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Best Comedies of the 1930s: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Turbulent Thirties

Best Comedies of the 1930s: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Turbulent Thirties

Welcome to the Hilarious World of the 1930s

So you are one of those keen comedy lovers, who like to travel back in time to experience the humor of earlier cinematic eras. So are we!

The 1930s may be a thing of the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, it will never be really gone.

Whenever you miss the turbulent thirties and feel like laughing your heart out, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of its best comedies.

But which ones should you watch?
Well, if that’s the very question lurking in your mind right now, then you came to the right place. We’re just about to present 21 of the greatest comedy films of the 1930s.

If you’re a first timer with the 1930s comedies, then the Top 21 List might be a little too overwhelming for you. Maybe you should start with the Top 10 List below:

Top 10 Comedies of the 1930s
A Quick List for First Timers
City Lights 1931
City Lights (1931)
Duck Soup 1933
Duck Soup (1933)
It Happened One Night 1934
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Thin Man 1934
The Thin Man (1934)
*Part of the Collection: William Powell’s Thin Man Franchise
A Night at the Opera 1935
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Modern Times 1936
Modern Times (1936)
My Man Godfrey 1936
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Bringing Up Baby 1938
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
You Can’t Take It with You 1938
You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

If you’re not a first timer, then you probably saw the movies above and want to dive a bit deeper. That’s exactly what we’re about to do, so keep on reading!

We will to take a closer look at the movies above, and explore other cinematic gems as well!

This collection is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Comedies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the funniest films of each cinematic era, chronologically. It starts with the Comedies of the Silent Era and wanders ahead decade-by-decade, all the way to our ever moving present.


So what was on-screen humor like in the 1930s?

The 1930s was the time of the Great Depression, and audiences needed to escape from the grim realities of everyday life. Humor and comedy were needed more than ever, and the silent comedians were fading away one after the other, due to the arrival of talking pictures.

A new generation of writers seized the opportunity to get smart talk into the movies, so silent slapsticks were soon replaced by fast-talking comedies.

The most significant comedy genre of the 1930s is undeniably screwball. Actually, it’s also the next major step in comedy, after silent slapstick.

Emerging in the 1930s, screwball comedies were a wild new strain of fast-talking romantic farces that fused silliness with sophistication.

It involved battles of the sexes and took place in a world forever on the brink of chaos, where hapless men were often caught up in the whirlwinds of feisty women.

Most screwball comedies featured two major stars in the leading romantic roles with a number of talented character actors in support. Many of these films were vehicles for love stories between the two budding cinema stars.

Onscreen, they were usually too busy bashing each other verbally, and sometimes physically, to recognize that they’re actually in love, at least until the final scene.

Yes, screwball was a powerful comedy genre in the 1930s, but there were also others. Comedy titans like the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin released several comedy pictures during the decade, giving the audience a myriad of reasons to go to cinemas.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the comedies of the 1930s, but this article concentrates on the best 21 of them, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, the finest way to explore the on-screen humor of an era is, is through watching its funniest films as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best comedies of the 1930s make you laugh out loud!

See FrameTrek's definition of 'Best' and the story behind this List (click to expand) ↴

How to define ‘Best’?

That’s a pretty good question, since ‘Best’ is relative. A movie can be considered being among the best for multiple reasons, such as: Critical Acclaim, Audience Feedback, Box Office Performance, Awards and Nominations, Iconic Status, Popularity, Watchability, and even Personal Preference, or for being part of a famous list such as the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die or Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list – or because that particular movie defined its era.

So how did we pick the Top 21 Comedies of the 1930s?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! While composing the Best Comedy Films of the 1930s list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph, and then some.

We believe that the movies that made the cut should not compete with one another any further, so we will just present them in the order they were released in.



Revealing the Top 21 Comedies of the 1930s

Chronologically


Animal Crackers (1930)

Animal Crackers (1930), Marx Brothers, Greatest comedy movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code musical comedy film starring the Marx Brothers.

Story: Mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding. (IMDB)

Why is Animal Crackers among the best comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ It was a huge critical and commercial success upon its initial release.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1930s, with a significant influence on cult culture, through its jokes, songs and memorable characters.


City Lights (1931)

City Lights (1931), Charlie Chaplin, Best 1930s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent slapstick romantic comedy film written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: The Little Tramp is in love with a sightless flower girl, whose blindness could be cured by an expensive operation. He decides to raise the money, even if that means being a prize fighter or worse.

