Comedy is one of the most popular film genres, and this page looks at the 60 Aussie comedies that I have picked as our best, and ranked from #60 down to #1.
About 20% of all Australian films have been comedies of one sort or another, meaning that over 500 Aussie comedies have rolled off the press so far. Some have been universally loved, some have been universally loathed, and many have appealed to one niche audience or another. Hopefully there is something here for everyone.
If you’re wondering why your favourite comedy did not make the list, see the Notes and Explanations section at the end.
So let’s count down, the top 60 Australian comedies, starting with #60:
60. Backyard Ashes (2013)
After a series of unfortunate incidents between two neighbours, a group of Australian mates play a rival group of Brits in a backyard cricket match, dubbed the Backyard Ashes. This film is a very funny celebration of the Australian tradition of backyard cricket, where local rules such as ‘six and out’ make it possible to play a game in a confined space. That said, it is a patchy production which starts shakily before finding a better rhythm in the second half. In the beginning it is intermittently funny, but a bit stereotyped in its portrayal of snooty, uptight Brits vs relaxed, hilarious Aussies, with the token Asian who can’t play cricket, and long-suffering wives who support their husbands’ obsession with drinking and cricket. Andrew S. Gilbert is very good in the main role as Dougy Waters, but Felix Williamson is given the thankless role of the humourless English snob who moves in next door. Comedian Damian Callinan manages to inject enough humour into the first half of the film to keep you going until the ‘match’. The match itself is nicely constructed to demonstrate each of the arcane rules of backyard cricket and reference many moments of cricketing history. It’s not a perfectly constructed film, but contains many funny moments. (See here for more information)
59. Spider and Rose (1994)
A young ambulance driver called Spider, on his last day of work, is forced to drive a feisty old woman called Rose from Sydney to Coonabarabran, a trip of six hours. Veteran actress Ruth Cracknell and first-timer Simon Bossell are both impressive in this amiable, and sometimes moving, odd-couple road-movie. Rose is still raw from the death of her husband a year before. She speaks her mind and doesn’t suffer fools. Spider is looking forward to having fun, after two years of seeing human trauma as an ambulance driver, but the long trip will make it difficult for him to get back to Sydney for his farewell bash, so he’s angry, and has no time for old ladies’ issues. (See here for more information)
58. Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger (2008)
Esther is an outsider: she is out of place as a Jewish nerd at her posh Waspy private school, and at home where her parents think that she and her twin brother Jacob are abnormal. Things change when she meets a tough girl from the local public school with a cool mum. This is a funny teen comedy about finding your place. Danielle Catanzariti as Esther and Keisha Castle-Hughes as her new friend Sunni are both full of lively charm. (See here for more information)
57. Mushrooms (1995) (Alan Madden)
Two old ladies, a kleptomaniac and an agoraphobic, accidentally rent out their spare rooms to both a criminal on the run and the policeman chasing him, but then find they have a body to dispose of without attracting attention. This is a very well-made and funny black comedy, but is not for the faint-hearted as there are gory scenes as the ladies find novel uses for a dead body. Luckily Julia Blake and Lynette Curran are wonderfully wicked and yet naïve as the two ladies in their house full of possibly stolen goods from their ex-husbands’ pawn shop business. Simon Chilvers is also impressive as the older policeman who is so taken with the romantic advances of the two ladies that he does not notice the evidence of several crimes under his nose. It’s something of a fantasy, but this film is worth seeing to see Blake and Curran at their best. (See here for more information)
56. You Can’t Stop the Murders (2003) (Anthony Mir)
Two small town cops, used to whiling away their dull days, are suddenly confronted by a grisly series of murders, seemingly related to the camp 80s disco band, The Village People. Though not everyone will like the dead-pan humour, for me this was a dumb cop caper that delivered. Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh are very likeable as the not-too-smart cops who usually spend their days waiting for a passing car to break the speed limit, but suddenly have a series of bizarre crimes to solve. Constable Gary is a line-dancing aficionado, and spends his non-dance time obsessing about Julie, the local TV reporter, while Constable Akmal is constantly thinking up dumb movie ideas. Things spin out of control when an ego-driven, trigger-happy detective, Detective Tony Charles (Anthony Mir), arrives from the city and makes a move on Julie. It’s chaotic fun, incorporating both the eccentricities of small-town Australia, and the bizarre fantasies of Eck, Saleh and Mir. The three leads are assisted by a whole tribe of other comedians from Australia’s stand-up comedy circuit, including Jimeoin, Bob Franklin, The Umbilical Brothers, Kitty Flanagan, Garry Who, Haskel Daniel, Richard Carter, The Dickster, Rash Ryder, Kenny Graham and, most memorably, the Sandman. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
55. Boytown (2006) (Kevin Carlin)
The members of a popular 90s boy-band try to reform twenty years later, and after failing to win the teeny-bopper crowd, aim to please their ex-fans who are now middle-aged like themselves. This film is full of Mick Molloy’s wry wit, and if you liked Crackerjack, Bad Eggs and The Late Show, you should like this. The story starts slowly and is a bit predictable during the set-up, but once the band decides to aim for the older demographic and the band starts writing songs about helping with the housework, and looking after the kids, the film picks up. In fact, the songs are the best thing about the film, as all the character stories follow a familiar arc. (See here for more information)
54. Save Your Legs! (2012) (Boyd Hicklin)
An amiable comedy about an amateur cricket club which undertakes a tour of India to play amateur teams there. This is a nicely paced amusing comedy which relies on its mix of odd characters: Stephen Curry plays the cricket-mad president, Edward “Teddy” Brown, for whom cricket is the greatest thing in his life; Damon Gameau plays Stavros, the young fast bowler who believes he is the star of the team and irresistible to women; Brendan Cowell plays Rick, the club captain, who likes to party too hard but is about to become a dad; and Darren Gilshenan plays Colin an older stats-mad vice-captain. The tour goes from initial excitement in Calcutta, to disappointment in Varanasi to a climax in Mumbai, when they play a Bollywood team, and each of the players reaches new levels of maturity about their lives. It’s a nice romp, with lots of colour and jokes and a satisfying climax. (See here for more information)
53. Starstruck (1982) (Gillian Armstrong)
This is a lively musical comedy about a young woman who lives in a working class pub in Sydney Rocks district with her family, and wants to become a famous singer. Australian musicals are rare indeed, but this is a good one, full of energetic pop-songs and jerky 80s dance numbers, but with an engaging story of a quirky, working-class girl who wants to be a pop star. Jo Kennedy plays the girl, Jackie Mullens, with loads of charm and energy, and she is supported by a host of minor characters playing her pub-owning family. This film has a lot of ardent fans, and is most popular with teenage audiences, or those who saw it first when they were young. The film makes the most of its the location in a famous Rocks pub, and captures the feel of early 80s Australia. (See here for more information)
52. 48 Shades (2006) (Daniel Lapaine)
When 16-year-old schoolboy Dan’s parents move to Geneva for work, Dan stays behind and moves into an old house in Brisbane with his 23-year-old aunt, Jacq, who plays in a rock band, and her pretty uni-student flatmate, Naomi, on whom Dan develops an instant crush.
