The best comedy movies are known for the perfect comic timing, aced by some of the most prominent actors. The plot plays as big a role as a bit of intelligent marketing in making the films forever enjoyable. And such films are the ones that end up among the highest-grossing comedy movies of all time.

Comedy is not only one of the oldest genres in cinema, but it is also very wide. From the silent films of Charlie Chaplin in the early part of the 20th century to the Originals on the streaming platforms of the 21st century, the genre has continued to evolve and entertain millions of movie lovers.

But how do we define a comedy movie?

The best comedy films are part of sub-genres and hybrids

Comedy as a sole genre is rare in cinema today. Over the decades, comedy merged with other genres to create unique sub-genres such as action comedy, fantasy comedy and crime comedy. In fact, the highest-grossing comedy film is the fantasy subgenre.

Slapstick comedy is one of the earliest comedy sub-genres. Hong Kong legend Stephen Chow became one of the most bankable comedy actors of all time, thanks to the box office success of his slapstick comedy films such as God of Gamblers II (1991), Fight Back to School (1991), Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004).

The Hong Kong film industry also gave an impetus to what is known as martial arts comedy in the last quarter of the 21st century, with Jackie Chan building his illustrious career on the back of acclaimed movies of this genre.

Other comedies that are classified as sub-genres include bawdy comedies, such as The Hangover trilogy, and buddy comedies, such as the Men in Black franchise. Then there is horror comedy, which would include the likes of the Ghostbusters franchise.

Romantic comedy, on the other hand, is one of the most well-known hybrid genres. It includes some of the most successful comedies of all time, such as Pretty Woman (1990), Runaway Bride (1999), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018), to name a few were released over the last three decades.

Many animation films, such as the Despicable Me franchise, are essentially comedies, but they are widely seen only as part of the animated genre and not sub-genres. Similarly, several superhero films have some form of comic humour in their stories. However, many believe that superhero films are an entirely different genre and are not part of hybrid sub-genres.

This is why films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or DC Extended Universe (DCEU) are simply described as superhero movies and are not counted among comedy films, even though humourous situations are aplenty in many of them, such as MCU’s Spider-Man movies and DCEU’s Suicide Squad films.

Top-grossing comedy movies (lowest to highest) that are not animation

(Main image: © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent./IMDb; Featured image: IMDb)

All figures as per Box Office Mojo as on 3 January 2023

This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur 

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The Hangover

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson

Release date: 5 June 2009

Worldwide gross: USD 469,328,079

Synopsis: When Doug (Bartha) goes missing after a night of wild bachelor party celebration in Los Angeles, his three friends, Phil Wenneck (Cooper), Stu Price (Helms), Alan Garner (Galifianakis), must find him at all cost. The problem is that they cannot recollect the events of the night and will have to retrace their steps to do so.

Image credit: © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent./IMDb

Home Alone

Directed by: Chris Columbus

Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara

Release date: 16 November 1990

Worldwide gross: USD 476,684,675

Synopsis: The first film of the Home Alone franchise follows Kevin McCallister (Culkin), an eight-year-old who is mistakenly left home alone during the Holiday season. Two burglars, Harry Lyme (Pesci) and Marv Murchins (Stern), try to take advantage of the situation, but the bratty McCallister decides to defend his home.

Image credit: © 1990 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Bruce Almighty

Directed by: Tom Shadyac

Cast: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Bell, Philip Baker Hall, Steve Carell

Release date: 23 May 2003

Worldwide gross: USD 484,592,874

Synopsis: Frustrated with the lack of progress in his career, Bruce Nolan (Carrey), a TV reporter, complains to God. He is then contacted by God (Freeman), who then gives Bruce the same powers the Almighty has and challenges him to do a better job with them. Bruce uses his newfound powers for selfish purposes, and chaos ensues.

Image credit: © 2003 Universal Pictures – All Rights Reserved/IMDb

Meet the Fockers

Directed by: Jay Roach

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo

Release date: 22 December 2004

Worldwide gross: USD 522,657,936

Synopsis: Following the events of Meet the Parents (2000), Greg Focker (Stiller) is trying to adjust with Jack (De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Danner), the parents of his fiancée, Pam (Polo). When Greg’s parents, Bernie Focker (Hoffman) and Roz Focker (Streisand) meet Jack and Dina, hilarity unfolds.

Image credit: © 2004 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved./IMDb

Detective Chinatown 2

Directed by: Sicheng Chen

Cast: Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran, Natasha Liu Bordizzo

Release date: 16 February 2018

Worldwide gross: USD 544,185,156

Synopsis: Tang (Wang) and Qin (Liu) team up, once again, after the events of Detective Chinatown (2015). This time, they have to compete against a bunch of the world’s best detectives to solve a murder case in New York’s Chinatown.

Image credit: IMDb

Ted

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice)

Release date: 29 June 2012

Worldwide gross: USD 549,368,315

Synopsis: As a boy, John Bennett (Wahlberg) makes a wish that his toy bear, Ted (MacFarlane), comes to life. The wish comes true and Bennett is stuck with a foul-mouthed Ted for the next 30 years. This further creates complications in his relationship with his girlfriend, Lori (Kunis).

