Monty Python and the Holy Grail

1975, Michael White Productions et al

Monty Python set the comedy bar very high indeed with their first film. Some of the best jokes were accidental; for instance, they'd planned for the knights to ride real horses, and when they realized the budget wouldn't allow for it, they devised the coconut-clapping gag—which, as it happens, numbers among the best bits in the film. It's still considered one of the funniest comedies of all time. Eric Idle later adapted the film as a Tony Award-winning stage musical, Spamalot.

"I shall fart in your general direction!"

       

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Monty Python's Life of Brian

1979, HandMade Films et al

As any great, thought-provoking film does, Life of Brian—renowned for giving organized religion a well-deserved poke in the eye—stimulates considerable debate even to this day. That a comedy should be so effective at rankling its targets is as remarkable as it is commendable. Even more remarkably, its detractors unwittingly underscore the film's point: what the people who shout it down as blasphemous fail to grasp is that it's not mocking the religion, it's mocking the religious—in particular, how zealots misinterpret the very thing they so fervently espouse, even inciting violence over differences in their misinterpretations in direct violation of their own dogma. Controversy aside, it's widely regarded as one of the funniest films ever made; for me, it's very nearly tied with my #1 pick, A Fish Called Wanda, which wins out only because it doesn't turn my crank about the religious nonsense Brian so effectively skewers.

"Life's a piece of shit when you look at it."

       

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Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

1983, Celandine Films et al

Unlike their two prior films, The Meaning of Life had no unifying thread; instead, it was assembled from mostly unrelated sketches, just like any episode of the original Flying Circus TV series—including their tendency to vary wildly in success at getting laughs. Still, to me it's still far funnier than 99.99% of so-called comedy films.

"Find the fish! Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish!"

       

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