This is a comedy doomed crushes, young love, share houses, growing up, and life in Brisbane in the 1990s. The film is full of good performances, particularly from the main three characters: Richard Wilson as the shy, confused Dan, a blonde Emma Lung as the sweet and attractive young woman who chooses the wrong guys, Naomi, and Robin McLeavy as the cool auntie Jacqui who has her own secret. Add in Nicholas Donaldson as Dan’s sex-crazy mate, Michael Booth as the nutty landlord, and Victoria Thaine as a girl who actually fancies Dan, and there are plenty of laughs. The film is an adaptation of Nick Earls’ popular novel 48 Shades of Brown, and pleased most fans of the book, which is always a high bar. (See here and here for more information)
51. Ali’s Wedding (2017) (Jeffrey Walker)
In Australia’s first Muslim rom-com, Ali (Osamah Sami), a young Shia Australian-Iranian boy, is expected to marry a girl from his own community, but meets a Sunni Lebanese girl, Dianne (Helena Sawires) at school and falls in love with her. However while Dianne passes her final exam and is accepted into Medicine at Melbourne University, Ali’s marks are not good enough. Embarrassed and eager not to disappoint his father, he pretends that he also got into medicine, but of course is only postponing the inevitable. As his lies pile up, he tries to figure out how he can marry Dianne and find a solution to his quandary. This is a refreshing ethnic rom-com from writer-actor Osamah Sami, which depicts the life within one of Australia’s many subcultures. The film is a lot of fun, and the main characters have the necessary charm to make you care, despite Ali’s idiotic choices. (See here for more about the film)
50. Stiff (2004) (John Clarke)
Murray Whelan is a staffer at the office of a conniving suburban politician. When a body is found at the local meatworks, he gets dragged into a web of crime, murder and political corruption from which he barely escapes alive. The real star of this entertaining and fast-moving comedy thriller is writer-director’s John Clarke’s droll and economic screenplay. The film displays all of John Clarke’s dry wit and pithy wordplay, well delivered by David Wenham, as the self-effacing and increasingly embattled Whelan, as well as Julian O’Donnell as his son, and Deborah Kennedy as his long-suffering co-worker. In addition there are a host of hilarious minor characters, all adding to the rich Melbourne social tapestry. The film looks at the lives of all the little people that inhabit an ethnically-mixed area of Melbourne, as well as all the political, business and criminal deals that operate just under the surface of society. Though the plot is a bit too hastily explained at times, the film contains the right mix of comedy and tension. This film sees both John Clarke and David Wenham doing what they do best. After this Wenham began to be cast in villain roles, but his best work was as a quietly spoken and likeable working class bloke. (See here and here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
49. The Brush Off (2004) (Sam Neill)
When politician Angelo Agnelli is appointed state Minister of Arts and Water, his political adviser Murray Whelan gets into more trouble, this time with art forgers and dodgy businessmen who dabble in the local art market. In the second adaptation of one of Shane Maloney’s crime novels (after Stiff above), Sam Neill and writer John Clarke came up with another hilarious comedy about venal politicians, pretentious art aficionados and dirty deals in the local art market. David Wenham is again excellent as the hapless Murray Whelan, who is forced to go places that most political advisors would wisely avoid. He is supported by some great performances: Mick Molloy as the craven politician, Deborah Kennedy as Whelan’s supportive offsider, Steve Bisley as a tricky businessman, Justine Clarke as a flighty art journalist, Leah Vandenberg as Wenham’s love interest, Andrew S. Gilbert as another of Whelan’s fellow staffers, Heather Mitchell as a supporter of the arts and a plotter, and Bruce Spence as the exuberant art gallery director. The story is easier to follow than Stiff, and just as entertaining and funny. (See here and here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
48. Dr Plonk (2007) (Rolf De Heer)
Australia’s maverick Rolf De Heer’s varied career took another turn with this eccentric comic black and white silent film. Made in the style of early silent era comedies, this film tells the story of Dr Plonk, and his family, consisting of his wife, deaf and dumb servant, Paulus, and dog, Tiberius, who live in 1907 Adelaide, but travel to 2007 for familiar time travel jokes. The film is full of chases, hijicks and all manner of slapstick comedy. De Heer captures the era perfectly and his performers are superb – Dr Plonk is played by a former street clown, Nigel Lunghi; his wife is famous TV comedienne Magda Subinski, and Reg the dog does a great job as Tiberius, stealing many scenes. I found this hilarious, though some I know can’t bear the 1920s ragtime piano music, typical of old silent films. (See here for more information)
47. Soft Fruit (1999) (Christina Andreef)
Four siblings return to their family home to be with their mother who has early stage terminal cancer, reviving past relationships and grievances. Although the issue at the heart of this film – terminal cancer – does not lend itself to comedy, the mother at the centre of the film, played by Jeanie Drynan, is so full of life and happiness at having her children home, that at first the danger does not seem real. The three roly-poly daughters, Josie (Genevieve Lemon), Vera (Alicia Talbot), and Nadia (Sacha Horler), and the petty-criminal son Bo (Russell Dykstra) all arrive home with their various issues, and they argue and play jokes on each other, while trying, in their own flawed ways, to care for their mother. Their mother though is oblivious to their petty problems, and she simply delights in her children’s presence in the family home once again. This film is delightfully bittersweet and brings the joy of an imperfect family to life with a series of great performances. Both Russell Dykstra and Sacha Horler won AFI acting awards and Jeanie Drynan was also nominated. (See here for more information)
46. Mental (2012) (P.J. Hogan)
A non-conformist hitchhiker is hired by a small-town politician as a nanny for his five girls, who all imagine they have mental problems after their mother is sent to an institution. This 2013 follow-up by PJ Hogan to his 1994 Muriel’s Wedding has perhaps too many similarities to his earlier film, but also enough differences to make it enjoyable. Also set in a dysfunctional (‘mental’) family of a domineering Gold Coast politician, this film takes The Sound of Music rather than Abba as its theme. This time Toni Collette plays the outsider who rescues the women of the family from their victimhood, allowing them to revel in their ‘mental-ness’ rather than be disabled by it. This is a real romp, covering familiar territory to Muriel’s Wedding, but in a different way, and with different results. (See here for more information)
45. Siam Sunset (1999) (John Polson)
Siam Sunset starts out as a blackish comedy, and turns into a rom-com during the course of the film, when Perry (Linus Roache) meets Grace (Danielle Cormack). Perry is a British paint scientist, convinced he is jinxed after his beloved wife is killed in a freak accident involving a fridge and gravity. Grace is on the run from her homicidal drug-dealer boyfriend in Adelaide. They meet on the bus tour from hell on the road to Darwin, along with various Aussie oddballs, but fate and freak weather intervene. The two likeable lead actors and the array of weird Aussies on the bus tour make this most enjoyable. (See here for more about the film. This film also appears on my top rom-com list)
