The Golden Globes’ Best Musical/Comedy Winners, Ranked by How Funny They Are
The Golden Globes are baffling for lots of reasons, but here’s the one that’s oddest to me: The organization gives out an award for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy. On the one hand, that seems like a good thing — comedies are often overlooked during awards season — but on the other, why make them compete with musicals, which sometimes have comedic elements but not always? (There’s a separate prize for Best Motion Picture — Drama.)
The Golden Globes started selecting a Musical/Comedy winner in 1952 — congratulations, An American in Paris — and continued for the next few years. (There was no award presented at the 1954 event.) Then, for the 1959 ceremony, the group decided to split musicals and comedies into separate categories. (During that period, Billy Wilder won twice, for Some Like It Hot and The Apartment.) In 1964, though, the Globes switched back, and ever since, we’ve had a Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy.
With this year’s Globes taking place on Sunday, I got to thinking: Which of those Musical/Comedy winners is the funniest? I’m not talking about best — I’m only thinking in terms of the amount of pure laughs. That seemed like an especially intriguing ranking, especially because you also have random musicals in there that aren’t necessarily trying to be hilarious. (Cabaret won, for crying out loud.)
So, skipping the years the Globes broke up the Musical/Comedy category, here’s a rundown of the 66 winners. I think the Golden Globes are very dumb, but give the group credit: They’ve had the wisdom to honor some comedy classics. But, also, Green Book.
Les Misérables (2012)
Look, things weren’t that funny in France during the 19th century.
I know some people find this Madonna musical unintentionally funny, but that doesn’t count.
With a Song in My Heart (1952)
Jane Froman was a popular singer in the 1930s who suffered terrible injuries during a 1943 plane crash. This musical drama, starring Susan Hayward, tells her inspirational story, worrying more about jerking tears than eliciting laughs, for obvious reasons. (Fun Fact: With A Song in My Heart beat out Singin’ in the Rain for the Golden Globe.)
Walk the Line (2005)
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
It’s not the creaky humor that makes this Baz Luhrmann film work. It’s the shameless, go-for-the-throat emotional moments in the big musical numbers — and the buoyant passion of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor playing the young, doomed lovers. When Moulin Rouge! tries to be funny, it flounders. When everybody sings, it soars.
Just because Eddie Murphy was in Dreamgirls, that doesn’t mean it’s a comedy. This sober musical about the titular rising R&B act takes a hard look at fame, ego and the entertainment industry. So, yes, it’s not supposed to be funny.
Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
This acclaimed musical biopic beat out Airplane!, proving indisputably that musicals and comedies really shouldn’t be in the same category.
Green Book (2018)
I mean, technically, it’s a comedy.
I haven’t gotten to this part of Barbra Streisand’s memoir yet.
A Star Is Born (1976)
I haven’t gotten to this part of Barbra Streisand’s memoir yet, either.
What if they made a musical out of Oliver Twist? The Charles Dickens book was dark, but director Carol Reed’s big-screen version of the popular theatrical production brought in more cheer and humor, without sacrificing its despairing examination of poverty and crime.
West Side Story (2021)
Some funny moments — “America” is filled with zingers — but Steven Spielberg’s remake of the Oscar-winning classic is way more “musical” than it is “comedy.” Which is just as well because, let’s be honest, comedies aren’t Spielberg’s strength.
Carmen Jones (1954)
Based on the classic opera Carmen, this romantic drama/musical was groundbreaking for its time because it was a mainstream Hollywood release featuring an all-Black cast. Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge are terrific in Carmen Jones, which isn’t exactly a laugh-riot.
This stunner is low on the list because, outside of a few inspired, funny musical numbers, it’s not really intended to make you laugh. A sober study of the rise of Nazism in 1930s Berlin, Cabaret wrecks you.
