Danny DeVito’s 20 Funniest Movies
September 22, 2023
Danny DeVito has been working in the film industry for decades, and no matter the quality of the project as a whole, he elevates it. This is particularly true of comedy, a genre in which DeVito excels. This includes both his acting work and his directing work. Now and then DeVito will direct a film, and what unites each one is their being in the comedy genre.
Specifically, the dark comedy genre. Dark comedy can also be seen in many of the comedic films in which DeVito has only acted. The following are the best funny flicks in which Danny DeVito has either starred (in either a leading or supporting capacity), directed, or both.
20 Romancing the Stone (1984)
20th Century Fox
Easily one of the most iconic adventure romance movies, Robert Zemeckis’ Romancing the Stone is an energetic and humorous film with a wonderful supporting performance from DeVito (who also produced both this and the inferior sequel The Jewel of the Nile). The plot follows Kathleen Turner’s Joan Wilder as she searches for her kidnapped sister in Colombia.
She’s assisted by rogue treasure hunter Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), who before long gets Wilder wrapped up in the search for an elusive treasure. However, they’re not the only ones looking for it, because there’s also DeVito’s weaselly Ralph, who will arguably go even further than Colton.
19 Johnny Dangerously (1984)
An underrated Michael Keaton movie, Johnny Dangerously also features standout performances from DeVito and Joe Piscopo. The film is a parody of gangster movies, in the same way that Airplane! was a spoof of disaster movies and Top Secret! took on spy films.
However, Johnny Dangerously takes more time on its jokes than either one of those films…even if it does also has a habit of repeating those jokes. Either way, DeVito clearly has a ball as a corrupt D.A. in the film.
18 The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
20th Century Studios
While The Jewel of the Nile is inferior to its predecessor, that’s not so surprising considering the quick turnaround. It’s usually for a script’s best to plan things out, ensuring that the story is as strong as the furthered character development.
That wasn’t the case for Jewel, which hit theaters just one year after Romancing the Stone. Far too quick a turnaround, and the movie shows that in every frame. However, the cast is still game, at least as far as Michael Douglas (a real-life buddy of DeVito’s), Kathleen Turner, and the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star are concerned.
17 Ruthless People (1986)
DeVito and Bette Midler played so well off each other (with a level of animous that would put even The War of the Roses or Fatal Attraction to shame), that it’s not so surprising they were reteamed down the line for Drowning Mona.
But, as is typically the case, the first go-round is a lot better than the second. On one hand, this is because Ruthless People is perfectly paced and well-plotted, but on the other, it’s also due to Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold’s commanding lead performances (playing the swindlers to Midler and DeVito’s marks).
16 Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
Metro Goldwyn Meyer
When Danny DeVito directs a film two things are guaranteed. The first is that it’s going to be at least intermittently funny. The second is that the movie’s sense of humor is assuredly going to be dark. Throw Momma from the Train certainly applies, and it ranks high on DeVito’s directorial filmography.
Essentially a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Throw Momma hinges almost entirely on the chemistry between DeVito and Billy Crystal. And, fortunately, they have chemistry to spare. Toss in an Academy Award-nominated performance from The Goonies‘ Anne Ramsey as the titular Momma and the film’s a winner.
Related: Funniest Characters in Supernatural
15 Twins (1988)
Ivan Reitman’s Twins marked the first of two collaborations between himself, Danny DeVito, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s also the better film by a long shot. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to stay at just two. After Ivan Reitman’s passing, any hopes for the at the time in production Triplets, which would have added Eddie Murphy to the dynamic, were also put to final rest.
It’s for the best; if Ivan’s son, Jason, doesn’t want to do it, it shouldn’t be done. Regardless, fans still have Twins, which is a silly film not to be taken seriously…but at least it’s buoyed by wonderful chemistry among the cast.
14 The War of the Roses (1989)
A play on the real-life series of small-scale civil wars, DeVito’s The War of the Roses is a domestic comedy-drama that makes for a perfect companion piece to the slightly similar Fatal Attraction. This is because both films have firm reverence for the merits of a gradual build. The War of the Roses‘ titular couple (perfectly played by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) starts well enough. They’re not happy but they’re not miserable. But, as often happens when two incompatible people are relegated to the same space, conflicts develop.
