The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time: While Japan has Samurai Cinema, and the USA has Westerns, the UK has British comedy. Some of the world’s most influential movies have come from the comedy genre, largely thanks to the way that it tends to take mundane or taboo subjects and turn them into something that can be hilarious, thought-provoking, and in some cases, even revolutionary. Its impact can be seen in everything from entertainment to politics and real-life attitudes toward social classes, racism, gender roles, and so much more.

Choosing the best 25 films to exist in this space is a tough task because of how vast and diverse British comedy is. It’s important to give credit where credit is due to the films that have transcended the medium of film to make an impact on life as we know it. But at the same time, it would be a disservice to create a list that doesn’t represent the breadth of the genre.

Luckily, “best” is quite a broad term in itself, so in this list, we’ll be looking at the most important, the most influential, the most representative, the most challenging, and of course, the most British of British comedies.

25. The Italian Job (1969)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - The Italian Job (1969)

In terms of global appeal and influence, The Italian Job isn’t anywhere near the pedestal that the Monty Python films are on. But in terms of pure quotability, it isn’t a million miles behind. A study to test such a theory has never happened, and it isn’t likely to.

Still, if you were to ask a British person of a certain age to quote a line from any film, there’s a good chance that they’ll enthusiastically say, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

A classic that has perhaps aged in a way that doesn’t hold it in the best light nowadays, but there’s space for it on the basis that its classic moments alone warrant it. Even with its more questionable aspects, this is still an example of a film that gets the concept of a heist spot-on. It’s exciting and fun and has one of the most iconic car chases in cinema history.

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24. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

My Beautiful Laundrette tells the story of a British-Pakistani man who buys and renovates a rundown laundrette with his gay lover. Not only is this a film that was far ahead of its time, dealing with multiple taboo subjects that cut across two very different cultures in the UK in the 80s, but it also features an early performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

Throughout the film, we understand how difficult life would have been at the time, with continuous threats from organizations that are supposed to be our protagonist’s support network and from racist skinheads.

It sounds like a heavy film because it is. However, in typical British fashion, it tackles the weight of the story that it tells by giving us brief moments of relief through humor. The existence of My Beautiful Laundrette still feels as groundbreaking today as it would have been in 1985, and there is a sadness to that.

Equally, it gives us a time capsule of London in the 80s that’s a lot truer to the real version of life than most films were brave enough to show. If nothing else, this is an important film that deserves to be remembered.

23. Naked (1993)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Naked (1993)

Despite being such a celebrated filmmaker, few people are familiar with Mike Leigh’s writing method. His actors famously contribute a lot to not only what their characters say but who they are.

In the instance of Naked, David Thewlis is said to have felt cheated because he did not receive credit for his contributions to the film since his input is said to have defined the leading character of Johnny. This character pushed him to such dark depths that he reportedly still feels the aftereffects of it even today. Naturally, Naked is not a comedy for the faint-hearted.

A film of two halves in a lot of ways. Some of the night shots of London are almost whimsical, if not romantic, but Johnny is anything but. Devised by Leigh and Thewlis over several cups of coffee, he’s a sexually aggressive loudmouth who, despite being very funny, is not the kind of person anyone in their right mind would want to come across in real life. Naked deals with all of this, along with a fear of death, in a typically British melancholy fashion.

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22. In the Loop (2009)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - In the Loop (2009)

Writer Armando Iannucci is a regular on politically focused panel shows in the UK following the success of his satirical TV series, The Thick of It. In the Loop is a spin-off of the show. A tongue-in-cheek take on a fictional meeting between the UK Prime Minister and the US President, this is a barbed look at the kind of people who are running countries and deciding where and when to go to war.

In creating these two powerful characters at the head of opposing nations, we get a cross-examination of the differences between the two in terms of world standing and the self-deprecating humor that exemplifies British humor.

