The 13 Best Comedy Movies Of 2021 Ranked

2021 was certainly an unpredictable year for comedy films. Not only were film productions and releases affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but for many, it's hard to laugh in the face of an ongoing pandemic.

As such, the comedy films of 2021 were an interesting batch that covered many different genres. Some of the biggest hits of the year were action-comedies that seamlessly combined thrills and laughs; while films like "Red Notice," "The Suicide Squad," and "Nobody" have more serious elements, there's certainly a large amount of comedy in both. After a challenging year, audiences enjoyed these humorous crowd pleasers.

In addition, the prominence of streaming services and simultaneous distribution strategies has allowed many smaller and independent films to gain a larger audience. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Shudder, film fans have more freedom than ever to explore a wide range of comedic films. It's been particularly interesting to see how indie artists have responded to the pandemic with innovative projects, and many of 2021's comedy films are expected to be major awards contenders.

Here are the best comedy films of 2021, ranked.

13. Jungle Cruise

Ever since the game-changing success of "Pirates of the Caribbean," Disney has been desperate to create another live-action adventure franchise that it can claim as its own. Unfortunately, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Tron: Legacy," "John Carter," and "Oz: The Great and Powerful" all failed to capture the two aspects that made "Pirates of the Caribbean" so successful: its sense of humor, and a character as iconic as Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow.

At long last, 2021's "Jungle Cruise" managed to fill the void, delivering an exciting adventure-comedy filled with memorable characters. Dwayne Johnson turns in one of his funniest performances ever as the shady jungle tour guide Frank Wolff, who is hired by Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) to help search for a mysterious lost city and treasure. The film was a success, and a sequel has already been announced, with both Johnson and Blunt set to return.

12. Bo Burnham: Inside

Many comedians struggled to remain in high spirits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as health-related production restrictions made it difficult to film smaller-scale projects. Outside of the physical constraints, isolation proved to be emotionally debilitating as well. It became harder to see the humorous side of life when so much about the world was uncertain. Comedian and musician Bo Burnham frequently deals with emotional issues in his work, and is one of the most refreshingly honest figures working in the modern film industry.

Burnham himself was dealing with the crippling anxiety of turning 30 and feeling unaccomplished, and COVID-19 only increased these doubts. Burnham's latest musical comedy special, "Bo Burnham: Inside," sees him tackling his feelings through emotional, yet hilarious songs about the internet era, current events, his own panic attacks, and his overall mental health. Shot entirely in Burnham's apartment during the pandemic, it's a testament to how creativity can flourish even during quarantine.

11. Dream Horse

"Dream Horse" pays homage to the inspirational true story of Dream Alliance, a horse who raced in the Welsh Grand National. The film centers on the eclectic characters who bred and raised the horse, betting their entire future on his success. The story hits some formulaic notes, but that isn't distracting, as the film has a heartwarming and quirky sense of humor thanks to the great chemistry between its ensemble.

Bartender Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) begins raising an infant horse, deciding she will make him a champion. Her husband, Brian (Owen Teale), has long been disengaged from life, but discovers a new passion for adventure once they set out to win a major competition. Along the way, they bring their small community together and christen the animal Dream Alliance, while the former serial gambler Howard Davies (Damian Lewis) helps them scout out racing opportunities. The film ends on a heartfelt note that includes footage of the real subjects.

10. I Care a Lot

Rosamund Pike is one of the best actresses working today, but, unfortunately, she isn't always given roles that are worthy of her talents. "Gone Girl" was a transformative moment in Pike's career and provided her with a great character to play, and she's been waiting for another equally complex part ever since. Well, the time may have finally arrived: The relentlessly nihilistic black comedy "I Care a Lot" gives Pike one of her best roles to date in con artist Marla Grayson.

Marla circumnavigates the legal system by masquerading as a court-appointed guardian to wealthy elderly people, but becomes tied up in a complex criminal conspiracy after her exploits attract the attention of the mafia lawyer Dean Ericson (Chris Messina). Ericson works for the ruthless gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), whose mother, Jennifer (Dianne West), is one of Marla's victims. The film doesn't absolve Marla at all, and it's entertaining to watch all of the unlikeable characters face the consequences of their actions.

9. Everyone's Talking About Jamie

2021 has been a great year for film musicals. Just as Broadway started up live shows again, stage musicals began inspiring some of this year's most exciting Hollywood projects. While "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Cinderella" were disappointments, films like "Cyrano," "West Side Story," "Annette," "In the Heights," and "tick, tick... BOOM!" showed that the film musical is still alive and well. But it wasn't just the big names. "Everyone's Talking about Jamie" adapts a 2011 coming-of-age stage musical for the screen, and it's an incredible feature film debut from director Jonathan Butterell.

Jamie Campbell (Max Harwood) is an adolescent boy living in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England who is completely confident with his own homosexuality, but struggles to express himself in the repressive school system. Jamie wants to become a drag queen, but is unsure if he will ever be accepted. However, he finds an unexpected mentor in the older shopkeeper Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), who helps Jamie prepare to debut his drag persona ahead of his senior prom.

