Top 10 John Landis Films

Most audiences today won’t have heard of the name John Landis. They would have heard of “Coming To America” and “The Blues Brothers” but it’s unlikely they recognise the talent behind the lens. That’s because Landis has become one of Hollywood’s forgotten star directors. Legal troubles and a decade of poor work has put the director out in the wilderness. Forgettable films from a forgotten filmmaker.

Yet, you ask anyone if they’ve seen Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and most will reply “Damn right I have – best music video ever made!” Well, that was the brainchild of Jackson and John Landis.

Now Landis is back. His latest film “Burke and Hare”, which is currently in production, promises to be his best work for a very long time. Despite his lacklustre movies during the 1990s and almost complete lack of work during the 2000s, Landis has remained one of my favourite filmmakers.

Suffice to say, I love all his movies up to “Innocent Blood” in 1992. He knows how to tell a great story in a fun and enchanting way. He introduced mainstream Hollywood to the concept of horror-comedy (one of the greatest achievements of genre cinema) with “An American Werewolf In London”, set the blueprint for college comedy and teen movies with “Animal House”, and influenced the MTV generation with his wonderful music video “Thriller” for Michael Jackson.

Are you a fan of John Landis? What’s your favourite film by the director?

10. Innocent Blood (1992)

innocent blood vampire top 10 john landis films
“I was sad, I was starved. It was time to treat myself. Then I thought – “What about… Italian!””

Maintaining the gangster theme from “Oscar” and swapping the laughs for screams, “Innocent Blood” sees Landis again return to the horror film. This time it is vampires and what happens when one sultry lady vamp bites the local Godfather, giving him new powers to control the criminal underworld. It’s an interesting take on vampire lore, and features some wonderfully funny moments as well as some decidedly bloody ones.

9. Oscar (1991)

oscar stallone john landis top 10 films
“We can’t have a stiff in the house with company coming!”

One of several underrated Landis films, “Oscar” is a superbly scripted and cast film that utilises limited locations to tell an amusing tale that pays homage to the classic gangster flicks of the 1930s and 1940s. The film also features Sylvester Stallone’s best comedy performance.

8. Three Amigos (1986)

three amigos comedy chevy chase steve martin short
“You son of a motherless goat!”

Many believe “Three Amigos” is Landis’ funniest film. With Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short headlining, it’s difficult to disagree.

7. Animal House (1978)

animal house john landis film comedy college belushi
“Greg, honey, is it supposed to be this soft?”

“Animal House” was the film that made John Landis a household name in Hollywood. The film, about the fraternity men of the fictional Faber college, played on the anti-establishment ethos prevalent amongst America’s youth to create a funny and hugely influential film about university life.

6. Coming To America (1988)

coming to america comedy eddie murphy movie
“Give a hand to my band, Sexual Chocolate.”

Eddie Murphy was great in “Trading Places” but this is where he excels. Forget “The Nutty Professor” and “Norbit”, Murphy used to be really funny playing several characters. Randy Watson, one of four characters Murphy plays in the film, is one of his best creations. Ably supported by Arsenio Hall (who also plays several characters), “Coming To America” is a great comedy that you can return to time and time again.

5. The Blues Brothers (1980)

blues brothers john belushi landis aykroyd comedy music
“We’re on a mission from God”

In many ways “The Blues Brothers” was a precursor to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. It is a feature-length movie devoted to the rhythm and blues he had loved for so long. You can see Landis love of music – from bluegrass to jazz to Motown to rock n roll. It’s there for all to see in the soundtracks of his movies. The beauty of this adoration is how he uses music in his films. In “An American Werewolf In London” he juxtaposes upbeat melodies with downbeat horror, in “The Blues Brothers” he intermingles song and dance numbers into the dramatic narrative. He also enjoys working with the artists themselves, often featuring them in his work. Here he goes all out with Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and a host of others showing up to sing and play. Coupled with the lively performances of comic greats John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and one of the finest car chases in movie history, “The Blues Brothers” is a classic through and through.

4. Thriller (Music Video) (1983)

michael jackson thriller music video john landis
“There’s something I’ve got to tell you.”

Another clear example of John Landis being underrated as a filmmaker. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video is still hailed as the greatest music video ever made, and it’s legacy lives on today in countless movie-like music videos. The film was also instrumental in beginning the craze into MTV and music television in general.

3. Trading Places (1983)

trading places dan aykroyd eddie murphy movie comedy
“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me.”

Probably John Landis’ most purely enjoyable film. However, the director is certainly in debt to his lead actors – Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis are all great and ably supported by an excellent cast.

2. Into The Night (1985)

into the night john landis film movie michelle pfieffer david bowie
“If you want she’ll dress like Santa Claus!”

One of John Landis’ most underrated films, “Into The Night” has been unfairly criticised as over-indulgent and self-referential. It’s actually a fabulous black comedy and superbly scripted character study.

1. An American Werewolf In London (1981)

an american werewolf in london john landis film
“I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb.”

Undeniably the frontrunner in horror-comedy, “An American Werewolf In London” has inspired countless films since it was released. It is brilliantly realised and perfectly crafted but most importantly it’s frightening and funny in equal measure.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Peter E. Reply

    So glad to see Oscar here. I always thought it was a cute comedy with great timing by the cast. Coming to America is one of the funniest films of the past 30 years. I am wondering if Landis deserves a Top 10 list with his resume…..