44. Around the World in Eighty Ways (1988) (Stephen MacLean)
Two brothers take their almost-blind, almost-crippled father on a pretend around the world trip in pursuit of his wife who has run off on a real trip with their loathsome neighbour. This is a very funny madcap farce, with dozens of great jokes as bothers Wally (Philip Quast) and Eddy (Kelly Dingwall) go to extreme lengths to save money by dressing-up as countless foreign characters, and creating foreign worlds in their absent neighbour’s lounge-room, in order to make their aged father Roly (Allan Penney) think he is travelling around the world to catch up with his wife (who is actually having an awful time overseas). Amazingly the joke is successfully maintained until the film’s surprising and satisfying climax. Providing good support are Gosia Dobrowolska as the scrumptious Nurse Ophelia Cox, Diana Davidson as the missing wife and mother, and Rob Steele as the despicable neighbour. This film is the spiritual godfather to Stephan Elliot’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Welcome to Woop Woop. (See here for more information)
43. Little Monsters (2019) (Abe Forsythe)
An out-of-work musician volunteers to help on his nephew’s school farm excursion because of the beautiful teacher, but the two must fight off a zombie outbreak to save the kids. This film of a young man’s redemption through love and zombie splatter is not for everyone, with its foul language, zombie gore and unappealing behaviour. But, like the main character, the film is saved by the sunny goodness of the infants school teacher, Miss Caroline, played by African-American actor Lupita Nyong’o. Dave (Alexander England) is a selfish, useless busker, who never got over the demise of his death-metal band six years earlier, and who is a terrible role model for his 7-year-old nephew Felix, whose mother Tess (Kat Stewart) is letting Dave crash on her couch. Director Abe Forsythe loves pushing the boundaries of tastelessness, and the film starts unpromisingly with plenty of bad behaviour, silly jokes and zombie clichés. But somehow he pulls it back and introduces a sweetness and a few moments of genuine humour into the film by the end. Lupita Nyong’o is the lynchpin of the film as the teacher everyone would want, but the other actors are also good. American comedian Josh Gad has the thankless role of a foul-mouthed children’s entertainer whose callous selfishness overshadows even Dave’s. So if you can stand a bumpy start, a little zombie-makeup and buckets of gore, this film has its pleasures by the end. (See here for more information)
42. Road to Nhill (1997) (Sue Brooks)
When four lady bowlers roll their car on the road to Nhill, the good people of Pyramid Hill in Victoria, manage to bungle the rescue. This is an affectionate and witty look at rural Aussies, especially of the older lawn-bowls generation, but also some young ones, each with their own particular concerns, peculiarities, priorities and foibles. As various local blokes try to take charge of the rescue, and various parties set off in different directions in the available emergency vehicles, it soon becomes clear that no-one is coordinating proceedings and no-one knows what the plan is. It’s a lot of fun, although the bumbling turns out to have serious consequences for some of those involved. The women in the overturned car soon find themselves at the mercy of the bumbling fellers, most of whom lack a shred of common sense. The veteran cast, many of whom returned for Crackerjack in 2003, is superb. This is a great slice of Australian country life. (See here for more information)
41. H Is For Happiness (2019) (John Sheedy)
A precocious, enthusiastic twelve-year-old girl tries to fix her broken family in this delightful quirky comedy, which can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Daisy Axon plays Candice Phee, a cheery, red-headed, dictionary-reading, bicycle-riding swot, who wants to restore the happiness of her mum, who can’t get over the cot-death of Candice’s baby brother, and her dad, who is still angry over a business bust-up with his brother, ‘Rich Uncle Brian’, who Candice loves. Adding to the action are other interesting side characters, such as her friend, ‘Douglas Benson from another dimension’ (Wesley Patten), her eccentric teacher with one rolling eye (Miriam Margolyes of course), and Douglas’ full-on mum (Deborah Mailman), as well as various animals. It’s well-written and acted, and set in a beautiful sun-drenched WA coastal town. (See here for more information)
40. Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995) (George Whaley)
This comic remake of a series of famous Australian comedies from the 1930s (based on Steele Rudd’s 1899 book) still works surprisingly well, due largely to the standout cast, but its appeal might largely be restricted to older Australians who have at least heard of the original films. The film follows the adventures of a poor farming family led by Dad Rudd (played by Rumpole of the Bailey’s Leo McKern) and Mum (played with surprising panache by opera diva Joan Sutherland). They, along with their bumpkin son Dave (Geoffrey Rush), struggle to make a living from their little farm in 19th Century Queensland The rest of the wonderful cast, which includes Ray Barrett, Barry Otto and Noah Taylor, make this film a treat. (See here for more information)
39. A Few Best Men (2011) (Stephan Elliott)
A young Englishman comes to Australia to marry his Australian fiancé. Unfortunately he brings his three mates as best men. This is an Australian/British hybrid gross-out comedy by the writer of Death at a Funeral and the director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and has a British and Aussie cast. The film has some genuinely funny moments and observation, but also has a fair dose of toilet humour and waltzes along the borderline of Brit-lad tastelessness, so be warned. It also contains a particularly lame best man’s speech (why has each British comedy since Four Weddings tried to outdo Hugh Grant’s best man’s speech by becoming ever more tasteless and less witty?) However, it’s great to see Olivia Newton-John trying to shed her 80s nice girl image, and she’s very funny here. For director Stephan Elliot it’s something of a return to form, after the wrong turn of Welcome To Woop Woop, where his humour-radar went a bit wonky. (See here for more information)
38. Girl Asleep (2015) (Rosemary Myers)
A 14 year-old girl in the 1970s fears losing her childhood and fears becoming an adult like the strange ones in her family. On her 15th birthday, it all gets too much for her. This highly inventive coming-of-age story is reminiscent of both Muriel’s Wedding and the films of Wes Anderson. Bethany Whitmore is great as Greta, an awkward almost-15-year-old, dealing with bullies, strange girls who want her to join in their gang at school, her arguing parents, her rebellious older sister, and the fear of losing all her dear childhood attachments. Greta dreams and worries in the privacy of her room, which is full of stuffed toys, plastic horses, origami cranes and the music box she loves. Her only friend is a skinny, garrulous, red-haired geek called Elliott, who is delighted by everything about Greta. The film has fantasy elements and an extensive dream sequence (the ‘girl asleep’ reference) where Greta explores her fears in a dark forest with fantasy creatures and characters. The film also captures 70s suburban Australia with its brown and orange furnishing, colourful clothing and 70s music ranging from disco to the Angels. It’s a lot of fun. (See here for more information)