The political landscape of the UK is almost beyond parody in 2023, but back in 2009, we had to look towards comedy to poke real fun at what was going on in the world. What In the Loop provides us with now, ironically, is a reminder of a time when the worst-case scenario was just a silly idea for a film rather than a bleak version of reality.

There might be a point in the future when we can go back to making comedies about politicians like the ones in In the Loop rather than voting for them, but in the meantime, this might just have to do.

21. Hot Fuzz (2007)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Hot Fuzz (2007)

Mark Kermode, when reviewing Hot Fuzz, mentioned that he has what he calls “the five laugh rule.” The idea is that if he laughs five or more times during a film, then it’s a proper comedy.

While the point can be made that that’s probably a bit too stringent of a rule to become a criterion for such a broad genre, it does highlight the sheer magnitude of Hot Fuzz as a vehicle for a good time. While most films would take a whole runtime to reach five laughs, this does it in about ten minutes.

As the second installment in the Cornetto Trilogy, Hot Fuzz does rely on some goodwill garnered from Shaun of the Dead, but it doesn’t fumble where it easily could’ve. It isn’t as intelligent and doesn’t quite reach the realm of being an impressive achievement in filmmaking by combining two opposite genres to brilliant effects. But it is one of the purest two hours of entertainment that has ever come out of the UK.

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20. Passport to Pimlico (1949)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Passport to Pimlico (1949)

There’s an interesting contradiction of feelings with Passport to Pimlico that almost makes it sad viewing for a modern audience. On the one hand, it seems like it should have aged quite badly.

The humor is driven by the idea of a divisive, paranoid government that cuts off its own people in an attempt to do little other than posture in front of another country on the world stage.

Given that this was made only four years after World War II, it’s the kind of joke you’d expect in a freshly post-war country and something that would have less relevance over time. On the other, it rings as true to what we could expect now if the events of the film were to transpire in real life.

The silliness of national pride and the political decisions resulting from it is the subject of a brilliant scene where border control is forced to enter a tube carriage after having discovered that the London district of Pimlico is actually a French territory.

It doesn’t take much from the film to highlight the absurdity that we put so much importance on these man-made concepts. If only the message had landed with those given the power to enact such silliness.

19. Shallow Grave (1994)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Shallow Grave (1994)

This is one of Danny Boyle’s earlier feature films, and all the charm and flair of his subsequent work, Trainspotting (1996), is there. It isn’t quite as bleak, but the humor comes from an equally dark space. Three professionals are living together in a flatshare in Edinburgh, and they need a fourth housemate to meet the rent.

After an extensive interview process that characterizes them all as the kind of people you’d probably prefer to avoid in day-to-day life, they choose Hugo. Hugo moves in, and it isn’t long before he’s found dead in his room, lying next to a large sum of cash.

The connection to Trainspotting isn’t just through Danny Boyle, though. Keith Allen (Hugo) plays a drug dealer in both, and there are rumors that it might be the exact same character.

If it is, that would mean the two films occur in the same city in the same continuity, roughly a decade apart. Although this is certainly the less commercially successful of the two, it was such a hit at Cannes that organizers had to set up three additional screenings to meet demand.

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18. Alfie (1966)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Alfie (1966)

One of Michael Caine’s earliest stand-out roles is a romantic comedy that centers around a womanizing cockney chauffeur who seems to be charming and despicable in equal measure. One of the great strengths of Alfie is that the film is incredibly self-aware, and none of that escapes it.

After a decent amount of wish-fulfillment, the heart of it all comes from its titular character being forced to reflect on his life choices and ultimately become a better man. Although it may seem a fairly mainstream view in modern times, back in the 60s, it would’ve been somewhat radical to criticize such a way of living through satire.

Full of witty dialogue and typically British silliness, Alfie takes a leaf out of its lead character’s book in making its point with gentle, self-assured charm, and that’s what makes it such a memorable film.

