Wed
Apr 18 2012 10:00am

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Me

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

My first reaction to Ryan’s post on the ten funniest science fiction films was: “What about Time Bandits?” But then I figured, okay, you could make a decent argument that Time Bandits should be classified under fantasy rather than science fiction, so we’ll give him that omission. Then I shared the list with my wife, and after we agreed that Young Frankenstein needed to be much higher on the list than it is, she said, “Where’s Bedazzled?”

And that’s when I knew we needed a parallel list for fantasy films.

Of course, you’ve probably already figured out what the top two films on my list are likely to be — that still leaves eight surprises... or eight opportunities to fight over the movies I’ve left out. This is a purely subjective list, after all, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told my sense of humor is warped. But let’s have at it...

 

10. Twice Upon a Time (1983)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

I saw this film on cable when I was a teenager, and the “Welcome to the Garbagerie” scene illustrated here has stuck with me for nearly three decades, even though I never saw it again until I found it on YouTube while I was brainstorming this list. It’s a story about two good-hearted misfits, Ralph the All-Purpose Animal (voiced by Lorenzo “Carlton the Doorman” Music) and Mumford (voiced by nobody), who’ve been tricked by the ruler of the nightmare factory into stealing the mainspring to the Cosmic Clock but rise to the occasion and set things right. I’m not going to overload this list with animation, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Twice Upon a Time, and rewatching it even showed me how much I hadn’t appreciated about it when I was 14, so this is my “gimme” pick.

 

9. Zelig (1983)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

I debated between Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen’s other great fantasy film, but I’m a sucker for fake documentaries, and in this particular case it’s a usefully subdued way to approach the central conceit of a “human chamelon” who can fit in with anybody, anywhere. On another day, I might decide differently, but today the scenes I can’t shake out of my head are from this film.

 

8. Groundhog Day (1993)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

People were mentioning this in the comments on the science fiction list as an obvious missing candidate, so I’m going to make the case that the 24-hour loop in which Phil, Bill Murray’s snarky weatherman character, finds himself is a fantasy element. (According to the IMDB’s trivia section, early drafts of the screenplay bear this out, blaming the time trap on a curse by an ex-girlfriend.) Mind you, it’s not the technical explanations that put Groundhog Day on this list; it’s the way Phil gradually adjusts himself to these bizarre circumstances, making a new life for himself out of this tiny corner of reality.

 

7. Down to Earth (2001) / Heaven Can Wait (1978) / Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

Right now, it’s the 2001 Chris Rock version of this story that I can remember well enough to laugh at the bits that made me laugh when I first saw it, but we should be sure to acknowledge the source material. Whatever version you go with, though, the story of a talented young man whose life is shut down by an overeager guardian angel and is given new life in the body of a rich jerk always plays out as a charming fantasy. (Hmmm. Now that I think of it, I wonder why they’ve never remade this story with female leads?)

 

6. Beetlejuice (1988)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

One of the biggest questions I faced while compiling this list: “Do I include horror?” I decided against it, which is why you’re not seeing any Evil Dead pictures, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, or The Frighteners (I told you, I have a warped sense of humor), but I couldn’t leave out Beetlejuice. And I could make up some big spiel about how it’s really an afterlife comedy that deploys some horror tropes subversively, but do I really have to justify this selection? I don’t think so.

 

5. Oh, God! (1977)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

This might be one of those films where its reputation as a comedy classic is so overwhelming that you might not even think of it as a fantasy until it shows up on a list like this, and then you remember, “Hey, yeah, it’s about a guy who’s visited by God!” It’s easy to understand why: The comedy in Oh, God! is extremely well-executed. Not just George Burn’s heavenly schtick, but John Denver’s portrayal of an ordinary man on the receiving end of a divine intervention that throws his life uncomfortably out of whack.