8. Free Guy

Hollywood productions are now almost entirely based on established intellectual properties, and it's hard to find many new projects that aren't based on a previously existing work. While independent films have been able to tell original stories, it's rare to see a big budget film dedicated to a story that's not based on a novel, comic book, video game, or well-known character. But they do exist! "Free Guy" is that rare original blockbuster, and it was inspiring to see that audiences turned out en masse to see a fresh story in theaters, particularly after so many theatrical shutdowns.

"Free Guy" takes place in a massively multiplayer online game owned and operated by the Soonami Games corporation, which is under the control of the eccentric, cruel CEO Antwan Hovachelik (Taika Waititi). Antwan stole the key designs for the "Free City" game from a project called "Life Itself," developed by Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer) and Walter McKey (Joe Keery). Driven by a need for justice, Millie attempts to infiltrate the game in order to find evidence that will reveal Antwan's deceit.

In the game itself, the non-player character known only as "Blue Shirt Guy" (Ryan Reynolds) has no idea that he exists in a video game. Guy works as a teller at a bank that is robbed nearly every day. When fights back for the first time, he develops a glitch in the system, and begins to act on his own. Millie discovers Guy and tries to recruit him to join her rebellion against Antwan, informing him of the reality that he was never intended to be a main character.

7. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Phil Lord and Chris Miller have developed a unique subgenre of animated films that both children and adults can enjoy. While they don't direct every project that bears their names, there is a consistency to the work, which is characterized by a quick pace, clever pop culture references, inventive visuals, and heartfelt stories. Mike Rianda's "Connected" was intended for theatrical release in 2020, but due to the pandemic was instead released by Netflix in 2021 with a new title, "The Mitchells vs. the Machines."

"The Mitchells vs. the Machines" follows a loving family whose members struggle to set aside their phones and connect with each other emotionally. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is a burgeoning cinephile who enjoys making her own viral videos and short films, but her father Rick (Danny McBride) is a woodsman who loves building things with his hands. They care for each other deeply, but Rick becomes anxious as Katie prepares to leave home and for film school. He decides to cancel her flight and schedules an impromptu family road trip, packing his wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), Katie, and her younger brother Aaron into his beaten down car.

Katie is frustrated, as she feels that her father is ruining what should be the most exciting week of her life. The family tension is at an all-time high, but it's interrupted by the outbreak of a robot invasion. Dr. Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) develops robots to serve as in-home helpers, but they grow sentient and try to wipe out humanity, forcing the Mitchells to come together to battle the high-tech threat.

6. Limbo

Comedy has the ability to spotlight different perspectives and highlight voices that are underrepresented. It's sometimes easier to hear and relate to someone else's story when it's peppered with jokes, and great comedy films can highlight (and skewer) relevant political and social issues in a way that's both entertaining and pointed. "Limbo" is one great example, and the film's chilling reality is highlighted by its brittle humor. Although it received nominations at the 2020 BAFTA Awards, "Limbo" didn't receive its theatrical release until 2021.

"Limbo" takes place on a remote island off the coast of Scotland where immigrants await updates on their asylum status. Waiting "in limbo," these refugees have no idea whether or not they will be accepted onto the mainland, but are forced to assimilate anyway by taking classes intended to teach them about Scottish culture. The film follows the relationship between four asylum seekers who live together in a communal home. Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a young, quiet musician who bunks with the eccentric Farhad (Vikash Bhai). Farhad is relentlessly upbeat, and encourages the more reclusive Omar to show off his skills at an upcoming music showcase.

Omar is dealing with grief and post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in the Syrian War, and he's only gradually able to tell his story. While there are many moments of black comedy, "Limbo" is a bleak film that doesn't try to wrap up the refugees' story in a saccharine way. Omar's final moments are heartbreaking.

5. Zola

"Zola" was one of the most acclaimed films at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and A24 fans were eager to check out the film the following summer. Unfortunately, as was the case with so many anticipated 2020 releases, "Zola" was pushed back to the following year. However, while many independent films were sent directly to streaming or VOD services, "Zola" was made available theatrically. That was the right call, because the madcap chaos of the film's narrative is even more effective on the big screen.

"Zola" is almost too wild to be taken seriously, but the film is actually based on a true story. It actually started as a Twitter thread, which went viral and inspired David Kushner's Rolling Stone article "Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted."  The film follows the titular waitress (Tayour Paige) as she begins a friendship with the unpredictable stripper Stefani (Riley Keough). Stefani encourages Zola to start dancing, and invites her on a road trip with her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) to visit her drug dealer Abegunde Olawale (Colman Domino) in Tampa, Florida. However, Stefani frequently lies to Zola about her real intentions.

The story gets increasingly ludicrous as Zola becomes involved in drug deals gone wrong and Stefani's prostitution ring. Paige delivers a breakout performance as the vulnerable title character, and Keough is both hilarious and completely unlikeable as her foil. Braun is endearingly pathetic, as Stefani enjoys embarrassing Derrek, while Domingo's terrifying performance gives the story actual dramatic stakes.

