25 Comedies That Were Robbed of a Best Picture Nomination

The Oscars snubbed these classics from Spike Lee, Reese Witherspoon and Monty Python. But since when does the Academy know anything about what’s funny?
25 Comedies That Were Robbed of a Best Picture Nomination

Seriousness sells during awards season, which is why comedies usually don’t have much of a presence in the lineup of Best Picture nominations at the Oscars. We all need a good laugh on occasion, but Academy voters tend to value tears, drama and dark subjects when they’re deciding what films are most worthy of honoring. As a result, decades of terrific comedies have been largely ignored on Hollywood’s biggest night, further cementing a popular impression that funny movies are less artistic (and less important) than serious movies.

But all funny movies are not created equal — which ones were the most deserving of being recognized at the Academy Awards? Using 1973 as my cutoff point, I’ve selected the 25 “modern” comedies that would have been worthy additions to their respective years’ Best Picture nominees. And because I was curious myself, I also noted what Oscar nominations these overlooked movies did receive. (Fun fact: Fourteen of the 25 got none, with the majority of the others landing, at least, a screenplay nod. At least the writers branch knows enough to show comedies some love.) 

This list is presented alphabetically, starting with the greatest parody of all time and ending with one of this century’s sexiest comedies — even though most people probably don’t think of it as such. 

Airplane! (1980)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Big ups to the BAFTAs — the British equivalent of the Oscars — for nominating Airplane! co-directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker for Best Screenplay. It was more love than the film saw from the Academy, even though this irreverent trio essentially gave birth to the parody film with this send-up of the humorless disaster drama Zero Hour!. There are a thousand Airplane! lines you know by heart, so we won’t recount them here — instead, let’s remember the sweet rapport between Robert Hays’ troubled Ted Striker and Julie Haggerty’s lovably dim Elaine, which gives this brilliantly dopey comedy its unexpected heart. And then acknowledge that Airplane! may contain the best spit-take in cinematic history — not to mention the only “white person talking jive” scene that’s even remotely funny. 

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Here’s Ground Zero for what Hollywood comedy would look like in the 21st century. Directed by Adam McKay, co-written by McKay and Will Ferrell, and produced by Judd Apatow, Anchorman wasn’t just laugh-out-loud funny — in Ron Burgundy, it envisioned a new kind of on-screen man, a buffoonish alpha-male whose reign of terror was about to end. The supporting cast, which included Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner, was a murderers’ row of pitch-perfect comedians sending up sexism and 1970s local news anchors all in one fell swoop. As for Ferrell, he would go on to play other indelible goofballs, but Ron Burgundy remains my favorite: This inspired portrait of misogynistic self-absorption ought to be detestable but is, instead, kind of poignant in its patheticness. 

Bamboozled (2000)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Every once in a while Hollywood comes up with a scorched-earth satire about The Way We Live Today, such as Network or Don’t Look Up. But those movies got a Best Picture nomination. It’s a testament to how great Bamboozled is that the Academy completely overlooked Spike Lee’s rude, piercing commentary on race, class, media and cultural appropriation: There was nothing remotely comforting or smug about this full-frontal assault. Damon Wayans plays Pierre, a pretentious television writer who tries to get fired by hatching the most clearly offensive series he can conceive of: a minstrel variety show with tap-dancing Black performers wearing blackface. To Pierre’s shock, though, Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show becomes a sensation. With a clear debt to The Producers, Bamboozled generates the kind of jagged laughs that should make white viewers swallow hard: No film in memory is so corrosive in its anger about the ways that Black culture is exploited for mass entertainment. Sadly, nothing in Lee’s two-decades-old satire is any less timely today. 

Being John Malkovich (1999)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? Three (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Keener)

This mind-bending comedy was a lot of people’s introduction to director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, each of whom got nominated. But because Being John Malkovich came out at a time when there were only five Best Picture nominees, the film failed to get a nod. (In our current 10-nominee era, I feel pretty confident it would have made the list.) As the story begins, John Cusack’s disgruntled puppeteer Craig gets a soul-crushing office job, only to discover his new workplace contains a portal into revered actor John Malkovich’s head — and the movie only gets weirder from there. The absurdist humor is often brilliant, riffing on celebrity, art and our perpetual desire to wish we were anyone other than ourselves. Plus, it turns out, John Malkovich is really good at playing John Malkovich. 

Bridesmaids (2011)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? Two (Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy)

The best raucous comedies have an emotional undercurrent to them, and Bridesmaids is no different. Deep down, it’s a story of two once-close friends, Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who find themselves drifting apart — especially when flailing Annie watches as put-together Lillian prepares for her fancy wedding. Every outrageous joke stems from that core issue, so no matter how crazy things get, we always know what’s at stake for Annie. Bridesmaids made Melissa McCarthy a movie star, while proving that Wiig (who co-wrote the screenplay) had a future beyond Saturday Night Live. And perhaps just as importantly, the film’s success paved the way for future hits like Trainwreck and Spy, opening the door for more female-driven broad comedies.  

