Five Essential… John Candy Films

Gary Collinson selects his Five Essential John Candy films…

Canadian funnyman John Candy was one of the biggest – both literally and figuratively – comic stars of the 1980s, working alongside a host of respected directors and acting talent. Honing his skills on The Second City Toronto comedy circuit, Candy gained widespread attention as a cast member on the sketch show Second City TV alongside the likes of Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, before moving on to enjoy a successful film career. After battling weight problems for much of his life, Candy’s career was tragically cut short in 1994 when he suffered a fatal heart attack during the filming of Wagons East!. Here, we present five of his best offerings…

Cool Runnings5. Cool Runnings (1993, dir. Jon Turteltaub)

Candy stars as disgraced bobsled Olympian Irv Blitzer, stripped of two gold medals in the 1972 Winter Olympics due to cheating and given a chance at redemption sixteen years later as the coach of a newly formed Jamaican team. Loosely based on the actual story of the first Jamaican bobsled team, the film’s feel-good nature and warm humour allows it to overcome a fairly generic ‘underdog’ formula, while Candy is on form as Blitzer in one of his final roles (and certainly his last box office success, with studio Disney banking international receipts in excess of $150m).

Who's Harry Crumb4. Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989, dir. Paul Flaherty)

Inept private investigator Harry Crumb (Candy) is given the assignment to track down a wealthy millionaire’s kidnapped daughter by his boss Eliot Draisen (Jeffrey Jones), who also happens to be the mastermind behind the crime. Who’s Harry Crumb? provides a consistent flow of witty one-liners, humourous gags and physical comedy, with Candy (who also serves as executive-producer) hilarious as the hapless private eye. Saw’s Shawnee Smith makes an early appearance as Harry’s sidekick, while Candy reunites with director Paul Flaherty, a writer on SCTV.

Uncle Buck3. Uncle Buck (1989, dir. John Hughes)

The first John Hughes film to appear on this list, Uncle Buck sees Candy as loutish slacker Buck Russell, who ends up babysitting his brother’s kids when the parents are forced to leave town for a family emergency. Forming a memorable double act with an eight-year-old Macaulay Culkin (who gained international fame the following year through Home Alone, with Hughes producing and Candy making a minor appearance) the role of the slobbish but warm-hearted Buck is perfectly suited to Candy’s sarcastic comic talents. Perhaps Hughes’ most underrated effort.

Spaceballs2. Spaceballs (1987, dir. Mel Brooks)

Although Candy is just one of an array of comic talents on display in Mel Brooks’ parody of Star Wars, the sheer hilarity and outright silliness of Spaceballs makes this cult classic a strong contender for first place on the list. Candy plays half-man, half-dog Barf – Chewbacca to Lone Starr’s (Bill Pullman) Han Solo, with the pair setting out to rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from the clutches of Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and the Spaceballs. A real side-splitter, and the first of two films that would make 1987 thegreatest year of John Candy’s career…

Planes, Trains & Automobiles1. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, dir. John Hughes)

Director John Hughes’ shift from teen comedy to more adult-orientated material resulted in quite simply one of the best comedies of the decade, Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Trying to make it home to his family in time for Thanksgiving, advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) is forced to travel across the country with annoying ‘shower curtain guy’ Del Griffith (Candy), who leads him from one disastrous mishap to another. A true classic, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is the essential John Candy film, while the same could probably be of both Martin and Hughes.

Honourable Mentions…

Stripes (1981, dir. Ivan Reitman)
Brewster’s Millions (1985, dir. Walter Hill)
Armed and Dangerous (1986, dir. Mark L. Lester)
The Great Outdoors (1988, dir. Howard Deutch)
Only the Lonely (1991, dir. Chris Columbus)

One final note – naturally the list omits bit-parts and cameos such as Vacation (1983, dir. Harold Ramis) and Home Alone (1990, dir. Chris Columbus), along with Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), in which Candy shines in a rare dramatic performance.

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…

Gary Collinson

Essentials Archive