The Sound of Music (1965)
The King and I (1956)
This opposites-attract love story — Deborah Kerr is a widowed schoolteacher from England, Yul Brynner is the king of Thailand — was based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Their rapport remains electric, even if The King and I itself now feels a tad musty.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
For most viewers, this represents the last good Tim Burton film, a big-screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical. (It’s also one of the final collaborations between Burton and Johnny Depp that’s tolerable.) Sweeney Todd has plenty of moments of dark humor — after all, it’s a wry comedy about a serial killer — although Burton and Depp’s later track record somewhat diminishes this film’s achievements.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
This film is always remembered as “The one that won Best Picture over Do the Right Thing,” although that Spike Lee movie wasn’t nominated. (That’s a whole other story…) But what’s funny is that, at the Golden Globes, Driving Miss Daisy beat out The War of the Roses, When Harry Met Sally and The Little Mermaid, which are all better movies. This film didn’t deserve so many awards it won! It’s long been fashionable to dunk on this low-key comedy-drama about race, and while it’s not great, it’s actually perfectly fine, if fairly forgettable.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)
In this gentle comedy, Anthony Quinn plays Italo, the new mayor of a small Italian community who, in 1943, is going to have to stand up to some Nazis who want the town’s rich supplies of wine. Italo has always been considered a drunk and an idiot — can he really save the day? The Secret of Santa Vittoria isn’t a great film, but Quinn is very fun as a loser who becomes an unlikely hero.
The Lion King (1994)
I think a little of Timon and Pumbaa goes a long way.
Les Girls (1957)
Gene Kelly had a huge 1950s — An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain — that culminated with this sparkler about a feuding female cabaret trio, with Kelly brought in to mediate their conflicting memories of their career together. Sexy and silly, Les Girls is bolstered by a bunch of ace Cole Porter songs and the spark between Kelly and his leggy costars Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg.
As Good as It Gets (1997)
By James L. Brooks’ standards, this quirky love story between Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt is a little too cute, a little too strained, a little too preposterous. So it’s no Broadcast News, although what is?
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Funny-ish, for sure, but the world embraced this film because it was a terrific animated musical at a time when Disney was finally becoming relevant again.
Green Card (1990)
A sweet, mostly forgotten romantic comedy starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. Put it this way: Green Card was directed by Peter Weir, and among his ardent fans, the movie never comes up. (We’re too busy talking about Picnic at Hanging Rock or Witness or The Mosquito Coast or The Truman Show or Master and Commander or…)
Dudley Moore is charming as a drunken, spoiled Manhattanite who falls for a commoner (Liza Minnelli). John Gielgud is wonderfully wry as his long-suffering valet. A rom-com stacked with modest pleasures.
The Longest Yard (1974)
The original, not the Adam Sandler remake.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Marlon Brando sings! That might not have been the principal reason audiences went to see Guys and Dolls — Frank Sinatra also gets a few tunes — but this adaptation of the beloved Broadway classic gets plenty of comic mileage out of its tale of gamblers and good girls falling in love. And the songs are consistently funny.
The Artist (2011)
A modern silent film, which pokes affectionate fun at the tropes and the Golden Age of Hollywood, The Artist stars Jean Dujardin as a 1920s star who’s about to get a rude awakening once talkies take over the industry. As sweet and charming as this film is, it doesn’t have a lot of staying power. Also, it beat out Bridesmaids, a comedy I’d argue has stood the test of time far better.
American Hustle (2013)
A rollicking tale of crime, corruption and politics, American Hustle fills the screen with oddballs and dreamers, including Christian Bale and Amy Adams as con artists and lovers. This was a period when director David O. Russell brought together starry casts and then let them run wild, his films often feeling like wild improv sessions. Not surprising, American Hustle could be hilarious but also a bit exhausting, its go-go comic energy relentless and also tiring. But once you feel its momentum start to flag, Jennifer Lawrence comes along and adds an extra spark as Bale’s DGAF ex-wife.
Romancing the Stone (1984)
This was made by Robert Zemeckis, right before delivering juggernauts like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. It’s a silly, fun screwball action-comedy in which Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner bicker and fall in love while going on an adventure. Romancing the Stone definitely aped Raiders of the Lost Ark in its swashbuckling escapism, with the two stars having a ball hating one another’s guts.
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)
A Cold War comedy that offered Alan Arkin one of his first great film roles, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming concerns a Russian submarine that accidentally runs aground in New England, the crew trying to figure out how to free themselves before word leaks out and there’s an international incident. Arkin plays the sub’s Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov, who meets Carl Reiner’s American playwright Walt, forcing him to help. This slapstick time capsule captures the era’s fear of escalating U.S./Soviet tensions, although not quite as deftly as Dr. Strangelove.
Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s nostalgic look back at his music-journalist youth nails an era in the 1970s when corporate rock bands were starting to dot the landscape. There’s a lot of affection for Stillwater — and also for Patrick Fugit as the kid reporter out on the road, his worldview opening and his naivety melting away — and as a result, Almost Famous is an exceedingly likable coming-of-age film.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
This was the height of “Let’s just let Robin Williams do whatever he wants.” A massive hit, Mrs. Doubtfire took a ridiculous premise — no way anyone would buy Williams’ depressed dad as a buoyant English maid — and squeezed it for every broad gag possible. This isn’t my favorite flavor of the late comedic genius, but I know I don’t speak for everyone in that regard.
The Martian (2015)
At the time, industry observers cried foul when 20th Century Fox submitted this Matt Damon sci-fi adventure in the musical/comedy category. (The studio’s rationale: It would be a lot easier to win there than in drama, a strategy that proved to be a winning one.) But The Martian is actually pretty funny, with almost everyone in the cast being some degree of wiseass. (When you’ve got people like Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover as supporting characters, that’s just bound to happen.) So, right, The Martian isn’t a comedy, per se, but you’ll laugh a decent amount amidst the tension of getting Damon’s astronaut off Mars before he runs out of oxygen.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Just so damn delightful.
Hope and Glory (1987)
Drawing from childhood memories, writer-director John Boorman told the story of Billy (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), a boy growing up in London in the midst of World War II, trying to make sense of what’s going on around him. That Hope and Glory is as funny as it is — that it finds the humor in what could be somber material — is a testament to Boorman, who reminded audiences that, when we’re young, we don’t entirely understand what’s going on, showing the events from young, boisterous Billy’s blinkered perspective. Even with war swirling around him, Billy has plenty of laughs, and so does the viewer.
As far as movie musicals go, Chicago is among the wittiest, with Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere all playing scheming jackals during the Jazz Age, each of them looking out only for themselves. The pleasure comes from watching them all be so horrible to one another.
Breaking Away (1979)
This coming-of-age film couldn’t be simpler, following a group of Midwestern teens setting their sights on adulthood. Breaking Away introduced the world to young whippersnappers like Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley, who would go on to big things. It’s a gentle comedy — never uproarious but incredibly warm.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Arguably Woody Allen’s last great film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona chronicles a vacation undertaken by two American friends (Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson) who fall under the spell of a Spanish artist (Javier Bardem) interested in taking them both to bed. This was one of Allen’s comedy-dramas — the humor coexisting with serious themes — but its purest funny performance comes from Penélope Cruz as Bardem’s unstable ex. She’s an absolute dynamo, blowing up in hilarious ways.
Lost in Translation (2003)
More sad than funny, Sofia Coppola’s look at the friendship that develops between a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) and a depressed aging actor gave Bill Murray his best dramatic role. Which isn’t to say that Lost in Translation doesn’t have sharp comedic moments — it’s just that, more often, they’ll make you wince rather than laugh out loud.
American Graffiti (1973)
Young George Lucas wanted to make a nostalgic movie about his youth — all those kids with cool cars who hung out and drove around town, not a care in the world. American Graffiti became the template for future teen comedies like Dazed and Confused, and it’s where we saw actors like Harrison Ford for the first time. Not long after, Lucas would start to think about a galaxy far, far away.
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Written by Neil Simon, this romantic-comedy beat out Annie Hall for the Golden Globe. Woody Allen’s rom-com would have the last laugh come Oscar night, taking Best Picture. No offense to this lovable film, which earned Richard Dreyfuss the Best Actor Oscar, but the Academy picked the superior movie.
The Sunshine Boys (1975)
George Burns won an Oscar for his role as part of a once-popular vaudeville duo (alongside Walter Matthau) who are coaxed to reunite after years of acrimonious silence. The Sunshine Boys is all about the irritable comic tension between its two stars, and Matthau and Burns are great playing performers who can’t stand each other but, of course, deep down love one another. This is a modest comedy with tons of great one-liners courtesy of Neil Simon, radiating a warm glow.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
This tale of a pivotal moment in Hollywood history, remixed and reimagined by Quentin Tarantino (who previously wrote a new ending to Hitler’s life in Inglourious Basterds), has plenty of laughs, geeking out on L.A. lore and behind-the-scenes drama as friends Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt navigate the ups and downs of the entertainment industry. Of course, one of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s best jokes is its finale, in which the Manson family… well, let’s be careful of spoilers, but let’s just say the shock of Tarantino’s alternate version of the Sharon Tate murders left viewers gasping at the audacity.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Is Fiddler on the Roof schmaltzy? Sure, but Topol’s performance as the lovable Tevye remains one of the most iconic in all of Hollywood musicals. Funny, buoyant, sappy and heartwarming, it stops at nothing to show you a good time, creating a textbook “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” experience.
