The Best and Worst Comedy War Films

Comedy and war film are two genres that don't automatically lend themselves to one another. While everyone enjoys a good laugh at the movies sometimes, it takes real skill to make one laugh about war. Considering all the death and horror involved in a war, some of the films in the genre have mastered comedic methods such as satire and absurdism. See how the top war satires and comedies like Dr. Strangelove and Inglorious Basterds conquer the challenge with the list below.

12
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Dr. Strangelove (1964)

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This 1964 film by Stanley Kubrick stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott in a satire about the Cold War politics that dominated the second half of American culture in the 20th century. The plot involves General Jack Ripper who decides to launch nuclear weapons at Soviet Russia, while the rest of the U.S. military structure tries, and fails, to stop him.

The President calls the Russian premiere, "Dimitri we have a little problem," knowing that the bombers are on their way to Russia. During their journey, they cannot be recalled. Upon their arrival, they plan to drop a thermonuclear payload that will cause the Russians to retaliate in what will surely be a world ending event.

It's absurdist cinema at its best:

  • The U.S. Army attacking one of its own military bases to remove an entrenched and deranged general intent on nuclear war
  • Pentagon planners giddy at the impending strike even knowing it will mean the end of civilization
  • Fights breaking out in the war room
11
of 12

MASH (1970)

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This 1970 Robert Altman film is set during the Korean War in an Army field medical hospital.

Donald Sutherland and Robert Gould play blood drenched surgeons that casually saw off limbs and sew up decimated bodies as they sarcastically attack one another. MASH is illustrative of the fact that a great comedy can be about any subject matter, even one as grotesque as an Army field hospital where soldiers are dying.  

10
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Catch-22 (1970)

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This 1970 film, based on the classic book, follows in the vein of MASH and Dr. Strangelove, as an absurdist satire on the nature of warfare.

The story involves a pilot in World War II who tries to get himself declared insane so that he can stop flying missions. The punchline is that the harder he tries to act insane, the saner he's considered to be.

The excerpt from the book on which the film is based explains it perfectly:

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."

09
of 12

Kelly's Heroes (1970)

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Kelly's Heroes.

Kelly's Heroes is a screwball comedy and 1970 film that features an ad-hoc unit of Army soldiers setting out to rob a bank behind enemy lines. This highly entertaining film stars famous actors such as Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Donald Sutherland.

The war comedy depicts American soldiers who get inside information from a belligerent German officer about a large sum of money. Watch this film to see how the secret plan unfolds.

08
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Private Benjamin (1980)

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Private Benjamin.

Goldie Hawn is in top form in Private Benjamin as a woman who joins the Army after her husband dies during sex. Goldie is "over-sold" on the Army like many are when they join, and tries to quit when she becomes shocked to find out that she can't.

While Hawn's character Judy believes her enlistment in the Women's Army Corps is a vacation, she soon finds out from Captain Lewis that it's anything but. Check this film out for some comic relief and explore some of the best and worst war ​movies about basic training.

07
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Stripes (1981)

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The 1981 film Stripes stars Bill Murray as a down-on-his-luck taxi driver that decides to enlist in the U.S. Army to turn his life around.

Also starring the late John Candy and Harold Ramis, the film is big, loud, absurd, and hilarious as Murray and Candy struggle through boot camp. The film continues its humor as they eventually end up in Soviet controlled Eastern Europe on an accidental secret mission.

Take the time to watch Stripes and see John Candy stumble through a basic training obstacle course.

06
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Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

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Good Morning Vietnam. Tri-Star Pictures

This 1987 film stars Robin Williams as a U.S. Army radio DJ for the Armed Forces fighting in Vietnam.

Loved by the troops, but hated by the command for his irreverent tendencies, Good Morning Vietnam is a perfect showcase for the loopy antics of Robin Williams. The film showcases Williams' careening caricatures and voice work all at the service of the radio.

Watch this film for a great war comedy with a talented star actor and discover more Vietnam War movies.

05
of 12

Rambo III (1988)

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One of the top war comedies of all time includes Rambo III.

While it may not be considered a true comedy, there are scenes with plenty of humor involved. For example, recall the scene when Rambo fights alongside Bin Laden and his fellow future Taliban to single-handily destroy the Soviet military in Afghanistan.

04
of 12

Hot Shots (1991)

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Hot Shots is one of the worst war comedies. In the vein of Naked Gun and Airplane comes Hot Shots, one of those broad comedies with a never ending series of visual gags that loosely strings together a story. In this case, the story is borrowed from Top GunRambo, and every other war film of the 1980s.

Considering MASH and Dr. Strangelove is an example of a sophisticated entry in this list, finding humor in the absurdity of warfare within Hot Shots is difficult, unless one's type of humor surrounds that of a fart joke.

03
of 12

In the Army Now (1994)

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In the Army Now.

Pauli Shore appears in In the Army Now in this 1994 film that is considered one of the worst war films.

In this film, Shore joins the Army and acts like an exceptionally poor soldier, which is intended to be funny. Unfortunately, it lacks the humor.

02
of 12

Tropic Thunder (2008)

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The 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. as three prima donna actors dropped into a war zone while thinking they are making a movie.

The film offers Ben Stiller and Jack Black in top form and has a hilarious cameo by Tom Cruise as an obnoxiously gross film agent. Sadly, the film starts off as a hilarious send-up of Hollywood, but gets mired down in its soggy second half.

01
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Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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Quentin Tarantino's take on the World War II war film in Inglorious Basterds is a cross between Kelly's HeroesThe Dirty Dozen, and Pulp Fiction.

Told as a series of often intersecting and interesting stories, there are steady laughs throughout the film. Brad Pitt stars as the leader of the "Basterds," a secret U.S. commando unit composed of Jewish Americans sent behind enemy lines to kill Nazis.

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Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst Comedy War Films." ThoughtCo, Oct. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-comedy-war-films-3438700. Rico, Johnny. (2017, October 7). The Best and Worst Comedy War Films. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-comedy-war-films-3438700 Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst Comedy War Films." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-and-worst-comedy-war-films-3438700 (accessed November 17, 2017).