But, for the Roses, conflict doesn’t stop at a place where the couple can hash things out. Instead, the duo play mind games with one another until manipulation itself cannot suffice. There must be violence…at least if one’s a Rose. DeVito plays Gavin D’Amato, the friend and lawyer to Douglas’ Oliver Rose, and their friendly dynamic (which exists in real life) is magnetic for the viewer. They feel for Oliver even if he’s no more guilty or innocent than Turner’s Barbara. DeVito’s likable character assists them in doing so.
13 Renaissance Man (1994)
Renaissance Man is not a laugh-out-loud funny movie. It’s not intended to be, even if it is primarily a comedy over a drama. As is his strong suit, DeVito plays an overconfident businessman. But, he’s not a successful one…at least not after he gets fired for missing a big meeting.
Once that happens, he’s on a wire, unsure what to do with his future. But, when his options grow fewer and further between, he agrees to be a literary teacher for soldiers in the U.S. Army. From there, the narrative takes on a fairly rote, you’re-about-to-see-this-done-better-next-year-in-Dangerous Minds style. DeVito’s Bill Rago bonds with the young men (including Mark Wahlberg) and woman (Stacey Dash, Clueless), teaches them some stuff along the way, learns some stuff, too, and the credits roll. In other words, it’s not bad for diversionary Sunday afternoon fare.
12 Get Shorty (1995)
An Elmore Leonard adaptation many forget DeVito not only starred in but produced as well, Get Shorty is right up there with fellow stellar Leonard projects Justified and Out of Sight. John Travolta is perfectly cast as the smooth gangster Chili Palmer, just as Gene Hackman is as film producer Harry Zimm, and Rene Russo as horror movie actress Karen Flores.
Like most Leonard works, Get Shorty is an elaborate heist story. DeVito pops up as Martin Weir, a smug but devoted-to-his-craft A-list star. Weird wants to play Palmer in a movie, and Chili doesn’t think that’s such a bad idea.
11 Junior (1994)
Is Junior as atrocious as its reputation would indicate? Not quite. But it just doesn’t work as a film, at least not in comparison to the artists’ collaborations that came before. That said, director Ivan Reitman and stars DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger still have a solid three-way chemistry that makes for a pleasant and light narrative, not unlike their Twins from six years before.
But, on the plus side, Junior also makes for a Kindergarten Cop reunion. Specifically: Reitman, Schwarzenegger, and the great Pamela Reed. Not to mention, it has Emma Thompson in it, which is an incentive to watch a film if ever there was one.
10 Space Jam (1996)
One of the 1990s’ most beloved films (At least for those who grew up within the decade), the Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny-led Space Jam isn’t high art, but it’s a lot of fun. And, not unlike his Penguin in Batman Returns, DeVito proves he makes for a wonderful villain as the alien Swackhammer.
Space Jam is the Looney Tunes and MJ’s show, but DeVito still manages to steal every one of his scenes. And all he needs to do is his voice. That said, ’90s kids would be lying if they said Swackhammer’s appearance didn’t freak them out at least a little bit in their younger days.
9 Mars Attacks! (1996)
Featuring both some of the scariest moments from a Tim Burton movie and some of the funniest, Mars Attacks! is a blast of a ’90s timepiece with one of the best casts ever assembled for a motion picture.
And, like any movie with a ridiculously massive cast of A-listers, there’s one or two who are going to be shortchanged. DeVito (as ‘Rude Gambler’) is one of them. He only pops up in the third act, and it isn’t for long, but he plays his trashy character to the hilt…right up until his skeleton is disintegrated.
8 Screwed (2000)
Screwed is not a great movie, but it was certainly over-criticized at the time of release. Was Norm Macdonald for everyone? Not, but even those who couldn’t ever get on his incredibly sly wavelength should be able to appreciate the fact that DeVito has fun with the sillily named Grover Cleaver.
Cleaver is a morgue employee, and he seems to adore his job. But, the best scenes aren’t when he’s working with body parts, but rather bonding with the film’s central target of extortion. And, as that central target of extortion, it’s 30 Rock‘s Elaine Stritch who steals Screwed. Stritch was one of the most hilarious talents to ever grace the silver screen, and she gets a lot to do in the film. It’s a joy to see her work, even if the film around her doesn’t live up to her perfection.
