The 1980s era is considered a golden age of comedy for many, including yours truly. The reasons are plenty – this time period saw the emergence of several “Saturday Night Live” stars into the world of film, including Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd, among others. Stars from SNL Canadian counterpart “SCTV” had alums such as John Candy and Martin Short make their break onto the silver screen. And legendary comics like Steve Martin and Robin Williams made some of their best cinematic contributions during this era.
Dig a little deeper, though, and there’s no question that three names in particular – John Hughes, Harold Ramis, and John Landis – may be more responsible than anyone for the abundance of memorable comedies in this era. Between these three artists, their directorial and writing contributions to over two dozens titles between 1978-1993 define that time. In some cases, their participation in certain projects overlapped and they sometimes worked together. Looking back at the list of films these three participated in during a relatively short time frame is astonishing. And I mean seriously astonishing.
We’ll begin with the late John Hughes because he was the most self-contained unit of the trio. Between 1984 and 1989, Hughes directed and wrote the following six pictures:
The Breakfast Club
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
I know, right? What an output. Added to that, Mr. Hughes wrote some movies he didn’t direct. They are:
Pretty in Pink
The Great Outdoors
Incredible! And that’s just one of the three dudes I’m talking about! Hughes also wrote the original Vacation, which was directed by…
Harold Ramis. You may know him best as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters. More recently, he played Seth Rogen’s dad in Knocked Up. Great performances aside, Ramis is one of the greatest comedy directors and writers ever. During the era in question, Ramis directed:
How’s that for three classic comedies? Mr. Ramis also wrote or co-wrote:
Back to School
Ramis’s writing work on the brilliant Animal House was assisted by equally brilliant direction from John Landis. In addition to that, Landis also directed:
The Blues Brothers
Spies Like Us
Coming to America
That’s three immensely talented men responsible for the bulk of a wonderful era in comedy. Oh sure, there were others. Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters and its sequel and also directed Schwarzenegger’s hit comedies Twins and Kindergarten Cop. The team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker brought us Airplane!, Ruthless People, and The Naked Gun. Franz Oz directed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and What About Bob?
Hughes, Ramis, and Landis top the list, however. Without them, we wouldn’t know:
The Griswold family…
Or Ferris Bueller…
Or Sonny&Cher waking Bill Murray up every morning…
Or Delta House and Faber College…
Or The Blues Brothers…
Or Kevin McAllister taking on Harry and Marv…
Or “It’s in the hole!” and “Be the ball”…
Or “He slimed me…”
Or Randy Watson singing “The Greatest Love of All” with his band Sexual Chocolate…
Or “You mess with the bull… you get the horns”…
I think you get the picture. When we look at what’s followed in the comedy genre since then, there are names in more recent time periods that stand out. Judd Apatow. Adam McKay. Wes Anderson. Todd Phillips. Kevin Smith. The Farrelly Brothers. Ben Stiller.
From the late 70s to the early 90s – it was Hughes, Ramis, and Landis. And we’re all lucky for that. And we’ve laughed hard (many times) because of them and will continue to every time we catch Bluto in the commissary. Or Neal Page trying to make it to Thanksgiving dinner. Or the hilarious car chases with Jake and Elmwood. Or…