As with most influential giants in the comedic genre, Mel Brooks has a career most comics can only envy. An unconventional trailblazer in the industry, Brooks’ momentous career has spanned well over seven decades, giving audiences around the world one of the most treasured and original comedians of all time.
Pioneering a rowdier, more anarchic style of comedy that audiences simply weren’t used to seeing at the time, Brooks became a cherished figure in his generation, clearing the way for a long and successful career writing, directing, and starring in his own films.
As his 96th birthday approaches, we thought we’d take a look back at all the films Brooks directed in his lifetime, underlining his numerous achievements in the comedy genre.
From hilarious anti-Westerns to films spoofing Alfred Hitchcock, ‘30s horror movies, and Star Wars, here is every movie directed by the legendary Mel Brooks, ranked from best to worst.
Laying out plans to demolish a small Western town for his ambitious railroad expansion, an unscrupulous government worker (Harvey Korman) appoints a Black railroad worker (Cleavon Little) as the town’s new sheriff.
A film you absolutely couldn’t make today, Blazing Saddles takes aim at the then-popular Western films of the ‘60s and ‘70s. With its non-stop parade of jokes (ranging from absurdist sight gags to clever wordplay), it moves at the lightning-quick pace of a vintage Looney Tunes cartoon. What’s more, it challenged notions of racial representation in film at the time, with Brooks tackling issues of racism head-on without shying away once.
Setting out to complete his grandfather’s work, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) constructs an artificially-created man (Peter Boyle) with help of his absent-minded assistants (Marty Feldman and Teri Garr).
Gene Wilder was always Brooks’ greatest collaborator, and with Young Frankenstein, he’s given his best and meatiest role both behind and in front of the camera. Co-writing the script with Brooks, Wilder’s on-screen neuroticism abounds throughout the film, providing Young Frankenstein with some of its most memorably funny moments. A testament to Wilder and Brooks’ writing talents, each character is unforgettable in their own right, most especially Feldman’s suitably idiotic Igor, Madeline Kahn’s shrewd Elizabeth, and Gene Hackman’s scene-stealing cameo as the Blind Man.
Cooking up a potentially lucrative scam together, a slimy theatrical producer (Zero Mostel) and his excitable accountant (Gene Wilder) put together the worst Broadway musical they can think of in the hopes of producing a flop.
Brooks’ first major success came courtesy of 1967’s The Producers (coincidentally the first of three timeless collaborations with Wilder). Relying on a riotously funny (and somewhat controversial) script, the film’s reputation has only grown more esteemed with each passing year. It may lack the far-ranging scope of Brooks’ later films, but at its heart, it showcases Brooks’ obvious talent early on. (After all, who else on Earth could have thought of the infamous “Springtime for Hitler” musical number?)
Forty years after the introduction of sound into films, an ambitious director (Brooks) begins planning to shoot the first silent movie in four decades.
Easily Brooks’ most underrated film, Silent Movie plays to all of Brooks’ greatest strengths as a comedian and a director. As with The Producers and parts of Blazing Saddles, it satirizes many elements of the entertainment industry, casting a wide net of influential names to appear in the film (including Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, and Sid Caesar).
The Twelve Chairs
Realizing that a vast fortune is secretly hidden in one of twelve dining chairs that went missing during the Russian Revolution, a former aristocrat (Ron Moody), a priest (Dom DeLuise), and an expert con artist (Frank Langella) set out to find the treasure.
Brooks’ follow-up to his directorial debut in The Producers, The Twelve Chairs is a fairly conventional adaptation of Ilf and Petrov’s cherished satirical novel. Staying true to its source material and retaining many of its most poignant messages, it’s probably the warmest of Brooks’ films, paving the way for some surprisingly tender moments between its three principal leads.
Framed for murder, a clinical psychiatrist who suffers from an acute fear of heights (Brooks) sets out to prove his innocence.
Given that Alfred Hitchcock was virtually a genre of film unto himself, it shouldn’t be surprising that Brooks took aim at the famed director with his 1977 film, High Anxiety. Parodying Hitchcock’s most famous thrillers (Vertigo, Psycho, Spellbound, etc.), High Anxiety has a tendency of being more clever than funny. Thankfully, it’s sustained by plenty of memorable performances, mostly especially Cloris Leachman’s domineering head nurse.
History of the World, Part I
Tracking humanity’s progress from the Stone Age through to the French Revolution, History of the World, Part I documents some of the key moments in mankind’s development, including the era of the Old Testament, the Roman Empire, and the French Revolution.
Though lacking a central narrative, History of the World, Part I is Brooks at his most ambitious, feeling more like a cohesive anthology or sketch comedy movie than it does any other entry in Brooks’ filmography. The basis for the recently-launched Hulu series History of the World, Part II, as with Silent Movie, its primary source of entertainment is the array of stars present in the film, from Orson Welles as the narrator to Dom DeLuise as the short-tempered Emperor Nero.
Uncovering a plot to steal the pacifist planet Druidia’s air supply, the daring mercenary Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) saves Druidia’s princess (Daphne Zuniga) from the evil forces of Planet Spaceball.
Along with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs remains one of Brooks’ best known films (almost certainly owing to the fact that its main source of satirization comes at Star Wars’ expense). While it may lack the originality of those two aforementioned films, Spaceballs still delivers a signature take-down of dozens of sci-fi franchises, effectively turning series like Alien, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars on their heads. (Plus, it’s hard to name a more popular Brooks creation than Rick Moranis’s wonderfully immature Darth Vader caricature, Dark Helmet.)
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Returning home to England from the Crusades, the heroic outlaw Robin Hood (Cary Elwes) and his band of Merry Men battle the corrupt forces of Prince John (Richard Lewis) and his nefarious henchman, the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees).
A humorous take on Errol Flynn’s classic The Adventures of Robin Hood and its kitschy remake, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood: Men in Tights is among the more half-baked of Brooks’ films – but that doesn’t stop it from containing quite a few standout moments. Lewis and Rees are both utterly delightful as the movie’s cartoonishly inept villains, with Elwes’s Robin Hood as humorously idiotic as John Cleese’s rendition of the character in Time Bandits (which is certainly high praise).
As part of a bet, a powerful businessman (Brooks) agrees to live on the streets of Los Angeles without the comforts his vast wealth affords, only to find the reality of homelessness far more difficult than he originally thought possible.
Brooks’ first major career blunder came with 1991’s Life Stinks. Distracting himself in his attempt to build a more humane story (reminiscent of his earlier The Twelve Chairs), Brooks’ struggles to deliver even the most basic and straightforward of jokes. As a result, the whole film tends to feel more fragmented and unfocused than any other of Brooks’ movies, hence why it’s commonly singled out as among the director’s worst.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
When the vampiric lord Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) arrives in Victorian-era England, the expert occultist Professor Van Helsing (Brooks) organizes an effort to destroy Dracula before he infects the entire population.
On paper, a Mel Brooks film satirizing Dracula and starring Leslie Nielsen seems like a comedy fan’s ultimate dream. Sadly, the finished result unfolds more like a painfully unfunny nightmare. Far from the immaculate script for Young Frankenstein, the film has little bite or comedic edge to it, languishing in lame attempts at humor that feels stale and half-hearted. Considering how horrendous the movie turned out to be, it’s no wonder Brooks opted to retire from filmmaking. If it were made 20 years earlier, it might’ve been his best movie.