Even those unfamiliar with it will have heard the title track from its soundtrack, and that alone will be enough to demonstrate the sadness behind the humor. If we ever needed proof of comedy’s power to amplify all emotions rather than just make us laugh, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

17. Bean (1997)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Bean (1997)

A legendary character of British TV in his own movie, directed by another legend of British comedy TV, Mel Smith. This takes a beloved, absurdist type of British humor and drops it into an American context to highlight just how silly it is.

Mr. Bean is a childlike Englishman who carries his teddy with him wherever he goes, and we meet him when he’s somehow managed to find a job as a watchman at the Royal National Gallery in England. In a convoluted turn of events, he ends up in Los Angeles rather than being fired.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter how it all happens. All that matters is that for an hour and a half, we’re allowed to have fun with a character who doesn’t have to make much sense to do it.

There are almost shades of Mrs. Doubtfire to this, as Mr. Bean ends up as an unwanted guest to a struggling family who, in a weird way, might just need him as much as he needs them. Admittedly, however, it hasn’t aged quite as well as Mrs. Doubtfire has.

There are a few more questionable moments that probably wouldn’t be so well received if this were to be released in 2023, but if you can take it in good faith, then this still holds up as a fun piece of British comedy escapism.

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16. Educating Rita (1983)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Educating Rita (1983)

Another film with Michael Caine as the lead, but this time he is much older. He isn’t leading a heist or making questionable life decisions anymore, but rather he’s a disillusioned professor at the Open University.

When he meets Rita, played by Julie Walters, a working-class hairdresser in pursuit of a degree to better her lot in life, it provides an opportunity for growth in both of them. It might even be the perfect antidote for the inevitable sense of dread that comes with watching Naked if you’re planning to get through this list in order.

Accused by some critics of being too theatrical, Educating Rita isn’t a film with universal praise. Its position as a classic is debatable, but it is agreed upon as a charming portrayal of two characters who eventually give us something to smile about. This is a rom-com, in a non-traditional sense, and manages to subtly craft the whole range of emotions that come with one.

15. East is East (1999)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - East is East (1999)

Modern Britain would not be what it is today without immigration from South Asia, particularly from India and Pakistan. The subject of a white woman marrying an Asian man, however, is one that’s unfortunately historically taboo.

East is East tells the story of exactly that. It is a beautifully sad but also a funny depiction of the growing pains that British people of all backgrounds had to endure on the way to building a multicultural society. East is East employs humor to elicit empathy for a cast of characters, only to devastate us once we’ve formed an emotional attachment to them.

Set in Salford in 1971, a mixed-ethnicity British household led by a Pakistani Muslim father and an English Catholic mother navigates the difficulties that come with societal expectations that don’t quite make sense for either of them.

This is a family whose survival depends on standing together as a unit against judgment and criticism on both sides but is made considerably weaker for it. The comedy element is never at the expense of the characters but rather to give them, and us, some respite in the midst of a terribly difficult circumstance.

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14. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

The Lavender Hill Mob has a special interest due to Audrey Hepburn’s first performance in a big film. Still, even without that, this has an Oscar-winning screenplay (by T.E.B. Clarke) and an Oscar-nominated performance by Alec Guinness.

It certainly punched above its weight, considering it was one of the smaller Ealing Comedies. Ealing Studios did, however, commission the Bank of England to come up with a plan for how a million pounds could feasibly be stolen, and that’s the plan that was used in the film.

In some ways, a comedy of wish-fulfillment, The Lavender Hill Mob is the story of a meek bank clerk who teams up with his eccentric neighbor in order to get ahold of his employer’s bullion reserves. The plan is to disguise them as souvenir paperweights.

Given how funny this is, even on a conceptual level, it’s incredible to think that the plan was devised in such a way to be inherently realistic. The thought of this story having the potential to turn up on the sheets of a newspaper one day gives this an even funnier edge.

13. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

No list of British comedies would be complete without an Aardman entry. It’s difficult to believe, given the cult status of Wallace & Gromit, that this is their only feature film and that it wasn’t released until sixteen years after the iconic first short, A Grand Day Out. Although it’s not nearly as revered as any of the short films in the Wallace & Gromit canon, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a triumph for filmmaking in its own right.

The fact that creator and director Nick Park managed to convince Dreamworks to fund and internationally distribute a stop-motion film about a man from Lancashire and his anthropomorphic dog is just as absurd as the film itself.

Aardman Animation had initially signed a multi-picture deal with Dreamworks following the success of Chicken Run. Unfortunately, because The Curse of the Were-Rabbit underperformed in the United States and Aardman was reluctant to make significant changes to the Wallace & Gromit formula, we never received the films that were promised to follow.

That isn’t a slight against the film but more a testament to just how quintessentially British this is. It’s full of quirky silliness and humor that may not translate well globally, but it’s a showpiece of British comedy.

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12. Rye Lane (2023)

Rye Lane is a film that holds far more weight than its simple plot would suggest. Director Raine Allen-Miller has joked that the film is just two people spending the day together and having a lovely time, and to a point, that’s true. But it’s also a film that fills a huge gap in modern cinema, and that’s in representing modern London. There are people of such diverse backgrounds interacting with one another that it simply couldn’t be set anywhere else.

In a lot of ways, the narrative structure is that of your typical rom-com. Everything that we want to happen does, but the journey is so sweet that it’s impossible not to smile. We’re given space to sympathize with our characters so much that by the end, they feel like friends that we can’t help but root for. Put in front of the lively backdrop of London, it feels exactly like the real city does. For anyone who’s lived there or even just visited, this is a must-watch.

11. Pride (2014)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Pride (2014)

Pride is based on a much-missed part of British working-class history that deserves so much more awareness than it has. Most people connect Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister with the miner’s strikes, but few are aware of the tale of the activist group Lesbians and Gays Support Each Other, who were brave enough to stand side by side with the striking workers.

Despite facing extreme prejudice from those they were fighting alongside, the group recognized a common enemy in Thatcher, who was equally responsible for regressive laws and policies that made the lives of LGBT+ people much more difficult as she was for regressive laws and policies than made the lives of working-class people, in general, more difficult.

Ultimately, Pride tells a very important story about a very important part of working-class history, but it does it in a way that’s accessible. Amongst all of the heartache and grief from both sides, there are some really funny moments, and the heartwarming sequences could soften even the most ardent conservative. Possibly. This film is a true-to-life example of how far a little bit of empathy can go and how little weight prejudices actually hold.

10. The Ladykillers (1955)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - The Ladykillers (1955)

The Ladykillers was remade by The Coen Brothers nearly fifty years after its initial release, and that served to prove just how essential it is for this story to be told by British characters.

Focusing on five oddball criminals planning a bank robbery under the pretense that they’re classical musicians, this one just doesn’t work without a generous heaping of old-fashioned British silliness. This will also be an interesting experience for Star Wars fans since a young Alec Guinness is in it.

One of the classic Ealing Comedies, it marked the end of an era as it was the last film to be released by the studio before it was sold off to the BBC. More importantly, though, The Ladykillers is still startlingly relevant today.

Set during a time of post-war austerity, it satirizes the notion that a country in such a state can pride itself on past glories, clinging onto traditions that have outstayed their welcome as it slips into chaos. Not only is this a brilliant comedy in its own right, but it’s also a reminder that if there’s any point at all in teaching history, it’s to take heed of it.

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9. Withnail & I (1987)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Withnail & I (1987)

Following two actors who go on holiday by mistake, Withnail & I is a low-budget cult classic that treads the fine line between oratory brilliance and obscenity. Much like its two main characters themselves. Perhaps the closest thing that the UK has ever had to the American dream is the 60s bohemian ideal of peace, love, and freedom.

This is a film that dissects and analyses that ideal, placing blame for all the flaws and shortcomings that manifest in those who cherish it. This is a comedy by necessity, as it is one of the best methods to counteract the sadness in the film.