37. Young Einstein (1989) (Yahoo Serious)
Yahoo Serious has reimagined Albert Einstein as the son of a Tasmanian apple grower who discovers the theory of relativity and splits an atom to add bubbles to beer. He heads for Sydney to try to patent the theory, where he meets the beautiful Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, and also invents both the electric guitar and rock and roll. This film was unbelievably successful in Australia on its release, though it left overseas critics somewhat bemused by its broad humour. Nevertheless it is an imaginative and inventive bit of tomfoolery which casts a likeable and resourceful young Aussie lad as a brilliant inventor. Yahoo Serious wrote, directed and starred in this remarkable debut effort. The production is first class and Serious manages to maintain interest for the full 90 minutes, something that many comedies fail to do. Odile Le Clezio is also very good as Marie Curie who is besmitten with the young Einstein’s ideas, and John Howard plays the blackest of villains who tries to steal the credit from Einstein for his theories. The film is full of quirky humour, such as Sigmund Freud appearing in Paris accompanied by his mother. This film holds up surprisingly well 30 years later. (See here for more information)
36. Death in Brunswick (1991) (John Ruane)
This is a black comic crime-romance with Sam Neill as a very average cook who gets mixed up with a bunch of low-level hoods and drug-dealers, and ends up with a dead body on his hands and two bunches of rival crooks baying for his blood. Carl has no money and a drinking problem, but a likeable shyness. He admits to being 34, but is more likely closer to, and possibly on the wrong side of, 40, and while it’s clear that the pretty 19-year old Greek waitress Sophie (Zoe Carides), who is engaged Carl’s loud Greek boss, is not really a suitable match for him, Carl falls in love anyway. Add in a Turkish kitchen-hand, who deals in stolen property and drugs on the side, a psychopathic Anglo bouncer and an unfortunate incident with a large pair of prongs, and there’s a gang war in which both sides are out to wreck revenge on Carl. Fortunately, Carl still has one helpful mate, Dave, played by the inimitable John Clarke, who is a gravedigger by day, and sometimes by night, when a mate needs a favour. It’s all a bit of a hoot, if a little messy at times. Yvonne Lawley is also very funny as Carl’s long-suffering mum, who still loves him when only a mother could. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
35. Dating the Enemy (1996) (Megan Simpson Huberman)
This fantasy rom-com starts with a couple in trouble: Tash (Claudia Karvan) is a serious science journalist and Brett (Guy Pearce) is a presenter for a TV gossip show, and their differences are driving them apart. But, as they are about to split up, the moon works it magic and they wake up in each other’s bodies. The anatomical changes are confusing enough, but coping with the other person’s work, friends and social life is another kettle of fish. This is one of the better body swap fantasies around and, although Karvan is more convincing as a man than Pearce is as a woman, it’s a lot of fun, plus it has a satisfactory ending. (See here for more about the film. This film also appears on my top rom-com list).
34. They’re a Weird Mob (1966) (Michael Powell)
The oldest film in this selection follows the comic adventures of an Italian migrant, Nino Cullotta, who arrives in Sydney in the early-1960s, and has to learn to fit in with the odd locals. Italian star Walter Chiari is perfect in the lead role, full of a cheerful energy that carries him through many challenging situations. The film also features many great Australian actors of the time, including Chips Rafferty, John Meillon, Ed Devereux, Slim deGrey, and even has a cameo from Graham Kennedy, playing himself. The film offers an idealised view of the immigrants’ story, with little of the racism many faced, but at least it tells the story from a migrant’s view, which few other films or TV shows attempted. It was directed by the great British director Michael Powell, and while it’s not one of his best, it is a rare chance to see Australia as it was, more or less, at the time. The film was based on a popular 1957 novel of the same name. (See here for more information)
33. The Merger (2018) (Mark Grentell)
An eccentric loner agrees to coach an endangered small-town football team, and controversially includes some resettled refugees in his plans. This film, written by its star, comedian Damian Callinan, is an affectionate, very funny look at small-town Australia, with the interplay of individual eccentricities faced with the challenge of change, in this case the arrival of a group of refugees under a government rural resettlement scheme. The film looks at the fears and prejudices of the locals and the newly arrived, and the opportunities for cultural exchange through such institutions as the local school and the love of football. The film succeeds where other comedies fail, through its witty use of language, and Callinan’s understated delivery, as well as a story that progresses towards its, somewhat predictable, happy end, in a reasonably believable manner. (See here for more information)
32. The Man Who Sued God (2001) (Mark Joffe)
A man whose boat is destroyed by lightning, and whose insurance claim is denied as the lightning was an ‘act of God’, brings a court case against the major churches as representatives of God on earth. This film is an entertaining comedy about another Aussie battler (this time played by extroverted Scot Billy Connelly) and also stars Judy Davis in an unusual but welcome comic role. The writing by political speechwriter and prolific author on all things Australian, Don Watson and the great Kiwi satirist John Clarke, is top notch and ensures the film has social comment to augment the comedy. The film is attractively shot and enhanced by its sunny NSW South Coast and Sydney settings. (See here for more information)
31. Bad Eggs (2003) (Tony Martin)
Mick Molloy and Bob Franklin play two accident prone cops who find themselves in the middle of a web of corruption that they must try to expose, or at least survive. Molloy and Franklin have a witty, and extremely dry, line of repartee, and the film has an endless line of visual jokes (such as the extended runaway driverless car sequence at the beginning), as the two slacker-cops stumble their way into a vast net of corruption in the state of Victoria. They are joined by Judith Lucy who plays an ex-cop, ex-girlfriend and tabloid journalist on the trail of the corruption story, as well as Alan Brough as a mild-mannered IT nerd, and Robyn Nevin as the wife of a murdered judge. Ranged against them are Nicholas Bell as a sinister bent detective, Bill Hunter as Police Chief Pratt, and fellow comedian Shaun Micallef as the politician at the top of the corruption tree. With such comedic talent, as well as fellow comedian Tony Martin as writer-director, it’s a real treat with lots of explosions, shootings and double-dealing leavened with the driest of dry humour. Much of the same team were behind the comedy classic Crackerjack, and this film is a worthy companion. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list, but is definitely the funniest and least black of the crime-comedies).
