What makes a comedy a classic? Something that floats on the changing tides of time and taste, remaining relevant – and hilarious? It probably takes more than a football to the groin or a juiced-up fart on the audio track. (Though we’re not not saying those can sometimes be the pinnacle of professional-grade jokes.) We don’t have the answer, but with our Essential list assembling 150 of the best comedies ever made, we’re getting closer to laugh-out-loud enlightenment than humanly thought possible. We’re melting minds, splitting sides, and slapping knees here.
To that end, we’ve included all forms of the comedy movie. From slapstick (Dumb & Dumber, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) to silent (The General, Modern Times). Rom-coms (Moonstruck, Annie Hall) to screwball (It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby). Parody (Airplane!, Scary Movie) to postmodern (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Galaxy Quest). These 150 movies will take you to college (Animal House), past some fan favorites (Step Brothers, Super Troopers), and all around the globe (Kung Fu Hustle, Amelie).
There’s no minimum review count for this list. We opened it up to movies of yesteryear, which typically don’t get as many reviews as their modern comedy rivals. Many of these inducted films have high Tomatometer scores and are Certified Fresh, but the Tomatometer was not our only guide. Some comedies that stand the test of time did not necessarily pass the critical test on release, and we’re honoring those here. These are not the best-reviewed comedy films ever released, but they are the essential comedies, movies that broke the Laugh-O-Meter – we’ll totally trademark that soon, so dibs – shaped the genre, molded generations, and which audiences return to time and again, to lift the spirits.
And with our most recent updates, we’ve added the latest and greatest in new funny movies (Booksmart, Blockers, Game Night), and some more comedy classics that have definitely earned their place in the pantheon of guffaws (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harold & Maude).
Ready to whip out your funny bone and bash it violently on the nearest flat surface? Then you’re ready for our list of the best comedy movies ever: Rotten Tomatoes’ 150 Essential Comedies!
Critics Consensus: Jim Carrey's twitchy antics and gross-out humor are on full, bombastic display in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, which is great news for fans of his particular brand of comedy but likely unsatisfying for anyone else.
Synopsis: When the dolphin mascot of Miami's NFL team is abducted, Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey), a zany private investigator who specializes... [More]
Critics Consensus: With a terrific cast and a surfeit of visual razzle dazzle, Crazy Rich Asians takes a satisfying step forward for screen representation while deftly drawing inspiration from the classic -- and still effective -- rom-com formula.
Synopsis: Rachel Chu is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend's wedding in Singapore. She's also surprised... [More]
Critics Consensus: A robust ensemble of game actors elevate Clue above its schematic source material, but this farce's reliance on novelty over organic wit makes its entertainment value a roll of the dice.
Synopsis: Based on the popular board game, this comedy begins at a dinner party hosted by Mr. Boddy, where he admits... [More]
Critics Consensus: Simultaneously broad and progressive, Spy offers further proof that Melissa McCarthy and writer-director Paul Feig bring out the best in one another -- and delivers scores of belly laughs along the way.
Synopsis: Despite having solid field training, CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) has spent her entire career as a desk jockey,... [More]
Critics Consensus: While its premise is ripe for comedy -- and it certainly delivers its fair share of laughs -- Priscilla is also a surprisingly tender and thoughtful road movie with some outstanding performances.
Synopsis: When drag queen Anthony (Hugo Weaving) agrees to take his act on the road, he invites fellow cross-dresser Adam (Guy... [More]
Critics Consensus: Blessed by a brilliantly befuddled star turn from Chevy Chase, National Lampoon's Vacation is one of the more consistent -- and thoroughly quotable -- screwball comedies of the 1980s.
Synopsis: Accompanied by their children (Dana Barron, Anthony Michael Hall), Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), are... [More]
Critics Consensus: Despite sometimes sitcom-like execution, Meet the Parents is a hilarious look at familial relationships that works mostly because the chemistry between its two leads is so effective.
Synopsis: Everything that can possibly go wrong for groom-to-be Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) does. The problems begin with Greg's disastrous first... [More]
Critics Consensus:Girls Trip is the rare R-rated comedy that pushes boundaries to truly comedic effect -- and anchors its laughs in compelling characters brought to life by a brilliantly assembled cast.
Synopsis: Best friends Ryan, Sasha, Lisa and Dina are in for the adventure of a lifetime when they travel to New... [More]
Critics Consensus: What Friday might lack in taut construction or directorial flair, it more than makes up with its vibrant (albeit consistently crass) humor and the charming, energetic performances of its leads.
Synopsis: It's Friday and Craig Jones (Ice Cube) has just gotten fired for stealing cardboard boxes. To make matters worse, rent... [More]
Critics Consensus: Deftly balancing vulgarity and sincerity while placing its protagonists in excessive situations, Superbad is an authentic take on friendship and the overarching awkwardness of the high school experience.
Synopsis: High-school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have high hopes for a graduation party: The co-dependent teens plan... [More]
Critics Consensus: A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers.
Synopsis: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Critics Consensus: Thanks to the impeccable chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy, as well as a deft mix of humor and heart, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a hilarious, heartfelt holiday classic.
Synopsis: Easily excitable Neal Page (Steve Martin) is somewhat of a control freak. Trying to get home to Chicago to spend... [More]
Critics Consensus: Filled with inspired silliness and quotable lines, Anchorman isn't the most consistent comedy in the world, but Will Ferrell's buffoonish central performance helps keep this portrait of a clueless newsman from going off the rails.
Synopsis: Hotshot television anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) welcomes upstart reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) into the male-dominated world of 1970s... [More]
Critics Consensus: A hilarious satire of the business side of Hollywood, The Producers is one of Mel Brooks' finest, as well as funniest films, featuring standout performances by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.
Synopsis: Down and out producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), who was once the toast of Broadway, trades sexual favors with old... [More]
Critics Consensus: A career highlight for Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve benefits from Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda's sparkling chemistry -- and a script that inspired countless battle-of-the-sexes comedies.
