The 1990s gave birth to the blockbuster comedy. Sure, we’ve always had comedy hits, but we’re talking radioactive-monster smashes, the kind usually reserved for Tom Cruise, Jurassic dinosaurs, and Jedi knights.
This future criminal alone brought in nearly half a billion at the box office -- and those are 1990 dollars. Mrs. Doubtfire, There’s Something About Mary, Notting Hill, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, The Mask, and The Flintstones all made more than $250 million, a figure only Marvel and Fast and Furious flicks reach today.
But just like in every decade, the 1990s saw several hilarious comedies slip under our collective national radar. And because we live in the era of “everything is available on your phone right now because you want it,” there’s no excuse for these hidden gems to remain unseen. Check out these seven comedies that you might have missed from back in the day.
A new sport that uncoordinated dweebs can win against world-class athletes? Sounds like a game that would appeal to ComedyNerds everywhere.
BASEketball represents a weird team-up between a Ghost of Comedy Past and the Spirits of Comedy Future. The Ghost of Comedy Past is director David Zucker, one of the comedy minds behind earlier comic masterpieces like Airplane and the Naked Gun series. Zucker not only lends his behind-the-camera talents to the effort, but he also invented the damn game in real life, a funky combo of basketball and baseball that eliminates the need for athletic prowess.
The Spirits of Comedy Future are represented by stars Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the deranged minds behind South Park, Book of Mormon, and Team America: World Police. That’s right, our guys are actors here -- the only movie Stone and Parker ever made that they didn’t write or direct. The dudes are surprisingly funny, and according to Zucker, contributed a lot of funny lines on the fly.
Because this movie was released in Comedy Present, perhaps 1990s audiences weren’t quite ready to appreciate its charms. Variety was all in, incorrectly predicting that the movie’s “broad, bawdy antics onscreen will be a slam-dunk at the box office.”
But BASEketball is definitely worth a watch, if only for Zucker’s timeless visual gags, Stone and Parker’s stoner-bro chemistry, and Baywatch icon Yasmine Bleeth doing her best Tiffani-Amber Thiessen impression.
Can you really go wrong with a movie that has Bob Costas exclaiming, “You’re excited? Feel these nipples!”
Did anyone have a weirder 1990s than Kevin Smith? A quick recap: He makes Clerks for nothing and becomes an indie film darling, scoring trophies at Sundance and Cannes. He follows it up with Mallrats, a box office bomb that still has its fans and the proto-Stan Lee cameo. Chasing Amy comes next, a comeback hit that tells the world that perpetual screen bully Ben Affleck is actually a leading man.
What’s next? How about an end-of-the-world comedy that takes on the Catholic Church?
So about that. Smith himself swears the film is deeply religious. “At the time we were making Dogma, I was a very devout man,” he says. “I went to church every Sunday. Dogma is a naughty Catholic kid’s take on the faith. It may have been smirking at the Catholic faith, but it believes it all. It’s not Monty Python’s Life of Brian because it’s completely earnest about the existence of God.”
But yeah, the smirking part. Before Dogma even screened, it caught the attention of the Catholic League, which rallied its troops to protest the film. Things got so bad that Disney, which owned Miramax, refused to release the movie. Miramax eventually found a work-around, but suffice it to say, most people missed Dogma at the theater.
There’s never been a Smith flick with more star turns, including Affleck and Matt Damon charming everyone’s pants off as fallen angels in their first movie after Good Will Hunting. Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek, and Linda Fiorentino rip it up. Jay and Silent Bob as prophets? We’re in. Come on, how can a movie not be funny when it features George Carlin, Chris Rock, and a strip-club poopmonster?
Director Harold Ramis and star Michael Keaton have made some of the biggest comedy hits ever. Multiplicity, however, was not one of them. The question is: Why not?
Multiplicity is a banger, with a story 2022 audiences can relate to: Doug is pulled in too many directions by work and family, leaving little time for himself. His solution is Doug 2, a clone who can share his responsibilities. Soon, Doug is making copies of copies, resulting in, well, too many damn Dougs.
Maybe it was the 1990s special effects that bogged things down for some critics, but others thought the comedy worked just fine. Peter Sobczynski called Multiplicity “a winning story that deftly juggles humor, elaborate special effects, and a surprisingly thoughtful look at the challenges of balancing work and family.”
We just think it’s funny to see a bunch of Michael Keatons bickering with one another, although it could have been even better if one of them was a Dark Knight. Speaking of, Keaton is out there hinting that his Batman role in the upcoming Flash flick has a little Multiplicity vibe to it. Who knew 1990s Keaton was the first guy in the multiverse?