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Image credit: © 2012 – Universal Pictures/IMDb

The Mermaid

Directed by: Stephen Chow

Cast: Deng Chao, Lin Yun, Zhang Yuqi, Show Lo

Release date: 8 February 2016

Worldwide gross: USD 553,810,228

Synopsis: Shan (Lin) is a mermaid who is sent to assassinate property tycoon Liu Xuan (Deng), as the latter’s development project threatens to destroy the marine world. However, Shan, who is posing as a human, falls in love with Xuan, who is unaware of her true identity.

Image credit: IMDb

Night at the Museum

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais, Rami Malek, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Bill Cobbs

Release date: 22 December 2006

Worldwide gross: USD 574,481,229

Synopsis: Larry Daley (Stiller), a newly appointed night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, discovers that its exhibits come to life at night due to an ancient Egyptian curse. With the help of the exhibit of former President Teddy Roosevelt (Williams), Larry must prevent chaos.

Image credit: © TM2006 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

The Hangover Part II

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jamie Chung

Release date: 26 May 2011

Worldwide gross: USD 586,764,305

Synopsis: In this sequel to The Hangover, the four friends — Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug — fly to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. A pre-wedding brunch ends up in a nightmarish situation, which leads them through Bangkok’s underbelly in search of Stu’s missing to-be brother-in-law.

Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures/IMDb

Men in Black

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio

Release date: 4 July 1997

Worldwide gross: USD 589,390,539

Synopsis: James Darrell Edwards III (Smith) is a cop who is recruited by a secret organisation whose agents, the Men in Black (MIB), are tasked with keeping extraterrestrial activities on earth hidden from the world. When an alien terrorist arrives on earth to create an intergalactic problem, James, who is now known as Agent J, and his partner Agent K (Jones) must do all they can to protect the universe.

Image credit: © 1997 – Columbia Pictures/IMDb

Men in Black 3

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement

Release date: 25 May 2012

Worldwide gross: USD 654,213,485

Synopsis: The third part of the MIB franchise revolves around a time-travelling alien Boris the Animal (Clement) who kills Agent K (Jones) in the past, thereby obliterating his existence in the present timeline. Agent J now travels back in time to 1969 to prevent Boris from killing the younger Agent K (Brolin) and save an impending invasion of earth.

Image credit: Wilson Webb – © 2011 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved./IMDb

Detective Chinatown 3

Directed by: Chen Sicheng

Cast: Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masami Nagasawa, Tony Jaa, Tadanobu Asano, Tomokazu Miura

Release date: 12 February 2021

Worldwide gross: USD 686,257,563

Synopsis: The third film in the Detective Chinatown franchise follows Tang and Qin to Tokyo, as they are invited to solve a mysterious murder case. They are forced to team up with Hiroshi Noda (Tsumabuki), a detective who is also Qin’s biggest rival, to find the culprit who they think is someone hiding in plain sight.

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Image credit: IMDb

Mamma Mia!

Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd

Cast: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper

Release date: 18 July 2008

Worldwide gross: USD 694,476,782

Synopsis: Sophie (Seyfried) is a bride-to-be and the daughter of Donna (Streep), an independent hotelier in Greece. As Donna begins preparations for her daughter’s wedding, Sophie invites three men from her mother’s past to find out the identity of her real father.

Image credit: © 2008 – Universal Pictures/IMDb

15

Jumanji: The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover

Release date: 13 December 2019

Worldwide gross: USD 801,693,929

Synopsis: Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan), Xander Bravestone (Johnson), Sheldon Oberon (Black) and Franklin Finbar (Hart) return in the sequel to the 2017 film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to save the world of Jumanji from an evil warlord. However, confusion arises as their avatars switch to three new faces — Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina), Edward “Eddie” Gilpin (DeVito) and Milo Walker (Glover) — enter the game.

Image credit: Frank Masi – © Sony Pictures Entertainment/IMDb

Hi, Mom

Directed by: Jia Ling

Cast: Jia Ling, Zhang Xiaofei, Shen Teng, Chen He

Release date: 12 February 2021

Worldwide gross: USD 822,009,764

Synopsis: Hi, Mom, which tops the list of highest-grossing comedies in Chinese cinema, is about Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) who realises she has not been a good daughter after her mother passes away in an accident. Jia is suddenly transported back in time to 1981 from 2001 and meets the younger self of her mother, Li Huanying (Zhang). She decides to do anything to ensure that her mother gets a second chance at life and a better future.

Image credit: IMDb

17

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina

Release date: 20 December 2017

Worldwide gross: USD 995,339,117

Synopsis: The film, a sequel to Jumanji (1995), follows four friends who enter the world of Jumanji through a video game. Once in Jumanji, the four become avatar characters — Dr. Xander Bravestone (Johnson), Franklin Finbar (Hart), Sheldon Oberon (Black) and Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan). They must find a way to escape the game with the help of a pilot named Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Jonas), who had originally entered Jumanji 21 years ago.

Image credit: Frank Masi – © 2016 CTMG. All Rights Reserved./IMDb

Aladdin

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari

Release date: 24 May 2019

Worldwide gross: USD 1,050,693,953

Synopsis: Aladdin (Massoud) is a street urchin with a big heart. He finds a magic lamp in which lives a powerful and wisecracking genie (Smith) who can grant any wish he desires. Aladdin and the genie become friends and go on an adventure to prevent the evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Kenzari) from destroying the kingdom of the beautiful princess named Jasmine (Scott).

Image credit: © Disney Enterprises/IMDb