One of the best underdog romance movies ever, with an ending that will light up any heart.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is City Lights among the top comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #1 Romantic Comedy of All Time, and the #11 Greatest Movie of All Time.
✓ Upon release it became a critical success and a box office hit, and today many critics consider it not only the highest accomplishment of Chaplin’s career, but one of the greatest films of all time.


Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ernst Lubitsch, Best 1930s comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

American pre-Code romantic comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall

Story: A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to con a beautiful perfume company owner. Romantic entanglements and jealousies confuse the scheme. (IMDB)

Why is Trouble in Paradise among the best comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list and included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Named by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 films of 1932.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup (1933), Marx Brothers, Best 1930s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code musical comedy film starring the Marx Brothers.

Story: Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. (IMDB)

Fueled by inspired silliness and blessed with some of the Marx brothers’ most brilliant work, Duck Soup is one of its – or any – era’s finest comedies.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Duck Soup among the top comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ Widely considered among critics to be a masterpiece of comedy, and the Marx Brothers’ finest film.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ The United States Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Sons of the Desert (1933)

Sons of the Desert (1933), Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Best 1930s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

American pre-Code comedy film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Story: When Stan and Ollie trick their wives into thinking that they are taking a medicinal cruise while they’re actually going to a convention, the wives find out the truth the hard way. (IMDB)

Why is Sons of the Desert among the best comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934), Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Best 1930s comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code romantic screwball comedy film directed by Frank Capra, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

Story: A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story. (IMDB)

Capturing its stars and director at their finest, It Happened One Night remains unsurpassed by the countless romantic comedies it has inspired.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is It Happened One Night among the top comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Winner of five Academy Awards, including the Oscar’s Best Picture of the Year Award.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Often credited as the very first true screwball comedy.


The Thin Man (1934)

The Thin Man (1934), William Powell, Myrna Loy, Best 1930s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Pre-Code comedy-mystery film directed by W. S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Story: Former detective Nick Charles and his wealthy wife Nora investigate a murder case, mostly for the fun of it. (IMDB)

Featuring an involving mystery and sparkling repartee between William Powell and Myrna Loy, The Thin Man is an endlessly charming romp.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Thin Man among the best comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Received extremely positive reviews and was a box office hit, with special praise for the chemistry between Loy and Powell.
✓ Added to the United States National Film Registry having been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


A Night at the Opera (1935)

A Night at the Opera (1935), Marx Brothers, Greatest comedy films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers.

Story: A sly business manager and two wacky friends of two opera singers help them achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies. (IMDB)

Why is A Night at the Opera among the greatest comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies and their 100 Years… 100 Laughs collection.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Top Hat (1935)

Top Hat (1935), Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Greatest comedies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

American screwball musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Story: An American dancer comes to Britain and falls for a model whom he initially annoyed, but she mistakes him for his goofy producer. (IMDB)

A glamorous and enthralling Depression-era diversion, Top Hat is nearly flawless, with acrobatics by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that make the hardest physical stunts seem light as air.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Top Hat among the best comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Most of its songs have become American song classics, and the film itself ranked number 15 on the American Film Institute’s list of best musicals.



Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times (1936), Charlie Chaplin, Best 1930s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent slapstick comedy film written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. (IMDB)

A slapstick skewering of industrialized America, Modern Times is as politically incisive as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Modern Times among the greatest comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ Selected by the Vatican in the “art” category of its list of 45 “great films”, and also selected into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #78 Greatest Movie of All Time and it is included in their list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.


My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey (1936), William Powell, Best 1930s comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

American screwball comedy film starring William Powell.

Story: A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler – but there’s more to Godfrey than meets the eye. (IMDB)

A class satire in a class of its own, My Man Godfrey‘s screwball comedy is as sharp as the social commentary is biting.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is My Man Godfrey among the best comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ It was a huge critical and commercial success, with critics praising the film’s humor and the performance of the principal cast.
✓ Deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Frank Capra, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Best 1930s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

American comedy-drama romance film directed by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.

Stroy: A simple, small town man inherits a massive fortune, making him the target for scammers and publicity-seekers. Overwhelmed by the turn his life has taken, and awoken to another use for his new-found fortune, he makes a momentous decision. (IMDB)

Why is Mr. Deeds Goes to Town among the greatest comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1930s, with a significant influence on pop culture.
✓ Winner of the Best Director Academy Award and nominated for 4 other Oscars.


The Awful Truth (1937)

The Awful Truth (1937), Cary Grant, Best comedy films of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

Screwball comedy romance film directed by Leo McCarrey, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.