Tom Jones (1963)
The rare comedy to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Tom Jones was risqué for its time, featuring Albert Finney as an 18th-century playboy who gets into all kinds of misadventures. Some of this charmer’s brash, cheeky humor now seems quaint, but it’s still a swinging good time.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
It’s hard to keep track: Do we now think Shakespeare in Love is overrated or underrated? Its upset win over Saving Private Ryan at the Oscars has left fans and detractors debating the movie’s merits for decades now. To my mind, this cheeky, classy imagining of how William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) wrote Romeo and Juliet gets a lot of comedic mileage out of watching the Bard struggle his way toward inspiration. And the love story between Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow remains incredibly winning.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
I doubt I’m the only one who had major skepticism about Sacha Baron Cohen revisiting his most beloved character. Wasn’t Borat played out? And yet, 14 years after the original, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm proved to be a solid sequel — largely because Baron Cohen ceded the limelight to newcomer Maria Bakalova, who played his equally clueless daughter. The Rudy Giuliani sequence is already infamous, but Baron Cohen and Bakalova had an endearing, hilarious rapport that made this follow-up a worthy heir to an all-time comedy.
La La Land (2016)
A musical and a comedy, La La Land is an affectionate, bittersweet love story in which Ryan Gosling’s slightly pompous jazz musician and Emma Stone’s moony aspiring actress fall for one another. The duo appeared in a few films together, but this was their highwater mark, and the songs and old-school Hollywood showmanship are constantly enchanting.
An American in Paris (1951)
Gene Kelly as an American painter living in the City of Lights. Leslie Caron as the woman who steals his heart. A ton of Gershwin tunes. The first Golden Globe winner for Best Picture — Comedy or Musical remains one of the best rom-coms of the 1950s. And it’s a wonderful musical, too.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s breakout as a writer-director imagined the odyssey of Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a teenager in Sacramento who prefers to be known as Lady Bird, as she prepares to move out into the bigger world. Lady Bird is a touching coming-of-tale comedy in which Christine and her mom (Laurie Metcalf) lock horns, their feud complicated by how much they clearly love one another. Soon, Gerwig was on her way to bigger things herself — namely, Little Women and Barbie.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Warren Beatty and Buck Henry co-directed this comedy about a football player (Beatty) who is mistakenly whisked up to Heaven prematurely — he wasn’t set to die for decades — and must now find a new body. Good news: He finds one! Bad news: The guy, a rich industrialist, is kind of a jerk! Heaven Can Wait is a grownup rom-com, with Beatty falling for Julie Christie, that we rarely see anymore. A cliché, I know, but it’s really true here.
Few comedies from the 1990s are as endearing. And that darn pig is still so cute all these years later.
Working Girl (1988)
Melanie Griffith had a terrific 1980s, and this was arguably her best role. Playing a determined career woman who ends up filling in for her boss (and falling for Harrison Ford’s executive), she was sexy, smart and funny — it’s a shame she rarely got such juicy parts again.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Lisa Cholodenko’s underrated comedy feels like a relic from an earlier age, which it honestly was. The Kids Are All Right took a then-radical premise — a married lesbian couple, who have kids! — and turned it into a James L. Brooks-like comedy about romantic infidelity and the bonds of long-time relationships. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore made for a perfect L.A. couple, with Moore being tempted by Mark Ruffalo’s hunky Eastsider. Brilliantly, Cholodenko made the idea of same-sex domesticity seem natural and relatable to straight audiences who, back then, were still adjusting to the concept. Watched now, The Kids Are All Right might seem quaint, but it stealthily advocated for marriage equality at a moment when that message was desperately needed.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
A film in which one of the main characters starts cutting off his own fingers doesn’t necessarily sound like a comedy, but anyone familiar with writer-director Martin McDonagh’s earlier work, such as In Bruges, knows he has a penchant for finding humor in the darkest (and saddest) of situations. A story of best buds (Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson) at an impasse, the movie is filled with sadness and tragedy, but it’s also littered with one-liners — mostly at the expense of Farrell’s character who, god bless him, is a dope.
