Although it’s much more common for a comedic actor to star in a great drama film, there have been a few interesting occasions where dramatic actors have shown that they can do comedy, too (and with great success). Many of these actors are equally at home doing comedy or drama, but others are primarily dramatic actors who have done hardly any comedic films. The actors listed in this article have all earned critical acclaim for their comedic performances, and some even won numerous awards. Who do you think is the best dramatic actor who has tried his hand at comedy? Here is a look at the ten best comedic performances of dramatic actors.
10 Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean
Johnny Depp’s first foray into the world of Pirates of the Caribbean earned him an Oscar nomination, and today his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most celebrated and famous in all of pop culture. Depp is the stand out in all the Pirates movies, and his comedic timing and humor is clearly on display.
No movie franchise hinges on the main character quite as much as the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Without Depp, there would be no point at all to these films. Depp based Jack Sparrow off of Keith Richards, who would later appear in the series as Jack Sparrow’s father.
9 Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black
The pairing of the loud and zany Will Smith with perpetually grumpy Tommy Lee Jones in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black, is one of the best pairings ever. Both the actors and their characters, Agent J and Agent K, are complete opposites in terms of personality. That’s what makes Men in Black a comedy that people just can’t get enough of.
While Josh Brolin was excellent as a young K in Men in Black 3, he just couldn’t quite match the hilarious intensity that Jones brought to the role. Men in Black is a cult classic and seminal 90s movie, and it still holds up to this day thanks to Jones’ performance.
8 Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder
You might not even recognize him, but that is Tom Cruise under the heavy make up and a fat suit in Tropic Thunder. The film features a star studded cast filled with great performances by the like of Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Danny McBride and Jay Baruchel, but it was dramatic actor Tom Cruise who stole the show as the over top and constantly angry studio head Les Grossman.
A spin-off of Tropic Thunder just about his character is something a lot of people would love to see. Cruise was nominated for a Golden Globe for his outlandish performance.
7 Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun
Leslie Nielsen said during his monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live that he isn’t funny, he is simply in funny movies. That’s actually quite true. Before making a name for himself as the star of some of the greatest slapstick comedies and spoofs of all time he was strictly a dramatic actor.
The Zucker brothers cast him in Airplane! and the rest is history. The Naked Gun franchise showed how Nielsen so perfectly played the straight man while everything else around him was completely zany. He quickly became known as a goofball. Throughout the second half of his career Nielsen was known as a comedic actor, and his dramatic roles have largely been forgotten.
6 George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen brothers really have a knack for turning dramatic actors into comedic geniuses. In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, George Clooney steals the show as an escaped prisoner trying to make it back to his wife and daughters alongside his fellow escapees played by Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro. The movie is an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, so naturally the trio encounters plenty of obstacles along the way. Clooney’s performance is elevated thanks to the strong script and supporting actors in the film.
5 John C. Reilly in Step Brothers
John C. Reilly is one of the most versatile actors around. He is equally at home starring in indie comedies and dramas as he is in mainstream movies. He has earned favor as a dramatic actor in a number of P.T. Anderson films, but when he teams up with Will Ferrell movie fans are really in for a treat.
His role in Step Brothers showed he can be just as adept at slapstick and goofy comedy as comedic superstars like will Ferrell. Reilly has proven he knows comedy no matter what type of movie he is in. Most of his dramatic roles have bits of humor, too.
4 Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks is one of the best actors working today, and perhaps no actor can claim to be as versatile as Oscar winner Tom Hanks. He has won Oscars for both dramas and comedies. While he started out exclusively doing comedy in movies like Splash and Big, and TV shows like Bosom Buddies, he has since branched out into dramas.
Today, he is arguably more of a dramatic actor. Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump came out at a time when Tom Hanks was mostly starring in dramas, and that’s why his role as a dimwitted but sweet man in this serious comedy is so endearing.
3 Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple
When Jack Lemmon was paired with Walter Matthau, movie fans were treated to some of the best comedies of all time, but on his own Lemmon's career had the slight edge towards drama. He was one of the most versatile actors of all time. Not only was he the first actor to win both a supporting actor Oscar and a leading actor Oscar, but he won one Oscar for a comedy and the other for a drama.
However, his most famous role is probably that of Felix Unger in the comedy The Odd Couple – it’s a stellar performance and the chemistry between him and Matthau makes it one of the best comedies of all time.
2 Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents
De Niro plays the ultimate straight man in Meet the Parents. He would go on to reprise his role as Jack Byrnes in the two sequels to Meet the Parents: Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers. The lie detector scene between him and Ben Stiller’s Gaylord Focker is one of the funniest and most memorable in recent cinema history.
De Niro was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical for this role, and it remains one of only a handful of comedy films he has done. De Niro has proven he can do comedy with this role, as well as his role in Silver Linings Playbook and Analyze This.
1 Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski
The Dude abides. Jeff Bridges’ stellar and hilarious performance as Jeff Lebowski, also known as the Dude, in the Coen brothers’ cult hit the Big Lebowski is pure genius. Bridges made a name for himself starring in dramas, but his role as a slacker suffering from a case of mistake identity is by far his most classic role.
The chemistry and timing he shared with Steve Buscemi and John Goodman make the Big Lebowski not only the best stoner movies ever, but one of the best comedies of all time. Bridges’ performance plays a huge part in The Big Lebowski being an all time classic film.