Synopsis: It's no accident when wealthy Charles (Henry Fonda) falls for Jean (Barbara Stanwyck). Jean is a con artist with her... [More]
Critics Consensus: Charlie Chaplin demonstrates that his comedic voice is undiminished by dialogue in this rousing satire of tyranny, which may be more distinguished by its uplifting humanism than its gags.
Synopsis: After dedicated service in the Great War, a Jewish barber (Charles Chaplin) spends years in an army hospital recovering from... [More]
Critics Consensus: Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann prove irresistibly hilarious as two misanthropic slackers in Withnail and I, a biting examination of artists living on the fringes of prosperity and good taste.
Synopsis: Two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood (Paul McGann) and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) --... [More]
Critics Consensus: A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.
Synopsis: A fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a... [More]
Australian pop singer Troye Sivan appears this month in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, the star-studded awards contender that goes behind the scenes of the controversial and mystery-shrouded practice of conversion therapy. The film is an adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, which reflects on the time that the author’s religious parents – played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe – forced him into conversation therapy after he came out to them. Sivan plays Gary, a teenager in therapy with Jared (the Conley character, played by Lucas Hedges), and who is one of the few kids to see through the practice and the man in charge of it.
Sivan, who came out in a YouTube video in his late teens, told Rotten Tomatoes he hopes parents see the movie – “like every parent in the world.” He added, “What’s so nice about this movie is that no one is a villain in it, and it’s a real genuine conversation and exploration of parents who love their kids and who are worried for their kids and do what they think is right for their kids – the movie explores how wrong that can go. I think the thing that’s missing is education. I’m hoping that the movie really is a part of that education for parents to kind of guide them in what I think is the right way to handle an LGBT child.”
Ahead of the film’s opening in limited release, Sivan shared his Five Favorite Films with Rotten Tomatoes.
The first film is Moulin Rouge! — weird because I’m seeing Nicole Kidman later today, not to brag. I’m pretty stoked about that. I first saw it at a family friend’s house and they put it on for me because they thought I’d like it, they knew that I liked music. But the first 10 minutes of that movie are absolute chaos, like full-fledged chaos. So, I was like, I hate this, I don’t know what this is. I gave it a second try and watched it through the first 10 minutes and then the story started to come together and it became my favorite movie.
I love that movie so much. I love the visuals, love the music in it, and just yeah, it spoke to my little gay heart when I was a kid.
For me it’s a classic, and any time that I get to kind of live a fantasy of – it sounds awful – but of Nazis getting what they deserve, I am down with it.
Are you a big Tarantino fan?
I’m not not a fan. I just haven’t seen all of his movies, but I should because I love that movie so much. It’s just one of those movies that I feel like I can watch any time and enjoy it. And it’s weird as well, because I’m Jewish and really sensitive to a lot of Holocaust [material] and World War II stuff, and so I try to steer clear of those movies. But I think maybe because it’s fantastical enough and because of the alternative ending, that movie has always been okay for me to watch and doesn’t upset me too much.
Grand Budapest Hotel is probably my favorite movie ever. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel so safe, and anytime I’m even remotely stressed, I’ll put on that movie and I feel like it transports me to another universe. It was the first Wes Anderson movie that I ever saw.
The thing that sticks out to me the most is the humor. I find the movie really, really, really funny. And then of course the set design and the way that it’s shot – everything is so gorgeous. But for me it’s just one of those movies that keeps you on your toes. You never really know [what’s going to happen]. It’s a simple, classic, good story that’s just told so beautifully, that it feels so artful and considered, and I just really appreciate that.
This list makes me realize that I really appreciate a director with real perspective, and the films are very stylized. That’s my vibe, and I think the Grand Budapest is an impeccable example of that.
That movie for me was quirky done right. I feel like a lot of the time for me quirky is cringe-y, and it’s easy to mess up; Juno felt genuinely quirky and just cute, and the soundtrack is really inspiring to me because it’s got such a vision and perspective and such a sound to it. I love that movie. I think it’s really heartwarming.
I used to be really homesick as a kid. I never had sleepovers or anything like that with my friends ever, because I would have panic attacks and wanna go home. And then I watched Up In the Air, and watching George Clooney pack his suitcase so neatly and hop on the plane and just be so organized made me wanna travel by myself and made me love hotels and stuff like that. And I just love the movie as well. It gave me the courage to travel by myself for the first time and leave home.
The thing that kinda sucks is that I have a feeling that if I was to rewatch it now, it would be depressing. At the time that I watched it for the first time, it was ambitious – I wanted to travel all the time like that and I thought it was so cool. And then, as you know, the movie gets kind of dark and sad and it’s like, “What are you running from?” At the time that didn’t apply to me, but now I wonder if I would watch it back and be like, “Oh god, this is really too real.”
Boy Erased is in limited release Friday November 2.
(Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
For decades, prolific character actor J.K. Simmons was a familiar face in supporting roles on television and film, showing up for a handful of scenes and stealing every single one of them with his effortless charisma and trademark baritone. His gradual rise to fame has included a number of milestones; HBO’s prison drama Oz, NBC’s Law & Order, the TNT drama The Closer, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, and Jason Reitman’s Oscar-winning Juno all served to showcase Simmons’ versatility, and he made the most of every opportunity. If audiences had some trouble naming the actor early in his career, that all changed when he took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2014 for his portrayal of ruthless jazz instructor Terence Fletcher in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.
Simmons’ relentless work ethic is on display again this week, as he appears in two films opening on Friday: the indie dramedy The Bachelors and the serial killer thriller The Snowman. He spoke with RT on the phone about his Five Favorite Films, noting that these were only five of his favorite films, “because I prefer not to be definitive or rank things.” Fair enough. He also talked about his experiences on Juno and Whiplash, discussed the progression of his career, and told us what he could about his role in the upcoming Justice League. Read on for the full interview.
