Last week at the Film Comment Selects screening of “Burke and Hare,” director John Landis addressed the fact that many of his movies are now considered classics in spite of the fact they were poorly received critically in their time. I don’t think the same would be true if those movies he’s talking about were dramas. Say “Spies Like Us” was a badly reviewed Cold War thriller rather than a wacky buddy spy comedy. Would it be as well-remembered 26 years later? I doubt it. Certainly that film’s box office success has something to do with its aging well, but what about “Three Amigos,” which didn’t perform as well?
It is very likely that all there is to the notion of comedy aging better than drama is that comedy in general is more broadly appealing and accessible. If “Spies Like Us” is watched more today than dramas from the same time, such as “White Nights,” “Agnes of God” and “Jagged Edge,” it’s because the comedy is more attractive, as it was then. Never mind that unlike those three films it doesn’t have Oscar nomination legacy (that Paul McCartney’s theme song wasn’t recognized by the Academy is a tragedy — did “White Nights” really need two song noms?)
Even though kids today probably can’t properly appreciate the Americans-in-Soviet Union tension of 1985, they’d surely rather watch the one with pratfalls in the snow rather than defecting ballet dancers. Of course, a boxing blockbuster with the same Soviet setting (“Rocky IV”) beat them both at the time, and it’s debatable whether it is more enjoyed today than Landis’ film.
Still, I can’t help but think, regardless of the reason, that comedy as a rule ages better. More silent comedies have survived as must-see works than silent dramas, right? And is it just me, or does Turner Classic Movies air more old comedies than dramas? There are some movies with dated humor, sure, but I think it’s more common for dramas to have dated senses of realism and/or dated contexts and themes. It is very possible that I’m wrong, though, so chime in on the question below.