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10 of the Best Dramatic Movie Performances by Comedians

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Comedy is just drama but funny, you know what I mean? A lot of comedians are fantastic dramatic actors who don’t get the opportunity to show what they can do because they’re pigeonholed as comics. And as fun as it is to see serious actors go silly, it can be just as exciting when a comedian gets a chance to try their hand at drama… and knocks it out of the park. Here are 10 of the best dramatic movie performances by comedians.

1. Marlon Wayans – Requiem for a Dream

Marlon Wayans, mostly known for silly comedies like White Chicks and Scary Movie, got real for Requiem for a Dream, where he played a heroin addict. He’s never done another role like that before or since, but I wish he would — I’d love to see what else he’s capable of.

2. Steve Carell – Last Flag Flying

It’s actually hard to pick a single Steve Carell dramatic performance because he’s done so many great. It’s almost hard to remember he came onto the scene through The Daily Show and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Carell is one of the rare actors who succeeds just as much in drama as in comedy and his performance as a veteran and father of a soldier killed in action in Last Flag Flying is understated and heartbreaking.

3. Albert Brooks – Drive

Unless you’re a fan of old movies, you might not even know Albert Brooks is a comedian. He started out as a standup and had big comedy movie hits in the ‘80s with Lost in America, Broadcast News, and Defending Your Life. Now he mostly does small, dramatic parts in movies like Drive and A Most Violent Year, and voices cartoon animals in movies like Finding Nemo and The Secret Life of Pets. A most interesting career.

4. Adam Sandler – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

I hated Punch Drunk Love, so in my opinion, Sandler didn’t really flex his dramatic skills until last year’s The Meyerowitz Stories. He plays a recently divorced, devoted dad who’s down on his luck but ultimately lovable. It’s the kind of mature role I really wasn’t sure he was capable of and he’s great in it. I actually think I like Adam Sandler now? Weird.

5. Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls may be mostly known as the Beyoncé/ Jennifer Hudson movie, but it’s also one of the only times Eddie Murphy has played a dramatic role. I don’t know why he hasn’t done more drama because he proved he definitely has the talent – he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this. And that voice! It’s too bad Eddie Murphy mostly does cheesy comedies these days because he’s clearly multi-talented.

6. Mo’Nique – Precious

Mo’Nique is a wildly successful standup and her acting career had mostly focused on sitcoms and silly comedies until her role in 2009’s Precious. She plays an abusive mother who’s terrifying yet absolutely real. Mo’Nique won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role – and she’s only been in three movies since then! She says she’s been blacklisted from the industry. Where is Mo’Nique?? BRING BACK MO’NIQUE!!

7. Jim Carrey – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey made his name in wacky comedies but he’s gotten the chance to prove himself several times in dramas like The Truman Show, The Majestic, and of course, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In Eternal Sunshine, Carrey plays a heartbroken man who decides to have his ex-girlfriend permanently erased from his memories, before changing his mind halfway through the procedure. Who knew Ace Ventura would end up being an incredible art house film actor?

8. Robin Williams – Good Will Hunting

One of the most famous and hilarious comedians who ever lived, Robin Williams also flexed his dramatic skills in movies like Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo, and What Dreams May Come. But it was his role as a caring psychiatrist dealing with the loss of his wife in Good Will Hunting that won him a well-deserved Oscar.

9. Bill Murray – Lost in Translation

Bill Murray is one of the funniest actors ever and has made some of the all-time classic comedies with movies like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Ghostbusters. While his greatest movie performance was probably as himself in Space Jam, the greatest demonstration of his dramatic talents came in 2003’s Lost in Translation. His portrayal of midlife crisis strikes a chord even if you’re nowhere near midlife.

10. Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple

Whoopi may best be known for The View these days but she got her start as a standup and an incredible actress. She’s been nominated for two Oscars and won one, for Ghost. And while she’s incredible in Ghost, she’s also really funny, so let’s focus on The Color Purple. In The Color Purple (for which she really should have won the Oscar, sorrynotsorry) Whoopi plays Celie, a woman who rises up and out of the cycle of abuse she’s been in her entire life. It’s a powerful performance that shows what a deep talent Whoopi really is.

What’s your favorite dramatic performance by a comedian? Tweet at me and let me know @erikaheidewald

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