Top 10 Whoopi Goldberg Comedy Films

Whoopi Goldberg’s comedies have always been favourites of mine. From the minute I saw Jumpin’ Jack Flash as a kid I was hooked on Goldberg’s unique comic talent. She has varied roles in both comedy and drama fantastically well, showing a range that many of her contemporaries have failed to achieve, but it has always been her comedy that has stood out for me.

Recently, many would have seen her work for television or her various appearances at political protests. But for those who remember her bursting onto the screen, first with the dramatic role in The Color Purple, then with wildly funny turns in Burglar, Fatal Beauty, Sister Act, The Associate and the Oscar-winning performance in Ghost alongside Patrick Swayze, Goldberg’s comedy films (and roles) are the ones that stick out in the memory.

Looking back over her career I am reminded that her potential, although realised on occasion, never fully found fruition on a consistent basis. She deserved all the plaudits she received for her brilliantly funny Oda Mae Brown character in Ghost (she was only the second African-American actress to win an Academy Award for acting for that role) and her sprightly, fish out of water lounge singer in Sister Act. But even in the films that appear in this list, there is a sense of missed opportunities. She is great in Fatal Beauty and Burglar but they remain lazy cash-ins with scripts that were obviously rushed. The Associate is a lot of fun but its familiarity with Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire highlight deficiencies that mean it can never be as good as either the Hoffman or Williams vehicles. And, likewise, while she explored race and discrimination in The Color Purple, that cutting edge has sadly been missing from her comedy work, particularly in Fatal Beauty and The Associate where gender is briefly explored but race is not.

But that said, Whoopi Goldberg has such a great knack for comedy, and frequently portrays a warm heart through idiosyncratic characters, that I find her films difficult not to like. And, regardless of its mixed critical reception, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, for me, remains one of the best films of the 1980s.

10. Burglar (Wilson, 1987)

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A star vehicle if ever there was one, Burglar is cash-in on the rising talent of Whoopi Goldberg. Not her best work but the assortment of guises she has to take on attempting to prove her innocence after being wrongly fingered for a murder is fun and perfect for her brand of humour.

9. Fatal Beauty (Holland, 1987)

fatal beauty, film, whoopi goldberg

This is Whoopi Goldberg following in the footsteps of Eddie Murphy and Beverly Hills Cop as a detective who works on the fringes of the ‘book’ to get her culprit. It isn’t as good as the Murphy vehicle and the dramatic side of the film works a lot less efficiently than the comedic element but Goldberg is again great to watch.

8. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Duke, 1993)

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I’ve always liked this sequel to Goldberg’s smash hit Sister Act. It’s heavy-handed, overly sentimental, and asks a lot of your suspension of disbelief, but the songs are great and the ending suitably feel good.

7. Made In America (Benjamin, 1993)

made in america, film, whoopi goldberg

Made In America would win unlikeliest couple in the history of cinema if there was such an award. Here, Whoopi Goldberg ends up in Ted Danson’s bed after her daughter discovers he is the anonymous sperm donor who were mother used to get pregnant. Cue father-daughter bonding and Goldberg finding a little love. Funny, cute, a bit sentimental but easy on the eye.

6. The Associate (Petrie, 1996)

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Goldberg isn’t one to shy away from the tried and trusted. Here we see the comic tread the same ground as Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams as a crossing dresser trying to put the world to rights. Of course, unlike Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire, this time it’s a woman becoming a man. Goldberg’s male incarnation is strange but serviceable even if she’s a lot more rigid and a whole lot less likeable than Hoffman and Williams’ efforts. But this is another feel good film that does what you expect it to. I’d call it part Working Girl, part Tootsie with some added sentiment.

5. Soapdish (Hoffman, 1991)

soapdish, film, whoopi goldberg

A brilliant ensemble cast can’t keep Goldberg hidden in the backdrop in this funny and well-written story about life in the world of soap opera TV. Sally Field is great, as is Kevin Kline and a whole host of other actors including Robert Downey Jr., Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Elisabeth Shue and Carrie Fisher.

4. Corrina, Corrina (Nelson, 1994)

corrina corrina, film, whoopi goldberg,

Goldberg strikes up another unlikely relationship, this time with Ray Liotta in nice-guy mode. However, Corrina, Corrina, features an interesting pairing that highlights the difficult racial tensions of 1950s America and the bond between a father and his daughter. This is the other side of Goldberg – endearing and a little fragile but still with the potential to make you laugh.

