The raunchy comedy is having a comeback. This summer has seen a welcome uptick in risqué humor and ribald storylines on the silver screen that had largely been dormant since the streaming boom. And all of them have been female-led stories, with women in front of and in several cases behind the camera, as well.
In June, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence leaned into her comedy chops in No Hard Feelings, a rom-com of sorts about a shiftless 30-something hired by helicopter parents to date their son (and give him his first sexual experience) ahead of college. A couple weeks later, in July, the raucous Joy Ride, a buddy comedy about a rollicking girls’ trip across Asia, arrived, starring Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu. And last week, we got Bottoms, an irreverent tale about two high school students who start a girl’s self-defense group-cum-fight club to get closer to their crushes, starring Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott (who co-wrote the film alongside its director Emma Seligman).
While the raunchy comedy has been around for decades, its form pioneered by the likes of John Waters and the National Lampoon crew in the ‘70s and growing to prominence with films like Animal House and Porky’s later that decade and in the early '80s, it would later become closely associated with the 2000s, when stoner and frat-boy comedies with bawdy humor reigned supreme. Directors like Judd Apatow and actors like Seth Rogen became household names during this time, as did their films—projects like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked-Up, and Superbad—which helped to establish the aughts as a golden age of raunchy comedies. More specifically, these movies embodied a certain kind of slacker masculinity, which helped double down on the genre's reputation as a boys' club.
All that began to shift with the advent of films like Bridesmaids and Girls Trip in the following years. Add this summer's offerings, and it's become abundantly clear that raunchy comedies aren’t just for the boys.
With that history in mind, here’s a look back at the 10 films that have helped to define the contemporary raunchy comedy as we know it.
American Pie, 1999
As the quintessential teen sex comedy, at least for a generation of millennials, American Pie is as raunchy as it gets—case in point: consider the notorious scene that gives the movie its name, a scenario in which the teenage Jim (played by Jason Biggs) conducts an experiment after hearing from a friend that third base feels like “warm apple pie.” The directorial debut of Paul Weitz, the film centers on a group of high school senior boys, including Jim, who make a pact to have sex before graduation. Their journey to doing the deed, however, is filled with plenty of pratfalls, embarrassing moments, and life lessons. While the film has become a cult classic (and helped establish Eugene Levy as America's nerdy dad, long before Schitt's Creek) not all elements of it have aged well, from casual sexism and sexual harassment to an especially egregious scene, where a foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth) is filmed undressing without her consent.
Mean Girls, 2004
Perhaps no other movie has defined the 2000s quite like Mean Girls, the whip-smart movie about new student Cady (Lindsay Lohan), who's befriended by an infamous clique of teenage girls (Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lacey Chabert), who alternately enthrall and terrorize their high school. Directed by Mark Waters and written by and starring Tina Fey, the movie and its endlessly quotable script wryly explored themes like bullying, peer pressure and sexism, while not shying away from teenage debauchery. While the film wasn't as overtly raunchy as some of its peers, it made the case that teenage girls had animalistic tendencies—and could be just as cruel, crass, and foul-mouthed as teenage boys. In recent years, the film has faced new critiques regarding racist jokes and storylines, but remains an important part of the raunchy comedy canon.
The trials and tribulations of high school take on a religious bent in Saved, the irreverent teen comedy from director Brian Dannelly. The movie centers on Mary (Jena Malone), a student whose attempt to “save” her boyfriend (Chad Faust) from homosexuality by sleeping with him results in her getting pregnant, then being judged and shunned by her peers at a Christian fundamentalist high school. A biting satire about hypocrisy, Saved may have been about a holier-than-thou crowd, where premarital sex was taboo, but it still served up plenty of raunchy content.
The 40-year-old Virgin, 2005
Judd Apatow’s The 40-year-old Virgin has become a defining film of the raunchy comedy genre for a reason—the film has a surprising sweetness to it, despite its outsize vulgarity and (literal) potty humor. With a standout performance by Steve Carrell as the titular character, the movie is the tale of a man, who’s not just on a quest to have sex for the first time, but who has a whole support system around him to ensure that he does so.
