The best stories (and comedies) evolve from conflict, and what makes for better conflict than the classic "fish out of water" theme? Sure, it’s been around since early Chaplin, but it never fails to make us laugh. As Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star opens this week, here are some of our favorite modern-day fish-out-of-water tales--in no particular order, you'll find some usual suspects and a few oddball choices.
Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) lives a snooty lifestyle as a New York stockbroker about to be married, the complete opposite of Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), the street con Louis has arrested in a chance encounter. Tables turn when Louis’ bosses the Duke brothers, unbeknownst to anyone, make a bet (“is it nature, or nuture?”) and set them up for a lifestyle switcheroo that backfires with hilarious results.
The quintessential fish out of water story, literally, Ron Howard’s meet-cute mermaid movie starred Tom Hanks as a New Yorker who falls for beautiful Darryl Hannah without knowing she’ll turn back into a chick from the sea if touched by water. It launched Hanks’ movie career (and do you remember John Candy as his older brother?), was nominated for an Academy Award (screenplay) and earned critical acclaim.
Who didn’t love Goldie Hawn as the spoiled, ditzy blonde who joins the Army on a whim after her new husband kicks the bucket, and finds basic training is way more than she bargained for? Whether it’s dropping and giving 50 or taking a tongue-lashing from Capt. Lewis (a fantastic Eileen Brennan), Judy Benjamin’s out of her element…and gets tougher for it, to boot.
The Jerk (1979)
Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) was born a poor black child….well, not really, but as a grown white man, he leaves his adoptive black family in Mississippi to make his way in the world. An idiot of epic proportions, he lands in all kinds of mishaps—until unwittingly inventing a device that makes him a fortune. Suddenly the fool finds himself at the top of the super-rich social ladder and becoming, as the title says, a real Jerk.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Marisa Tomei won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Mona Lisa, fiancée of Joe Pesci’s Vinny, a couple of tough-talking New Yorkers who take a small Alabama town by storm when Vinny’s cousin is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. Vinny’s brash attitude and blatant disrespect for most small-town things, not the least of which is the judge he should be impressing, make the whole situation worse for everyone.
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a hotshot London cop who has the rest of the force looking so bad, the chief ships him off to a podunk hamlet where he’s partnered with constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Instead of high-profile mysteries to solve, Angel’s stuck dealing with underage drinkers and runaway geese—until the discovery of a Satanic cult in their midst.
Blonde, bubbly, popular Elle (Reese Witherspoon) is used to people liking her for (or despite) her shallow, airheaded, makeup- and mall-loving ways—until she heads to Harvard Law School to get her ex back and finds her Ivy League peers aren’t so accepting.
Meet the Parents
Greg (Ben Stiller) is a schlubby Jewish guy who works as a nurse and is engaged to Pam (Teri Polo), who comes from a WASP-y East Coast family. Their differences are never made so apparent as when he meets her folks for the first time and endures ridicule, one disaster after another involving a deceased relative’s ashes and the family cat, and lie detection.
Cedar Rapids (2011)
Ed Helms drew comparisons to Tom Hanks in Big with his performance as Tim Lippe, an insurance agent who’s never left his small town until the boss taps him to attend a convention in the big city of—Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Thrown into all kinds of nefarious situations (a drug-laden party, boozehound colleagues, prostitution), Lippe gets a quickie lesson in life, R-rated style. (Bonus points to John C. Reilly as the hilarious loudmouth “Deanzie”.)
Nowadays a movie that pokes fun at being a breadwinner turned househusband/kiddie caretaker might come off more insulting than funny, but Michael Keaton’s deadpan delivery makes the most of the material as he goes from auto engineer to fighting with the vacuum, navigating the kitchen and playing penny poker with neighborhood housewives while his wife (Teri Garr) goes to work.
Army of Darkness (1992)
Long-suffering Ash (Bruce Campbell) is stuck in time in medieval Europe, where he’s forced to fight armies of skeletons, miniature Ashes and his giant alter ego on the way to finding the Necronomicon, which contains the spell needed to get him back to present-day sunny SoCal. Sam Raimi’s freewheeling, lunatic horror-com isn’t only gory, it’s got an obnoxious, loudmouthed modern hero (“Here is my BOOMstick!”) sticking it to the 14th century supernatural. What’s NOT to love?
Back to the Future (1985)
Speaking of going back in time, that’s the basis of this beloved trilogy that starred Michael J. Fox as a high schooler who accidentally rides his scientist friend’s time machine back to 1955, the exact time when his parents are to meet and fall in love—until his mother falls for HIM instead. It’s got laughs, tension, silliness and even romance (come on, you know you kept watching to see if he’d kiss his teenage mom).
Coming to America (1988)
This is Eddie Murphy’s second movie on the list (also directed by John Landis), only this time he plays Prince Akeem, who leaves his pampered existence in Africa for America with his pal Semmi (Arsenio Hall) on the search for true love. Encounters with hookers, hustlers, criminals and those guys from—hey, Trading Places!—ensue, along with jobs at McDonald’s and of course, meeting his true love.
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
What was it with the ‘80s and fish-out-of-water comedies? Dundee gave us yet another trilogy mid-decade, this time starring Paul Hogan (the “shrimp on the barbie” guy) as a guileless, charming Australian croc hunter transplanted to the Big Apple, where his hunting skills and adventurous nature actually help him navigate the hurdles of the big city. G’day, mate.
Amy Adams literally enchanted audiences as a fairy princess banished to New York City by the kingdom’s evil queen. Used to frolicking with bluebirds and butterflies back in Andalasia, the perky princess finds herself stranded and overwhelmed, until she makes friends with some city animals and a single dad (Patrick Dempsey) who rescues her from her strange predicament.
Uncle Buck (1989)
Uncle Buck (John Candy) drinks, smokes, bets the horses and has no job, so he’s hardly the guy you want watching your suburbanite kids. But it’s an emergency, so Buck comes in from the city to take care of business—and even though he can’t make pancakes, takes the kids to the races and calls his bookie in between washing dishes, in the end he turns out to be a darn good guy.
One of John Waters' more mainstream movies starred Edward Furlong as a naive Baltimore photographer who gets discovered and brought to New York by a hotshot art dealer. The exposure seems great...until it threatens to ruin the guileless charm of his photos, his relationship with Shelley (Christina Ricci) and his family's hometown life.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp), created by a mad scientist Frankenstein-style but left on his own after the inventor dies high above a town of generic tract homes, meets a brave new world when one of the town’s kindly residents takes him home. Suddenly the sensitive and vaguely alarmed Edward is the town star, fashioning topiaries and clipping dog hair for the pastel-hued townspeople and falling for his new family’s daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder).
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Of all the aliens-come-to-Earth movies over the years, this classic remains the most beloved--it's at once a fish-out-of-water tale and moving story of friendship and loss.
>p>What's your favorite fish-out-of-water comedy? Tell us below!