3. Ghost (Zucker, 1990)

ghost, film, whoopi goldberg

Would Ghost work without Goldberg’s brilliant performance as psychic Oda Mae Brown. Okay, Demi Moore has just lost her husband to a terrible case of knife crime but oh boy she’s miserable. Without Whoopi prancing about talking to dead people and Patrick Swayze singing I’m Henry the 8th I am, we’d be left with Demi Moore’s corpse-like performance and that silly scene involving pottery making and sex. The reason I’ve seen Ghost so many times is all due to Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown.

2. Sister Act (Ardolino, 1992)

sister act, film, whoopi goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg was at the height of her star power when Sister Act was released and thankfully its one of best and most original films. This tale of a Reno lounge singer on the run from mobsters ending disguised as a nun is the prefect set-up for Goldberg’s unique talent. This comedy-musical features some great comedy moments and equally good music with tongue firmly pressed against cheek.

1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Marshall, 1986)

jumpin jack flash, film, whoopi goldberg,

A hugely underrated film that sees quirky but bored office worker Terry Dolittle thrust into the world of spies and international espionage. Whoopi Goldberg has rarely been better as Dolittle, a role seemingly tailor made for the comic actress. It’s Working Girl meets James Bond. Director Penny Marshall brings it all together with the focus on Goldberg’s fish-out-of-water adventure and an assortment of amusing support characters.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens

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. amy Reply

    I love Sister Act 1 + 2 xD always watch it whenever I catch it on TV. I remember once, my friend and I were discussing Whoopi, and he said she freaks him out because she has no eyebrows! LOL

  2. Richard Reply

    Jeez. Impressive list, but it made me realise how few of Whoopi Goldberg’s comedies I’ve actually seen. Only three out of the ten. That’s a big hole.

    To me, she’ll always be Guinan in Star Trek. ;-)

  3. Rodney Reply

    Whoooo, I’d have swapped 1st and 2nd place, to be honest, but awesome list and, I think I have to make time to re-watch some of these films! Love Whoopi!!

  4. Dan Reply

    @Amy: Never noticed the eyebrows thing before! Now, I’m never not going to notice it! :)

    @Richard: I actually caught up with a few on this list recently. I hadn’t seen The Associate or Soapdish before, and also rewatched Burglar and Fatal Beauty having not seen them for years. And, of course, I watched Jumpin’ Jack Flash again!

    @Rodney: Great that we agree on the top 2! Jumpin’ always had to be number one for me, it’s one of my all time favourite films.

  5. Castor Reply

    Loved me some Sister Act back in the 90′s. Oddly, I never really paid attention to Goldberg’s other movies but I will definitely check out Jumpin’ Jack Flash since it’s your #1.

  6. Aiden R. Reply

    Interesting list, only seen Ghost and Sister Act myself. Who knew there was such a comedic gold mine to be had with Whoopi?

  7. Simon Reply

    I love watching whoopi goldberg … and, considering how few of the mentioned films i have seen, i have to admit I need to track them down. Jumpin’ jack Flash needs to be hunted out!

  8. Luke Reply

    Whoa craziness! Just watched Sister Act 2 yesterday as a matter of fact! It’s true – there is much silliness within, but the music sort of helps trump all that. Oh, and bless you for putting Corrina Corrina so high! It’s sort of a sentimental favorite of mine…

  9. mae sutherland Reply

    I love her acting but wish she wouldn’t dress so sloppy. There is a good looking woman under those rags, I’d bet.

  10. sundryandco Reply

    I love Sister Act. I really do. It’s the only time I considered wearing a habit.
    Someone referenced the great Star Trek days above and rightly so :)

    Sometimes I wish we were back in the 90s. I’d even wear the dungarees and scrunchies again. Surely it’ll be the next decade to make a full “come-back” – Ireland even has the pre-Celtic Tiger economic problems that go with it!

  11. Mark Monlux Reply

    I’m so glad that you did not add Theodore Rex to this list.

  12. Dan Grant Reply

    Dan, I think we share a brain at times. Whoopi’s early work is comic gold. I thought I was the only one who liked Fatal Beauty. Burglar is fantastic and your number one is absolutely my number one Whoopi film. I love it when she is deciphering Jumping Jack Flash:

    “Man these are some weird ass lyrics”
    “Mick…Mick…speak frikkin English”
    “Oooow..oowwwoooowww…”

    I also loved it when she loses in on Garry Marshall:

    “What you think I’m giving blowjobs to goldfish? There is a dead man floating in the f***** river.”

    Whoopi is awesome.

    Thanks for writing this one.

  13. Dan Grant Reply

    Just reread this one again. I’m going to go home tonight and watch JJF again. Such a funny movie.

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