 

4. The Princess Bride (1987)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

There’s only one word to describe a list of the funniest fantasy films that doesn’t include The Princess Bride: inconceivable. Heck, a lot of you are probably just asking yourself why it’s all the way back at #4. It’s a tough call, but I had to make it. Still, I do love so much about this film. “Mawwiage...” “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.” “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” “Anybody want a peanut?”

 

3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

Fortunately for me, Danny Bowes covered this film extensively in an Tor.com post a while back, including the brilliant insight that this is really a supernatural martial arts flick starring Dennis Dun that’s hijacked by Kurt Russell as the cheerfully oblivious sidekick. As Danny also points out, James Hong gives the performance of his career as supervillain Lo Pan. The script here is pitch perfect, and John Carpenter catches the zany, anything goes spirit that would, a decade or so later, bring Hong Kong action closer into the American mainstream.

 

2. Time Bandits (1981)

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

I’m not 100% sure on this point, but I think seeing Time Bandits on cable was my first exposure to Monty Python humor. It was either this or Holy Grail (and if you’re wondering why that isn’t on the list, I’ll confess that I’ve never really thought of it as a fantasy). The comedy is fantastic, but as a young boy I was just as dazzled by the thoroughness of Terry Gilliam’s vision—he creates a whole universe here, with inventive details sprinkled throughout. And I still get choked up every time the section in the mythical age ends, but then I get right back to laughing again pretty quickly.

(Speaking of Terry Gilliam and inventiveness, I wonder if I should have made room for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen...)

 

1. Bedazzled (1967)

There are many comedic takes on the “deal with the devil” story, but this is the one to watch; accept no substitutes (especially not the 2000 remake with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley). The rapport between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore is exquisite — they’d been working together for years, and their ease with each other shows — and their multi-directional approach to the story of Stanley Moon selling his soul in exchange for seven attempts to land the beautiful coworker he has a crush on gives them an assortment of premises to run with. (This clip, when Stanley wishes he were a pop star, is one of my favorite bits, and I have a sneaking suspiction it’s one of Morrissey’s favorite film scenes, too. Although you should really see Peter Cook’s retaliatory strike for the full effect.) It isn’t just the setups that are so funny, though, it’s all the amazing little side bits they indulge in along the way. Bedazzled basically feels like a comedy duo having the time of their life, and you’re lucky enough to be able to watch.

 

OK, what did I leave out? As I mentioned above, I deliberately excluded horror films, so maybe that’s another list for somebody else to play with. And I thought carefully about Liar Liar and Big before deciding I didn’t want to give up any of the films I’d already picked. I was also informed that Superman III is a science fiction film, and that it isn’t even funny. Now it’s your turn... tell me what I got wrong!

 


Ron Hogan is the founding curator of Beatrice.com, one of the first websites to focus on books and authors. Lately, he’s been reviewing science fiction and fantasy for Shelf Awareness.

52 comments
DarrenJL
1. DarrenJL
Monty Python and the Holy Grail seems sort of a glaring omission.
DarrenJL
2. Capulet
Hmmm, I agree Grail is a no-show at its own prom here, even if the great choices make this a hard list to crack.

Also, what about Fritz the Cat? If you're going to include animated I don't see how you keep Bakshi off the list in some form?
DarrenJL
3. Dietes
Army of Darkness
Ron Hogan
4. RonHogan
As I mentioned above, I don't think of Holy Grail as a fantasy story. I know, I know: God makes an appearance, and so does a wizard, and a killer rabbit, and that beast in the caves, and then there's the magical realm at the end. But my gut reaction is that it's a historical comedy.

I'm the first to admit I'm being arbirtrary here.

Also arbitrary: My original plan was to mirror the no-animation conditions of Ryan's SF list, but once I started thinking of films, I couldn't shake Twice Upon a Time out of my head. And it's a solid fantasy story that happens to have a talking animal; while Fritz the Cat is a world of talking animals, the plot is otherwise mundane.

