BY ERIN TORRANCE
In tribute to Harold Ramis who passed away this past Monday at the age of 69, we’ve rounded up his top five works. Beginning his comedy career as Playboy’s joke editor, Ramis later went on to join Second City and became a writer for The National Lampoon Show alongside Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Bill Murray. He eventually became head writer for Second City TV before his Hollywood debut as co-writer of Animal House.
One of Hollywood’s most acclaimed comedy writer, director, and actor triple threats, it wasn’t easy to narrow his more than 100 credits down to just five, especially when so much of his work has created a standard of excellence for comedy—so we did, of course, cheat a bit by combining a couple titles and throwing in some honourable mentions.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Harold Ramis took over the reins for this family vacation comedy classic. Hitting on all the truths and stereotypes that go along with the typical middle-class American family, Ramis’ National Lampoon’s Vacation is the dysfunctional-family-goes-on-vacation film done right. While Christmas Vacation is a holiday tradition for many, it all started with Ramis’ National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Analyze This (1999)
Harold Ramis directed and co-wrote these two gangster comedies that followed the mental breakdown of a mafia boss, whose crying during sentimental commercials could actually threaten his life. Taking cues from Scorcese’s works and throwing in a psychiatrist who just hopes that, well, sooner or later he’ll say the right thing if he just keeps talking, overcomes the boundaries of a sitcom by adding a human element that isn’t deeply dramatic—just a good balance. Like something you’d learn in psychology 101, there’s a lot that goes on beneath the surface here.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day holds the market for this, er, “holiday”. When Christmas rolls around, we all have our favourite flicks and there are tons to choose from, but if you ask anyone what their favourite Groundhog Day film is, well, I doubt many other films would come to mind (I know I can’t think of one). Starring Bill Murray, Ramis’ Groundhog Day follows weatherman Phil as he relives the same day over and over and over again, until he finally learns something. Groundhog Day is one of those movies that you find yourself referring to when trying to describe some real-life situation, and when a film becomes an everyday point of reference, you know it’s good.
Animal House (1978)
Harold Ramis is credited as screenwriter of this college comedy classic. Following their attempts to get into the prestigious Omegas frat house, two students (the college misfits, or “wimp and blimps” according to the Omegas) find themselves on the doorstep of the Deltas, a frat house so disreputable that it just takes in anyone. Of course, the Omegas aren’t just going to let things be as they conspire with Dean Wormer to remove the Delta house from the college’s campus once and for all—and cue pranks galore. Animal House is all about the stereotypical college experience and the battle of the dweebs versus the jocks. Ramis’ college comedy classic serves as the basis for many other college-based comedies, including American Pie and even Pitch Perfect. Animal House is the second top-grossing college-comedy film of all time. Of course, the American sitcom Delta House is a spin-off from this film.
Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989)
Of course, these two come as a pair! Saving the best for last in our list, Harold Ramis wrote and acted in both Ghostbusters movies. Combining his comic genius with that of Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd, Ghostbusters is a quick-witted and smart supernatural comedy that will never be beaten. It’s an untouchable classic, which I don’t think I really have to summarize—it’s about busting ghosts, ‘nuff said. And these films show just how talented Ramis was both onscreen and behind the scenes.
Honourable mentions go to Caddyshack—the exclusion of which from this list seems blasphemous, but alas, the list only has space for five—and Stuart Saves His Family, a cult favourite starring who could easily be argued as the least-likely SNL character to get his own full-length movie.