4. Red Rocket

Sean Baker is a filmmaker who prizes realism above all else, and who finds authentic ways to tell stories about underrepresented groups. His breakthrough 2015 film, "Tangerine," is a hilarious Christmas adventure about trans sex workers, but is also very respectful of its characters and their unique worldviews. While his 2017 awards contender "The Florida Project" was a much more serious project, it still included some comedic moments. However, Baker's 2021 film, "Red Rocket," is by far his funniest and most heartwarming film to date.

The film centers on Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), a former pornographic actor who attempts to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), moving from Los Angeles to Florida. While Mikey attempts to find a legitimate profession, he becomes attracted to Strawberry (Suzanna Son), a teenage girl who works at a local donut shop. Mikey explains his situation to Strawberry, who accepts his strange history and hints that she may be interested in joining the porn scene herself. Mikey aims to bring Strawberry with him back to Los Angeles, but is forced to keep providing for Lexi and her cohorts.

"Red Rocket" doesn't stigmatize Saber's lifestyle, and shows the struggles he faces to be taken seriously and provide for himself. However, Rex's hilarious eccentricities make his misadventures consistently entertaining, as he retains his upbeat attitude regardless of the grueling circumstances. The more uncomfortable dramatic moments don't detract from the film's overall hilarity.

3. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

The state of the studio comedy is in flux, as often the most exciting comedic films released come either from acclaimed auteurs or emerging independent artists. Hollywood is so divided that the industry only seems to support either massive tentpole blockbusters or small indie films — the mid-budget star vehicle has almost entirely disappeared. While the early 2000s saw the success of many mid-budget comedies from filmmakers like Judd Apatow, Jay Roach, Adam McKay, and the Farrelly brothers, the 2010s have sent many comedic voices directly to streaming.

As a result, it's hard for a studio comedy to break through, especially amidst a global pandemic, but thankfully this year's "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" became an instant modern classic. With an off-putting absurdity and the singular comedic voice of Kristen Wiig, the film is genuinely weird and unpredictable in a way that is highly refreshing.

"Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" follows two lifelong friends (Wiig and Annie Mumolo), who are perpetually lazy and slack off at their job in Nebraska. When the pair take a vacation to a high-end resort, they unexpectedly become trapped in a plot by the eccentric criminal mastermind Sharon Fisherman (also Wiig). Sharon's lover and top assassin Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan) is dispatched to take them out, but falls in love with Barb. In addition to everything else, the film features incredible musical numbers, particularly Dornan's rendition of "Edgar's Lament."

2. Don't Look Up

Adam McKay is one of the most unique comedic filmmakers working in Hollywood today, as he has seamlessly transitioned between multiple different styles of comedy throughout his career. McKay started on the sketch comedy scene before beginning his collaborations with Will Ferrell. McKay's early films created iconic comedic characters like Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby, but even in the middle of the absurdity McKay included moments of political satire that hinted at his later ambitions. Those films paved the groundwork for later efforts like "The Big Short" and "Vice," which tell true stories from American history and have incendiary messages about the state of world events. Alongside the fiery commentary, McKay uses his comedic talents to make the themes more approachable.

McKay's 2021 film "Don't Look Up" combines the absurd, rambunctious nature of his earlier films with the powerful political subtext of his Academy Award-nominated features. Although it began production in 2019, "Don't Look Up" became the perfect metaphor for the COVID-19 era and the 2020 Presidential Election. The science fiction premise centers on two scientists, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Dr. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who discover that an impending asteroid will wipe out all life on Earth.

The pair immediately tries to raise awareness and gains a meeting with the President of the United States, Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), as well as her son and Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill). However, even amidst the apocalyptic events, the officials refuse to listen to the scientists, leading to further chaos.

1. The French Dispatch

Wes Anderson is one of the most singular filmmakers working today, and he's one of the rare writer-directors who can generate buzz for an upcoming project based on his name alone. While Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villenueve, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher can do the same thing, Anderson is unique among the current crop of Hollywood auteurs thanks to his idiosyncratic comedic style. Anderson is always a relevant figure, and his 2021 effort adds yet another classic to his resume.

"The French Dispatch" was originally intended to be released at last year's Cannes Film Festival, but finally made its way to audiences this October. While the film features the same symmetrical visuals, quirky dialogue, and strange tonal shifts that mark Anderson's entire filmography, it also continues the trend he began with "The Grand Budapest Hotel" of dealing with current political issues. "The French Dispatch" is a loving tribute to a newspaper staff that explores the importance of journalism and good reporting.

The film explores the last days of newspaper editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), who reflects upon his career. The film takes a chaptered approach to its story, with sections dedicated to each of the different investigations. "The Concrete Masterpiece" follows the jailed painter Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), "Revisions to a Manifesto" focuses on the ongoing Ennui revolution, and "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner" centers on the reflections of an aging food journalist (Jeffrey Wright).