The Six Funniest Movies to Open Over Fourth of July Weekend
As we head out for the Fourth of July holiday, certain images come to mind. Barbecuing. Chilling at the pool. Maybe going to the multiplex and checking out a big action movie. Indeed, Independence Day is a time when theaters are filled with expensive blockbusters delivering endless shootouts and huge explosions. ‘Tis the season for Transformers flicks, superhero sagas and, in the case of this Fourth, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
But every once in a while, a studio decides to take a chance on something funnier — whether it’s a straight-up comedy or an action movie with its share of punchlines. You can understand why this holiday caters to brawny, effects-laden event films — our fireworks-obsessed nation sure loves watching stuff blow up — but a crowd-pleasing comedy can be just as combustible.
With that in mind, I decided to spotlight six great comedies that opened over Fourth of July weekend. A few of them came out in very late June, but their first weekend would have been the Independence Day holiday — which is the case with Dial of Destiny as well — so, as far as I’m concerned, they count. What you’ll notice is that these movies all have a pretty major commercial hook — either a high-concept premise or a huge star — that made it understandable why they’d be released on such an important money-making weekend. One of them is an animated musical. One is based on an incredibly popular book. And one takes place in the world of women’s baseball. But all of them delivered big laughs — sometimes while also delivering big explosions.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Based on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was started up during World War II in response to so many male ballplayers being shipped overseas to fight, A League of Their Own was one of the hits of the summer of 1992. It’s a sports movie, a buddy film, a tearjerker and also a very endearing comedy as all-business Dottie (Geena Davis) leads the Rockford Peaches, a scrappy team of underdogs that includes her envious younger sister Kit (Lori Petty), flirty Mae (Madonna) and smart-ass Doris (Rosie O’Donnell).
This heartwarming tale of female empowerment follows these women as they find independence after a life of being relegated to roles of girlfriend or housewife. But some of the biggest laughs come courtesy of Tom Hanks, reuniting with Big director Penny Marshall to play the team’s crotchety, alcoholic has-been of a manager. “There’s no crying in baseball!” became the most iconic line from this movie, which has no problem balancing sniffles and chuckles.
Coming to America (1988)
It’s been 35 years since Eddie Murphy’s fish-out-of-water comedy first introduced audiences to the idea that the superstar wasn’t just capable of playing one character in a movie. In fact, one of Coming to America’s highlights is the many different roles he takes on, including some squabbling fools as a Queens barbershop and the famously histrionic soul singer Randy Watson. (Murphy’s co-star and buddy Arsenio Hall gets into the fun, too, playing four characters.) His Klumps-heavy Nutty Professor films were soon to follow.
Before Coming to America, Murphy had already firmly established himself as a comic dynamo, but the 1988 smash argued he could be a romantic leading man as well: His spoiled, unsavvy African prince Akeem falls for everyday New Yorker Lisa (Shari Headley), the actor revealing his softer side in the process. The film has tons of outrageous gags, but don’t forget this is easily his best rom-com.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The assumption from most Hollywood insiders was that the Independence Day box office in 2006 was going to be ruled by the much-anticipated Superman Returns. And while that Warner Bros. film ended up at No. 1, the surprise was how well The Devil Wears Prada did, too.
This adaptation of the Lauren Weisberger novel, featuring a hilarious performance from Meryl Streep as the nightmarishly withering boss Miranda Priestly, proved that the Oscar-winner wasn’t just an actor’s actor but also a bona-fide blockbuster star. Streep had been in hits before, but this was different: a crowd-pleasing sensation that gave her a chance to put aside the seriousness for once and just be really funny.
The truth is, the ensemble is filled with winners: Anne Hathaway (as Miranda’s timid new assistant) basically plays the straight woman, while Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci (as Miranda’s more senior employees) get to be deliciously bitchy for two hours. Superman Returns ended up making more money, but Devil is the film more people remember from that summer.
Back to the Future (1985)
Before this Robert Zemeckis juggernaut, Michael J. Fox was “merely” a massive sitcom star. But Back to the Future changed his life: He plays Marty McFly, a normal teen who accidentally goes back in time in a DeLorean and tries to keep his mother (Lea Thompson) from falling in love with him. Is the premise a little creepy? Oh, sure, but Zemeckis provides such a light touch that it hardly matters, allowing the set-up to be endlessly amusing rather than painfully cringe-y.
Then there’s Christopher Lloyd, whose Doc Brown remains everybody’s favorite eccentric mad scientist with heart. As appealingly wholesome as Marty is, it’s really the comedic back-and-forth between Fox and Lloyd that gives the movie its forward momentum, the two actors’ affection for each other evident in every frame. By the mid-1980s, blockbuster spectacles were becoming commonplace, but Back to the Future suggested that didn’t mean they couldn’t be really funny as well.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
Best musical of the 1990s? Directed by Trey Parker and co-written by partner in crime Matt Stone (along with frequent collaborator Pam Brady), South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut brought the popular animated show to the big screen, the filmmakers milking their R rating to be as profane, shocking and blasphemous as possible.
It’s hard now to remember how much of an impact this movie had: Back then, South Park had only been around for a couple years, so it was still fresh and dangerous, and also still able to outrage conservatives and prudes. Running only 81 minutes, Bigger, Longer & Uncut may have the most filthy one-liners per second. Plus, the songs are absolute bangers: Acclaimed composer Marc Shaiman (who’s an Oscar away from an EGOT) worked with Parker to give us indelible chestnuts like “Shut Yo Face (Uncle Fucka)” and the deathless (and Oscar-nominated) “Blame Canada.”
Men in Black (1997)
Will Smith rightly gets praised for his cocky turn as Agent J in Men in Black, but the performance wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if he wasn’t playing off Tommy Lee Jones’ veteran Agent K, a stoic figure who has little patience for this sarcastic hot shot. But developing that rapport took a little while.
“I got a call from Tommy’s agent about two weeks into the movie,” director Barry Sonnenfeld recalled, “and he said, ‘You don’t want Tommy to be funny, you only want Will to be funny.’ And I promised him that when Tommy sees this movie, Tommy will realize he’s as funny as Will Smith is. Every comedy team needs a straight man.”
Jones wasn’t known for comedy, although he’s often pretty wry as the tough-guy lawman chasing after Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. But in Men in Black, he’s dialed down so perfectly that whenever Smith goes big, Jones’ emotionless response provides a hilarious counterpoint.
As a result, one of the great comedy duos was born, launching a franchise that never topped this excellent first film. Smith and Jones both deserve credit for that achievement, but so should Sonnenfeld. “I never wanted (Jones) to acknowledge anything Will said was funny or was a joke,” the director said. It worked out beautifully.