The very best new comedy movies of the 21st century

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Anyone familiar with the titanic juggernaut of Hollywood knows that trends come in waves that correspond to public tastes, with the western genre seeing its heyday in the early 20th century before slowly ebbing out of popularity. The same can be said for superhero movies, which were providing all the profits in the 2010s but now seem like yesterday’s news, and even comedy flicks, with the 1980s and 1990s delivering some of the best of the genre before the turn of the new millennium, sparked the end of the big-budget comedy.

Such is a popular critique of the modern movie industry, with the blockbuster comedies of yesteryear being few and far between, particularly with the likes of Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell and Evan Goldberg being less prominent. 2013 was the year when things dramatically changed with This is the End marking the end of an era of comedy with the concept of a big-budget, star-studded comedy drawing to a close.

Though comedy didn’t die a definitive death, as one of the biggest global forms of entertainment, it is impossible that it ever will, but there’s no doubt its output has changed on the silver screen. While big-budget studio comedies used to be commonplace, nowadays, film lovers have to rely on the world of independent cinema to get their comedy fix, with exciting up-and-coming directors seemingly being the only ones to challenge the landscape of humour.

While the commentary from alternative sources might tell you that comedy ‘no longer exists’, don’t listen to such nonsense; the 21st century has offered up some iconic gems.

The 2000s best comedy movies

It’s undoubtedly true that the comedy genre has gone through the wringer in recent decades, but at the dawn of the new millennium, it was healthier than ever, having just come out of the vibrant 1990s when the likes of Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey had thrived. Such stars kept up their act, too, thanks to such films as Bruce Almighty and Shrek, but largely, the 2000s were ruled by a new cast of comedians.

Acting, and indeed looking, like a big kid, Will Ferrell was the unofficial king of the 2000s, with his puerile approach to comedy striking a chord with a new generation of young people whose humour was becoming steadily moulded by the emergence of internet culture. Early successes like Zoolander, Old School and Elf were joined by heavyweight classics of the modern era, such as Anchorman, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers, that would help set the tempo for the coming years of Hollywood comedy.

Just next door, the stoner comedy of Seth Rogen also began brewing, with the writer and actor somehow making the inane stupidity of his humour palatable with such well-realised projects as Knocked Up, Superbad and Pineapple Express. But, it was the intense nature of comedy in this era that set the 2000s ablaze with countless other frenetic concepts, such as Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police, Mark Waters’ Mean Girls, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Dodgeball, Christopher Guest’s Best in Show and David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer.

A hotbed for new ideas where ingenuity was encouraged by studios, even across the pond in Britain, comedy was rife with new ideas. First, Edgar Wright changed the face of horror with his humorous take on zombies with Shaun of the Dead, then, mere years later, Sacha Baron Cohen turned his basic comedy sketch Borat into a universally beloved character worthy of Academy Award praise.

Anchorman - The Legened of Ron Burgundy - 2004

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – 2004 (Credits: Far Out / Dreamworks Pictures)

The 2010s best comedy movies

Just before the 2000s came to a close Todd Phillips reminded audiences of the thrill of the big-budget comedy, releasing The Hangover to the tune of $469.3million at the box office. Though, the film would be the beginning of the end for such comedies, with the movie having since aged far worse than any other of the aforementioned genre classics of the 2000s, thanks to its loutish frat-boy humour.

Still, despite The Hangover trying to make the big-budget comedy fall on its face, the 2010s demonstrated that such movies could still be massive critical and commercial hits, with Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Jump Street series thrilling audiences across the globe. While the former is one of the best examples of a female-led comedy ever made, 2014’s 22 Jump Street may be the last film that truly reminded audiences of the supremacy of the genre in the 2000s.

But, elsewhere, the decade was thin on the ground when it came to comedy hits, with scatterings of success coming in the form of Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Game Night, and the unlikely Lonely Island hit Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Indeed, as society changed, comedy became an increasingly thorny business and studios were no longer so willingly extravagant in splashing their cash on risky projects.

As a result, filmmakers resorted to independent cinema to tell their comedic tales, with such foreign hits as New Zealand’s What We Do in the Shadows, Argentina’s Wild Tales and Germany’s Toni Erdmann. Other indie hits were so clever in how they delivered their comedy that they bordered the awards circuit, with Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin both being celebrated for their sharp approach to the genre.

The Death of Stalin - Armando Iannucci - 2017

The Death of Stalin – 2017(Credits: Far Out / Gaumont)

The best new comedy movies from the 2020s

A lot has changed in 20 years, and while the comedy genre has seen a distinct lack of big-budget releases, the diversification of filmmakers getting the chance to tell their own stories has opened up the art form for a far more interesting array of releases. At the start of the 2000s, it was predominantly male filmmakers making movies for young male teenagers, but now, the industry pops with vibrant sftatements from different corners of society.

The rise of female filmmakers has brought with it some of the most challenging and enjoyable comedies of the decade so far, with Emma Seligman creating Shiva Baby with Rachel Sennott in 2020 before creating Bottoms in 2023, a modern throwback to the lightweight genre flicks of the 2000s. Elsewhere, Molly Gordon collaborated with Nick Lieberman to create Theater Camp, one of the most underrated comedies of recent times, with the mockumentary about a summer camp featuring some genuinely hilarious moments.

It’s also difficult to talk about modern comedy without mentioning the jet-pink juggernaut Barbie, a billion-dollar box-office hit that was rightfully showered with Oscar praise. So far this decade, it is the only big-budget release, aside from the surprisingly great Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, that has been able to muster consistent praise for its comedic funny bone.

Just like the decade before it, when indie cinema took the comedy genre by the reigns, once again, such films as Andrew Gaynord’s All My Friends Hate Me, Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs, Sebastián Silva’s Rotting in the Sun, Nicholas Stoller’s Bros and Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane have been the standout favourites. Coming largely from underrepresented voices, the success of such movies speaks to audiences’ cravings for comedy tales told outside of the mainstream.

Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning comedy Triangle of Sadness reflects this, too, with the film also speaking to the modern obsession with ‘Eat the Rich’ movies that highlight the flaws of contemporary capitalist culture. Comedy has, indeed, come a long way since the dawn of the 2000s, but the diversity of new voices in the contemporary industry shows that the future of the genre is likely to be vibrant, colourful and most certainly, hilarious.

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