Want something to tickle your funny bone but don’t want to spend hours perusing your options? Picking a comedy to watch can be tricky, because humor is largely a matter of tase. But worry not.
Whether you’re hankering for a comedy classic or a modern hit, a feel-good crowd-pleaser or a cringe-inducing critical darling, a mainstream romp or an offbeat delicacy, a wry mockumenty or a jaunty musical, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the 10 best comedy movies now streaming on HBO Max.
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Is there a better adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma? As if! Writer/director Amy Heckerling took the framework of that classic Regency-era romance and brilliantly translated it into 1995 Beverly Hills. There, the affluent, educated-yet-naïve Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is the benevolent queen bee of her high school. Her acts of kindness include giving a glam makeover to the scruffy new girl (Brittany Murphy), donating skis to the poor, and matchmaking teachers and teens alike. However, when it comes to her own love life, she is comically clueless. Slapstick, high-school hijinks, and shady one-liners make up much of the hilarious humor at play in this teen comedy. On top of all that, there’s scads of style, from a parade of enviable outfits to a sensational soundtrack full of ‘90s bangers. But what makes Clueless a classic is how marvelously Silverstone grounds this heightened world with her winsome charm.
2. Singin’ in the Rain
Craving something that’ll not only make you laugh but also make you want to get up and dance? Then splash into the stupendous pleasures of this 1952 classic, co-directed by Stanley Donen and Hollywood legend Gene Kelly. The latter stars as a Vaudevillian who has worked his way up from stuntman to silent movie star. As the sound era shakes up the film industry, he hopes to make sweet music with an enchanting ingenue (a beaming Debbie Reynolds). However, his cantankerous leading lady (a ruthlessly silly Jean Hagen) won’t be sidelined without a fight! Full of meta jokes, charming banter, hysterical hijinks, and astonishing song numbers, Singin’ in the Rain is one of the best musical comedies that’s ever been made. Come for the jokes. Stay for the signature dance number that’s as astonishing now as it was decades ago. Then, let the romance of this feel-good film sweep you away.
3. Shiva Baby
Worlds collide in this 2020 cringe comedy that’s been widely hailed by critics. When a Jewish college student (Rachel Sennott) dutifully attends a shiva alongside her parents, she’s prepared to field questions about her unimpressive job prospects and lack of a boyfriend. However, she’s not ready for her secret sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) to show up, much less with his beautiful blonde wife (Dianna Agron) and their rosy-cheeked baby. Making matters even more fraught, her former best friend is slinging her serious side-eye. Something has got to give. In her remarkable debut feature, writer/director Emma Seligman creates laughs and suspense with an electrifying tapestry of observational humor, social awkwardness, jolting humiliation, and sexual tension. You’ve heard of feel-good comedies? Well, this is a feel-anxious-as-hell comedy, dragging us through each embarrassment with our harried heroine. And yet, we can’t recommend the experience highly enough.
4. The Birdcage
Family can be complicated. But rarely have those complications been as fall-down funny as in this fabulous 1996 farce. Adapted from the Franco-Italian comedy La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple who must leap back into the closet when their adult son brings home his new fiancé and her deeply conservative parents. Frustrated and flamboyant, these husbands’ attempts to play it straight are plagued with problems, all of them divinely outrageous. Director Mike Nichols offers a crackerjack cast that includes Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Christine Baranski, and a scene-stealing Hank Azaria. Together, they translate Elaine May’s sizzling screenplay about a culture clash of drag queens and political pawns into a rapturous showstopper, as hilarious as it is heartwarming.
5. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
This R-rated 2005 release took the hijinks often associated with teen comedies (misunderstandings about sex, ferociously fumbled flirtations, awkward first times) to uproarious heights by throwing a middle-aged virgin into such humbling mishaps. Steve Carrell stars as the eponymous misfit, whose raucous friends dole out plenty of advice on women and seduction. Yet it’s an unexpected romance with a single mom (Catherine Keener) that might make him a man. Having thrived on television, Judd Apatow teamed with Carell on the screenplay, making his feature directorial debut with this late-bloomer laffer. It features a barrage of comedy stars, including Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling, and David Koechner. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was such a smashing success that it launched Apatow’s movie helming career and spun Carell from scene-stealing sidekick to comedy A-lister.
