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In A Time Of Tragedy, Comedy Reigns

by Alex Kirschenbaum Nov 18, 2020

2020 has been a brutal and depressing year, with a raging pandemic affecting every corner of the globe and massive civil unrest arising in righteous response to long-ignored systemic inequities stateside. (Incidentally, if you can avoid traveling for Thanksgiving, the CDC would greatly appreciate it.) It makes sense, then, that film fans have opted to prioritize comedy in their home video streaming, away from the tragedy that is real life.

Per Owen Harris at JustWatch, it appears that comedy has been, by far, the most popular genre across the globe. Based on data gathered for 60 countries collated from July through September, comedy films and TV shows rank at the top in popularity among 28 countries — especially in Europe and North America.

Action films rank second in genre popularity, topping streams across 17 countries tracked. Romance and Animation are the preferred genres in Southeast Asian countries for the same time period.

(Graph courtesy of JustWatch)

Based on this information, I asked Owen if he might mind doing a bit more digging for me. I wanted to find out exactly which movies in the top genre were getting the most streaming eyeballs. To keep things festive, I’m taking a look at the top five comedy movies streamed in the US for the week of October 26th to November 1st, 2020, and am unpacking why these specific comedy selections deserve so much Halloween love.

The Top 5 Comedy Movies in the US, October 26th-November 1st, 2020

1. Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuicediscussed by yours truly in great detail last year ahead of a revival house screening in Los Angeles, remains a delightfully durable horror comedy. This Tim Burton-helmed exploration of one recently deceased couple’s frustrations with afterlife bureaucracy stands as a remarkable achievement. Production designer Bo Welch lends magical life to Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren and Larry Wilson’s hilariously inventive screenplay.

The film’s cast is one to behold, too. Michael Keaton stars as the titular “bio-exorcist.” Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are the Maitlands, the very dead couple who hires Betelgeuse (that’s how he spells it) to rid their home of its new still-breathing residents. Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder are those new still-breathing residents, the Deetz family, and Glenn Shadix is Otho, the Deetz’s dangerously overconfident interior designer.

2. Hocus Pocus (1993)

TFH Guru Mick Garris’s sparkling script for Hocus Pocus laid the foundation for this evergreen modern classic, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Eerie, Indiana star Omri Katz, Doug Jones, Vinessa Shaw, and a very young Thora Birch. This Touchstone kid-friendly horror/comedy/musical has thus far proven to be a big hit as a revival option in theaters this year, having taken in $4.8 million and counting.

3. Ghostbusters (1984)

The original paranormal comedy, released to theaters the very same day as our Fearless Leader’s own creature feature horror comedy adventure, remains as immortal as the ghosts that Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) bust.

Check out TFH Guru Axelle Carolyn’s excellent trailer commentary for the flick:

4. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Based on the JustWatch list’s definition, the 25-minute animated television special It’s The Great Pumpkin apparently qualifies as a film. Written by Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz and directed by A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) helmer Bill Meléndez, this adorable animated tale plays like the Waiting For Godot of Peanuts holiday specials, with Linus (Christopher Shea) and a smitten Sally (Kathy Steinberg) waiting out Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, hoping against hope for a visit from the holiday’s Santa equivalent in the Charlie Brown mythos, the Great Pumpkin. Composers Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson add a bit of spookiness to their typical jazzy proceedings.

5. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

This sweeter sequel to the original smash Borat (2006), an Amazon Prime exclusive, provides fresh takes on Trumpism in all its ugliness and the raging coronavirus pandemic. Because star/co-writer Sasha Baron Cohen has become so ubiquitous, his Borat Sagdiyev character has to wear a series of hilariously mediocre disguises to dupe his real-person prank targets this time. What really puts this affecting sequel over the top is stellar Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar, who due to her sex has been raised as a second-class citizen in the Borat cinematic universe version of Kazakhstan. When the Sagdiyevs travel to the US on a mission to marry Tutar to Mike Pence, the 15-year-old quickly discovers that all of the arcane patriarchal concepts she’s been told to follow are deeply, cruelly inaccurate. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm debuted on October 23rd to some of the most robust streaming numbers of 2020, and its inclusion here indicates that viewership was strong during the entirety of its first full week on home video screening platforms.