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To Celebrate Mel Brooks' 98th Birthday, Let's Look at His 98 Best Movies

Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File

There will not be a list of Mel Brooks' 98 best movies in this story. In case there could be any confusion, the headline above is me taking a stab at a parody of "best-of" lists, which are completely subjective and usually based on arbitrary criteria and, perhaps most irritating, they never make everyone reading them happy. 

One thing we can all agree on is that the much-beloved director and producer of some of the most brilliant parodies and comedies of all time is a national treasure, and it's awesome that he's still with us at 98 years old. Friday (June 28th) is his birthday!

Others have already taken to celebrating Brooks this year, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AKA the Oscars people), when he was honored in January at the Oscar-adjacent Governor's Awards with an honorary statuette. Watch as he accepted the award from Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the stars of the Broadway adaptation of his film, "The Producers.

Only Brooks could get away the (tongue-in-cheek) promise not to sell it--like he did with the award for the above film's Original Screenplay. The man even managed to crack up the audience with the way he blows his nose here:

 

As I noted in a previous piece in 2023 about the new, "History of the World, Part II" limited series on Hulu, he hasn't slowed down even a little bit on wanting to make us laugh hysterically at his silliness. 


READ MORE: 

Mel Brooks Shows He's Back Skewering Sacred Cows in New 'History of the World, Part II' Trailer


He's got another project coming up, too, with news dropping on June 18th that he'll be producing a sequel to "Spaceballs," alongside the star of the film, Josh Gad. The report notes the project, which just went into development, won't have Brooks directing or writing it, though. 

I count myself as one of the lucky members of Gen X who grew up with parents who shared their immense love of movies, especially comedies and musicals. And Mel Brooks' films were some of my late dad's favorites, with "The Producers" among his top movies ever. (It might be the perfect marriage of the two genres.) You could often find me and my older sister plopped down on the couch in front of the (then) VCR or whichever cable station was on, catching yet another showing of "Spaceballs" or "Blazing Saddles." I even kind of cherish the broadcast TV (censored) version of the latter, since it was the way I remember first watching it.

Okay, let's celebrate Mel Brooks' amazing filmography with ... a look at five movies.

In no particular order, here are my favorites:

1. "Blazing Saddles" (1974)

There's only one scene I can share from this extraordinary movie, which was co-written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, the bane of PC scolds from every generation. And you'll read more on this movie at the end of the article: 

 

2. "Young Frankenstein" (1974)

The trailer, hilariously provided with a voiceover by Mel Brooks talking about himself in third-person, is better than anything I could write about it. Flawless. Also, check out this interview with the late Gene Wilder, in which he reveals (at 2:41) that the only argument he and Brook ever had was over a scene in this movie. Pretty remarkable relationship, right? 

I was lucky to see it at a rerelease to theaters, at one point early on, too.

 

3. "Spaceballs" (1987)

It was an internal struggle over whether this movie or "Young Frankenstein" would go at number two, but what can you do? I have a fond memory of my family going to see this one in the theater, and remembering that you couldn't catch all of the jokes--because the volume of everyone's laughter covered some of them up. This was a genius idea to make fun of the original "Star Wars" films. Here's a perfect example of how sharp the skewering of George Lucas' empire gets in the film:

 

4. "History of the World, Part I" (1981)

There are so many amazing skits here, and this movie is bursting with cool cameos, it's a Herculean task to pick just one fave. But you could do worse than this skit, supposedly showing Moses (played here by Brooks) receiving the Ten Commandments from God in the Old Testament of the Bible:

 

5. "The Producers" (1967)

What more can you say about a movie that's centered on producers hoping to make big bucks on a flop of a musical-within-a-movie about Hitler? Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder originated these classic comedy roles, but as I mentioned at the start, good writing like this has a way of living on in new forms--not only a musical of its own, but a remake of the film in 2005.

 

As promised, we're swinging back to one of the movies for a refrain. From its release in July 1974, "Blazing Saddles" was a major hit--drawing 63 million people to theaters in North America alone--and for its 50th anniversary in 2024, it's getting a rerelease to movie theaters. Check your local theater chains for details; while researching this piece, I noticed many different companies are getting in on the festivities. In late July, Brooks will appear for a live interview and Q&A with audience members attending a special showing of the movie at a Los Angeles theater.

If you're looking for another story about a nonagenarian (that is, someone who's between 90 and 99 years old) who delights in making the people in the world around him happy, check out my colleague Jennifer Oliver O'Connell's "Feel Good Friday" for this week. She features a seasoned instrument repairman named Dave (who will be 90 years young on Sunday). His interview with a local Idaho TV station is totally adorable, with the twinkle in his eye on full display--just like the great Mel Brooks.

Happy Birthday to the "king" of comedy!

 

Related: 'This Is Spinal Tap' Is Getting a Sequel

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