Mel Brooks started out in one direction and ended up following another for pretty much the rest of his career. His genre parodies, starting with Blazing Saddles in 1974, defined his career, erasing all memory of his second film, The Twelve Chairs, and casting his first film, The Producers, in a new light as a more pure comedy.
I wish to visit the alternate universe where The Twelve Chairs was a financial success, allowing Brooks to make more films in that vein without ever getting into the parody business. I think there was a more interesting director there than what we ended up getting. Don’t get me wrong, I like quite a bit of the parodic stuff, but I think we might have gotten other interesting stuff in its place.
That’s the stuff of imagination, though. What we got is a bit of a mixed bag past his first four films. He seemed to use settings as just an excuse to hang jokes on without really digging into what made the original genres and films he was making fun of work. It limited the comedic potential of a lot of his work after 1976, and even hobbled his take on Hitchcock’s work.
Still, he made some great stuff, and I celebrate him for that.
Below are all of his works including To Be or Not to Be which he did not direct. I include it because Brooks himself included it in the line of movies presented in the Mr. Rental scene in Spaceballs as a Mel Brooks film.
12. High Anxiety
“Brooks didn’t seem to know how to make fun of Hitchcock’s work in a way that would actually sting. Instead, he ends up falling into mimicry with mixed results. The larger sin is the first half, though, where the film alternates between dragging and being not particularly funny for long stretches. On the whole, there’s some light entertainment to be had, especially on the back end, but Brooks missed the mark overall.”
11. Life Stinks
“Essentially, I want this to be a satire of a genre I find irritating, but I’m not sure if it actually is.”
10. Dracula: Dead and Loving It
“Is the movie good? A misunderstood piece of hilarity that audiences just couldn’t accept at the time? Not really. It has its moments here and there, a lot of them going to Brooks himself, but it’s not enough to support the film itself.”
9. History of the World: Part I
“It’s quotable here and there, but the anthology nature of the film is either taken too far or not nearly far enough. Spending half the film in the Roman Empire does the film few favors, but the French Revolution felt like a movie full of stuff crammed into about twenty minutes. Thank goodness there’s The Spanish Inquisition, though.”
“In the end, I find the film amusing but off at the same time. There are real laughs to be had, but the uncomfortable unity of the type of comedy and the type of storytelling, along with the missed opportunities for humor at Star Wars‘ expense, make it a lesser comedy than it could have been. It’s fine.”
“Wipe away the funny stuff, and you still have something. However, the funny stuff is there and it’s nice to have for sure. This may not be Brooks’ finest hour on film, but it’s a rather delightful take on familiar material.”
6. Silent Movie
“From beginning to end, it really is just a series of gags, and it’s consistently amusing for what it is. I have a smile on my face from beginning to end consistently. It just never rises to the heights of hilarity or ends with any kind of catharsis. It’s fun, through and through, and there’s not too much more you can ask from a comedy.”
“However, as a complete package, I get more out of this than any movie Brooks had made since Young Frankenstein. It may not be great, but I laugh through it every time without feeling like its dragging too badly or ever taking itself too seriously (the romance here is much more of a joke along with the rest of the movie unlike the romance in Spaceballs). I like it.”
“Funny, backed by solid, basic storytelling, and ending with a riotous conclusion that just embraces comedic anarchy, Blazing Saddles is still a very fun trip into the Old West.”
“There’s a gentle humanity to the film that I really gravitate towards. Brooks would abandon this kind of storytelling with his next film, embracing chaos rather than catharsis, but I think that this is the Brooks that I actually prefer.”
“This is one of the jewels of first films from a director. Confidently directed, wonderfully performed, and uproariously funny, The Producers is a comedy that has stood well the test of time.”
“It’s a rather perfect little comedy that understands the genre its parodying rather perfectly, so it can lean into conventions knowingly and able to undermine them for comedic purposes intelligently and effectively.”
18 thoughts on “Mel Brooks: The Definitive Ranking”
“The Critic” is the best Mel Brooks film.
And as for your list and ranking David….
It’s definitive, Mark. Moose out front shoulda told ya.
Comedy movies are always going to be a personal thing. What makes one person laugh makes another person sneer with annoyance. Ranking Mel Brooks movies is like ranking David Lynch movies–you’re never going to get 100 percent agreement and OH NO Robert the Cat wants to jump on the keyboard so I’ll sign off before he can add his views.
There’s no list like this for any director that will ever reach consensus. My lists are definitive, not objective. It’s all subjective, but comedy does seem to be more subjective than most other genres. That which I find thrilling someone else may not, but that equation gets so squiffy when it comes to comedy.