Dazed and Confused (1993)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

To date, Richard Linklater has been nominated for five Academy Awards, starting with his screenplay nod for 2004’s Before Sunset. But his first gem was this teen comedy, which takes us to Austin on the last day of school in May 1976. Dazed and Confused proved to be the equal of an earlier high school classic, American Graffiti, looking back with nostalgia but also insight as Linklater assembled a group of unknowns, helping to give several of these young actors their first big role. (Yup, that’s Matthew McConaughey — and Adam Goldberg and Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich and Parker Posey and…) The film also signaled the arrival of a director who would only go on to make more indelible work over the next couple decades.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Biopics are rarely hilarious, but this affectionate portrait of Rudy Ray Moore is a happy exception. Eddie Murphy gives one of his best performances as the struggling 1970s comic who never gave up on himself, eventually crafting a daring alter ego named Dolemite who’s as raunchy as he wants to be. That sets the stage for a low-budget film starring the fictional badass, which Dolemite Is My Name chronicles in endlessly amusing detail. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the same men behind Ed Wood, this comedy makes fun of the moviemaking process while championing a shrewd entrepreneur who wasn’t going to let the naysayers defeat him. As an added bonus, Dolemite Is My Name allowed Murphy to show off some dramatic chops he hadn’t flexed since Dreamgirls, his one and only Oscar nomination.  

Election (1999)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Adapted Screenplay)

What if all of life was just like high school? Well, you don’t have to imagine: Director Alexander Payne’s bruising sophomore feature uses a class presidential election as a microcosm for the envy, politicking, regret and ambition that defines much of adulthood. Matthew Broderick plays a well-liked teacher who feels cheated out of a better life, viewing Reese Witherspoon’s striving Tracy Flick as a menace who must be stopped. After Election, Payne would move in a more bittersweet direction with movies like Sideways and The Descendants, but here his comedy is biting and dark, laying bare the insecurities of both kids and adults — who, really, are just big kids.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? Two (Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score)

Wes Anderson’s handmade aesthetic is perfectly suited to stop-motion. Adapting Roald Dahl’s book, the Royal Tenenbaums filmmaker once again focused on a fractious family, casting George Clooney as the voice of Mr. Fox, a reformed thief who’s settled down and become a family man — even while dreaming of one last heist. Animation allows Anderson’s flamboyant visual style to fly free, resulting in his most consistently funny and exuberant movie. But Fantastic Mr. Fox is also incredibly emotional, with Meryl Streep voicing Fox’s long-suffering wife who’s getting tired of waiting for him to grow up. Mark my words: This heartwarming movie is a future holiday staple just waiting to happen. 

Ghostbusters (1984)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? Two (Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song)

For the record, I like the Melissa McCarthy Ghostbusters — you know, the one that broke the internet in 2016. But it couldn’t compare with the original, which brought together Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis for a high-concept, effects-driven action-comedy that was a precursor to similar smashes like Men in Black. With Sigourney Weaver as the brainy love interest and Rick Moranis as the nerd who gets possessed by an evil spirit, Ghostbusters was the apex of the irreverent bro humor that went mainstream thanks to Animal House. Ernie Hudson has a reason to be annoyed that his character was so sidelined by the filmmakers, but this is nonetheless one of the 1980s’ most quotable comedies. And William Atherton is such an amazing prick in the film — even if his character did make a lot of us hate the EPA for no good reason because of it. 

Groundhog Day (1993)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

The film that famously destroyed the longtime friendship between star Bill Murray and director/co-writer Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day was a comedy with a clever hook (cynical man must repeat the same day until he changes his ways) that had a profound existential element to it. (How much of our lives is spent in a spiritual rut?) The film was also an excellent delivery device for Murray’s frumpled charm, courting Andie MacDowell’s sensible Rita as February 2nd happens again and again for him. Plenty of comedies are praised in terms of the amount of great jokes they contain, but Groundhog Day has evolved into something else: a film about the banality and repetitiveness of everyday life that speaks to the importance of reaching some sort of enlightenment in order to become our better selves. The movie had a happy ending, and so did the behind-the-scenes story: Murray and Ramis eventually buried the hatchet

In the Loop (2009)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Adapted Screenplay)

“I’ve always wanted to do a funny film,” director Armando Iannucci said around the release of his feature debut In the Loop. “Fast, sparky, like a screwball comedy. I’ve been attached to various projects, but I wanted to wait until I found the right story. Then when I read more and more about the stupid sort of ‘office politics’ that went on in the lead-up to the Iraq War, I thought, ‘That’s the story!’” Adapting his hit British series The Thick of It, Iannucci announced himself as an ace chronicler of foul-mouthed, power-mad misanthropes. A modern-day Dr. Strangelove, this profane, eerily believable comedy was an incredible platform for Peter Capaldi, whose Malcolm Tucker became a role model for anyone who’s longed to tell off everyone around them. Iannucci would soon go on to do Veep, only further elevating his status as one of this century’s best satirists. 

