We can all agree that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best space adventure flicks to come along in quite a while, right? Not only that, we’d argue it’s one of the best comedies to hit screens in the last few years.
With the fantastic Guardians currently cleaning house at the box office, we thought it was a prime time to take a look back on some of the other science-fiction comedies that made us roll with laughter while simultaneously blowing our minds with space ships, aliens, time travel, and other sorts of space junk.
Dark Star is a black comedy about the doomed space craft of the same name. Its crew encompasses a bunch of uninterested slacker-types, stuck on board a ship with a Commander stuck in cryogenic sleep and more than a little bit of insanity sinking in. While Dark Star is played for comedy, the influence it has on Alien is quite clear – there’s even an alien that gets itself loose aboard the Dark Star that causes trouble for the crew. It’s more or less a beach ball, but still.
Having already taken on zombies and Point Break, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost united once again for an E.T.- style adventure… if E.T. was less teddy bear and more Keith Richards. With Seth Rogan as the voice of Paul – the titular extra-terrestrial – this Greg Mottola-directed comedy delivered the laughs and plenty of references to our favorite science-fiction classics.
It’s not Pegg and Frost’s greatest effort in the genre (although we’ll get to it later on in this list), but Paul is notable for its steady stream of laughs with its road trip-style comedy and the undeniable chemistry between the two human leads.
18 Weird Science
The movie is laced with whip-smart jokes, great physical comedy, brilliant performances, and memorable small roles by the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Paxton. The only one of John Hughes’ classic films set in the fictional Shermer, Illinois to have a science-fiction bent to it, Weird Science revels in its wackiness (“what would you little maniacs like to do first?”). Add in the Hughes’ trademark of a memorable song – Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” – and the movie is easily one of the greatest sci-fi comedies of all-time.
17 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
For a while it was Disney’s biggest live-action film ever, later spawning two sequels, a TV show, and a 3D attraction at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Though the rest of the franchise never quite reached the heights of the original, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a delightful science-fiction comedy that holds up even 25 years later.
As an added bonus, there’s a Roger Rabbit short that accompanies the film, adding to its hilarity.
16 Mars Attacks!
Based on an obscure trading card series from Topps in the 1960s, Burton and screenwriter Jonathan Gems turned Mars Attacks! into a satirical B-movie black comedy, keeping the property alive even today – IDW has been publishing Mars Attacks! comics for the last few years.
15 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Before he was Bilbo Baggins and Dr. Watson, Martin Freeman starred as Arthur Dent, the hapless protagonist of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on the book of the same name by author Douglas Adams. A regular guy tossed into an intergalactic quest after learning that Earth is due to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace freeway, Arthur is hilariously clueless as he goes deeper and deeper into the zany universe that surrounds him.
14 Safety Not Guaranteed
Inspired by a joke classified ad that went viral in the age of the Internet, Colin Trevorrow’s delightfully weird Safety Not Guaranteed stars Mark Duplass as Kenneth, a paranoid loner that fancies himself a time traveler. When Aubrey Plaza’s Darius meets him while assisting a writer at the magazine she works at who’s writing a story on him, a quirky love bond is formed and a strange sense of wonder overtakes the film: can Kenneth actually time travel?
Safety Not Guaranteed keeps the relationship of Kenneth and Darius front and center, but the notion of science-fiction is never far behind. It’s a sweet, sad, and ultimately stunning take on the classic meet-cute, with a pinch of sci-fi thrown in for good measure.
Science-fiction is a very popular delivery system for satire, and that’s just what Mike Judge perfected in this 2006 offering. Idiocracy stars Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph as citizens selected for a suspended animation experiment. When they awaken, they find themselves 500 years in the future; a future where everyone Is stupid, corporations have taken over, and society has completely relieved itself of anything that resembles responsibility. Despite the apparently serious themes at hand, Judge delivers laugh after laugh as he reflects our own shortcomings as a culture back at us.
Unfortunately, just like Judge’s other cult classic Office Space, Idiocracy was a non-contender at the box-office (and virtually no marketing campaign), but would go on to have a strong fan base on DVD.
12 Repo Man
A bizarre movie even for the kind of flicks found on this list, Repo Man is nonetheless one of the greatest sci-fi comedies ever constructed. Again a satire of modern culture – in this case the L.A. lifestyle of the 1980s – Repo Man is daring and darkly funny. Starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man follows a young despondent punk named Otto that takes a job as a, you guessed it, repo man.
But when a car he repossesses holds extra-terrestrials in its trunk, things start to heat up and Otto’s tossed into a world of utter insanity. With government agents, drug trips, UFOs, and more, Repo Man stands as one of the most unique comedies/sci-fi flicks ever made.
11 Men in Black
Following his transition from TV star to bona fide summer movie star, Will Smith teamed up with the stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones for this classic sci-fi comedy. Featuring a bevy of bizarre creatures and even wilder ideas, Smith’s Agent J is a rookie Man in Black – an agency devoted to the policing of alien refugees trapped on Earth. There’s plenty of humor derived from Agent J’s fish-out-of water scenario, but as the film goes on, it’s clear that Smith and Jones enjoy a particular sort of chemistry that makes for some comedy gold.
Men in Black launched a franchise (itself based on an existing comic book), included two theatrical sequels, an animated series, multiple video games, and – of course – Will Smith’s hit single “Men in Black.”
