story, but outside of the protagonist and antagonist, the story succeeds when it lets other people play. The supporting cast shines even in the smallest scenes. Think about how Melissa McCarthy adds tension and antics every time she walks on screen. Is there anything funnier than her confronting a supposed air marshall? 

7. Shaun of the Dead (read the script HERE)

Maybe it's because they're so pervasive now, but there was a time when Zombies were new and exciting. Everyone wanted to make a movie about them full of scares. But Edgar Wright wanted to make a movie that had to do more with the origin of the Zombie. And how they mirrored humanity. This movie took on love and friendship and kept us laughing along the way. 

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Let the audience know you love the best comedy movies. Wright pumped the whole screenplay with clever homages. The meta-aspect and title let readers and the audience in on the joke. That helps them get away with obvious plot beats. And adding the humor lets us also sneak in emotions like Shaun's feelings for his stepfather and his desire to be with his girlfriend. Plus, that feeling that your friend is a complete idiot but you love them anyway. 

8. Some Like It Hot (read the script HERE)

For my money, Billy Wilder is the greatest screenwriter of all time. He could do any genre, but his comedies kill me. This movie has everything. Gender-bending, blondes, and even criminal conspiracies. It's easy to say it was revolutionary at the time, but where this movie really succeeds is how much it gets away with, without vulgarity. I love a raunch-fest as much as the next person, but this movie thrives on the double-entendre. That's way harder to do and still maintain laugh-out-loud status.  

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Your characters can be in on the comedy. The basic concept of this movie about cross-dressing cons is both funny to the audience and to the characters. Don't be afraid to have your characters reacting to the insane situation on screen. We find this more in mumblecore and small comedies now, but you have to be willing to let your characters have human reactions to these circumstances. If it's funny, let them laugh. 

9. Duck Soup (read the script HERE)

We were never going to get through this list without an appearance by the Marx brothers. They pretty much defined early Hollywood comedy movies, and Duck Soup was no different. It was also prophetic. Unhinged dictators, world wars, these guys knew what they were doing. 

Best Comedy Movie Lesson: 

Dialogue matters. When you sit down to write, you can define the tone, style, and tempo of your screenplay with the dialogue. It doesn't just have to be funny, it has to be unique. This is your chance to show us your voice. Why are you new, interesting, and different than anyone else? 

10. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (read the script HERE)

I mean, we love Stanley Kubrick. We love this ludicrously long title. At a time when people in the world were practicing hiding from nuclear bombs, Stanley Kubrick made a comedy about blowing one up. The production design is ominous here. So is the lighting and the choice to be in black and white. Still, this movie lets you laugh at the sheer awfulness of world destruction and the incompetency at our world leaders.  

Best Comedy Movie Lesson:

Don't be afraid to get serious. The threat of nuclear destrcution had most people shaking in their boots. It was a constant fear. But somehow, this movie pulls off making you laugh at the darkness. When you sit down to write, don;t be afraid to tackle stuff like this head on. Think about movies like this and like Get Out. The best comedy movies and comedy screenplays aren't afriad to make you think. 

What's next? Use our Story Map to Guide Your Comedy Screenplay!

We all know writing a screenplay is incredibly hard. While it gets easier as you go, every story is a new battle. When I sit down to write, I chase treatments, beat sheets, and outlines before I open my screenwriting software to tackle the story. So I spent some time developing the Story Map to help you through your screenwriting process.

So check it out! 

Love a good comedy movie? Let us know your favorites in the comments. 

Got comedy movie suggestions? 

Hit the comments. 

Pretty much anything you have to say goes in the comments. 

'Til next time...      

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