30. Crocodile Dundee (1986) (Peter Faiman)
Crocodile Dundee, with its rough, tough, bush adventure hero, is many things, an adventure film, a rom-com, and a comedy, in roughly equal parts. Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee is tough wisecracking crocodile hunter from Walkabout Creek in the NT outback who meets an American woman journalist and travels to NY for some funny ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy, as well as a final happy romance between the two opposites. It is the most successful Australian film ever, but not our best comedy, despite some clever one-liners from Paul Hogan, who was a veteran Aussie TV comedian. (See here for more about the film)
29. Bran Nue Day (2009) (Rachel Perkins)
This is a musical-comedy-romance about an Aboriginal teenager who is sent away by his religious mother to a Catholic boarding school near Perth but escapes to return to his family and the girl he loves. It is one of Australia’s few ‘real’ musicals (where characters burst into song to express their thoughts and feelings as opposed to films about musicians like The Sapphires), and succeeds on that level. It’s lively, funny and strong musically, starring singers Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgens, as well as top Oz actors Geoffrey Rush, Magda Szubanski, and Deborah Mailman along with a host of newcomers. The film is joyous celebration of Aboriginal identity and is a real rarity in Australian cinema. (See here for more information)
28. The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) (Bruce Beresford)
This is a ribald, very-1970s, comedy about Barry McKenzie, a young Australian larrikin in London visiting London for the first time, who drinks a lot of beer, swears a lot, vomits a lot and makes fun of pommies with his Aussie ex-pat mates in England. The film was based on a comic strip by comedian Barry Humphries, who wrote the script, and also played Edna Everage and other characters in the film. The film is notable for its colourful Aussie slang, broad Aussie accents and constant denigration of the English, even if Barry comes to quite like them in the end. Barry Crocker is good as Barry, the good-natured, naïve Ocker tourist, and Barry Humphries is also funny at times. The plot is pretty silly and episodic, and the film’s main interest these days is as a social document as some of the humour seems embarrassingly dated and very un-PC now. This film was one of the early films of the Australian cinema revival, and, by making money at the box office, encouraged other Aussie film-makers to have a go, and so helped revive the moribund Oz film industry in the 1970s. The success of this film encouraged a similar sequel two years later, Barry McKenzie Hold His Own. (See here for more information)
27. Hercules Returns (1993) (David Parker)
This is a ‘film-within-a-film’, where a group of friends take over an old cinema, run into a problem on their opening night: they find their first film, an 1960s Italian ‘Sword and Sandal’ epic called Hercules, Samson, Machismo and Ursus Are Invincible, is in Italian with no English subtitles. They decide to dub the film live into Aussie English themselves, despite not understanding Italian. Though not to everyone’s taste, some people will find this ‘dub-parody’ hilarious, myself included. Based on a popular live show, the three new cinema operators, Brad (David Argue), McBain (Bruce Spence), and Lisa (Mary Coustas), manage to make up Australian idiomatic dialogue and sound effects for the movie. Woody Allen did a similar thing in the 60s with an old Japanese film in What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, but Parker’s film is just as good as Allen’s, especially to the Australian ear. Not every joke comes off, but they come so thick and fast that there’s not long to wait for another. It’s silly, but fun. (See here for more information)
26. Gettin’ Square (2003) (Jonathan Teplitzky)
This is a very funny, well-written comedy about minor criminals, bent cops, social misfits, and a hero trying to escape the criminal world. Sam Worthington, in one of his early roles, plays Barry, a man who was sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit and now wants to ‘get square’. Gary Sweet plays his dodgy ex-accomplice in one of his early bad-guy roles after years of being cast as a TV hero. British actor Timothy Spall seems quite at home in the sunny Gold Coast underworld, and David Wenham steals the show as an accident-prone heroin-addict Spit. The film was nominated for 14 AFI awards, and Wenham won the Best Supporting Actor award for his unforgettable performance. (See here for more on this film) (This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
25. Crackers (1998) (David Swann)
This is an out-and-out comedy in the vein of The Castle, and documents a young boy’s Christmas with his nutty extended family at his grandparents’ house. Lots of slapstick, fart jokes, out of control animals, randy relatives and family friction make this a wild ride along the borders of good taste (and not everyone will enjoy it as much as I did). Even David Stratton (he who gave The Castle only 1½ stars) found it funny! Though most of the actors are little-known, apart from England’s Warren Mitchell as the Scottish great-grandfather, the acting is great. (See here for more information)
24. Dirty Deeds (2002) (David Caesar)
This is a fun film about a gang of inner-city criminals set in Sydney in 1969. Director David Caesar has created a colourful yet gritty world of Sydney’s late 60s underbelly: a world of cheerful yet violent standover men; sleazy, noisy, jolly clubs, full of customers trying desperately for a good time in a country waking from its sleepy post-war dream to a Vietnam War nightmare; and a world where 60s Carnaby Street fashion and beehive hairdos barely disguise an unsophisticated society wondering what to do with its rising prosperity. Bryan Brown is the centre of the film as Barry, a Sydney gang boss trying to deal with rival gangs and the arrival of two US mafia figures intent on introducing their new Los Vegas slot machines into Sydney. Toni Collette is cool, tough and sassy in her brightly coloured outfits as Barry’s indispensable wife, as she tries to keep him in line. Sam Worthington is excellent as the young Vietnam draftee, home to help his Uncle Barry in the family business, but distracted by Barry’s sulky, ambitious girlfriend Margaret, well played by Kestie Morassi. Sam Neill is the obligatory corrupt cop, on the take and trying to keep things from boiling over. And American funnyman John Goodman is excellent as usual, as a smooth-talking Chicago mobster-out-of-water on a last-chance mission to prove he’s not past it. It’s fast-moving retro fun. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list).
23. Bliss (1985) (Ray Lawrence)
Following a near-death experience, advertising executive, Harry Joy, starts to see the world and his family from a different point of view, imagining he is now in Hell. This is a highly entertaining, witty and innovative film, with elements of surrealism and layers of satire. The film is adapted from Peter Carey’s award winning 1981 novel Bliss (one of Ozflicks’ favourite Oz novels) and is the first film of Ray Lawrence, who won the AFI awards for Best Film and Best Director for this film (as well as for his second, Lantana, 16 years later). Lawrence was not prolific (with only three films in 20 years), but he did bring a daring imagination to his films. The film has a surreal beauty unmatched in Australian cinema. Barry Otto (a favourite actor of mine from Belvoir theatre in the 80s, but underused in films) is also great in the title role. (See here for more information)
22. Bad Boy Bubby (1993) (Rolf de Heer)
Part comedy, part parable about child abuse, part avant-garde dystopian fantasy: Bad Boy Bubby is a film that defies classification while embracing multiple genres. But most commentators agree that this can be considered a black comedy, among other things. The story is about Bubby, a man who grows up confined to his blacked-out house by his batty, protective mum who tells him the world outside is contaminated by nuclear fallout, until finally, as an adult, he is forced to leave home. This film is hilarious and innovative, but also shocking and grimy in parts and not everyone will like it, so be warned. Nicolas Hope does a great job portraying a man who grows up with no social skills, weird habits and a limited vocabulary, due to his extended confinement with a mad woman – his mother. We are alternately horrified and amused by Bubby’s antics, both inside the house, and eventually outside when he meets other people for the first time. This was Rolf de Heer’s breakthrough film, and he has gone on to make a variety of interesting films in different genres. De Heer won the AFI award for Best Director for this film, and Hope won the best actor award. (See here for more information)
