Your Top Three is a series here at Movies.com where we choose a topic and you give us your top three picks.
If you appreciate modern comedy, you like — no, you love — at least a few Harold Ramis movies. The Second City alum, who died today at age 69, was responsible in some form or another with many titles considered among the funniest of the last 40 years. He wrote, directed, produced and/or starred in them, and yet it’s rare that people talk of him specifically as a major figure in the history of Hollywood comedy.
Part of that is likely because of his higher profile collaborators. He regularly worked with Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Ivan Reitman, Eugene Levy, Rodney Dangerfield and later Judd Apatow, each of whom might be the more often cited minds behind some of most notable features. He’s also made a lot of misfires and forgotten comedies, such as Club Paradise, Armed and Dangerous, Multiplicity, Stuart Saves His Family, Caddyshack II, Ghostbusters II and the animated Rover Dangerfield.
Yet those are easily dismissable efforts when you consider that he cowrote and/or directed Animal House, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Caddyshack, Stripes, the underrated cult favorite The Ice Harvest and of course my three favorites listed below. Don’t forget all his excellent on-screen (and offscreen vocal) work, either. He’s great in stuff he didn’t make, including Walk Hard, Baby Boom, As Good As It Gets, Knocked Up and Heavy Metal.
Here are my top three Harold Ramis movies:
1. Ghostbusters - The classic blockbuster that proves, while very rare, it is possible to mix comedy and supernatural fantasy. Ramis cowrote both Ghostbusters installments (and maybe the still-unproduced third) with Dan Aykroyd and also starred as Dr. Egon Spengler, definitely the role that made him most recognizable to fans. Fun fact: he based his own character on Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, whom he’d impersonated on SCTV.
2. Groundhog Day - Another comedic masterpiece involving supernatural fantasy, meaning Ramis struck gold twice (too bad he couldn’t also do so with Ghostbusters II). The concept may have been Danny Rubin’s and its execution may owe a lot to Murray’s performance, but Ramis is the key between them. He’s admitted before that he has the ability to write in Murray’s voice, which makes viewers often assume lines he’s written were ad-libbed by the actor.
3. Back to School - I almost chose Vacation for my third, but I have to give some love to this movie that’s not great yet is one of my all-time favorites. As a kid it was because I enjoyed Dangerfield, as a teen because I became a die-hard Vonnegut reader and as an adult it was relevant when I myself went back to school for a late undergrad degree. Like the other two, Ramis came on board after initial drafts of the script existed, and pretty much all the good parts, from the plot to characters to dialogue of Back to School are said to be thanks to his doctoring. Including Sam Kinison’s bit, which is based on a high school history teacher he had.
Your Picks (the top five being Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and a tie for third with Stripes, Animal House and Vacation):
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