10 Best Serious Actors Who Successfully Broke Into Comedy

In Hollywood, it’s pretty easy to get typecast for certain types of characters and might even find it hard to land roles outside their main genre. Many great actors can bring a role to life with funny line delivery, like Tim Allen, or fantastic physical comedy, like Jim Carrey. In the world of dramas, there are talented actors like Forest Whitaker who can bring an audience to tears with their unique intensity. Although many actors take their hand at both comedy and other genres, they don’t all succeed. Let’s look at 10 actors who have proved even the most respected serious actors can succeed in comedy!

Robert De Niro

De Niro is idolized for his roles in classic mob dramas like Goodfellas and The Godfather Part II. Other dramas such as Raging Bull, The Deer Hunter, and Taxi Driver proved him to be a one of a kind actor, earning him an Oscar for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor among other nominations.

De Niro worked with Martin Scorsese on the crime drama Mean Streets, and reunited with him to do the black satirical comedy The King of Comedy in 1982. In the following decades, De Niro pursued even more comedy movies, such as Analyze This, Meet The Fockers, and Dirty Grandpa. In fact, he even played a stand-up comedian in his 2016 film The Comedian.

Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges got his start acting in the 1950s in the adventure series Sea Hunt, alongside his brother and father. In the 1970s, he began his film career, mainly starring in drama (Fat City),, and adventure films (King Kong). He also began experimenting with the occasional comedy roles with movies like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Somebody Killed Her Husband.

Although these early comedy movies in his career helped expand his filmography, Brides didn’t receive critical acclaim in a comedy until cult classic The Big Lebowski. Bridges’s character The Dude became a stoner character that everyone loved to impersonate. Since then, Bridges has continued to bring strong acting to funny movies, most recently in 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Brad Pitt

Although Brad Pitt got his first breakthrough role as a hitchhiker in road comedy Thelma & Louise (1991), his career was primarily in non-comedies through the ‘90s. Drama films such as A River Runs Through It and Legends of the Fall established him as a serious actor. The next three films in his career (Interview with the Vampire, Seven, and 12 Monkeys) garnered him critical acclaim in sci-fi and thriller dramas, earning him recognition at the Golden Globes.

In 2001, however, Pitt took a major risk by returning to comedy films with his role in Ocean’s Eleven. Pitt’s charismatic acting made the risk pay off, and he continued building his comedic chops with swaggering roles in Inglorious Basterds, Burn After Reading, 2022’s Bullet Train. Arrivederci!

Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson’s early career consisted primarily of period dramas (Henry V, Impromptu, Howard’s End, and so on). Although she did dabble with the occasional humor films, these were British and didn’t establish a comedic presence with North American audiences. Some of these British comedies include The Tall Guy and Peter’s Friends.

Thompson truly found success in comedies in the early 2000s with movies like Love, Actually and the beloved Nanny McPhee. She also found herself in other children’s films such as Hoodwinked!, Treasure Planet, and various Harry Potter films. With these, she had proved a knack for both the sophisticated and silly.

James Caan

James Caan’s early film career has a focus on sci-fis (Countdown, Rollerball), westerns (El Dorado, Comes a Horsemen), and dramas (Brian’s Song, Cinderella Liberty). He had the occasional role in funny flicks, including Funny Lady, but it was serious roles that he received critical acclaim for. There was no denying his abilities in films such as Mysery, or The Godfather.

Serious films dominated his filmography from the 60s to the 90s. But in 2003, he made a successful shift to comedies with Elf.

The classic holiday comedy Elf features Caan as Buddy the Elf’s biological father. Caan doesn’t act comedically in this film—he plays the straight man. He applies the same level of seriousness to his role that his earlier films consisted of, and that’s why it works so well. After Elf, he continued pursuing funny movies with Get Smart and the children’s animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson got her start in acting at the age of 9 in the fantasy comedy North. However, as she got older and established herself as an actor, she received acclaim for her serious acting chops. She received widespread attention for her role in the American Western drama The Horse Whisperer. Other dramas included Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation, and A Love Song for Bobby Long.

In 2006, Scoop became the most successful comedy film Johansson had appeared in to date. The Woody Allen romantic crime comedy film stars her and Hugh Jackman, and it was a box office hit.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is regarded as one of the greatest living actors, and for good reason. Her breakthrough film was in The Deer Hunter, which we previously mentioned for including Robert De Niro. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role. She also has won three Oscars for her films Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, and The Iron Lady.

Some criticized Streep for taking “melodramatic roles,” which she effectively overcame in comedies such as She-Devil (1989) and Death Becomes Her (1992). Although these films didn’t reach the success levels of her more serious roles.

Then, in 2006, this changed with The Devil Wears Prada. The highly acclaimed comedy put the wheels in motion for more comedic roles, including the $609 million-grossing romantic comedy Mamma Mia! which helped her regain stardom.

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman’s career has many great serious roles, which has led him to win a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe Award. In 1987, he had a breakout role as a huster in the movie Street Smart. He continued to establish himself with Glory and Lean On Me. After a string of serious films, he had success with comedy-drama Driving Miss Daisy, earning him a nomination for Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Freeman still hadn’t had a hit role in a straight up comedy film. That changed in 2003 with the hit comedy Bruce Almighty, which perfectly casted him in the role of God. The film was a box office smash, grossing $484.6 million.

Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman’s respected for his portrayals of antiheroes and emotional characters. He, like Maryl Streep, took home an Academy Award for Kramer vs. Kramer. He’s played intense, emotional roles for movies such as The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy.

After building a reputation for these roles, he decided to switch up his career with Meet the Fockers. This 2004 comedy starred him, Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, and others. The film was a huge success and was followed up with the sequel Little Fockers. Although Hoffman returned to serious roles later on, Meet the Fockers remains a memorable piece of comedy.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise can do it all. He’s heavily recognized for action blockbusters such as the Mission Impossible film series and for the Academy Award for Best Picture-winning drama Rain Man. Although many of the films he made had elements of humor or the occasional light hearted wink

and smirk, it wasn’t until Tropic Thunder that we saw Cruise showcase his hilarity. His high-stress, greedy businessman persona made him a highlight in a movie of highlights.

We hope you enjoyed this list and hopefully found some new movies to check out. There’s more great actors out there who have succeeded in both serious and comedic roles, but these ten have gone the extra mile. If one thing is for certain, it’s that a good comedy role is nothing to laugh at. Well, you know what we mean.