The Lego Movie (2014)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Original Song)

Going into the 2015 Oscars, most observers assumed this Phil Lord/Christopher Miller collaboration would receive a Best Animated Film nomination. The Lego Movie failed to make the cut but, the truth is, it would have fit just as comfortably among the Best Picture nominees. The filmmakers behind the 21 Jump Street series, who went on to win an Oscar for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, were at their funniest spoofing the extremes of action movies by adapting them for the Lego universe. And Chris Pratt has rarely been more appealing than as Emmet, the stereotypical regular guy who’s actually “the chosen one” who must save the day. Blockbuster conventions get satirized throughout The Lego Movie, but the jokes are so affectionate that you know that, deep down, Lord and Miller love the clichés as much as the rest of us do. Plus, how can you not adore a movie that gave Will Arnett the excuse to unleash his Batman voice? 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Long before John Cleese consistently tarnished his legacy by saying dumb things online, he and the rest of the Monty Python crew were one of comedy’s most influential groups, conquering radio, television, the stage and film. Of their movies, Life of Brian has its champions as well, but for my money this inspired sendup of King Arthur is more consistently funny. No joke is too juvenile, no bit is too ridiculous for co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones to turn into comic gold. Without Holy Grail, we never would have gotten Spamalot — or that one friend of yours who always yells out, “It’s just a flesh wound!” whenever anybody gets hurt. 

Please Give (2010)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is an incisive observer of her well-to-do characters, satirizing their privilege while still showing them compassion. Her finest work remains Please Give, which examines the fortunate’s habit of wanting to assuage their guilt by being generous to others — although just how altruistic their motives are remains murky. Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall play sisters whose grandmother (Ann Morgan Guilbert) has lived in the same beautiful New York apartment for years — meanwhile, her next-door neighbors (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt) are waiting for her to die so they can take over the place and expand their space. Holofcener (Enough Said, You Hurt My Feelings) intricately crafts each of these complex individuals, showing their pettiness and insecurity, which results in a sophisticated social comedy that makes economic inequality funny — or, at least as funny as is possible. 

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Yes, it’s a comedy, albeit a deeply troubled one. For his fourth feature, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson took one of the 1990s’ biggest comic stars, Adam Sandler, and stuck him in an edgy love story about a fragile man with emotional issues who tries to court Lena (Emily Watson), a sweet-natured friend of one of his many overbearing sisters. Punch-Drunk Love has an almost alien air — it could be an extra-terrestrial’s attempt to construct a rom-com — but that only sets the groundwork for plenty of dark laughs as Sandler gives the most layered performance of his career to that point. There are laugh-out-loud bits, but more often, the jokes are startling, strange, even unsettling. Love sure can be a funny thing. 

Raising Arizona (1987)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Joel and Ethan Coen are such Hollywood institutions — each brother has four Oscars — that it can be easy to forget that, early in their career, their idiosyncratic work felt very far out of the mainstream. Their sophomore feature was a frenetic comedy in which an ex-con (Nicolas Cage) and his cop wife (Holly Hunter) decide to steal a baby — a scheme that, as often happens in the Coens’ movies, goes terribly wrong. Raising Arizona’s breakneck speed, mile-a-minute jokes and bizarre supporting characters remain an absolute blast. In terms of pure comedy, Joel and Ethan may still have never topped this early highwater mark.  

Real Life (1979)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

Albert Brooks has only been nominated once, for Best Supporting Actor in James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News. His own films remain criminally underrated, and while a case could be made for Modern Romance, Lost in America and Defending Your Life, I’m going with his feature debut, which predicted the reality-television world we now live in. Playing a conceited, neurotic documentary filmmaker named — hey, what are the odds? — Albert Brooks, he boldly launches his latest project: an ambitiously immersive exploration of a “regular” family (led by Charles Grodin) to see how “real life” is. Of course, when the fictionalized Brooks isn’t happy with the footage he’s getting, he decides to intervene. Real Life isn’t just a takedown of “reality” programming but also skewers Hollywood egos and suburban domesticity. If all that wasn’t enough, it may have the funniest trailer of all time.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

In 2020, director and co-writer Edgar Wright recalled the inspiration behind Shaun of the Dead. “(Co-writer) Simon Pegg was the first person I’d ever met who was as obsessed with George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as I was,” Wright said. “One evening, I was round at Simon and his pal Nick Frost’s flat for drinks when I said we should make our own zombie movie, a horror-comedy. It would be from the point of view of two bit-players, two idiots who were the last to know what was going on, after waking up hungover on a Sunday morning.” With Pegg and Frost playing the clueless lads who discover the zombie apocalypse has arrived, the film was both scary and hilarious, generating plenty of laughs from watching how average dudes would comport themselves while battling the undead. That Shaun is also a secretly touching movie about friendship and family only adds to this gem’s considerable pleasures. 