6. The Philadelphia Story
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A dazzling gem in the crown of screwball comedies is this 1940 classic from heralded director George Cukor. Adapted from a Broadway hit that had audiences roaring, The Philadelphia Story thrusts a trio of screen legends into a tantalizing love triangle. Katharine Hepburn stars as a Philadelphia socialite who is poised to remarry after divorcing her debonair ex (Cary Grant). However, when he and a charming tabloid reporter (James Stewart) crash her family’s pre-nuptial preparations, sparks fly and love is in the air. It’s not a question of if there will be a wedding, but who might be the groom. True to the subgenre, this funny film crackles with fast-paced banter, larger-than-life characters, feisty flirtations, and daffy humor. Critics cheered and the Academy bestowed Best Screenplay to Donald Ogden Stewart and Best Actor to Stewart (his first win!)
7. Little Shop of Horrors
Thirsty for comedy that sinks its teeth into the dark side? Open wide for the wild delights of this 1986 stunner from Frank Oz. Based on an off-Broadway musical (that was inspired by a dirt-cheap B-movie), Little Shop of Horrors centers on a fumbling flower shop in 1960s Skid Row. There, the meek Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) pines for the beautiful Audrey (Broadway star Ellen Greene). When a chattering Venus Flytrap promises him fortune and fame, Seymour is willing to bleed — and do much worse — to impress his dream girl. Tapping into his storied career as a Muppeteer, Oz created a movie monster that’s mirthful, menacing, exciting, and sings with the voice of Motown legend Levi Stubbs. Grounding this perturbing plant in a world of wonders is plenty of doo-wop, witty one-liners, wacky lyrics, and comedy luminaries, including Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray.
8. Best in Show
Christopher Guest is a master of the mockumentary, spoofing everything from folk music (A Mighty Wind) to community theater (Waiting for Guffman) to the mayhem of award season (For Your Consideration). Yet the grand champion of his filmography is definitely 2000’s Best in Show, which invited audiences behind the scenes of a prestigious national dog show. Master improvisers Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, and Schitt’s Creek’s Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara collaborate to create a wacky world of diverse dog owners, who channel all their hopes, neuroses, and love into their furry friends. Whether or not you’ve ever witnessed a real dog show of pedigree, you’ll enjoy the offbeat humor of this pack of oddball owners as they bicker, ponder, and parade to see who is top dog.
9. Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin was a king of comedy in the silent film era, rolling his iconic Little Tramp into such side-splitters as City Lights, Gold Rush, and The Kid. These and many more Chaplin offerings are available on HBO Max, through their TCM and Criterion Collection hubs. Subscribers can easily look back at how American physical comedy was forged through set pieces silly and sensational. You really can’t go wrong when it comes to Chaplin, but we’re highlighting Modern Times because even though it’s set in 1936, its humor is truly timeless. Taking on a string of industrial jobs while romancing a charming gamin, Chaplin zips from one zany bit to another with a captivating waddle and a chipper twitch of his mustache, fearlessly throwing himself face-first into the wildest shenanigans. Plus, as this film includes some scenes with sound and dialogue, it’s maybe the most accessible introduction to Chaplin’s works.
A spirited spoof tipping its hat to the Spaghetti Western, this 1985 Japanese comedy was promoted as a “ramen Western.” Its central story is about a cowboy hat-wearing truck driver (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who comes across a humble ramen shop where the food is truly “terrible.” Damsel in distress Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) begs this hardened hero to save her family’s business by teaching her to do right by ramen. So of course, he rounds up a posse to perfect her recipe. Full of physical comedy, giddy silliness, quirky characters, and charming performances, this film is a delectable delight. But writer/director Jûzô Itami brings even more to the table, spicing up this culinary tale with fantastical vignettes about the love of food. Though often ridiculous — and sometimes salacious — none of the laughs are lost in translation. But be warned: This funny film will make you hungry. The loving shots of ramen and the various speeches about its richness and wonders are ruthlessly mouth-watering. Maybe order dinner before digging in.