Army of Darkness I thought REALLY hard about, because I think there's a strong case that it's not a horror film, and if I'd been able to convince myself while I was making the list, it'd probably have knocked out Down to Earth.
Irene Gallo
5. Irene
Ron, we must be separated at birth!

Bedazzled is just about the greatest thing (among all the things) there is. I once joked on Twitter that we should run a full Bedazzled Week on Tor.com. Neil Gaiman's instantly tweeted back “Do it!” Hmm....maybe now....

And I cant belivee anyone besides me saw Twice Upon a Time. I was obsessed with it as a kid. It was on HBO and I would watch it every time it replayed. I did a tiny write up about it on my blog a few years ago and became reobssed.

Not to mention the Time Bandits and Groundhog Day...now I want a rainy day to rewatch all of these.
Ryan Britt
6. ryancbritt
@Ron

Zelig. Love it. It would also be on the top of my "Best Fake Documentary" list.
DarrenJL
7. Tehanu
(Speaking of Terry Gilliam and inventiveness, I wonder if I should have made room for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen...)
Yes, you should have!
James Whitehead
8. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I would've put Ladyhawke on the list; probably bumping Groundhog Day. I liked the movie well enough the first time but it's never been one I need to see again really; I found Andie McDowell to be terribly flat in the movie (rather like she was in Four Weddings & a Funeral). 'Course it does have Murray chewing up lots of scenery, which is good.

I'll have to find Twice Upon a Time, however, as I've not seen it. Maybe an honourable mention for The Point? I know I'm dating myself but it was one of my favourites as a kid.

I understand your logic regarding Holy Grail & so extend it to explain why no Excalibur. I know it has its detractors, but the end where Arthur & his knights ride out from Camelot one last time to the Carmina Burana score sells it for me; I still get goosebumps. ;-)

Kato

PS - I agree with the Baron Munchausen sentimets.

PPS - I'd add Flash Gordon. Cheesey film I'll admit but gotta love a movie with the line "Flash! I love you Flash! But we only have fouteen hours to save the earth!" Am I right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Irene Gallo
9. Irene
@6 Ryan, Agreed. Zelig is another great one. I havnet seen it in years. I'll be sure to rewatch it soon.

But man, I am so missing the Tim Burrton gene. Everyone I know loves Beetlejuice and I could never get through it.
Ron Hogan
10. RonHogan
Zelig would definitely be near the top of my fake documentary list, too, although it'd be behind at least one Christopher Guest film, maybe more. And The Rutles.

My favorite fake documentary, though, is actually not a comedy: Peter Watkin's Culloden, a 1964 TV-movie that depicts the 1764 battle between British and Scottish forces as a straightforward television news report. It streams on Netflix, and it's only a little over an hour. Powerful stuff.

**
I have never seen The Point. Anybody else want to chime in?

I think you'd have to argue with Ryan about why Flash Gordon isn't on his science fiction list! Although, honestly, I wouldn't put it in my top ten there, either. Still, the top 20-25, no question.
James Whitehead
11. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@10, yeah I got side tracked with the Flash Gordon thing. ;-)

Kato
Bridget McGovern
12. BMcGovern
@Irene: I've always adored Beetlejuice, but I feel similarly about Time Bandits--I've just never clicked with it. Not sure why: I grew up on Monty Python (the show and the movies), and I like a lot of other Gilliam films, but...I've just never learned to love it, in spite of wanting to.

The Princess Bride would probably be my personal #1, but it's a tough call: Bedazzled is an inspired choice (I was just rewatching clips last week, in honor of our Peter Cook story, and fell in love all over again). Anyway, fantastic list, Ron!!!
Bridget McGovern
13. BMcGovern
@3 Army of Darkness is a great call!

Also, some part of my brain really wants to include the ridiculousness of Highlander on one of these lists--maybe we should do a list of Unintentionally Hilarious SFF Films, next time around :)
Mari Ness
14. MariCats
I cannot believe that you did not put Princess Bride at the top of this list. Inconceivable!!!