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

No single movie kick-started the modern American independent film scene — but one of the first big explosions came from Jim Jarmusch’s second feature, which perfectly encapsulated his deadpan, ultra-cool style. Stranger Than Paradise is the story of three unsettled souls — New York buddies Willie (John Lurie) and Eddie (Richard Edson), and Willie’s Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) — who spend some time together before Eva moves on, eventually prompting the guys to go visit her in Ohio. The ultimate hangout movie, Stranger Than Paradise gets its laughs from the characters’ wry observations about their static lives, the mundanity of the proceedings so funny because of how straight-faced Jarmusch plays everything. For years to come, other indie auteurs would try to emulate his effortless hipness. 

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? None

The band may not have always been able to navigate the fine line between clever and stupid, but This Is Spinal Tap remains a masterpiece of precise comic skewering, the heavily improvised film providing stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer ample room to flesh out their endearingly idiotic heavy-metal musicians. Directed by Rob Reiner, the movie made mockumentaries a viable comedy subgenre, with everything from Best in Show to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping following in its footsteps. Real bands recoiled at how right This Is Spinal Tap got their ridiculous world — the rest of us just laughed and laughed at the bad hair, cleverly terrible songs and that tragically tiny Stonehenge prop. 

Toni Erdmann (2016)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Foreign Language Film)

Arthouse cinema focusing on the difficult relationship between fathers and daughters is nothing new. But few of those films have been as bizarre and entertaining as Toni Erdmann, which stars Sandra Hüller as workaholic Ines, who doesn’t have time for her awkward, aging dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek). After spending some contentious days together, Winfried returns home, dispirited — only to come back into her life as “Toni Erdmann,” wearing a ridiculous wig and fake teeth, pretending to be Ines’ life coach. Clearly knowing this is her dad, she plays along, introducing “Toni” to her friends and coworkers. German writer-director Maren Ade created an over-the-top farce that’s played completely realistically, which makes the characters’ attempt to reconnect both weirder and funnier. Shortly after Toni Erdmanni’s release, Hollywood started working on an American remake, with Kristen Wiig and Jack Nicholson set to star. That project has run out of steam, apparently, but the original remains a bizarre, hilarious, unexpectedly tear-jerking revelation.

Toy Story (1995)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? Three (Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score; John Lassiter also received a Special Achievement Award.) 

Pixar’s first feature-length film announced that animation was headed in exciting new directions. But it wasn’t just because of the state-of-the-art computers utilized to bring this story to life — it was the emphasis on well-developed characters and endless one-liners. For all of Toy Story’s innovations, what’s easiest to overlook is how incredibly funny it is, creating a terrific odd-couple pairing in Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen), two toys who don’t want to share their human owner Andy’s affections. Everybody in this film gets a moment to shine, and even the side characters have memorable bits. (“I have been chosen!”) A genuine game-changer, Toy Story raised the bar for the artform, and both Pixar and their competitors have struggled to live up to its excellence.  

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Original Screenplay)

One of the great romantic comedies came about as a debate between writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner. He was going through a divorce, viewing love as cynically as Billy Crystal’s Harry. Ephron, like Sally, was more optimistic about the world. “What made this movie different was that Rob had a character who could say whatever he believed,” Ephron once wrote, “and if I disagreed, I had Sally to say so for me.” A film about whether men and women can really be friends, When Harry Met Sally… explored the loneliness and longing inherent in trying to find a soulmate — or, at the very least, someone who understands you so damn well it’s scary. When people dismiss rom-coms as just fluff, show them this one — there’s a lot of sharp jokes and smart insights in here.

Y tu mamá también (2001)

How many Oscar nominations did it receive? One (Best Original Screenplay)

Roma and Gravity filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón first made his mark with this sexy road movie, which might be among the most painfully accurate depictions of the awkwardness of being a young, horny guy trying to hook up with a far more sophisticated, older woman. In Y tu mamá también, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna play teenage buddies who convince the married Luisa (Maribel Verdú) to join them on a driving trip to an incredible (and completely made-up) beach, hoping to get her into the sack. Y tu mamá también is like Porky’s if it was made by someone with a genuine interest in the peculiarities of sexual desire and male bonding, the film constantly mocking these dudes who think they’re studs — only to have their inadequacies exposed (so to speak) by Luisa. Cuarón’s cinematic breakthrough is heartbreaking and thoughtful — an uproarious sex comedy that’s far wiser than the ones Hollywood peddles to teens. 

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