21. Rams (2020) (Jeremy Sims)
This is an excellent adaptation of a 2015 Icelandic film of the same name, about two feuding brothers on adjoining farms who are thrown into disarray when a disease strikes their prize sheep herds. This Aussie version maintains many of the dramatic elements of that film, while introducing distinctive Australian elements. Veteran actors Sam Neill and Michael Caton anchor the film as the two cranky old brothers who have not spoken to each other for 40 years, despite living in adjoining farms and carefully watching and silently judging each other’s activities day after day. Sam Neill plays the more social Colin who gets on with his neighbours and attracts the attentions of the local vet Kat, played by Miranda Richardson (in another of her jaunts down-under). Michael Caton plays the grumpier, hermit-inclined Les whose main pleasures are drink, his sheep and beating his brother in the local agricultural show’s ram competition. It’s an engaging story of struggle, setbacks, natural disasters and rough humour, as adversity eventually forces the brothers to cooperate for the good of their beloved sheep. (See here for more information)
20. Cosi (1996) (Mark Joffe)
A young Sydney amateur theatre director, Lewis, finds a job with a Sydney psychiatric hospital (Rozelle) to provide therapeutic theatre for the inmates. But one particularly manic patient persuades him to try to stage the opera Cosi Fan Tutte with a cast of mentally troubled non-actors. This film is a real hoot, a magnificent ensemble piece with many great performances, particularly from Toni Collette and Barry Otto. Based on a Louis Nowra play, the film mixes pathos with mirth and succeeds through the wonderful combination of some of our best actors. Apart from Collette and Otto, there are Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Griffiths, Colin Friels, Aden Young, Bruno Lawrence, Pamela Rabe, Paul Chubb, Colin Hay, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham, Kerry Walker, and Tony Llewellyn-Jones, all with their own different levels of madness. (See here for more information)
19. The Big Steal (1990) (Nadia Tass)
This is an enjoyable suburban teenage comedy, about car-obsessed boys and men and the girls who fancy them. Danny, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is a car-obsessed teenager, dreams of owning a Jaguar and having a date with Joanna (Claudia Karvan). He trades in his parent’s car but gets ripped off and has to come up with another plan with the help of his mates. The boy gets the car and the girl, but it’s by no means a straightforward process, with lots of laughs along the way. It’s well made with a heap of good actors, especially the still young Mendelsohn and Karvan. (See here for more information)
18. Children of the Revolution (1996) (Peter Duncan)
Judy Davis plays a Sydney communist who slept with Stalin just before he died. Her son Joseph, played by Richard Roxburgh, may or may not be Stalin’s love child. Or he may be the son of an ASIO/KGB double agent, played by Sam Neill. The question of Joseph’s parentage persists as he rises to power in Australia. This film is full of wicked fun and ideas and is a marvellous fantasy which pokes fun at political figures and ideas, while warning of their serious dangers. Judy Davis is wonderful as the true believer, a role for which she won the 1996 AFI Best Actress award, but the supporting cast is also top notch and, besides Neill and Roxburgh, it includes Geoffrey Rush and Rachel Griffiths, as well as American actor F. Murray Abraham playing Stalin. The film mixes comedy with drama and satire in a way which some critics found disconcerting, but all elements work well in their own way. (See here for more information)
17. He Died with a Falafel in His Hand (2001) (Richard Lowenstein)
This is a very funny window into the lives of groups of young Aussie, share-house dwellers, with all their tribal communality, desire for fun and sex, laziness, inventiveness, sloppiness, ideals, unrealism, honesty, dishonesty, inquisitiveness, self-delusion, hopefulness, ambition and self-destructiveness. Danny goes from one house to another, looking to fulfil his desire to become a great writer, as other characters crash and burn around him, and both happy and unhappy houses fall apart, sometimes literally. Noah Taylor is excellent as the laid-back, somewhat melancholy Danny. Englishwoman Emily Hamilton as Sam, and Frenchwoman Romane Bohringer as Anya are intriguing as the female housemates who become most entangled in his life, and there are no end of good performances by Alex Menglet, Brett Stewart, Damian Walshe-Howling, Francis McMahon and others, as Danny’s eccentric mates. The film was based on the John Birmingham’s best-seller, though there have been changes made for the adaptation. This is a worthy companion to Lowenstein’s Dogs In Space as the definitive look at Aussie share-house culture. (See here for more information)
16. Love Serenade (1996) (Shirley Barrett)
Love Serenade is a dark satirical rom-com, and concerns two sisters in a tiny country town who end up competing for the affections of their new neighbour. Elder sister Vicki Ann (Rebecca Frith) is bossy and self-centred, and younger sister Dimity (Miranda Otto) is a bit slow, by the looks of things, with a very poor understanding of how human relationships work or how to communicate. Their romantic target, Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov), on the other hand, is a loathsome lothario, newly arrived from Brisbane with bucketloads of new-age philosophy, and whose main purpose is to seduce the gullible. He is a smooth-talking radio DJ at the local station with a fondness for Barry White songs. So this film is hilarious and sad at the same time – these people do bad things to each other, but somehow they had it coming. For anyone who has lived in country Australia, a lot of things will ring true in this film. It also includes a great Barry White-centred seduction soundtrack and Miranda Otto performs one of the most hilarious strip teases I have seen. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top rom-com list)
15. The Rage in Placid Lake (2003) (Tony McNamara)
This is a terrific little comedy about a young man, embarrassingly named Placid Lake by his hippie parents, who decides to reject their lifestyle and go straight. The film pokes fun at everything from aging hippies to corporate climbers, while Placid charts his own course somewhere in-between. Singer Ben Lee does a fine job as the cheerful, inventive Placid and Rose Byrne (in one of her last Oz films before she went on to fame in Hollywood) is great as his special friend Gemma. Garry McDonald and Miranda Richardson as Placid’s hippy parents are fantastic as well. This is one of Australia’s best comedies and deserves to be seen more widely. (See here for more information)
14. The Dressmaker (2015) (Jocelyn Moorhouse)
A woman, the dressmaker Tillie Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet, returns to her tiny home town in rural Victoria to face her childhood demons, as well as her aging half-demented mother, Molly, played by Judy Davis. This new film from Jocelyn Moorhouse has it all: style, panache, humour, mystery, conflict, tragedy, revenge and heart. It is a story in the Australian literary traditions of Patrick White, Peter Carey or Tim Winton, and of films like The Eye of the Storm, Bliss or Cloudstreet. It has the toughness of the Australian rural experience, the sense of history and connections within small towns, with their mixture of kindness and cruelty, weird individuals, resilience, defeats and disappointments. With a wonderful troupe of mainly Australian support actors, including Hugo Weaving, Sacha Horler, Barry Otto, Kerry Fox, as well as handsome newcomer Liam Hemsworth, the town bristles with memorable characters who alternately torment and support Tilly and her mother. The film won Winslet the AACTA best actress award, and best supporting actress and actor awards for Davis and Weaving. The film is a tragi-comedy, walking a fine line between comedy and drama, but with the comedy prevailing in the end. (See here for more information)
13. Babe (1995) (Chris Noonan)
This is a very well-made and entertaining family film with talking pigs and other animals, having cute adventures down on a farm. The hero of the film is Babe, a baby-pig who wants to be a sheep-dog. Small children will love this film, and there’s enough laughs in it for adults to endure this fairy-tale of ambition and acceptance. The fact that it was written and produced by Dr George “Mad Max” Miller was a surprise to everyone, but George Miller has always been a great entertainer. (See here for more information)