The Hangover (2009)
Before Bradley Cooper made the jump to serious awards-season fare, he was a riot playing one of the lovable douchebags in The Hangover, alongside Ed Helms and rising star Zach Galifianakis. This was one of the peaks of 21st-century R-rated comedy, the jokes raunchy, inappropriate and occasionally sweet. The Hangover was such an effortlessly great comedy that it’s shocking how unfunny the sequels were — a reminder that, really, there’s no such thing as an effortless great comedy.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
As good as the original? Probably not. But this still has my vote for Best Pixar Sequel. And it’s nearly as hilarious and inspired as Woody and Buzz’s first adventure.
Endlessly quotable, Alexander Payne’s fourth feature was his mainstream smash, with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church playing estranged buddies away for the weekend, drinking plenty of wine — but no fucking merlot, of course. Sideways began the filmmaker’s pivot toward more bittersweet, heartwarming comedies — an evolution that continues with The Holdovers — but he made sure to pack this film with plenty of jokes about male bonding and middle-aged failure.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
One of Wes Anderson’s best films, The Grand Budapest Hotel features Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role as a fussy, pompous concierge at an elegant European hotel in the 1930s, just as war begins to consume the continent. Anderson often populates his movies with eccentrics, but Gustave was an especially inspired creation: a vain, chivalrous snob with poetry in his heart and an ability to do the right thing when it counts. This multiple-Oscar-winner is more action-packed than the typical Anderson flick, but it’s also among his funniest, this rarefied world a perfect springboard for his sly, whimsical humor.
Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
Jack Nicholson is a hitman. Kathleen Turner is a hitwoman. They fall in love. Then they’re assigned to kill each other. This supremely entertaining comedy, which won Anjelica Huston the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Nicholson’s spurned lover, finds plentiful humor in the world of the mob. But that doesn’t mean director John Huston made Prizzi’s Honor “wacky” — rather, he played the situation straight. And by treating this violent story seriously, this droll exploration of crime and matters of the heart hits even harder.
The Graduate (1967)
A burgeoning generation saw their fate in Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin, who doesn’t want to enter into adulthood, deciding instead to indulge in a going-nowhere affair with his parents’ married friend (Anne Bancroft). Hoffman put on a comedic masterclass of quiet nervous anxiety, his every whimper and sigh speaking volumes for a life unexamined and restless.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
In the 1980s, Woody Allen moved more toward “mature” comedies, including this crowd-pleasing, novelistic look at a complicated Manhattan family of sisters and the men who circle around them. Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest would both go on to win Oscars for Hannah and Her Sisters, but there’s no weak links in an ensemble that includes Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher and Barbara Hershey. Any movie in which a Marx brothers comedy contains the secret to all of life’s problems is hard to resist.
The Player (1992)
A truly nasty comedy — and also a comeback for one of Hollywood’s great iconoclasts — The Player found Robert Altman returning to the film industry’s good graces by making a satire about how much the industry sucks. Tim Robbins was a marvel as a soulless studio executive who kills a writer, thinking the guy is sending him threatening postcards — only to realize he fingered the wrong man. Much like The Larry Sanders Show, this sharp, insider-y look at how the Dream Factory really works became a defining comedy of the early 1990s.
Robert Altman wanted to make a movie about the insanity and hypocrisy of the Vietnam War. Ring Lardner Jr. had written a screenplay about irreverent doctors exchanging quips while sewing up wounded bodies during the Korean War. The two men came together to give us M*A*S*H, which was shockingly profane, bloody and funny: How could you possibly make a comedy out of this material? A beloved sitcom was soon born, but the original movie, which starred Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Sally Kellerman, remains proudly anarchic — turns out, you didn’t need the laugh track.
You probably know the story: Dustin Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack didn’t get along at all on set, fighting about every creative decision. And yet, look what they made. Some of Tootsie’s examination of gender and sexual politics may not have aged perfectly, but it’s impossible to deny a comedy with this much heart and this much brains, mocking not just capital-A actors but also male insecurity. The whole cast is sterling — occasionally, you’ll run across someone who insists this is actually Bill Murray’s finest performance — and the ending is still a killer. No wonder screenwriting teachers have taught Tootsie for decades: The damn thing works beautifully from start to finish.