The first two that jump to mind are both from my formative years. One is To Kill a Mockingbird and the other was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, both of which are films that I saw at a young age. Obviously To Kill a Mockingbird is, you know, one of the great novels of the 20th century, and a beautiful film adaptation of that that I think did a great job of… I mean, this is from a current perspective, having read the book a couple of times and read the book to my kids and seen the movie. But, at the time — I don’t know how old I was, if I was nine or eleven or twelve — but I was sort of viewing it from the perspective of the kids. The whole story is told from Scout’s perspective and the other kids, and like most kids growing up, I sort of saw Gregory Peck as the film version of my dad in the good guy standing up for what’s right and doing the right thing. Yeah, just a really well-made film with characters that I think are relatable to a really wide range of people, as all great storytelling is, whether it’s a film or a novel, or whatever it is. Something that’s accessible for a variety of ages and demographics and is something that speaks to a lot of people.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was the first sort of grown-up movie that I remember seeing with my parents, and if I’m not mistaken, I think it was at a drive-in theater, which half your audience doesn’t even know what that is. And that was like an odd movie for the drive-in.
Another all-time favorite would be Cuckoo’s Nest, which was particularly interesting from my perspective because a year or so before the film came out, I had seen the play. I was in college, and I was studying music. I wasn’t into acting or theater or any of that at the time, but a friend of mine was in the play, in a little black box production of the play at the theater department at the University of Montana where I studied music. And I went to see it, and it was, in many ways, an interestingly cast production, but it was brilliant. It was one of the first pieces of theater I saw that had that, you know, that real raw kind of Steppenwolf vibe that really blew me away. So when the movie came out, I kinda felt like, “You know, I don’t think I want to see this movie,” because the play was really so well done. But then I saw the movie, and obviously, [director Milos] Forman and the entire cast, down to people that didn’t even speak on camera, that movie was just so wonderfully done.
My last two are gonna be Whiplash and Juno, for obvious reasons. [laughs] Juno came along, what is that, 10 years ago now? That came along when I had a nicely established career going and was paying my mortgage and putting my kids through their outrageous L.A. private school. We’d moved out from New York to L.A. two or three years before that, and I’d met Jason. I’d done Jason Reitman’s first feature, Thank You For Smoking, which is also an underrated film, by the way.
Actually, he joined our semi-regular poker game when I was playing it at the time. And he quickly became, from a guy who basically barely knew what beats what in poker, he quickly became one of the best players at the table just because he’s such a smart guy. But we were playing at my friend’s house, and Jason showed up and he just handed me this paper script and he said, “Hey, I’m gonna be working on this,” or, “I just got this,” or something sort of vague, and he said, “You gotta read this. This is so good. It’s by this writer nobody ever heard of.”
That night or the next day, I read the script, and of course immediately fell in love with the part of Juno’s dad, Mac MacGuff. You know, [Reitman] hadn’t said anything to me. He hadn’t said, “Look at this part,” or, “Look at that part.” So, I’m thinking, you know, maybe he wants me to play the drugstore guy in the first scene, or maybe he just wanted to share it with me because we’re pals now. I don’t know. It wasn’t until days later — and I wasn’t gonna say, “Hey, I wanna play this part” — it wasn’t until days later that he said, “Oh, God, of course, J.K. I want you to play the dad. Of course I do.” And he said, “I got the whole movie cast already in my head. I hope we get everybody I want.”
Of course, the people financing the movie wanted him to get some famous pop star to play Juno, and they wanted to get some very well-known actor to play Juno’s dad. There were lists of guys that were way more famous than I was, but they kept throwing at Jason saying, “Look, if you want to get this movie made and get the budget that you want to have, these are the kind of guys that you need to play Juno’s dad.” For both Ellen Page and for me — and really for most of the characters, for Michael Cera, for Allison Janney — you know, these were all the people that he had in mind as soon as he read the script, but he knew he wanted the cast in the movie. He went to bat for all of us, and Ellen and I actually had to do a full on screen test that he set up with film, on actual film, at a sound stage. Jason had us do a couple scenes from the movie to convince the money people that we were the actors that were gonna help make the movie the best it could be.
So that was a really nice vote of confidence from Jason, who, by the way, I just emailed five minutes before you called, because I’m gonna be doing his next movie, The Front Runner, which we start shooting in like less than two weeks.
A little Whiplash anecdote is, of course, like everybody else, I had no idea who Damien Chazelle was. Jason Reitman was the one who sent me the script, in an email, for Whiplash. He sent me both the short and the feature script and just said, “Read this,” and obviously it’s from Jason so I’m gonna read it. It was again, obviously, probably one of the most brilliant scripts I had ever read and one of the best fits in terms of the character that I really immediately understood and felt like I could wrap my brain around and pull off.
They said, “The writer-director would love to meet you,” and we set up a lunch, and Damien and I sat down and immediately basically agreed on everything, except he didn’t know that I had a musical background, so he was talking about how we’d have body doubles and we’d have somebody coaching me on how to wave my arms around like a conductor. And I said, “Hey, we don’t need that because actually, that’s one of the arrows I have in my quiver.” That was one of those moments where it felt like kismet, that Damien was like, “Oh, my God.” He said, “When Jason and Helen suggested you for this part, I immediately thought that’s a great idea, but I had no idea that you actually had those kinds of abilities.” And also, he didn’t write the script for me, but he wrote it with Miles Teller in mind from the beginning, and didn’t know that Miles had been playing drums since he was 15 years old.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: I want to stick with Whiplash for a second. You’ve been one of the most reliable character actors for decades, and you’re always so good in everything. Just speaking personally, whenever you appear on screen, I almost always wish the scenes were longer. In that sense, seeing you in Whiplash was kind of like wish fulfillment for me, and I’m wondering, did you find it particularity gratifying to win the Oscar and be recognized specifically for a larger performance like that?