7 Drowning Mona (2000)
One of Neve Campbell’s best movies also reteamed DeVito and Bette Midler after their Ruthless People. But, Drowning Mona is no Ruthless People, even if it does have its moments. What Drowning Mona also has (outside an awkward tone and a too-dense plot) is an incredible cast.
DeVito and Midler are, of course, fantastic. But Jamie Lee Curtis also soars in a vixen-type role, while Casey Affleck gets to show off his chops early on. But the real star is Neve Campbell, who still seems to be fully on the mystery-crime wavelength after her work in 1998’s Wild Things.
6 What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (2001)
What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is pretty far from being DeVito’s best comedy, but there’s little doubt he’s the one who carries the film (no small accomplishment when his castmates include Martin Lawrence, Nora Dunn, and Bernie Mac). The main issue is that the film is essentially an Elmore Leonard story without any of Leonard’s incredible prose or well-drawn characters.
Instead, Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito’s smarmy characters intermittently butt heads throughout the film’s runtime, both trying to mess the other over for a mountain of cash (which neither one of them has). In the end, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is incredibly forgettable, but the scenes in which DeVito is crassly interacting with his lawyer (Richard Schiff) are a treat.
5 Death to Smoochy (2002)
Warner Bros. Pictures
While the DeVito starring and directed Death to Smoochy doesn’t quite hit the target it’s aiming for, it was unfairly maligned upon release. This was mostly due to the film’s tonal balancing issues, and while the complaints in that regard are valid, at least the incredible cast is on board for the narrative’s extreme cynicism.
For instance, the film’s genital cookie scene (its funniest). It is, of course, great to watch the great Edward Norton play against type (entirely helpless in Death to Smoochy), but the highlight of the film is Robin Williams. The film was one of three for Williams in 2002, all of which were dark. That said, Smoochy is certainly more comedic than either One Hour Photo or Insomnia.
4 Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
It may be the least effective of the three Austin Powers films, but Austin Powers in Goldmember does have its merits. For instance, the opening scene essentially shows an action sequence from a 007 film. But, there’s no Bond here. In fact, not even the real Austin Powers is here (at least, not in front of the camera).
Instead, it’s some pretty recognizable actors playing characters from the Austin Powers films…one of whom is DeVito who, unsurprisingly, plays Mini-Me. It’s not a long scene, but it is impressively meta for 2002…though at this point one just wishes DeVito’s appearance wasn’t immediately prefaced by Kevin Spacey’s.
3 Duplex (2003)
The DeVito-directed Duplex is a little too cliche to be one of his best films (or one of the best for either Drew Barrymore or Ben Stiller, for that matter), but it’s very enjoyable. And, while Barrymore and Stiller’s chemistry is fine and they’re both likable performers, it’s Eileen Essell who steals the show as their ridiculously overbearing elderly upstairs neighbor.
The film is an escalation of tension, with the central young couple’s lives being systematically dismantled…by a seemingly sweet elderly woman. But, as the film’s twist informs the audience, people aren’t always what they seem.
2 Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: The Next Level could very easily have fallen short of 2017’s hit film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But, it managed to do just about as well both critically and commercially, making it one of the more successful big-budget studio pictures of 2019.
It also managed to differentiate itself from Welcome to the Jungle via the additions of Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, DeVito, and Danny Glover. The latter two even get to join in on the gaming fun. Of course, it’s not DeVito and Glover jumping around the film’s many set pieces, but rather their spirits inhabiting two of the original four that audiences had already gotten used to. It made for a surprisingly refreshing change of pace, considering the switch-up was handled in a way that could both be followed by the viewer and work for the narrative as a whole.
1 Haunted Mansion (2023)
Haunted Mansion may have had a hard time at the box office, but it’s a mostly solid film and an improvement over the 2003 version starring Eddie Murphy. The key is the film’s ensemble, each of which is perfectly suited for their respective role.
And this includes DeVito as haunted house historian Professor Bruce Davis. The actor gets to have a lot of fun with the role, whether it’s the smaller scenes that have the group of strangers bonding or the bigger scenes e.g. Bruce’s possession. Haunted Mansion is a film that is at its best in those small, bonding moments. Why? Because how could they not be when the cast of bonding characters is played by the likes of Owen Wilson, DeVito, LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, and Rosario Dawson?