The big news of the day is that Harold Ramis has died, leaving a big hole in the world of television and film comedy and in the hearts of hundreds of fans who grew up laughing at his creations.
Ramis was born in 1944 in Chicago, Illinois and got his start in the world of comedy as a joke editor for Playboy Magazine. From there, he became part of Chicago’s Second City Improvisational Comedy Troupe and then The National Lampoon Show as a writer and performer. He also became the head writer for successful Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV.
His first foray into the world of film came in the form of wildly successful comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978, which he co-wrote. Although far more prolific behind the camera, Ramis was a featured actor in several of his own films, most notable Ghostbusters and Stripes.
Ramis’s work as director, writer, and actor is a huge influence on the very nature of modern comedy. He’s been cited as a major influence by comedians as diverse as the Farrelly brothers, Jay Roach, Adam Sandler, and Jake Kasdan.
These are the top ten Harold Ramis films.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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10. Analyze This
One of Ramis’s more recent directorial efforts stars the unlikely comedy duo of Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. The former plays a psychiatrist, whose most difficult patient is an insecure mob boss played by De Niro.
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9. Ghostbusters 2
The wildly successful Ghostbusters was bound to spawn a sequel, and who else could have written it but Egon Spengler himself, Harold Ramis. It doesn’t hold a candle to the first film, and there are some missed opportunities for greatness, but it’s still a solid comedy and a testament to the writing talents of both Ramis and co-writer Dan Akroyd.
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8. Back to School
Ramis co-wrote this Rodney Dangerfield vehicle about an obnoxious businessman who decides to help his son through college by enrolling himself.
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Meatballs was directed by Ramis’s long time collaborator Ivan Reitman, a partnership that yielded many cinematic classes. Although it’s not their best, Meatballs spawned a whole sub-genre of summer camps movies and gave a kick start to the career of a young Bill Murray. It’s not bad for a few laughs either.
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6. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Ramis directed this film, that would go on to spawn at a slew of sequels centered around Chevy Chase’s crazed, hypocritical Clark Griswold. Ramis was always skilled at showcasing the comedic talents of his stars, and he lets Chevy Chase run wild, turning what could be a bland road trip movie into a hilarious story of the nuclear family gone wrong.
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Ramis stars alongside Bill Murray in this comedy about two friends who decide to enlist in the army because, hey, they’ve got nothing better toCadd do. His script, along with Reitman’s direction, keeps the focus solely on the comedy. The plot is undisciplined to say the least, but there’s a hilarious sensibility of anarchy infused into the uber-structured US military, thanks in part to the always brilliant trio of Reitman, Murray, and Ramis.
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Like Stripes, Caddyshack is at its best when it’s the most anarchic. The film featured some of the biggest names in comedy at the time, all simply goofing around in hopes a movie might emerge. It’s a testament to Ramis’s directing ability to channel this chaos that the film became an enduring success.
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The greatest of the Reitman-Murray-Ramis collaborations, Ghostbusters is one of the most successful comedies of all time, blending a high concept, supernatural plot with the irreverent humor that works best coming from Ramis’s pen and coming out of Bill Murray’s mouth. Ramis himself offers support as the humorously humorless brainiac Egon Spengler. Imminently quotable, Ghostbusters has already gone down as history as one of the greatest comedies ever put to film.
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2. National Lampoon’s Animal House
Ramis wrote tons of comedies that became cultural benchmarks, influencing whole sub-genres of films and television shows, but perhaps none is more enduring than Animal House. This is the myth of college in a film, and it’s such a gleefully chaotic ride, exemplified by John Belushi’s breakout role as the near-mute Bluto. Modern comedy is built on an irreverence for humorless, traditionalist institutions, and Animal House is a quintessential film on the subject. Most importantly though, it’s hilarious.
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1. Groundhog Day
It isn’t his most influential film or his funniest, but with Groundhog Day, Ramis proved he could create a film that could make you laugh and make you think. Ramis’s muse Bill Murray stars as a cynical weatherman who becomes trapped waking up in the same day over and over again.
A hilarious Murray vehicle turns into an almost-existential film on what it means to be human and what it takes to change and accept your place in the world. It’s a triumph of a movie that can be watched as simply a laugh-a-minute comedy or dissected to figure out exactly what it has to say about the world. I know I’ll be giving it another watch with the great writer and director Harold Ramis in mind.