J.K. Simmons: Yeah, I mean, it was definitely gratifying to get all that attention that I got from that film and all the awards, culminating in the Oscar. That had never been sort of my raison d’etre as an actor. It was just a very nice, sort of, benefit of having the opportunity to play a brilliantly written role in a brilliantly written and executed movie and have it take off the way it did. And it felt like I was just kind of along for the ride that whole time, and all of a sudden I found myself walking red carpets and making acceptance speeches every other week. Yeah, it was a great ride. I’m glad it happened to me when I was 60, or pushing 60, instead of when I was young.
RT: Why is that?
Simmons: Well, my career arc has obviously been pretty gradual. I did nothing but theater for 20 years and in the first 10 or 12 years of that, I was doing little regional stuff that dozens of people were seeing. And then, when I started doing on camera acting, it was bit parts here and there. I didn’t really start making a comfortable living until, coincidentally, about the time I was grown-up enough to be getting married and having kids, which wasn’t until my early 40s.
I’ve worked with a lot of guys, a lot of young guys, who get a lot of attention. These guys or women who get a lot of attention are just famous when they’re young, and I think it’s an incredibly challenging thing for anybody to deal with. Whether it’s an actor, or an athlete, or a musician, or whatever, people who are such celebrities at such a young age, it kind of alters your perception — or it can alter your perception — of what life is about.
By the time all the attention came my way for Whiplash, I was already grown-up enough to know that it didn’t mean I was the center of the universe. It just meant I’d put in a lot of years doing some solid work, and I’d gotten the part that really drew a lot of attention. It almost felt like it was 75% an award, or awards, for my work in Whiplash and 25% kind of a “lifetime achievement, this guy’s been around a long time, let’s throw him some trophies” kind of award.
(Photo by Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics)
RT: I’ve read that you said you made a conscious decision to go into screen acting because theater just wasn’t paying the bills at the time. I’m wondering what the first role was that you landed that really felt like it was going to take you somewhere?
Simmons: Well, really, the screen acting transition, it was partly about money, but it was also partly because I’d kind of gotten to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a theater guy, which was doing Broadway and being in long-running Broadway hit shows. Yeah, part of it was that it wasn’t making me rich, but more importantly it was kind of like doing the same show eight times a week, month after month after month. It just got to be tedious at times.
The last Broadway show I did was Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a Neil Simon play, and a lot of the cast was people who did both theater and screen acting, TV and film — Mark Linn-Baker, John Slattery, Nathan Lane. As I got to know them and hear their stories, I thought, “What? I’d like to be one of those guys.” So yeah, once in a while you walk out to the mailbox and get a surprise residual check, which you don’t get for theater, but also, you get opportunities to play different kinds of things and not have to repeat yourself 400+ times a year playing the same character.
RT: Early in your career, you were doing Law & Order at the same time that you were doing Oz, and the two characters you portrayed were like diametric opposites. I’m wondering if you think that that helped to raise your profile — not just the fact that they were two big shows, but that, together, they were sort of able to showcase your versatility.
Simmons: Yeah, the timing of those two different characters was one of the many, many, many fortunate breaks that I look back on and the career that’s gotten me to where I am now. Really, my first sort of big on-camera thing was a guest-starring role on Homicide: Life on the Street, the Tom Fontana show, and it was the first time that Homicide was doing a crossover episode with Law & Order. I had just started auditioning for TV and movies, and I had told my agent, “I’m not gonna do another play. I want to try and make this work for a while.” I had been in a week or two earlier for a nice guest-starring part on Law & Order and they didn’t hire me.
When they were casting this guy on Homicide, Ed Sherin — sweet, wonderful, Ed Sherin who passed away recently, and to whom I owe a lot, based on this one thing — they were talking about casting for this big crossover episode that was gonna get a lot of attention, and he said, “Hey, we just saw this guy his name is Simmons.” He said, “I think he’d be really good in this,” playing this, you know, bad guy, neo-Nazi bastard. And Fontana, he didn’t know who I was, and they talked about it, and they just offered me the part. I didn’t even have to go in and read for it. The next day I was on a train to Baltimore to go shoot this part, and it was a great, great part. It was almost like doing a play, because it was a big interrogation scene with Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor, like a 10-page scene, and it was challenging and beautifully written.
That’s what, within the next year, led to both Oz, and then a few months after Oz started, Law & Order called again and asked me to play the recurring shrink part, which was the perfect complement to playing Vern Schillinger on Oz, because once Oz started, half the calls my agent got were to play the Nazi bastard of the week on some TV show. And I was like, “Look, I know I’m new at this and beggars can’t be choosers,” but I said, “I am not gonna play that character for the rest of my life.” So I passed on all those kinds of parts, and then Law & Order started airing, and, you know, audiences saw this same guy playing the psycho and the psychiatrist, and it really helped me not get typecast for the next decade.
J.K. Simmons in Oz (Photo by HBO)
RT: Clearly, the decision not to go ahead with those other roles was the smart move.
Simmons: Yeah, and honestly, a lot of the time, people talk about, for an actor, all the smart choices of roles that you do, but oftentimes it’s as important, if not more important, the smart choices of the roles that you don’t do. Even when I was doing theater and kind of waiting tables in between gigs and barely paying my rent on my sublet in Hell’s Kitchen, if something just wasn’t interesting or there just didn’t seem like a good fit, like a part that I felt like I could do well, or just not something I liked, I would turn it down. I’d rather wait tables than do something that didn’t feel right.
RT: I think that speaks to your integrity as an artist who wants to express himself, and I think it reflects a certain kind of courage. I mean, you have to have courage to be able to do something like that, right?
Simmons: Well, you have to have courage/foolishness to get into this line of work in the first place, so yeah, I’ll take that as a major compliment.
RT: I’ve heard you describe the difference between a character actor and a “regular actor” is that character actors aren’t that good looking. With Whiplash, I feel like you’ve sort of ascended beyond character actor status. Does it feel like that to you at all? Do you feel sexier these days?
