The best buddy films are a joy to watch. As this top 10 reveals, some of the greatest movies ever made concern the buddy dynamic including Sideways, Withnail and I, and Clerks.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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