Story: Unfounded suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other’s attempts to find new romance. (IMDB)

Great comic direction by Leo McCarrey and memorable onscreen chemistry from stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne make this screwball comedy a charmer.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Awful Truth among the best comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Premiere voted this movie as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time”.
✓ Unique because the dialogue and comic elements were largely improvised by the director and the cast during filming.



A Day at the Races (1937)

A Day at the Races (1937), Marx Brothers, Best comedies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers.

Story: A veterinarian posing as a doctor and a race-horse owner and his friends struggle to help keep a sanitarium open with the help of a misfit race-horse. (IMDB)

Why is A Day at the Races among the top comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ It was a major hit at the time, and it continues to be a classic comedy.


Way Out West (1937)

Way Out West (1937), Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Best 1930s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

American comedy film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Story: Stanley and Ollie are enlisted to deliver the deed to a goldmine in a small village, only for it to be stolen. (IMDB)


Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Bringing Up Baby (1938), Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Best 1930s comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

American screwball comedy romance film directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Story: While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. (IMDB)

With Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant at their effervescent best, Bringing Up Baby is a seamlessly assembled comedy with enduring appeal.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Bringing Up Baby among the best comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Received acclaim from both critics and audience for its zany antics and pratfalls, absurd situations and misunderstandings, perfect sense of comic timing and light-hearted surprises.
✓ Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy film directed by Frank Capra, starring Jean ArthurLionel Barrymore and James Stewart.

Story: A man from a family of rich snobs becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family. (IMDB)

It’s predictably uplifting fare from Frank Capra, perhaps the most consciously uplifting of all great American directors – but thanks to immensely appealing performances and a nimble script, You Can’t Take It With You is hard not to love.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is You Can’t Take It with You among the top comedy films of the 1930s?
✓ Received two Academy Awards from seven nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Frank Capra.
✓ A critical and commercial success, with critics and audiences praising its humor, Capra’s direction and the performance of the principal cast.



Holiday (1938)

Holiday (1938), George Cukor, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Best 1930s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

Story: A young man in love with a girl from a rich family finds his unorthodox plan to go on holiday for the early years of his life met with skepticism by everyone except for his fiancée’s eccentric sister and long-suffering brother. (IMDB)


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Frank Capra, Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Best 1930s comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Political comedy-drama film directed by Frank Capra, starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart.

Story: A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn’t back down. (IMDB)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — and returns with an uplifting ode to idealism that distills the strengths of its director and leading man.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington among the best comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ One of the most popular and most successful films of the 1930s, with a significant influence on pop culture.


The Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game (1939), Jean Renoir, Best 1930s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

French satirical comedy-drama film directed by Jean Renoir.

Story: A bourgeois life in France at the onset of World War II, as the rich and their poor servants meet up at a French chateau. (IMDB)

Its genius escaped many viewers at the time, but in retrospect, The Rules of the Game stands as one of Jean Renoir’s — and cinema’s — finest works.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Rules of the Game among the top comedies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Voted as the 4th greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s critic’s poll and chosen by Premiere magazine as one of the “100 Movies That Shook the World”.
✓ Included in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Essential 100, movies every cinephile should see.


Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka (1939), Ernst Lubitsch, Greta Garbo, Best comedy movies of the 1930s
Where to Watch?   More info

American romantic comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Greta Garbo.

Story: A stern Russian woman sent to Paris on official business finds herself attracted to a man who represents everything she is supposed to detest. (IMDB)

With Greta Garbo proving her comedy chops in the twilight of her career, Ninotchka is a can’t-miss classic.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Ninotchka among the best comedy movies of the 1930s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 21 Greatest Comedies of the 1930s

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

Top 21 Comedies of the 1930s
Animal Crackers 1930
Animal Crackers (1930)
City Lights 1931
City Lights (1931)
Trouble in Paradise 1932
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Duck Soup 1933
Duck Soup (1933)
Sons of the Desert 1933
Sons of the Desert (1933)
It Happened One Night 1934
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Thin Man 1934
The Thin Man (1934)
*Part of the Collection: William Powell’s Thin Man Franchise
A Night at the Opera 1935
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Top Hat 1935
Top Hat (1935)
Modern Times 1936
Modern Times (1936)
My Man Godfrey 1936
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
The Awful Truth 1937
The Awful Truth (1937)
A Day at the Races 1937
A Day at the Races (1937)
Way Out West 1937
Way Out West (1937)
Bringing Up Baby 1938
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
You Can’t Take It with You 1938
You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Holiday 1938
Holiday (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Rules of the Game 1939
The Rules of the Game (1939)
Ninotchka 1939
Ninotchka (1939)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

Ready for another journey?

Explore the best comedies of other decades too!

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