A teenage pregnancy is the rich fodder for this quirky, unorthodox comedy that gave Elliot Page his breakout role. Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for the film's screenplay, the film centers on 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, a clever, fast-talking high school student who’s pregnant after a one-time sexual encounter with her best friend. After deciding to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption to a picture-perfect yuppie couple, the precocious Juno finds out that even though she’s capable of bringing life into the world, there’s still so much for her to learn. Though the film didn't take a hard stance on abortion, Juno's decision to carry her unplanned pregnancy stirred up controversy, with some taking issue with the movie being anti-abortion; Cody herself addressed the critiques, following the striked down of Roe v. Wade, noting that she has always been pro-choice and that she "wouldn't write it today."
Knocked Up, 2007
In the years since Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up came out, the film has received its fair share of critiques, including its lack of acknowledgment of abortion as an option and particularly damning criticism from its star, Katherine Heigl, who rightfully noted the film features a sexist treatment of women as “uptight” shrews, while letting men off for doing the bare minimum. The movie, which centers on a one-night stand between two strangers (Heigl and Seth Rogen) that develops into a relationship after the woman discovers she is pregnant, is a study in growing up, especially for Rogen's man-child character. The film gives both Rogen and Heigl in particular the opportunity to really show off their comedic chops.
When Superbad came out in 2007, the Greg Mottola film, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, set a new bar for the raunchy teen comedy. Centering on two best friends’ (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) goal to attend a rager (and have sex for the first time) during the final days of their senior year of high school, a simple quest somehow ends up involving a police chase, the most unusual fake ID of all time, and a Molotov cocktail. The film didn’t shy away from drugs, sex, violence, or profanity (characters notably dropped the F-bomb nearly 200 times), but it has been critiqued in recent years for its homophobic jokes, casual sexism, and sexual harassment, especially since part of the film's plot revolves around the protagonists seeing drunk women at a party as potential sexual opportunities.
Bridesmaids, the hilarious movie about the toll upcoming nuptials take on a group of women’s complex friendships, was a watershed moment for the raunchy comedy. Though it shouldn’t haven’t been groundbreaking, the Paul Feig directed movie showed that a cast of female leads could be as pithy, filthy, and uproariously funny as any raunchy male buddy comedy. Led by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and featuring an Oscar nominated performance by Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids was a celebration of female friendship—and a comedic masterpiece.
Girls Trip, 2017
There may be few movies as bawdily magnificent as Malcom D. Lee’s Girls Trip, a filthy and flirty romp through New Orleans with four best friends from college who reunite decades later for a reunion at the annual Essence Fest. The movie, which features Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, and a star-making turn for Tiffany Haddish, is big on laughs and just as big on heart. For every moment of truly absurd hilarity, like Haddish’s character memorably demonstrating a very specific sex act using a grapefruit and a banana, there is a moment of vulnerability and real warmth, making the movie a ride you won’t forget.
When Booksmart released in 2019, it felt like a revelation—while just as bawdy and rollicking as its predecessors, the film centered on two nerdy, overachieving high school senior girls who are determined to fit four years of fun that they missed out on by following the rules into a single night before graduation. The directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, the film is a gloriously chaotic and charming romp that celebrates growing up, letting loose, and the nuances of a beautiful friendship—all while landing them in truly outrageous scenarios, like Kaitlyn Dever's character throwing up on the girl she has a crush on while hooking up with her or Beanie Feldstein's character accidentally playing porn on the speakers of the ride share that her principal happens to be driving. And while two female leads in such a story shouldn’t feel that revolutionary, in the sphere of the still largely male-dominated raunchy comedy, Feldstein and Dever’s dynamic duo still feels like an exhilarating and groundbreaking feat.
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