  2. Róisín Reply

    Nice selection out of the choices available…
    Especially No.5.
    I almost forgot about Thriller. Definitely one of his underappreciated moments.

  3. Dan Reply

    @Peter I’ve always felt Oscar was a little underrated. It has a great, fast-paced script and Stallone is genuinely good in the comedic role. The rest of the cast are also excellent – some really great small roles too.

    I can see your point about a Top 10 list devoted to John Landis but as I state above and in my article, for me, he’s one of the best hot-shot directors to come out of that 70s film brats period (with the likes of Lucas, Dante, Spielberg, Zemeckis, Coppola, De Palma, Scorsese…). Yet, most of those are the recognised names with the movies considered by most as some of the greatest work of cinema. I don’t think Landis gets taljed about in that way. Is it because of Twilight Zone? Is it because he’s spent the last 20 years doing nothing worth writing home about? I’m not sure. But I do know that when it comes to horror there isn’t much that beats An American Werewolf, in comedy few films are ahead of Trading Places, The Blues Brothers, Coming To America, and in music video…well…Thriller is, hands down, the best.

    @Roisin The Blues Brothers is a lot of fun. I still have trouble categorising the film – music-comedy, musical, road-movie – it’s probably a bit of all of them!

  4. Róisín Reply

    @Dan The “difficult to categorise” category always provides the best entertainment :)

  5. Heather Reply

    It’s all about Three Amigos and Coming To America for me!

    But An American Werewolf In London was such a brilliant combo of horror and comedy. Epic goodness.

  6. Anna Reply

    “Toga! Toga!”

    “Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

    Gotta love Animal House.

  7. Dan Reply

    @Heather: American Werewolf will always rate so highly for me because it was the scariest film I saw as a kid. I probably shouldn’t have watched it at such a young age but it did highlight just how powerful cinema could be. More to the point, how powerful horror cinema could be. One of the great things about being scared watching a film is that when you are in that moment of sheer fright you are more immersed in the suspension of disbelief than at any other time watching a movie. At least, that’s my take on it.

    But like you, whether it’s a top 10 John Landis, a top 10 Steve Martin, or a top 10 Eddie Murphy, Coming to America and Three Amigos are always going to be near the top of the list.

    @Anna: Thanks for dropping by Anna. Make sure you check out the rest of the Indiana Jones films! ;) (Although ignoring the latest one will do you no harm!).

  8. Andy Reply

    Not seen Oscar but love all the others The Blues Brothers is top for me.

    No love for Spies Like Us?

  9. Dan Reply

    @Andy: I used to like Spies Like Us a lot more than I do now. Of course, Aykoryd and Chevy Chase are a great double act but I did feel it was one of their weaker comedies when I saw it last. That said, it still rates highly as it was one of my childhood favourites. However, I do feel that Landis has made 10 or 11 better films (it would be between Kentucky Fried Movie and Spies Like Us for spot number 11.)

  10. goregirl Reply

    You certainly won’t get any argument from me about your #1 choice! Love Trading Places! It is one of those films I’ve seen WAY too many times but somehow I never get tired of.

  11. Dan Reply

    @goregirl: Like so many Landis films, they might date a little but watching them never gets old.

  12. gelpi2010 Reply

    As a huge Landis fan, I’m ashamed to confess that I’ve never seen “3 Amigos.” I need to change that. Anyhow, I didn’t care for “Oscar” – I much preferred the zaniness of “The Kentucky Fried Movie” and “Spies Like Us.” Happy to see the underrated “Innocent Blood” among the best.

  13. Dan Reply

    @gelpi2010: It was difficult leaving Kentucky Fried Movie off the list but I really do feel Oscar is underrated so I had to place it in the top 10. I didn’t want to lose Innocent Blood – another one of those little-seen gems from Landis. I do like Spies Like Us but I do think it isn’t quite up to the standard of Landis’ best comedies.

  14. Steph Reply

    Let’s not forget his contribution to the Twilight Zone movie. That truly made movie history.

  15. Dan Reply

    @Steph: I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not…

  16. Lee Taylor Reply

    I would love to speak to John Landis about making my zombie novel into a movie. ‘An american wwerewolf in London’ is around 30 years old now, but to me, is still classed as a masterpiece of a movie. My novel is titled – M.D.(Morgue of the Dead), but is a movie style story. Everyone who’s read it has told me that it reads like a movie on paper. It’s gory, action packed, but also has traces of humour in it, and if John Landis could direct it then I know it will be up there with his greatest horror comedys.
    He is the only person i’ve thought of to make it.
    It’s a zombie horror and is available for sale, but because the feedback is swaying more to it being ideal for a movie idea, I am now keen to get the best person interested, and hopefully to read my story.
    If John Landis is reading this then please get in touch with me. I believe in my story so i’m hoping he does…
    Lee

  17. theDia Reply

    Great list, but where´s “Schlock”?

  18. Retro Hound Reply

    I’m way late commenting on this, but I have to because I LOVE Into the Night. It’s one of my top 50 movies. Landis is very underrated, and it’s too bad cause he did some all time classics as this list demonstrates. I think people are aware of several of the films, they just haven’t put them all together as being “John Landis films.”

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