12. Mary and Max (2009) (Adam Elliot)
This feature, made in Claymation animation by director Adam Elliot, is something of an oddity. It tells of a lonely Australian girl, Mary Dinkle, who becomes the pen-friend of Max Horovitz, an older obese Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrome in New York, bound together by their love of chocolate and toy figurines. The film is full of humour and poignancy as both man and girl struggle with life in a world where they do not seem to fit in. The film is narrated by Barry Humphries and voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette and others, but it is the wonderfully quirky clay world created by writer/director that makes this film a delight. (See here for more information)
11. The Club (1980) (Bruce Beresford)
This is the second of Bruce Beresford’s adaptations of a David Williamson play, and it is just as enjoyable as Don’s Party below. Set in the world of sport, the story is about a young AFL (Australian Football) player who joins a big Melbourne club and begins to feel the pressure as intra-club intrigues, rivalries and jealousies play themselves out between the coach, board-members and players. Less claustrophobic than Don’s Party , which involved antagonists trapped in the same house together for several hours, this film uses various locations around Melbourne, and takes place over several weeks of the football season as the pressure builds and tempers fray. This film is full of great actors, including John Hargreaves, Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy, John Howard (the Seachange one, not the Prime Minister) and Frank Wilson. The Club prickles with Williamson’s acerbic dialogue and fruity language as the characters try to survive the club’s hothouse atmosphere. (See here for more information)
10. Malcolm (1986) (Nadia Tass)
Malcolm is a somewhat odd tram worker and gadget builder, who is at a loss after his mother dies and he loses his job at the tram-sheds for building his own mini-tram. He takes a boarder, Frank who turns out to be a criminal, and when Frank’s girlfriend Judith moves in, Malcolm’s life is turned upside down. It’s an upbeat caper comedy in a downbeat part of Melbourne about a socially-challenged inventor. It’s a heap of fun, an interesting look at less salubrious parts of Melbourne in the 80s and one of Colin Friel’s best and most exuberant roles. This debut feature from Nadia Tass won a swag of AFI awards, including best film, director, and actor (Friels). (See here for more information)
9. Kenny (2006) (Clayton Jacobson)
Kenny Smyth is the manager of Splashdown, a portable toilet business, and the film takes you on a tour his business activities, during which you also get to see his private life. This film demonstrates the best of toilet humour, as Kenny teaches us a thousand euphemisms for natural human functions and the associated paraphernalia. Kenny is a man who sees it as his life’s mission to ensure everyone, everywhere has a pleasant place to relieve themselves at the thousand temporary celebrations that take place in and around Melbourne. Kenny even goes to a portable-loo conference in Nashville, enabling a bit of cross-cultural fun. Shane Jacobson is perfect as Kenny, and somehow manages to keep the joke going seamlessly for 90 minutes and leave you smiling at the end (if you like a good poo-joke, that is). Jacobson co-wrote the script with his brother Clayton, who directed the film, and the film was a surprise hit in Australia. (See here for more information)
8. Strictly Ballroom (1992) (Baz Luhrmann)
Baz Luhrmann’s debut film Strictly Ballroom was a rom-com set in the glitzy, pompous world of competitive ballroom dancing. Scott Hastings is on his way to being a champion dancer, but his desire to innovate and try new steps brings him into conflict with the establishment. When his partner rejects him until he dances properly, Fran, a shy wallflower from the beginners group takes his side, and together they begin to practice secretly, and fall in love. The film is full of memorable characters: Paul Mercurio is excellent as the young innovator Scott, Tara Morice blossoms as his shy wallflower dance partner who introduces him to flamenco dancing, Bill Hunter dominates in another of his mini-tyrant roles as the inflexible head of the ballroom dancing association, Barry Otto (a favourite actor of mine) plays Scott’s father, a shy dreamer with a big secret; and many others are excellent. This film is colourful, fast-moving, full of dance and music, and a lot of fun. (See here for more information. This film also appears on my top rom-com list)
7. Don’s Party (1976) (Bruce Beresford)
This film version of David Williamson’s famous play was a landmark film in Australia’s mid-70s revival. Like most Williamson plays, the film is full of fast, clever dialogue, jealousies, hypocrisies, insults and turmoil. What’s more, the film was made by one our best directors and a group of the best actors of the era, including John Hargreaves, Ray Barrett, Graeme Blundell and the great TV comedian Graham Kennedy in one of his few film roles. The story concerns a group of middle-class Aussies who hold a party to celebrate the Labor Party’s anticipated victory in the 1969 election, but as the alcohol flows and it becomes clear that Labor has lost, the mood turns ugly and spouses and friends turn on each other. So see this film for its humour, its comments on Australian politics, its insights into human nature, its observations of the sexism and sexual politics of the time, and its depiction of the odd world of 1960s Anglo-Australian middle-class suburbia, before migrants and Whitlam turned things upside-down. (See here for more information)
6. Chopper (2000) (Andrew Dominik)
This is an imaginative comedy about a real life criminal, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Chopper was a violent criminal, hit-man and gang leader, who spent a lot of time in jail, but was never convicted of murder, and later wrote a best-seller about himself and became a stand-up ‘gangster’ comedian. This imaginatively structured film gives insights into the adventures of the articulate but crazy hitman known as ‘Chopper’ whose grisly exploits fascinated the Australian media and public. Eric Bana creates an amazingly believable Chopper, a man able to disconnect himself from and articulately rationalise his violent deeds. The film blends violence and humour – a strange mix which mirrors Chopper’s personality. The film won Dominik the AFI Best Director award and Bana won the Best Actor award. (See here for more on this film. This film also appears on my top crime-comedies list)
5. The Dish (2001) (Rob Sitch)
A bunch of everyday Aussies, working at the radio telescope in the rural town of Parkes west of Sydney, get to play a vital role in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. This excellent comedy was made by the same team that had such success with The Castle (as well as a string of TV hit comedies such as The D-Generation, The Late Show, Frontline and more recently political satires including The Hollowmen and Utopia). This is another big hearted comedy about simple Aussie blokes, who this time get caught up in an international event. Sam Neill heads the team, but Kevin Harrington and Tom Long, who both played in Seachange, add to the film’s down-to-earth Aussie humour. It’s another triumph for the producers and did very well at the box office. (See here for more information)
4. Crackerjack (2002) (Paul Moloney)
A mid-40s scallywag joins a city lawn bowling club to get the free parking place, but finds himself increasingly entangled in the lives of the retired bowlers and their efforts to save the club from developers. This is a hilarious look at one of Australian society’s old institutions: the largely Anglo-Celtic pensioner-dominated lawn bowling club, with its neat white uniforms, strange polite rituals, cheap beer and daggy food like cheese sandwiches and pies. The film is chiefly a vehicle for Mick Molloy, a scruffy TV comedian from the 1990s ABC comedy The Late Show, but includes many other Australian comedians, such as Judith Lucy, Tony Martin and the great John Clarke as the greedy developer, as well as a host of wonderful older actors, led by the ever-reliable Bill Hunter. This film is full of laughs, as well as gentle affection for the quaint culture of lawn bowls and traditional Melbourne. (See here for more information)
3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) (Stephan Elliott)