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Ted “Theodore” Logan. Bill S. Preston, Esquire. Forever, we will know them as… WYLD STALLYNS! Equal parts Back to the Future and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Stephen Herek’s stoner time travel comedy gave us one of the greatest film duos of all time as they travel through time in a telephone booth to assemble a collection of historical figures for a history presentation, led by George Carlin’s grumpy Rufus.
Of course, unknown to Bill and Ted, their influence on the future is enormous – the reason Rufus travels back in time to help them pass history class in the first place is because a utopian society has been built in their name. It’s ridiculous and spacey, but undeniably hilarious.
Sleeper combines classic Woody Allen with satirical comedy and social commentary, all with a love story thrown in the middle (it’s an Allen movie, after all). While its placement in Allen’s overall repertoire isn’t nearly as high as it is here, it’s quite the impressive sci-fi comedy.
Spaceballs is Mel Brooks doing what Mel Brooks does best: lampooning. Taking Star Wars head on, Spaceballs manages to mix the classic Brooks’ humor with genuinely compelling characters and a pretty cool sci-fi world all its own. We’d argue Barf, Lone Starr, and Pizza the Hutt are just as memorable as their official counterparts, if only because the amount of laughs they deliver is astronomical.
Dark Helmet – another appearance by Rick Moranis on this list (and not the last) – is a particular stand out, delivering line after line of incredible wit, even in his demise. Don’t forget the Schwartz, Mega Maid, Plaid Speed, the Winnebago, combing the desert, and the jamming system. And come on – John Candy in a Mel Brooks joint? Perfect.
7 The World’s End
The second appearance of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on this list – though the first that teams them with their Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright – The World’s End is the story of a group of friends that find themselves in the midst of an alien invasion while on a pub crawl.
There are certainly plenty of laughs to be found in The World’s End, even in the middle of the apocalypse, but what makes it stand out as a truly great film is that it’s got a lot of heart. The characters and their relationships ring true; the gimmick isn’t front and center here – a first for the Cornetto Trilogy – instead, the characters take the lead and as a result, memorable comedy follows.
6 Time Bandits
All the while, Time Bandits features actors like John Cleese, Sean Connery, and Ian Holm putting their all into this imaginative world.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
On paper, turning the beloved Star Trek franchise into a fish-out-of-water comedy – especially after the beloved and super serious Wrath of Khan reinvigorated the property – sounds like a terrible idea. In reality, The Voyage Home is one of the best of the original Trek movies. It’s fun and has a great deal of laughs, and showcases the wonder and joy that can come with the Star Trek property when it doesn’t take itself too seriously — something that had been mostly lost since the franchise moved to the big screen in 1979.
And yet, the film manages to retain the sense of commentary that Star Trek often has, using its sci-fi lens to reflect current affairs back at us and help us to learn something about our world.
4 Guardians of the Galaxy
Though it’s a swashbuckling space adventure that takes more than a few cues from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Guardians of the Galaxy is, at its core, a comedy. It’s got loads of other stuff too – emotion, drama, action, and even a little horror – but in the midst of it all, jokes are flying fast and furious. Following the adventures of Star-Lord and his motley crew of thieves/assassins/mercenaries, Guardians of the Galaxy puts the group’s dynamic front and center, which results in plenty of comical spats, one-liners, and situational comedy.
Guardians is likely the runaway hit of 2014, and while its status as a special effects bonanza could suggest that it could eventually feel out-of-date, there’s one thing that never, ever gets old – comedy. That’s why the movies that top this list are still so highly regarded, despite their effects showing their age.
Galaxy Quest, aside from being hysterical, also plays on a geek’s #1 fantasy: that everything they love could become real. The film follows a group of actors that star on a Star Trek-type of show (called Galaxy Quest) who are thrust into a real intergalactic adventure when the leader of an alien race come to them for help, thinking the show was a documentary and not fiction.
Galaxy Quest does a bang-up job satirizing Trek and similar fandoms, but not in a mean-spirited way. Instead, it uses fandom as a basis for the fantasy, justifying the value of total belief in something that we know isn’t real.
2 Back to the Future
The stars aligned for this 1985 sci-fi comedy, making Michael J. Fox a movie superstar and populating the fictional Hill Valley with cartoonishly animated characters that remain pop culture icons to this day. From Biff Tannen to George McFly to the lovable Doc Brown, Back to the Future is a brilliant time travel story dressed up as a 1980s teen comedy. It tackles the age old question of “What if I knew my parents at my age?” while creating a complex yet simply explained sci-fi world.
Of course, Back to the Future spawned a franchise and forever placed the 1981 DeLorean DMC 12 into the annals of pop culture history, instead of the automobile industry’s hall of shame.
Naturally, our pick for the greatest comedy of all-time would find its way to the top of this list as well. Featuring a chemistry between cast members that’s been often attempted but never replicated, the natural rapport between the three principle actors and their free-flowing improve made for a spontaneous, genuinely unique bout of comedy. The paranormal/sci-fi twist is almost a bonus, adding an extra texture to an already bountiful feast of laughter. Ghostbusters appeals to all crowds – fans of comedy, fans of sci-fi, fans of horror, fans of romance, and fans of plain old solid storytelling.
Everything from its visual style, sound effects, choice of music, and casting of supporting roles shapes Ghostbusters into being the most quotable and hilarious comedy ever made.
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