Withnail & I isn’t without its detractors, though. This is the film that prompted the Jimi Hendrix Estate to take back full control of the use of his songs, with the family of the deceased musician growing increasingly disappointed that his music was becoming so associated with a destructive form of drug culture.

Ironically, lead star Richard E. Grant is a teetotaller while the film is being shot. Convinced that he had to get drunk at least once to get some insight into his character, he filled a glass with vodka, topped it off with some Pepsi on set, and downed the whole thing.

8. In Bruges (2008)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - In Bruges (2008)

It may seem controversial to call a film led by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson a British comedy but fear not, it actually is. English writer and director Martin McDonagh, who is half Irish as well, initially even wrote his two central characters as British but changed their nationalities to Irish once Farrell and Gleeson came on board. In either case, the majority of the humor is derived from cultural aspects that the two nations share.

A comedy of errors set on two hitmen who find a rare opportunity to reflect on their lives and confide in one another in a foreign town, In Bruges, plays on a number of typically British in-jokes about Brits abroad.

Much of the humor comes from the traditional “fish out of water” scenario, and our expectations are constantly subverted to play into a story that wouldn’t seem out of place being told as part of a stand-up routine. Whether it will stand the test of time is yet to be seen, but it certainly has a few lines with the potential to be quoted just as much as the one we all know from The Italian Job.

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7. Four Lions (2010)

The 25 Best British Comedies of all Time - Four Lions (2010)

This is another film directed by a legend of British TV comedy. Chris Morris will be more familiar to audiences for his work on The IT Crowd and Brass Eye than he is as a director, Four Lions is one of only two feature films that he’s credited with. This is one of those rare cases where a director just gets it right on their first attempt, though, and it’s fantastic evidence that the Brits will make a joke out of anything.

Four Lions is a comedy based on four young Muslim men from Sheffield who make the decision to wage jihad on the West through an inept plan to become suicide bombers. Their disastrous plans include teaching birds to transport explosives, and because the subject matter is so serious, it is forced to delve deeply into the realms of absurdity.

Surprisingly, it accomplishes this without ever veering into the easy territory of becoming offensive as a consequence. This has all the potential to become a classic that gives future generations some insight into the paranoia around terrorism that existed in the UK in the late 2000s and early 2010s. More importantly, it acts as an example of how we managed to cope with it.

6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python is a name that should be familiar to fans of comedy all over the world. The Simpsons, South Park, Saturday Night Live, and countless other works in the visual media as we know it owes a debt to the Pythons, and this was their first theatrical film.

If the task of this list were to crown a singular film that explains what British comedy is, then Monty Python and the Holy Grail would be a decent choice to tick most of the boxes. It satirizes the political issues of a democracy led by a monarch, parodies an old English legend, and offers a window into the silliness of British humor.

Widely regarded as one of the most beloved comedy films ever, the stories of its production troubles are almost as funny as the film itself. Set in Medieval England, one of the running gags is that the King gallops around on his own two feet while a nearby assistant uses coconut shells to make a sound effect.

Traditionally, this is how radio plays would achieve the sound of a horse’s shoes hitting the floor, but the only reason that the gag exists in the film is that they simply couldn’t afford to shoot with real horses on set.

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5. Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985)

Written and directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, this is another entry that derives its humor from poking fun at the established systems that may or may not be benefiting society as a result of their existence. Brazil tells the story of Sam Lowry, a low-level bureaucrat who escapes the monotony of everyday life with a recurring daydream that sees him as a hero and savior.

With films like Office Space coming nearly fifteen years after this, it’s an unfortunately timeless nucleus for a story. Brazil does veer off into the absurd, however, becoming as much of a sci-fi as it is a comedy.

The behind-the-scenes story of Terry Gilliam directing Robert De Niro is a famous clash of cultures that has served to immortalize Brazil even further. Apparently, the British actors would deliver their lines and move on fairly promptly, whereas Robert De Niro would insist on up to thirty takes for each of his scenes.

