Entertainment

11 Highlights From Harold Ramis’ Amazing Comedic Career

From Animal House to Caddyshack, Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day, Ramis, who died Monday at 69, helped to define modern movie comedy.

1. SCTV (1976-78)

Writer-actor

After cutting his comedy teeth at the Second City theater in Chicago, Ramis joined a wily crew of Canadians as they took their act to television, writing and performing alongside Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, Dave Thomas, and Eugene Levy, as well as two fellow Americans, Andrea Martin and Joe Flaherty. Building from the crew’s improvisational training, the show’s humor was looser and less “hip” than at Saturday Night Live. But for Ramis — who was the first of the cast to leave the show, as his film career began to take off — it proved to be a fabulous showcase for what was to come. —Adam B. Vary

2. Animal House (1978) and Meatballs (1979)

Universal Pictures / Via youtube.com

Writer

John Belushi and Bill Murray may have emerged from these films as full-blown cultural icons, but it’s Ramis we have, at least in part, to thank for two of the most eminently quotable comedies ever made. The former, co-written with National Lampoon colleagues Doug Kenney and Chris Miller, did nothing less than turn sophomoric raunch into box office gold — a neat trick that has been aped often, and never as successfully. —Steve Kandell

3. Caddyshack (1980)

Warner Bros. Pictures / Via youtube.com

Writer-director

If you’ve ever been on a golf course and not yelled (or heard someone else yell) “Noonan!” as someone was putting, then congratulations, you’ve entered some bizarre cultural wormhole. Or, perhaps, gopher-hole. It’s hard to think of a movie more ubiquitous to its general subject matter. Thirty-plus years since Ramis’ remarkable behind-the-scenes efforts — and far more impressive than the commercial success or star-making power (sorry it didn’t take, Michael O’Keefe) — is the fact that Caddyshack doesn’t feel dated or any less likely to be memorized in its entirety for generations to come. —SK

4. Stripes (1981)

Columbia Pictures / Via youtube.com

Writer-actor

It’s Murray’s face on the poster, but this blockbuster Army comedy doesn’t work without Ramis as not just his straight man or foil, but comedic equal. (And if anyone was asking, Ramis is also a more convincingly charismatic romantic lead.) From the opening scene, teaching a class of immigrants English via “Da Do Ron Ron,” Ramis makes his own case for comedy godhood and nerd-heroism. —SK

5. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Warner Bros. Pictures / Via youtu.be

Director

Maybe an unheralded part of Ramis’ legacy: Has any one filmmaker ever made better use of Chevy Chase? (That’s a rhetorical question. No, no one filmmaker has ever made better use of Chevy Chase. Apologies to Michael Ritchie, director of Fletch.) Chase has never commanded or carried a movie, top to bottom, the way he does as doomed but determined food-additive exec Clark W. Griswold, a disaster of a father and husband who’s never anything less than sympathetic. —SK

6. Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989)

Columbia Pictures / Via youtube.com

Writer-actor

Regardless of the triumphs that came before and after, Ramis is Egon Spengler more than he’s anything else, at least as far as the public consciousness goes. He has to do a lot of the lifting exposition-wise, but never seems to be having any less fun than, say, Sigourney Weaver does playing a possessed cellist. And, as Ramis did as Russell Ziskey in Stripes, Egon also proves to be a proto-pickup artist-ladies’ man, helping to cement the important pop cultural lesson that geekiness and sex appeal don’t need to be mutually exclusive. —SK

7. Groundhog Day (1993)

Columbia Pictures

Writer-director

Watching Bill Murray suffer through literally the same titular day over and over and over again could have just been a one-joke gimmick, but Ramis — who co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day — partnered with Murray to instead create a rich comic fable of a man forced to appreciate the smallest details of his life. If Ramis had only made this movie, widely perceived as a modern classic, his place among the firmament of American comedy would be secure. —ABV

8. Stuart Saves His Family (1995)

Paramount Pictures / Via youtube.com

Director

Barely anyone saw this adaptation of Al Franken’s SNL character, a die-hard devotee of 12-step programs. Directed by Ramis and written by Franken (now a U.S. senator, by the way), the film grossed just $900,000 in an extremely limited release, and was widely panned. But a few saw it as a hidden gem, including Roger Ebert, who called it “unobtrusively wise,” and praised the film for being “somehow true to Stuart at the same time it sees the humor in him.” —ABV

9. Analyze This (1999)

The Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Writer-director

The first film in the Analyze franchise plays like the gonzo comedy version of The Sopranos (which debuted the same year), with Robert DeNiro as a mobster racked by anxiety, and Billy Crystal as his increasingly put-upon psychiatrist. It’s Ramis’ biggest hit as a director (even when adjusting for inflation) — but the 2002 sequel Analyze That was a flop, and Ramis’ career as a filmmaker never really recovered. —ABV

10. The Ice Harvest (2005)

Focus Features

Writer-director

It’s a true shame more people didn’t take to his dark comedy about two ne’er-do-wells (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) who get mixed up with the mob on Christmas Eve. As Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, “There’s nothing especially groundbreaking about the work, and that…plays as a strength: Here’s a movie neither too big nor too small — just good.” —ABV

11. Knocked Up (2007)

Universal Pictures

Actor

By having Ramis play Seth Rogen’s warm-hearted and loving father, writer-director Judd Apatow not only made a smart casting decision, he made his own warm-hearted homage to Ramis’ place as one of the great comedy voices of the last 30 years. —ABV

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