Three drag queens decide to leave Sydney and cross the outback in a silver bus called ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ performing exuberant drag shows in isolated outback towns. This is a flamboyant, hilarious romp of a road movie with wonderful costumes, great one-liners, and spectacular musical numbers, mixed with occasional sadness and intolerance. The movie is a landmark of Australian gay film-making and represents our most successful gay-themed film. The three leads, Terrence Stamp as the older transsexual and Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce as the fellow drag queens, are perfect, full of bitchy pizzazz and camp fun. The film was also voted as one of Australia’s five favourite Australian films in a 2008 AFI online poll, and again in and 2022. (See here for more information)
2. Muriel’s Wedding (1994) (P.J. Hogan)
Muriel, an ABBA-obsessed, wedding-obsessed dreamer from a hilariously/tragically dysfunctional family, escapes her dominant father and stultifying small town with the help of a rebel school-friend, and learns a bit about real life. This is a hilarious satire about Australian family life and conformity. Toni Collette (one of my favourite Oz actresses) plays the deluded, but loveable, Muriel, who dreams of a fab wedding but has none of the social skills to achieve it, until rebel Rachel Griffiths and fate help her attain it. There are so many things to love in this film: Muriel’s awful family (consisting of the patriarch, a local politician/businessman ‘big fish in a small pond’ played by Bill Hunter, a downtrodden mother who is no role model, and a weird assortment of no-hoper siblings), Muriel’s awful bitchy friends from school, Rachel Griffith as Rhonda, the switched-on fellow outcast who teaches Muriel about real friendship, the South African swimmer seeking Australian citizenship through marriage despite his shock and distaste at Muriel’s rough edges, and of course the fabulous ABBA number Muriel and Rhonda perform. A wonderful snapshot of some of the funnier things in Australian society. The film was also voted as one of Australia’s six favourite Australian films in a 2008 AFI online poll, and again in 2011, 2018, and 2022). (See here for more information. This film also appears on my top rom-com list)
1. The Castle (1997) (Rob Sitch)
A family of battlers, living on the flight path, near a major airport, tries to save their beloved humble home from development. This film is a hilarious, affectionate look at Australian working-class life, poking gentle fun at many of our habits and concerns. The film captured the language and obsessions of a very average Aussie family, who try to hold on to their modest house right next to and airport. Many catch-phrases from the film have entered the Australian vernacular, including Tell him he’s dreaming’, ‘This is going straight to the pool room’ and F’eel the serenity’. Made by Rob Sitch and the Working Dog team, who were TV comedians from The D-Generation and The Late Show, this film includes some of our great comic actors, particularly Michael Caton, but also Stephen Curry and Eric Bana (before he became a Hollywood action hero). This film was very successful at the box office and is regularly chosen as Australia’s favourite Australian film (for example in polls in 2005, 2008, 2011, 2018, and 2022) though non-Aussie audiences may find it baffling – even long-time resident David Stratton didn’t get the humour. But it is Australia’s best-loved comedy. (See here for more information)
What’s your favourite Australian comedy? What other films do you think should have been included in the list? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Notes and Explanations for Inclusions and Omissions
Comedy is both popular and difficult, and a lot of films missed the cut for one reason or another. These notes might explain why some of your favourites missed the list.
Firstly this list was generated from three main sources:
- My own opinion of the films (see here);
- The weight of critical opinion on the films, as examined here: Australian Films as rated by various critics
- The views of voters on the IMDb website – I looked at both the average rating for each film and the number of votes as an indication of the film’s popularity.
I used a formula to balance these four sources and order the list.
Secondly, comedy presents a surprising number of difficulties:
- Comedy is difficult to get right, and any weaknesses in tone, script or character can easily render a promising comedy ‘unfunny’. There are many comedies which just miss the mark.
- Comedy is definitely a matter of taste, with different audiences liking different films and often hating films that other people love. People who like edgy or risqué comedies will look down on genteel, subtle or ‘safe’ comedies, and vice versa. In other words, no list will please everyone. Some people think Welcome to Woop Woop is a hilarious satire, while others think it is just silly, tasteless and unfunny. My list is a product of my own taste (tempered by a survey of critical opinion and the voters on the IMDb database);
- Comedy is surprisingly difficult to define, as it spills over into and combines with other genres. On one hand, comedy films would seem easy to define – i.e. ‘funny movies’, but many films embrace multiple genres, leading to blurry lines between the comedy and the drama in each film. Many films combine comedy with other genres, to produce hybrid sub-genres, such as romantic-comedies (rom-coms), crime-comedies, horror-comedies, comedy-dramas (awkwardly named ‘dramedies’), action-comedies, musical-comedies, sci-fi-comedies, family comedies (for kids) etc. So, for the purposes of this page I have had to make choices over whether a particular film has enough comedy to be included in this page or not. It turns out that many films contain different amounts of comedy and drama, and appear along a spectrum rather than neatly on different sides of a clear line.
So here is how I resolved this conundrum and decided which of these hybrid films are sufficiently a comedy to include in this page:
- In the romantic comedy genre, the best of which are listed under my Top 30 Australian Romantic Comedies, most of the films had romantic or dramatic themes that were at least as important as, or more important than, the comedy. So I judged that only Muriel’s Wedding, Love Serenade, Strictly Ballroom, Dating the Enemy and Ali’s Wedding were mainly comedies, while the others were more concerned with the romance. Crocodile Dundee is a mixed adventure-rom-com but is also included, even though the romantic and adventure elements are almost as strong as the comedy. However, the comedy elements in the film only merit it appearing in the middle of the list, despite its status as the most successful Australian film ever. The main rom-coms excluded from this Best Comedy page were Love and Other Catastrophes, Better Than Sex, Look Both Ways, Paperback Hero, Lonely Hearts, and Russian Doll, as well as the rest of the films on the rom-com page.
- In the crime-comedy genre, (see Top 15 Australian Crime-Comedy Films), most of the films were more concerned with comedy than drama, and eight appear on this page. The main films excluded are Two Hands, Kiss or Kill, Idiot Box and The Hard Word, all of which were adventure stories and character-based dramas more than they were comedies.
- There is also the tricky sub-genre of comedy-drama (also clumsily known as dramedies), which are part drama and part comedy, in various combinations. Some of the best of these fall at the comedy end of the spectrum, and these are Bad Boy Bubby, The Dressmaker, Bliss, Children of the Revolution, Cosi, The Man Who Sued God, Bran Nue Day, Soft Fruit, and 48 Shades, all of which made this list. Others fell on the drama side of the spectrum and thus don’t appear here. The best of the more serious comedy-dramas, in my opinion of course, are Proof, Country Life, The Removalists, Lucky Miles, Flirting, Holy Smoke, Sirens, The Nostradamus Kid, Pawno and Red Dog.
- There are a lot of horror-comedies, but this is a niche sub-genre generally for horror fans only. The only film included here from this genre is the relatively mild Little Monsters.
So what missed out? A few films that performed well at the box office missed the cut: notably, Alvin Purple, Stork, The Craic, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza but the first two feel dated now, and the other three had only niche appeal. In addition, although two of Stephan Elliot’s funnier satirical films made the cut, two others, Welcome To Woop Woop and Swinging Safari did not as they contained more misfires than hit jokes. Some may mourn these omissions, but I suspect not many. Similarly The Cars That Ate Paris and Dimboola have only cult appeal and The Nugget and Emoh Ruo did not reach the standard of The Castle.
So there’s my rationale, but I’d be glad to hear your ideas on the list, or any of these points.
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For more laughs, see also: