Top 10 Buddy Films since 1980

The Buddy film. One of the most deliciously enjoyable genres if only because of its comment on the nature of friendship. These films often take a couple of characters on a physical and/or metaphorical journey of self-discovery and self worth. Sometimes they will feature a group of characters such as Swingers or more recently The Hangover and Superbad but often the best films concentrate on just two people. Crucially, the characters are the same sex, separating the buddy film from any sort of romantic entanglement even though romance elsewhere in the plot may play a part.

The common misconception is that the buddy movie is male-centric. While the majority of these films do feature men, women have featured in some well-known cinematic excursions as well. Thelma and Louise would be a prime example, while Beaches and 1937’s Stage Door featuring Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers would also fall into the category.

What is great about the buddy film is that it can associate itself with an assortment of genres. The Buddy Cop and Buddy Road Movie have become recognised sub-genres of their own, featuring a wonderful array of films from Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop to Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Dumb and Dumber. The same set of conventions have also found a way into the fantasy and science-fiction genre (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Men In Black, Weird Science) and Western (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ride The High Country). And, because of the genre’s inherent characteristics of friendship and togetherness, it lends itself perfectly to comment on wider issues such as racism (The Defiant Ones), prison life and captivity (Papillon, The Shawshank Redemption), and homosexuality (I Love You, Man).

10. The Blues Brothers (Landis, 1980)

blues brothers, buddy flick,

Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) are on a mission from God. The pair set out to reform their rhythm and blues band to raise money for their former home at a Roman Catholic orphanage. The film is made up of a series of outlandish stunts, odd mishaps and frequent excursions into song and dance. The film displays a love of blues music and takes every opportunity it can to show the best in the business doing their thing –Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Bobby Brown and John Lee Hooker all show up. Belushi and Aykroyd are great together, taking their Saturday Night Live sketch to feature length with the same sort of comedic prowess displayed on the television show.

9. Stir Crazy (Poitier, 1980)

stir crazy, buddy comedy films,

Another great comedy pairing, this time Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The two off-screen friends would make several films together including Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil but they never bettered Stir Crazy. Framed for a bank robbery, two down on their luck pals played by Pryor and Wilder end up sentenced to 125 years in prison. Many mishaps ensue as the pair eventually decide to hatch an escape. The film was voted by Total Film in 2000 as the 22nd greatest comedy of all time.

8. Tommy Boy (Segal, 1995)

tommy boy, buddy films,

Not that this is a Saturday Night Live “love in” but again a pair of comedians from the show take their television personas to feature length film. Here the criminally underrated talent of Chris Farley is paired with off-screen friend David Spade for a buddy road movie about the bumbling son of a successful auto plant owner who has to travel across the country to sell brake pads in order to save the company. The son, Tommy Calahan (Chris Farley), is supported in his journey, begrudgingly, by David Spade’s Richard Hayden. No one expects Farley to achieve his goal, least of all the cynical Spade but you shouldn’t underestimate a big guy with a big heart.

7. Lethal Weapon (Donner, 1987)

lethal weapon, buddy cop movies,

The quintessential buddy cop movie featuring Mel Gibson and I’m too old for this shit Danny Glover. Richard Donner’s film sees care-free cop Martin Riggs (Gibson) paired with by-the-book veteran Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) to take down a drugs smuggling gang. The film was written by Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang writer-director Shane Black and as such features a script sizzling with great dialogue and wildly funny sequences alongside a hearty dose of action-adventure.

6. Midnight Run (Brest, 1988)

midnight run, buddy films,

What makes the best buddy films work so well is the chemistry between the buddies. In Martin Brest’s Midnight Run you couldn’t wish for a better love-hate tug of war between Robert De Niro’s bounty hunter and Charles Grodin’s crook. De Niro has five days to bring Grodin back to Los Angeles after he skipped bail. However, he doesn’t prepare for the FBI tracking his tail and rival bounty hunter John Ashton wanting the bounty money for himself. The film is all kinds of fun and features some excellent performances from its principle cast members.

5. Sideways (Payne, 2004)

sideways, buddy films,

One of the best films of the 2000s, Alexander Payne’s brilliant Sideways sees Paul Giamatti’s Miles Raymond travelling around California’s vineyards with his best friend Jack. Miles is anticipating a call from his agent regarding his book being published, while Jack wants to have one final fling before he gets married. Giamatti is perfect in the role of Miles, a miserable, self-defeating writer who hasn’t recovered from his divorce. As Miles and Jack drink wine, talk about the virtues of love, sex, women, careers and golf, all the while visiting some wonderful locations in the Santa Ynez Valley, the two learn from each other to overcome their individual flaws.

4. Dumb and Dumber (Farrelly/Farrelly, 1994)

dumb and dumber, film buddy,

Arguably the best film by the Farrelly’s and the funniest comedy by Jim Carrey. The story sees two mentally-challenged friends travel across country to reunite a passenger of Carrey’s limousine service with her briefcase. Unbeknownst to the simple-minded fools, the briefcase was intentionally left by the passenger for a group of criminals to pick up in exchange for a loved one they’d kidnapped. Cue the hapless twosome being pursued by equally inept thugs as they travel from Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado.

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are great in the lead roles, their comedic tendencies sparking off each other with a great sense of chemistry. That’s thanks largely to one of the Farrelly’s best scripts. This buddy friendship is less serious than many on this list but no less worthy.

3. Clerks (Smith, 1994)

clerks, film, buddy,

Shot on a tiny budget acquired by maxing out several credit cards Kevin Smith wrote, produced, directed and starred in this debut film about two convenience store clerks and the many assortment of characters they interact with throughout the day. Although the film has a couple of scenes away from the shop, it is predominantly set in and around the Kwik-Stop convenience store. The film launched Kevin Smith’s career and gave independent distributors Miramax a minor hit in 1994. The film was made for a miniscule $27,500 and grossed over $3 million in a limited release across America.

2. Withnail and I (Robinson, 1986)

withnail and i, film, buddy, friendship,

A great British buddy flick that enters a stage filled with Americans. Withnail and I is a heartfelt, extremely funny tale of two down-on-their-luck actors from Camden Town, London, who head to the country for a holiday. There’s very little plot to speak of as the pair try to fend for themselves under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol. Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant are phenomenal in the roles of Withnail and his best friend Marwood. Read my review here for more on Withnail and I.

1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Hughes, 1987)

planes trains automobiles, film, buddy,

Steve Martin plays Neal Page, an advertising executive trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving after a business trip to New York. When his plane is grounded due to bad weather he finds himself stuck with the innocent but accident-prone Del Griffith (John Candy). As much John Candy’s best film as Steve Martin’s, Plane, Trains and Automobiles is one of the most widely loved movies of the 1980s. Written and directed by The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Out creator John Hughes, Planes, Trains and Automobiles was an important film for all involved. It showed a marked diversion away from teen-centric drama for Hughes, and gave both Candy and Martin a mainstream pedestal for their singular brand of humour. It also showed a more reserved Martin, who was known for his existential humour and physical eccentrics.

It is wonderful to see these two 1980s comedy greats come together for what is an endlessly funny road movie. With an ending that layers sentiment on sentiment, the film makes sure you know you’re witnessing a happy conclusion, but it’s such a fun film along the way, a bit of mushy tears for the final reel won’t detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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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. ruth Reply

    Great topic for a list, Dan. Totally agree w/ #10, 7 and 1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is such a hoot and has been copied so many time, but still can’t match the original. I just love Steve Martin’s cringing expression when they had to share a bed together!

  2. magnoliaforever Reply

    I’m not one of those idiots who think the only good humour is puerile, immature, sex-based laughable fluff, but I think Clerks should be #1, especially in consideration of the ones that beat it, which are still very good films. No, actually I think Midnight Run should be #1, then Clerks, then Lethal Weapon, and etc.

  3. Custard Reply

    Great List my Man!!

    I am down with it all. Especially Plane, Trains and Automobiles. I love that film and often seen quoting the ‘those aren’t pillows!!!!’ line!!

    Fantastic!

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Fitz Reply

    I would switch the Blues Bros. with Clerks. Other than that this is a great list.

  5. This Guy Over Here Reply

    There are always inherent complaints with top ten lists, but you’ve created an *almost* flawless list here. While the order is a bit different than I’d make it, (of course, it’d be different for everyone), how can anyone complain about a list that contains both Tommy Boy and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Fitting Belushi, Candy, and Farley into any single list will immediately win over my heart.

    Love it.

  6. Luke Reply

    Wow – you know, I hardly ever disagree nearly completely with any of your lists, Dan, but this one is practically a play-by-play of things I hate in movies. But I guess buddy movies are pretty rampant in the past 30 years, so it’s hard to corner down. I’d've liked to see Hot Fuzz somewhere in here, I think. Planes, Trains is a great number once choice… but Dumb and Dumber ranks as one of my least favorite movies period. And I still don’t fully understand the big deal about Sideways.

  7. Dan Reply

    Thank you for all the comments guys. Always appreciated.

    @Ruth:Planes, Trains is such a fun movie isn’t it.

    @magnoliafever: Thanks for dropping by.

    @Custard: Cheers!

    @Fitz: Cheers Fitz – as always, it’s difficult putting together the order.

    @This Guy Over Here: Cheers! “Fitting Belushi, Candy, and Farley into any single list will immediately win over my heart.” – didn’t think of this list like that but come to think of it, what a great group of actors!

    @Luke: You’re right to mention Hot Fuzz. In fact, Pegg and Frost have made a living out of doing buddy flicks from Spaced to Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Paul.

  8. Greg Reply

    I love the love for Gene Wilder. His memoir “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” is beautiful and brimming with charm. It’s cynicism gives way to sepia-tinged love. I wish his career was longer.

  9. DEZMOND Reply

    I think I’d put Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in the first place, they basically created the genre of buddy comedies, and their films sure do bring so many memories of watching films as a kid!

  10. Louise Reply

    Great list but I do wonder where the human/animal buddy pairings are. Turner and Hooch surely must fit in there somewhere?

    Seriously though, don’t think there’s anything here I could argue with.

  11. Dan Grant Reply

    Fantastic list. When John Candy died, I was just completing my first year of university. I had never before or after gotten misty eyed when a celebrity died. But Candy did it to me. I never met the man, but every interview about him always said the same thing, he was the nicest man in the world. I loved his work and it really broke me up inside when he passed in 94. He was a true genius and I still miss his work to this day.

  12. mark Reply

    I watched The Magnificent Seven again the other week and the whole McQueen/Brenner thing struck me as being VERY buddyish (especially when they ride off together at the end).

    Another western would be Unforgiven, given Clint reverts to being the meanest bastard on Earth after his buddy is beaten to death.

    And speaking of Clint, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is another contender for this list.

    There are probably more obvious ones, but Spielberg’s AI is something of a dark horse – at its heart is a love story between two male androids.

  13. mark Reply

    Sorry, didn’t read the title ….

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