The Funniest Screenwriter of All Time

…  is Woody Allen, according to the Writer’s Guild of America.  They recently polled their members and came out with a list of the 101 Funniest Screenplays. Allen appears on it for 7 movies, more than any other person.  Sounds about right.

A lot of his movies, though, appeared at the end of the list, so maybe they shouldn’t count for as much.  How about if we give a writer a 102 points if they’re #1, 101 points if they’re #2, and all the way down to 1 point if they’re #101?  The spreadsheet is here.  The top writers then look like this:

Writer Number Written Points Screenplays, with the number as the overall rank
Woody Allen 7 257 1. Annie Hall
60. Sleeper
69. Bananas
76. Take the Money and Run
78. Love and Death
81. Manhattan
92. Broadway Danny Rose
Harold Ramis 5 370 3. Groundhog Day
10. National Lampoon’s Animal House
14. Ghostbusters
25. Caddyshack
88. Stripes
Preston Sturges 4 174 32. The Lady Eve
35. Sullivan’s Travels
72. The Palm Beach Story
95. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Mel Brooks 3 280 6. Young Frankenstein
8. Blazing Saddles
12. The Producers
John Cleese 3 251 9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
20. A Fish Called Wanda
26. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Christopher Guest 3 192 11. This is Spinal Tap
40. Waiting for Guffman
63. Best in Show
John Hughes 3 192 33. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
45. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Ethan Coen 3 184 13. The Big Lebowski
23. Raising Arizona
86. Fargo
Joel Coen 3 184 13. The Big Lebowski
23. Raising Arizona
86. Fargo
Marshall Brickman 3 164 1. Annie Hall
60. Sleeper
81. Manhattan
Charles Chaplin 3 40 82. Modern Times
90. City Lights
94. The Gold Rush

By this points standard, Harold Ramis is the funniest writer, since his 5 movies are closer to the top of the list.   Mel Brooks also beats out Woody Allen.  On the other hand, this gives John Hughes of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” 192 points, which is way ahead of Charlie Chaplin’s 40, and that’s totally wrong.

That shows one larger problem with the list – the movies are largely from recent decades.  Chaplin’s movies are from the 30s and Hughes’ from the 80s.   Here are the numbers and movies by decade:

Decade Number Movies Screenplays
1920s 2 57. The General, 94. The Gold Rush
1930s 6 17. Duck Soup, 24. Bringing Up Baby, 38. A Night at the Opera, 47. It Happened One Night, 82. Modern Times, 90. City Lights
1940s 7 21. His Girl Friday, 32. The Lady Eve, 35. Sullivan’s Travels, 37. The Philadelphia Story, 72. The Palm Beach Story, 95. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, 97. Arsenic and Old Lace
1950s 2 2. Some Like it Hot, 96. All About Eve
1960s 8 7. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 12. The Producers, 27. The Graduate, 28. The Apartment, 41. The Odd Couple, 62. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 73. The Pink Panther, 76. Take the Money and Run
1970s 15 1. Annie Hall, 6. Young Frankenstein, 8. Blazing Saddles, 9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 10. National Lampoon’s Animal House, 19. The Jerk, 26. Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 48. M*A*S*H, 49. Harold and Maude, 58. What’s Up, Doc?, 60. Sleeper, 66. Being There, 69. Bananas, 78. Love and Death, 81. Manhattan
1980s 29 4. Airplane!, 5. Tootsie, 11. This is Spinal Tap, 14. Ghostbusters, 15. When Harry Met Sally, 20. A Fish Called Wanda, 22. The Princess Bride, 23. Raising Arizona, 25. Caddyshack, 33. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 33. Trading Places, 36. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 39. Rushmore, 42. The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad! , 44. Big, 45. National Lampoon’s Vacation, 46. Midnight Run, 51. Broadcast News, 52. Arthur, 67. Back to the Future, 70. Moonstruck, 74. The Blues Brothers, 75. Coming to America, 79. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 79. Lost in America, 87. My Favorite Year, 88. Stripes, 89. Beverly Hills Cop, 92. Broadway Danny Rose
1990s 18 3. Groundhog Day, 13. The Big Lebowski, 18. There’s Something About Mary, 40. Waiting for Guffman, 43. Office Space, 53. Four Weddings and a Funeral, 54. Dumb and Dumber, 56. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, 61. Galaxy Quest, 65. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, 71. Clueless, 77. Election, 83. My Cousin Vinny, 86. Fargo, 93. Swingers, 99. Mrs. Doutbtfire, 100. Flirting with Disaster, 101. Shakespeare in Love
2000s 13 29. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, 30. The Hangover, 31. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 50. Shaun of the Dead, 54. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, 59. Wedding Crashers, 63. Best in Show, 64. Little Miss Sunshine, 68. Superbad, 84. Mean Girls, 85. Meet the Parents, 91. Sideways, 98. The Royal Tenenbaums
2010s 1 16. Bridesmaids

The peak decade is the 80s, which may say more about Guild writers being middle-aged Boomers rather than that being a particularly funny time.   The 50s really were a grim era for Hollywood, though, so it’s not surprising that it had only 2.

The poll rules were that the films had to be not first shown on TV, had to be more than 60 minutes long, and had to be in English.  The voters are American writers, so 94 are from the US, and the other 7 from Britain.

There are only 7 women among the 152 writers total: Nora Ephron, Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig, Anne Spielberg, Tina Fey, Tania Rose, and Amy Heckerling.   Their movies tend to be more recent, unsurprisingly.  The only black writer appears to be Eddie Murphy.

About 10 of the writers are alumni of Saturday Night Live, and 6 are members of Monty Python.  Over 10% of the funniest screenwriters in English came out of those two operations.

Overall, there are a couple of obvious biases in this list.  Still, this is what the experts in the profession think are the best.  I’ve actually seen most of these, which is not surprising given their reputation, and I can attest that, yes, these are very funny movies.   Work your way through this list and you won’t be disappointed.

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