I don't dislike Time Bandits -- but I would have replaced this with The Adventures of Baron Munchasen. And I would have squeezed Grail in somewhere -- yes, I know a couple of the Pythons are more or less professional medievalists as well as comedians, and there's historical commentary and historiographical commentary in there, but...It's a King Arthur movie! With a killer rabbit! Ergo, fantasy :)
Paul Eisenberg
15. HelmHammerhand
I'm not sure if it belongs in this discussion, or if it would fit better in a comics-related movie list, but the Robin Williams version of Popeye is something of a lost classic of comedy, imo.
Ron Hogan
16. RonHogan
I'm with you on Popeye being an awesome (and underappreciated) comedy, but, yeah, I'm not sure it fits neatly into a "fantasy" list, either.

One thing I noticed as I was compiling this list is that it's very '80s-heavy, and I suspect that it's NOT because there weren't that many funny fantasies before the '80s. But the ones I was remembering, like 1956's Forever, Darling with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and James Mason, weren't Top 10 qualifiers. So if y'all have got any candidates, especially for films that pre-date Bedazzled...
Angela Korra'ti
17. annathepiper
Mad love for Twice Upon a Time! That's THE film of my entire household, which got its name from this very movie: i.e., the Murkworks. We still periodically re-watch this thing and have all three versions on various media, and are known to break out in random bursts of quotes at each other at the slightest provcation. :D
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
The 2000 remake of Bedazzled was indeed terrible, but I have to give props to the basketball sequence, which was a superb satire on sports cliches and bad announcing.....

Also I join the masses in bemoaning your arbitrary exclusion of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Ron Hogan
19. RonHogan
@annathepiper: Well, now Irene and I know where to go for movie night!
DarrenJL
21. Laura H.
I agree that Holy Grail isn't a fantasy and doesn't belong on this list. Yeah, ok, killer rabbit, but as someone points out upthread, Terry Jones is a well-respected medevalist, so it's sort of hard to see it as a fantasy.

I've seen the Bedazzled bouncing nun scene probably a dozen times since I was a kid, and I fall off the couch laughing every. single. time.
DarrenJL
22. AverageJoe
Harvey! one the all time best movies/plays ever!
Munchausen should be here, Brazil too. Or maybe just a spot on the list for Terry Gilliam in general.
And along the same lines as Oh, God... how about The Bishop's Wife?
Ron Hogan
23. RonHogan
It's been a while since I saw The Court Jester, but I don't remember any fantasy elements in it.

Harvey, though, I will admit that there was some significant back-and-forth as to whether it was a mundane story about a delusional man or a fantasy about a man whose best friend is a pooka. This is another one of those cases, like Army of Darkness, where I may have gotten it wrong.

And, oooh: The Bishop's Wife! Interesting choice.
DarrenJL
24. HeWhoComesWithTheNoon
Yeah this is Holy Grail's list. It's silly not to have it on here because some of the Pythons were medievalists -- would you leave Lord of the Rings off of a list of best Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels because of Tolkien's linguistic background?
DarrenJL
25. Laura H.
@HeWhoComesWithTheNoon:

Bad analogy. Arthur was, at least arguably, a historical figure, and many of the scenes in Holy Grail are historically accurate. You can't say the same about Middle Earth, which was a wholly fictional world.
Sky Thibedeau
26. SkylarkThibedeau
@#3 I think Wizards would be a better choice as a Bakshi film. It was darkly Humorous

@#8. I remember The Point with Dustin Hoffman voicing the boy with the round head and the songs by Nilsson including Me and My Arrow. I'm dating myself too so its good thing I have multiple personalities.

@#10 I remember watching Culloden on PBS long ago. It has a You Are There type of feel but its definitely not for kids. Watkins The War Game was a far more powerful film detailing the effects of a limited Soviet Nuclear strike on Britain.

Since I haven't seen the original Bedazzled, I'd have to name the Princess Bride as it is the most quotable movie there is besides Galaxy Quest.


As.......You......Wish
DarrenJL
27. JordanW
The Court Jester, while being one of the funniest movies of all time, isn't extremely fantasy. The only fantasy in it would be the witch/nursemaid for the princess, who does indeed cast some pretty fantastical hypnotic spells, but I am not sure that counts. Though the idea of Angela Lansbury being a villain seems like Fantasy to my mind!
DarrenJL
29. Capulet
"And it's a solid fantasy story that happens to have a talking animal; while Fritz the Cat is a world of talking animals, the plot is otherwise mundane."

By this criteria it sounds like you've pulled Groundhog Day off the list as well.

Not that we're arguing greatness at this point at all, but the wonderful semantics classifying often brings! :)
Ron Hogan
30. RonHogan
Except that Groundhog Day is driven by Phil's reaction to the supernatural condition in which he finds himself, whereas Fritz the Cat is pretty much anthropomorphic animals doing outlandish but otherwise essentially naturalistic things.

If I were to include anthropomorphic animal fantasies, I'd probably start with A Bug's Life.
Joe Vondracek
31. joev
TPB should be at the top of this list. I mean it!
Anybody want a peanut?
DarrenJL
32. shubbe
There's a slew of films my sister and I, as adults, have become convinced we must have made up, even though we remember watching them 80billion times as kids. Twice Upon a Time was one of those. One of our absolute favorites, but nobody else has ever heard of it.

Also that weird anime Jack and the Beanstalk.
John Massey
33. subwoofer
Well you have my favorite movie of all time in the top 3 so I am forgiving for different opinions...

btw... there's this movie called Willow, somehow it missed the list...

Woof™.
DarrenJL
34. BuddyB
Twice Upon a Time : It is such a classic for my family that even at the ages of 37 and 42 and both married, if one of my daughters randomly says the beginning of ANY line in the movie, the other can immediately finish the line and then we all go into a 10 minute dialog of all the funny lines and characters. absolutely a Classic !
DarrenJL
35. AlBrown
Time Bandits and Princess Bride are personal favorites. I was trying (in vain) to read Princess Bride in the waiting room while my wife was getting help from the doctors in delivering my son. How happy I was to see it become a movie, and my son fell in love with it, probably because of some weird pre-natal telepathic influence.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a definite and welcome addition to the list, but I would not consider the remakes for any list but a "Ten Worst..."
DarrenJL
36. Puff the Magic Commenter
Not a bad list. Just replace Groundhog Day (good, but not top-10 funny), Princess Bride (waaay overrated; I'd place it at, like, 27) and Big Trouble (never saw it) with Topper, Harvey and Holy Grail and you're good to go!
DarrenJL
37. DarrenJL
I think Ron was on the right track not to add animation. Otherwise Wallace & Gromit needs to be in there. (I'd want to choose Grand Day Out or Wrong Trousers, but I suppose they were only shorts) Far funnier than Bakshi.

@Irene I don't get the Burton thing, either. Except for Mars Attacks.

@Kato: Ladyhawke was funnier than Groundhog Day? *stern headshake* Willow was funnier than Ladyhawke! And that's not saying much...

I've never seen the original Bedazzled. When it was mentioned in the Sci-Fi thread, I was all, "That lame movie with Liz Hurley? wtf-ery!"
Ron Hogan
38. RonHogan
Turner Classic Movies shows Bedazzled maybe once or twice a year, but I'd say just move it to the top of your Netflix queue, if you have one...

So, here we are, a day in--to be honest, I didn't expect to find so many Twice Upon a Time fans (yay!), or to get so much pushback about Holy Grail (because it didn't occur to me people would see it as a fantasy); instead, I was prepared to read more complaints about the omission of, say, Splash.
DarrenJL
39. Antony Wong
How is Stranger Than Fiction not on this list?!
DarrenJL
40. Topy
What, no love for Dark Star or Spaceballs?
Ron Hogan
41. RonHogan
@Topy: No fantasy in Dark Star or Spaceballs.