Simmons: [laughs] Oh, I always feel sexy, baby… mostly at home. Yeah, I mean, there are obviously myriad ways in which Whiplash was a career gift, and yeah, one of them is to be seen as — nobody’s gonna ever mistake me for Clooney or Pitt — but you know, to be seen as a guy that can walk into a room and bring some charisma or some intimidation factor, just bring a strong presence into the room. And again, once Whiplash came out, it was like when Oz first started and everybody wanted me to be the Nazi of the week. When Whiplash first came out, three quarters of the scripts were like, “Oh, let’s have him play the charismatic guy that screams at people and belittles them and reduces them to little stinking puddles,” and I thought, “You know, I just got done doing that in one of the best films ever, and that doesn’t mean I want to play that character again.”
I actually consciously looked for characters who were not charismatic, who were part of the woodwork or who were going through difficult journeys or who were not the alpha male, the guy in charge, as I will continue to do. What interests me is doing something different from whatever I’ve been doing recently. So, hopefully, that’ll continue to be the case.
The Bachelors, actually was another one of those. It was a part that I took because the guy was just a guy who, partly because it’s who he is and partly because of the circumstances of his recent life, he’s just a nonpresence. He’s, actually, the one thing he has in common with Whiplash is that he’s a teacher. In this case he’s a classroom math teacher, but he’s the guy that walks into the room and the kids don’t even stop talking. It’s very unlike Terence Fletcher, somewhat in appearance and certainly in character.
J.K. Simmons in Bojack Horseman (Photo by Netflix)
RT: Your versatility extends beyond just the dramatic characters you play, since you’ve shown you have great comic timing as well. But you’ve also done a lot of voice work. You have an extensive, impressive resume of animated stuff, which makes sense because you have such a distinctive voice. How did you come to be so involved in that side of the industry?
Simmons: Well, I actually first started getting a little voiceover work when I was doing Guys and Dolls on Broadway. It was 1992 and we were a gigantic, ridiculous hit. It was a beautiful, great, great, great, production directed by Jerry Zaks. And everybody in the cast was getting a lot of attention from agents. “Oh, we want to send you out for this or that,” booking mostly commercials. Half the commercials you see are Broadway actors cashing in a paycheck.
So I got a lot of commercial agents who called and wanted to send me out, and I had sort of tried commercials off and on and I wasn’t drawn to it, and I didn’t feel like I was good at it. But I kept asking to speak to their voiceover people, because I said I’d love to try voiceovers, and most of them the response was exactly that. Most of them said, “Well, sure. So would everybody else in show business.” Voiceover is a pretty tight market, especially in New York. There’s like a handful of guys that are getting most of the work. But my dear pal Jeb Bernstein at Paradigm was just starting a new voiceover department and he said, “Sure, yeah, I’ll start sending you out for voiceovers.” I did a few auditions, I got a couple of small, little radio spots, and within, I don’t know, a year or two or something, I ended up getting hired as the Yellow M&M. That’s a job that has been going for well over 20 years, now and helping to pay the mortgage.
RT: Wow, has it really been that long already?
Simmons: Oh, yeah. Billy West as Red and myself as Yellow, it’s gotta be over 20 years now. Yeah, crazy. And I just thought it’d be really fun kind of work to do and it’s, you know, it’s a painless kind of work to do, because in my case, I just ride my bike over there and it doesn’t matter if I’m a sweaty mess or I’m not dressed well. You just go into your little booth and do your little thing.
So, the rest of the time that we were living in New York, I had some nice commercial voiceover stuff going on, and then once we moved to L.A. where more of the animated work is, I started getting more of those opportunities. And then, of course, as you become more recognizable as an on-camera presence, then people start throwing cartoon work your way, whether you’re good at it or not, so a lot of it is just for that reason. I mean, it gets harder and harder to schedule little quirky, animated things, but I still do those little kinds of things once in a while, just mostly for fun, or because it’s something I think my kids will be into.
RT: You’ve got a pretty high-profile release coming up in Justice League, and Commissioner Gordon is a pretty important character in the Batman world. Is there anything that you might be able to tell us about his relationship to Batman in the film, particularly considering those workout photos of you that surfaced some time ago?
Simmons: Yeah, no. That was just interesting timing, but the internet got kind of carried away with it. I was just working out with my buddy, Aaron Williamson, who was a pal that I train with sometimes. And he said, “Hey, let me take some pictures and put them up on my Instagram.” And a couple months later, you know, they were all over the internet. But no, that actually had nothing to do with Commissioner Gordon.
I had recently gotten very, very thin for a movie called I’m Not Here, which is about to premier at Raindance Film Festival in a couple of weeks. And I was just sort of in the process of like, “Let’s look somewhat emaciated without going crazy.” And so I was just back in the gym with Aaron a few weeks after that, just trying to build back some muscle, and yeah, those pictures just took off.
You’re not gonna be seeing the bulging biceps on Commissioner Gordon, at least in the first Justice League movie. You’re not gonna see much of Commissioner Gordon, actually. It’s just kind of a “Let’s introduce, or reintroduce, this character with a new actor playing him.” Obviously, he’s been played by a lot of really wonderful actors. It was an intimidating character to step into, but yeah, don’t blink during Justice League or you’ll miss my Commissioner Gordon.
For some, high school is the peak of their life: You’ve got prom and pep rallies, and homecoming and hormones. For others, it’s the pits because you’ve got…well, prom and pep rallies, and homecoming and hormones. And there to capture every awesome/awful moment are these high school movies which earned high grades from film critics.
Some of these beloved movies (like The Last Picture Show or American Graffiti) take a look back on high school with the clarity of time gone by. Others (like Superbad or Booksmart) make you feel like the high school experience is unfolding in real-time right before your eyes.
The best high school movies reflect discovering one’s self (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), questioning authority (Dead Poets Society), taking wild risks (Better Luck Tomorrow), and working for a better future (Hoop Dreams). And some ask the big questions. Like, what if I was in high school and I was also, you know, a superhero? What if one day I’m driving to school and then I time-travel back to 1955? And what if I had a better idea of what to do with that pie than just eating it?
As the jump-gate into adulthood and beyond, high school can be wild and wondrous and heart-breaking and hilarious. (And usually all at once.) The same can be said for these Fresh and Certified Fresh films (each with at least 20 critics reviews), representing the best high school movies ever, all ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: Despite the formulaic, fluffy storyline, this movie is surprisingly fun to watch, mostly due to its high energy and how it humorously spoofs cheerleading instead of taking itself too seriously.
Synopsis: The Toro cheerleading squad from Rancho Carne High School in San Diego has got spirit, spunk, sass and a killer... [More]
Critics Consensus: Though Rocket Science appears to be a typically quirky indie, the well-rounded performances and director Jeffrey Blitz's clear affection for his characters gives the film its proper human spark.
Synopsis: High-school student Hal Hefner's (Reece Daniel Thompson) life is falling down around him. His parents have split, his brother picks... [More]
Critics Consensus:My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea's attention-getting visual style matches debuting writer-director Dash Shaw's distinctive narrative approach -- and signals a bright future for a promising talent.
Synopsis: High school sophomores Dash and Assaf are best friends and the only writers for the school newspaper. When the editor... [More]
Critics Consensus: Richard Kelly's debut feature Donnie Darko is a daring, original vision, packed with jarring ideas and intelligence and featuring a remarkable performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the troubled title character.
Synopsis: In a funny, moving and distinctly mind-bending journey through suburban America, one extraordinary but disenchanted teenager is about to take... [More]
Critics Consensus: A harrowing tale of aimless youth, River's Edge generates considerable tension and urgency thanks to strong performances from a stellar cast that includes Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, and Ione Skye.
Synopsis: Teenage burnout Samson (Daniel Roebuck) has murdered his girlfriend and left her naked body lying on the bank of a... [More]
Critics Consensus: Deftly balancing vulgarity and sincerity while placing its protagonists in excessive situations, Superbad is an authentic take on friendship and the overarching awkwardness of the high school experience.
Synopsis: High-school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have high hopes for a graduation party: The co-dependent teens plan... [More]
Critics Consensus:Spider-Man: Homecoming does whatever a second reboot can, delivering a colorful, fun adventure that fits snugly in the sprawling MCU without getting bogged down in franchise-building.
Synopsis: Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the... [More]
Critics Consensus: One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams is a rich, complex, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply rewarding film that uses high school hoops as a jumping-off point to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America.
Synopsis: Every school day, African-American teenagers William Gates and Arthur Agee travel 90 minutes each way from inner-city Chicago to St.... [More]
I learned the truth at 17, that movie critics can be mean… but not to Hailee Steinfeld and her new movie The Edge of Seventeen, a high school dramedy starring Steinfeld as a neurotic hellcat on the cusp of adulthood. And if the reviews maintain their pace, then Edge will be a future alumni of this week’s 24 Frames gallery of Certified Fresh high school movies since 2000!
“Babies!! They’re babies!!” Yes, Shredder, they are babies, and one day when you’re all grown-up, you too will appreciate the miracle of birth. Just ask Bridget Jones’ Baby — whose mother endured ugly Christmas sweaters and middle-aged manfights and a previous sequel where we assume stuff happened — crowning this Friday after gestating years in development hell. But because Rotten Tomatoes is never one to pass up a cause célèbre, here’s this week’s gallery of 24 most momentous movie babies!
Just ten years ago, we were unearthing our analog phones and covering our heads with tin foil hats while listening to Matchbox Twenty and Creed to prepare for Y2K – the day electronics would turn against us. It’s true, the new decade will arrive with considerably less dangerous fanfare and hoarding of canned goods, but it should not and does not take away from all of the films that impressed not only audiences, but the Tomatometer as well over the past ten years. With our annual Golden Tomato Awards just around the corner, RT braved the mothball-scented digital cobwebs in our archives to find some of the very best the Tomatometer had to offer this decade.
In a decade filled with the return of iconic franchises, Star Trek went
from Impulse Drive to Warp 9 (too easy?) with both critics and audiences with
its reboot this year. When J.J. Abrams signed on to take the helm of the Star
Trek franchise with a group of new faces taking on the roles of the
timeless Enterprise crew, little did we know that the blockbuster film would go
on to be one of the best reviewed movies of the year.
While film after film has
taken us forward with the voyagers of the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek was a
true origins story that wasn’t geared towards Trekkies, too simple for fans of
the show, or too complex for newbies. Star Trek delivered a visually
stunning brand of mainstream entertainment that propelled the series back not
only back into theaters, but the public consciousness. However, the movie had some stiff
competition, going up against the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bond and a man in a bat suit, amongst a number of others but its broad
appeal and ability to recruit a whole new generation of Star Trek fans
make it the Best Reboot of the Decade.
Why so serious? In an era where superhero movies have become defined by grim
angst, somber origin stories and dark nights of the soul, it might come as a
surprise to discover that a psychotic clown versus a bat-man didn’t top this
best-of-the-decade list. And yet, there it is — Pixar’s decidedly exuberant and
satirical superhero romp is the 2000s’ spandex-clad champ with movie critics,
edging out the list’s highest-grossing film at the box office, The Dark
We shouldn’t be surprised at all. Written and directed by Brad Bird — who showed
what he was capable of with the superb Iron Giant — The Incredibles is
a classic that succeeds in that rarest of ways; poking fun at the genre while at
the same time celebrating it and bringing something new and exciting to the
form. It’s almost like Bird read Watchmen and distilled the novel’s
premise to a pure comedic element. Fallen strongman Mr. Incredible and his wife,
Elastigirl, have been forced into a suburban life since superheroes have been
outlawed; only to return to action when crazed villain Syndrome — who’s the ultimate
fanboy — sets out to wreak revenge on those that created him.
With Bird’s impeccable sense of retro design writ colorfully in Pixar’s CG
world, The Incredibles is an artistic triumph as well as being a
dynamic action film and a seriously smart comedy — in any genre, really. It’s
an “unprecedented film that is not just a grand feature-length cartoon,” wrote
the Los Angeles Times, “but a grand feature.”
The best documentaries help us to see the world in new ways, and on that Afghan
Star is an unqualified success. It gives us a look at an Afghanistan that
we rarely see on the news, and presents a nuanced portrait of a war-ravaged
nation that is looking for some measure of camaraderie and escapism. It also
proves that, no matter where you are, American Idol-style singing
completions make for compelling television.
Directing her first feature, longtime TV producer Havana Marking deserves credit
for shining a light on a cast of characters that don’t often have a voice in the
West. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking debut that’s tense, insightful,
inspiring, heart-wrenching…and true.
R-Rated comedies made a strong comeback this decade, receiving a particularly
effective boost from films starring members of what has affectionately come to
be called the “Frat Pack” — people like Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn,
and Owen Wilson — and Judd Apatow’s crew of jokesters (Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd,
Jason Segel). Having said all that, the highest rated of these starred none of
the aforementioned actors and featured far less bathroom humor than your average
A little less than halfway through the decade, indie director Alexander Payne
brought us a thoughtful and melancholy yet often hilarious road trip movie about
a failed writer (Paul Giamatti) and his soon-to-be-married college pal (Thomas
Haden Church). Miles Raymond (Giamatti) is the former of the two, a wine
enthusiast and divorcé pining for his ex-wife who decides to take his buddy Jack
(Church) on a weeklong trip through California wine country as a last hurrah
before Jack is married. The pair end up meeting a couple of women (Virginia
Madsen and Sandra Oh) along the way, and their short vacation quickly becomes
transformative for both of them. Praised for its outstanding performances and
intelligent script, Sideways was a sleeper hit, winning several awards
and helping to launch the mainstream careers of its stars.
Look at those posters right below. Daredevil. Golden Compass. One of two Punishers released this decade.
They’re like gravestones marking the result of Hollywood folly, misguided and
frequently cynical efforts to open cash cow franchises. But rising above this
lot is 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and not just by
virtue of it having a fresh Tomatometer.
A lot of things turned audiences en masse away from Master and Commander when it
was theatrically released (where it didn’t even cross $100 million): its awful
title, its fondness for dialogue, and its lack of pirates. Naval officers on the
high seas? They don’t sell! Master and Commander is a lumbering character piece,
a literate blockbuster that preferred you get to know the characters before it
got into any sequel talk. It’s a movie that’s as much Russell Crowe’s as it is a
showcase for co-star Paul Bettany (who plays the temperate surgeon to Crowe’s
blustery captain), further dividing audiences who wanted simply a mindless
star-driven action flick.
Unfortunately, any Tomatometer-based list of martial arts movies is going to be
somewhat incomplete, as there are only so many such films that are made
available to a broader, international audience. Stars like Jackie Chan and Jet
Li are household names now, but before they made their US debuts in the mid-late
90s, both had already built sizable filmographies in Chinese cinema.
Additionally, crowning the “best” martial arts film of the decade is tough also
because most in the genre are purely about the action sequences, often
sacrificing compelling storylines and solid acting in favor of wildly
breathtaking fight choreography.
But in late 2000, director Ang Lee introduced the rest of the mainstream world
to the Chinese period epic with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and
suffice it to say that the world was immediately smitten. Truly only a “martial
arts” movie insofar as The Lord of the Rings is merely an “action
movie,” Crouching Tiger artfully blended its share of action with
gorgeous cinematography, heartfelt drama, and an epic historical setting to
craft a fully immersive tale that resonated even with those unfamiliar with the
genre. It went on to win multiple awards, including the Best Foreign Language
Film Oscar, and became the highest grossing foreign language film in American
history. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the martial arts movie for
people who don’t watch martial arts movies, and it paved the way for other films
of a similar nature, such as 2004’s Hero and this year’s Red
TIME magazine titled its end-of-the-aughts issue “The Decade from Hell,” and
although it wasn’t a decade without its jolly moments, Steven Spielberg’s War
of the Worlds is as good a representation as any of just how dark things
sometimes felt. Spielberg, after all, was the director who did more than just
about anyone else to turn Hollywood space aliens from creepy crawlies into
benevolent visitors — and here he was doing an about face, crafting a
big-budget adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel about terrifying
interstellar conquerors rising from deep within the earth. The 9/11 parallels
were hard to miss, but Spielberg being Spielberg, War was still a
popcorn-gobbling good time; as Ken Tucker noted in New York Magazine, “Steven
Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is huge and scary, moving and
funny-another capper to a career that seems like an unending succession of
Worlds faced its toughest competition from The Road, where
Cormac McCarthy discovered you can wring Pulitzer-winning drama from the
post-apocalyptic aftermath — even without Kevin Costner or Mel Gibson around to
pump up the action. The Day After Tomorrow proved that nobody destroys
things with quite as much panache as Roland Emmerich. The Core combined
the dramatic might of Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, and DJ Qualls in a good old
fashioned blockbuster epic featuring a team of scientists, an early cameo
appearance by “unobtanium” and a daring plan to detonate nuclear bombs at the
center of the earth. And this year, Emmerich was back dreaming up new ways to
destroy the planet, turning the Mayan calendar for inspiration to use $200
million worth of state-of-the-art CGI to create its own brand of apocalyptic
Seems like it was a good decade to be an author of children’s books or YA lit. Harry Potter raised a whole new generation of kids to come out of the living
room and into the theaters. Meanwhile, it was virtually guaranteed that at least
one of the books you read (or had read to you) as a tot was brought to the
multiplex. The one that’s found the most critical success this decade is also
the most recent: Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Roald Dahl classic work as adapted by
Wes Anderson, creator of new wave precious cinema.
While many elements of the story’s plot was altered or removed completely, and
the movie itself not necessarily geared towards children, critics responded to
the movie’s joie de vivre and surprisingly thoughtful meditation on how to grow
up and how to do it with style. Fantastic Mr. Fox hasn’t found its audience in
theaters, but expect a cult audience in coming years when it hits the home
market. Like a good classic book, this is something kids may want to cherish and
experience again as they grow.
What happens when you take a first time writer (Diablo Cody), add a director on
the upswing (Jason Reitman, who would later direct/write/produce Up in the
Air), and give X-Men‘s Shadowcat the chance to play a super smart
sixteen year old that would put Dawson Leary and Joey Potter to shame? You get Juno,
the best reviewed teen movie of the decade.
At 93% on the Tomatometer, Juno also added four Oscar nominations to
its resume’, with one win going to Diablo Cody for her story about an unexpected
teen pregnancy. Not only was the story recognized, but the Juno role
ultimately catapulted Ellen Page to star status. Overflowing with wit and heart,
strong performances by Page, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Cera
(as the baby daddy) gave critics and audiences plenty to love. Beating out some
tough competition, Juno‘s preggers five foot frame stands
tall this decade.
Movie characters fall in love all the time, but it’s rare that a movie explores
both the joy and messiness of relationships in a way that seems organic and not
dictated by the demands of a formula. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind is one such example; it’s a movie that dares to ask: if you knew how
an affair would end, would it be worth the trouble?
That’s the dilemma Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) face in this
delirious, phantasmagoric feature, which blends science fiction, comedy, and
romance with director Michel Gondry’s gonzo aesthetic and Charlie Kauffman’s
thoughtful concepts. It’s one of the trippiest movies of the decade, and yet
it’s touching and poignant — the type of movie that rewards multiple watchings
and casts a personal spell on each viewer that sees it.
In this week’s roster of UK cinema releases we have the latest addition to the Coen canon in the CIA comedy caper, Burn After Reading. Shia LeBeouf stakes a further claim to the Hollywood A-list in the high concept cyber-thriller Eagle Eye, and a washed up ’80s rockstar wannabe gets another stab at fame with his nephew’s band in The Rocker. But what did the UK critics have to say?
Last year, the Coen brothers picked up the Academy Award for Best Picture for their neo-western thriller No Country For Old Men, and at 94% on the Tomatometer, this was long-deserved acclaim for Joel and Ethan Coen, and set their already high standards to an even higher benchmark. It’s an oft-quoted theory that the Coens make two types of films; Screwball caper comedies a la Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski or the ‘serious,’ tougher and more gritty efforts like Fargo and Miller’s Crossing. With No Country they made, arguably, their toughest and grittiest film yet, with great success, so it makes sense that with their follow up, instead of trying to outmuscle their modern masterpiece, they’ve stepped into screwball mode for Burn After Reading. To many this may have seemed a risk, with their last comedic outing, Ealing comedy remake, The Ladykillers taking a bit of a critical kicking at 55% on the Tomatometer, but the Coens’ gamble seems to have paid off with Burn After Reading, as it currently stands at a respectable 78% on the Tomatometer. Despite a few calls from the critics over the lightweight throwaway feel of the film due to its slender running time of 96 minutes, most have been raving about the daffy turns from all the actors involved, with many praising Brad Pitt’s brainless portrayal of fitness instructor Chad Feldheimer as comedy gold. With a killer one/two combo of their last two movies, fans all over will be waiting with baited breath for their next cinematic outing, A Serious Man, due for release next year.
Shia LeBeouf’s rise to the top of the pile in Hollywood surely hasn’t been hindered after being taken under the wing of Steven Spielberg. With a starring role in Spielberg’s Dreamworks Studio teen-thriller Disturbia, followed by a lead role in the Spielberg-produced, robots in disguise, action adventure hit Transformers and finally being cast as Indiana Jones Jr, Mutt Williams, in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, LeBeouf has become an instantly recognised presence on the big screen. In Eagle Eye,(produced by Spielberg unsurprisingly) he is back with Disturbia director DJ Caruso, and is out to carry on his winning streak in this cyber thriller, as Jerry Shaw, a slacker who gets embroiled in a terrorist plot, out to clear his name with help from the FBI. Unfortunately, the critics didn’t allow themselves to get carried away with the high octane, low brainer action, and many dismiss the film for its preposterous and implausible plotting, accusing it of borrowing too heavily from many other superior, and classic, films. The critics who liked it enjoyed the snappy and thrilling pace of the brainless entertainment on offer, but not enough to escape the ignominy of a measly 28% on the Tomatometer as it currently stands.
Rainn Wilson is probably not a name too well known to UK audiences, but he has a face that makes you think “Hmm, I recognise him from somewhere” thanks to small roles in Juno, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend, as well as a regular role in the American remake of The Office, and a recurring one in the critically-acclaimed Six-Feet Under. In The Rocker, Wilson takes centre stage as ex-rocker Robert ‘Fish’ Fishman, a drummer with fictitious ’80s rock band Vesuvius, who was given the boot moments before the band hit the big time, and who has been coming to terms with his near brush with superstardom ever since. He gets his second chance to reclaim his rock-god throne, when he joins his teenage nephews, high school rock band A.D.D., whilst showing his young band mates the merits of a rock and roll lifestyle in the process. The Rocker seems to have fared better with the UK critics than it did with the US critics, who, in the main had panned the film for its formulaic and unoriginal style, unfunny and forgettable script and shameless similarities to the vastly superior School Of Rock. UK critics weren’t so harsh, and many enjoyed the brisk humour, snappy one liners and good natured feeling to the whole proceedings, even if some of the slapstick doesn’t quite get the laughs it hopes for. Currently at 39% on the Tomatometer, The Rocker isn’t quite that rocking.
Also worth checking out this week…
Young@Heart – Full of endearing characters, this doc about a choir of “seniors behaving badly” is uplifting and delightful. 88% on the Tomatometer.
La Zona – A slick and smart Mexican thriller of middle-class panic and vigilantism, that is lean, mean and often shocking. 78% on the Tomatometer.
Quote Of The Week
“A worse film might be dismissed as sobsploitation.”