Only in the 80s: Five great genre comedies to come out of the decade of fun

Gremlins - 80sThe line between comedy and drama was very fine in 1980s cinema. Iconic 1980s chick-flick comedies like Desperately Seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink are perfect examples – both their stories take quite serious turns and we often forget that we’re even watching a comedy. On the other end of the scale, films like The Big Chill and War Games are quite serious in subject matter, a drama and a thriller respectively, but both are directed with a light touch. And that’s the best thing about this era of cinema – more often than not, these films provide us with adventurous story-lines and serious overtones, but not at the expense of having a laugh. This was a decade of shamelessness, and its movies were a perfect demonstration of this unapologetic drive to have fun.

In a ‘decade of fun’ it’s no surprise that the comedy genre was so broad and colourful. Today, comedies tend to consist of parodies and rom-coms like Anchorman and Knocked Up, which are both excellent films, but you’re stuck for choice when the subject matter of the entire genre is limited to sex and relationships. Whatever happened to the “genre comedy” , a film that takes an adventurous story, whether it’s an action, sci-fi, fantasy or horror, and delivers it in a comedic light-hearted fashion?Take for example Back to the Future – it’s just as much a science fiction adventure film as a comedy, and one that never allowed the gags to get in the way of the plot. In fact, the only genre comedies I can think of that have been released in the last ten years are Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, & The World’s End… and perhaps Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass. But even these films, which are all excellent, expend so much energy paying homage to genre cinema that their narratives never gather enough momentum to compete with the genre comedies of the 80s. So without further ado, here are the top five genre comedies of the 1980s.

Back to the Future (1985)

An absolute classic, both as a family comedy and a sci-fi adventure. They don’t make them like this anymore.

Ghostbusters (1984)

There’s nothing quite like the energy this one generates, no matter how many times you see it. Who are you going to call? Ghostbusters!

The Burbs (1989)

The ultimate domestic comedy. Tom Hanks descends into neighbourhood paranoia as his annual vacation quickly becomes seriously hard work.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Hilarious werewolf comedy that is actually quite scary and features the best werewolf transformation sequence to date.

Gremlins (1984)

And finally, a film that’s just family friendly enough for the kids to keep their eyes open, but ferocious enough to keep them up all night.

I’m a skinny little bugger (with a growing pot belly) who’s obsessed with movies and cries lots during the soppy bits. I hope that one day I can make YOU cry with my own movies. Read more about my obsession at

19 thoughts on “Only in the 80s: Five great genre comedies to come out of the decade of fun

  1. “Back to the Future” is a much loved memory from my childhood. For me, 80’s comedies don’t get much better than that. It truly is genius by today’s standards where our only lame excuse for mainstream SciFi-Comedy is a humping robot in Transformers. SMH.

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  3. Agree with “In Bruges” as a modern, fun movie–though it definitely has a more adult feel and doesn’t hit that “all audiences” aspect 80s movies did. I wonder if that was a studio demand–the “all audiences” appeal– for their writers? If so, why did it vanish when it was so successful?

  4. In Bruges is a good suggestion for a modern equivalent (can’t comment on Seven Psychos), but nice observation on the mixing of genres (or genres being less ossified).

    Haven’t seen The Burbs, and am barely familiar with it. It belongs in the same company as the other four? That makes it a seriously classic movie if so.

  5. ‘The Burbs’ is an absolute riot of a film and, I agree with you Bryan, it’s surprising how little seen it is. This was Tom Hanks in his prime. His performances in the 90’s may have won some oscars but his performances in the 80’s stole my heart.

  6. I’ve seen all of them except The Burbs. Looks like I’ll have to check that out. I never thought of these as comedies when I was a kid—I thought An American Werewolf in London was a horror movie, and Gremlins is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. But since we’re all about meshing genres here, I’d add Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges to this list, both of which I’d consider action-comedies.

  7. Great list! The ‘Burbs is one of those rare gems that not a lot of people have heard of (at least in my experience), so kudos for noting it’s greatness alongside classics like Back to the Future, Gremlins and Ghostbusters – all great CLEAN, fun entertainment.

  8. Genre comedy is an excellent subject for an article, andI would like to see it developed more fully, rather than simply being used as a theme by which to group five favorite pictures. The degeneration of comedy into what it is today actually began in the eighties, before which it was a standard ingredient of lighthearted pictures with often weighty themes, from billy Wilder’s the apartment and someLike it Hot to westerns such as Cat Ballou, detective movies such as The Long Goodbye and The Cheap Detective, countless science fiction odysseys from Invasion of the Saucer men to The Brother from Another Planet, and of course the more recent romanticcomedies of kevin Smith such as chasing Amy, There are so many more, from all the decades to choose from.

  9. I agree with some of your choices, and I have to admit to a love of Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of The Dead, although the TV series ‘Spaced’, where it all started for Pegg and Frost, is perhaps funnier than both.
    I cannot agree that pretty In Pink is a comedy though, as I have always seen it as a coming of age drama, with a superior cast (and a ‘message’). My own take on that film is in this post;
    Thanks for this contribution, and regards from Norfolk, Pete

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