@Antony: Stranger Than Fiction didn't come to mind when I was putting the list together, but it would probably place strongly in the second tier, along with The Invention of Lying.

Hmmm. I just realized: I left out Being John Malkovich. Unless we think that's science fiction?
DarrenJL
42. Topy
@RonHogan: oops. I guess I should have read the headline. I feel dumb. Good list of Fantasy films.
Ron Hogan
43. RonHogan
@Topy: no worries! You can still argue with Ryan about Dark Star (he has a good argument for leaving out Spaceballs).
DarrenJL
44. MaryK
Big Trouble in Little China, fantastic inclusion and a personal fave of mine. It's made even better by the music video for the theme song.
DarrenJL
45. Salabra
Definitely the Cook/Moore version of Bedazzled!

I rather liked that scene in 'Eric the Viking' where they reach Asgard - all the Vikings are wondering how to get in, but the Christian priest walks straight through the wall ... because for him Asgard is a 'pagan myth' that simply doesn't exist!
DarrenJL
46. oldfan
is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" disqualified as animation?
Ron Hogan
47. RonHogan
@oldfan: I haven't worked things out with any precision past #10, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would most likely be in the 15-20 range, for me.

@Salabra: I remember liking Eric the Viking, but I couldn't remember anything specific I liked in it, which set it that much further down the list. The same with Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky, although in that case, 30 years on, I can't even remember how funny I actually thought it was.
Kip Williams
48. KipWilliams
Well, hell. THE WIZARD OF OZ. It may not be a comedy, but there's a vein of humor all the way through it, made perfect by Dorothy's not getting any of it. "You'll be hist-, you'll be hist-, you'll be history!" Plus, it contains what may be the most virtuosic performance of an operatic aria since ever. What puts the ape in apricot??

Then, just to show how clever I am for knowing a movie most people here wouldn't know, LIMONADOVY JOE, aka LEMONADE JOE. It's a western, but this is western pushed to fantasy, with routine disregard of time, space, and gravity, and it's full of songs. Also, it's a 1960s Czech comedy, and opens the door to Karel Zeman as well. Maybe it won't make the list, but it's well worth watching on YouTube.

I first saw this movie on Denver's channel 7, where host Starr Yelland seemed a bit nonplussed that they had gotten a lot of response from people who all wanted to see it again. And then I — and my sister, and a friend I wouldn't meet until years after — waited decades to see it again. I checked the TV listings for years, hoping to get it on tape.

And if this is a bonus for anybody, it also contains several disguised critiques of capitalism.
Irene Gallo
49. Irene
Charles Vess sugested The Sitting Room on my Facebook page. I’ve never heard if it but Charlie’s opinion is as good as gold in my book. Anyone here to second it? (Off to see if it's on Hulu or Netflix streaming.)
DarrenJL
50. Timbo13
I think Charles might mean the Bed-Sitting Room, a Spike Milligan play that was, to be honest, unfilmable. It didn't stop them giving it the good old college try, mind.
DarrenJL
51. Chrisv
I know you said you left out horror, but I think The Frighteners could have tied with Beetlegeuse. ;) At least you mentioned it on the list, which is enough to satisfy me. Other than missing the Holy Grail, I think I like your sense of humor!
Christopher Mangus
52. chritopher_morrison_mangus
On an unrelated note...I found this 16mm work print of a ridiculously paranoid atomic-age sci-fi film at an estate sale, and the canisters were labeled "Fear of a Red Planet" (fortunately my friend has a 16mm projector so I could watch it, and MAN is it hilarious!). Has anyone heard of this film? Because it is not listed on imdb and when I researched it further, I could not find ANYTHING about its distribution/release or year of production.

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