Speaking of superheroes, how did this one miss? Comic superstars Ben Stiller, Janeane Garafalo, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Hank Azaria, and even Kenan and Kel’s Kel Mitchell as inept superheroes? We’d go see that today!
But not many did back in 1999 when Mystery Men hit the theaters. Superhero movies are notoriously difficult to parody -- the genre’s winking excesses are already exaggerated and ridiculous, making satire look an awful lot like the actual thing. (Comedy writers complained of the same phenomena during the Trump presidency.)
Mystery Men still finds the mark more often than not. This “amiable spoof of superhero movies takes a brave stab at rewriting the mythology from the inside out, with lots of witty, mildly subversive stuff about working-class heroes, commercial sponsorship of celebrities, and casual depictions of violence,” says Derek Adams in Time Out.
Our favorite is probably Shoveler, Macy’s oblivious blue-collar hero with a ditch digger’s weapon and the brain of a drainage trench. When confronted with another hero’s secret identity, he objects: “Don't start that again! Lance Hunt wears glasses, Captain Amazing doesn’t wear glasses.”
For a generation of stoners, Half Baked probably doesn’t qualify as underrated as it's been on their Wasted Mount Rushmore since it came out in 1998.
But the movie has its charms even if you’re watching it sober. The cameos alone are like a Cannabis Cinema Hall of Fame, including famous tokers Tommy Chong, Willie Nelson, Tracy Morgan, and Snoop Dogg. What, Seth Rogen and Mitch Hedberg weren’t available?
There’s not much of a story here -- three idiots come up with a variety of schemes to get a buddy out of jail. But any movie that involves “a variety of schemes” is bound to have some hilarious hi-jinks baked inside.
Google “Half Baked” and odds are excellent you’ll find the words “cult classic” next to it. Sure, it’s not grand cinema, but for fans of dumb comedy? Who wouldn’t want to see a flick that reviewers describe as “winningly stupid,” “a classic moronic movie,” and “riotous, even to the sober.”
Even today, Jim Breuer seems like he never left the movie.
If you only check out one movie on this list, consider making it Kingpin.
The Farrelly brothers were knocking it out of the park in the 1990s, scoring huge with Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. Kingpin represented a bump in the road, if only at the box office, but the comedy is right up there with the brothers’ best.
The Farrellys’ brand of anything-for-a-laugh humor is out of style these days, especially their willingness to get laughs from cringey oral sex, bull semen, and a startling variety of physical deformities. But if you’re nostalgic for the days when comedy creators got points for sheer audacity and fearlessness, Kingpin is your kind of movie.
Give a lot of credit to the cast. Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid are hilarious, but the MVP is Bill Murray, strutting around the bowling alley like Elvis crossed with a deranged rooster, making his first out-and-out comedy since Groundhog Day (and that was subtle Shakespeare compared to the inspired lunacy he pulls off here). He hasn’t attempted anything so silly/stupid/awesome ever since.
If you’re still not convinced, know that there’s never been a movie with funnier hair.
The Brady Bunch Movie
Turning old sitcoms (calling them “classics” is probably an overstatement) into feature-length films was a thing in the 1990s. Not a good thing, but a thing nonetheless.
You had The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Car 54, Where Are You?, Dudley Do-Right, Leave It To Beaver, McHale’s Navy, My Favorite Martian … like we said, they were a thing.
The movies were nearly universally panned and very few of them (save The Flintstones) scored at the box office. But one other exception was The Brady Bunch Movie.
The Brady Bunch is the all-time Zombie Sitcom -- it just can’t be killed. After the show was canceled in 1974, it kept creeping back to life in various forms: variety show The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Girls Get Married, The Brady Brides, A Very Brady Christmas, and strange 30Something ripoff The Bradys.
None of the spin-offs and offshoots caught on -- except for The Brady Bunch Movie. The movie’s central conceit is pretty ingenious: While the rest of the world moved on to the grungey 1990s, the Brady family is stuck in a sanitized sitcom version of the 1970s.
The cast kills it, especially Gary Cole as the mindlessly lecturing Mike Brady and Christine Taylor as teen model wannabe Marcia, who even cynical 1990s guys and gals find groovy.
You don’t have to be familiar with the original sitcom to dig this plaid-and-paisley fish out of water tale. “Put on your Sunday best, kids -- we’re going to Sears!”
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Top image: Rysher Entertainment