He was also known for frequently forgetting his lines. Gilliam had gone on to say that De Niro’s need for research into his character and his obsession with the little details had driven him mad to the point that he wanted to strangle him. However, De Niro has described the shoot as a pleasant experience which has left him open to working with Gilliam again.

4. Snatch (2000)

Snatch (2000)

A common comparison for Snatch is Pulp Fiction. In many ways, they are similar films, just from opposite sides of the Atlantic. However, Snatch’s cultural impact is starting to stand alone, as evidenced by how heavily it is beginning to influence the humor in modern blockbusters such as Bullet Train and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.

Even the Sing franchise could probably tip its hat towards Snatch in thanks. The concept of the comedic British gangster is nothing new, but it’s difficult to deny that the style in which it has become so common is lifted directly from the characters in Guy Ritchie’s modern classic.

A series of intertwining tales led by a diverse cast of characters depicts a series of unlikely connections that play out to hilarious effect. Snatch, which walks a fine line between psychotic fear and inept absurdity, employs classic British gangster tropes by subverting our expectations to demonstrate how ridiculous the typical idea of one is.

Some of the funniest scenes are a result of just adding the mundanity of everyday life to the heightened situations that our characters find themselves in, and like most great ideas, it works so well because it’s so simple.

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3. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Another entry from the Pythons. This time, the concept of religion is being put on blast. Similarly to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian takes a satirical view of the organized power structures of the historical past.

The majority of the comedy in creating a stand-in for Jesus Christ, the titular Brian, comes from reframing the story of how Christians wound up with a Lord and Savior. “He’s not a messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” is one of those lines that we all know, whether we know where it’s from or not.

Having drawn controversy from denominations of the Christian faith, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is joked to have been the catalyst to bring them all together for the first time in 2000 years. It is this controversy, however, that threatened the possibility of it ever existing at all.

Funding was originally acquired through EMI, a record label through which the Monty Python troupe had released a number of comedy albums. Still, they pulled out, citing the blasphemous nature of the script. George Harrison of The Beatles then raised the £4 million needed to save it by pawning everything he could from his home. When asked why, he responded, “Because I wanted to go and see it.”

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2. Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting (1996)

In the famous words of Monty Python themselves, “… and now for something completely different.”

Trainspotting is by no means a traditional comedy. It’s dark and bleak and might even be accused of being a miserable experience. It’s important for films like this to feature in a list like this for the reason that perhaps goes some way to explain why British comedy is such a broad genre.

Given its heavy subject matter – addiction and poverty in 1990s Edinburgh – it would be completely inappropriate to make light of the situations that the characters are in or to play them for laughs. Instead, it draws humor from the sarcastic and cynical attitudes of its characters in a way that’s supposed to make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

Not only does this add a tangible layer of emotion to a film already packed with it, but it’s a representation of a British cultural norm where humor creates bonds between people regardless of whether their lives are fantastic or absolutely dismal.

1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Edgar Wright’s first big-budget feature film, as well as being the first installment in the Cornetto Trilogy, but an instant classic of the genre packed full of Wright’s directorial signatures – fast editing, hilarious visual comedy, and homages to the horror genre. What makes this such a special film, though, is the way that it satirizes British culture by using the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.

The iconic scene in which Shaun devises a plan to go to The Winchester and wait for everything to blow over is an example of an idea that would simply not work outside of the nonchalant context of the famous British sense of resilience through apathy.

In making Shaun of the Dead, Wright teamed up with friends and Spaced collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Although this isn’t a direct big-screen adaptation of the cult classic TV series, it does follow in the footsteps of other British comedy troupes, such as Monty Python, who broke out of the humble television in expanding their art.

In a way, that also draws a line between Edgar Wright and Terry Gilliam (American-born) as two British directors who went on to become well-respected filmmakers on the international stage after having made their starts on small television projects.

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