A hostage situation is among the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer through: your life in the hands of a stranger, who threatens to snuff it out for their own nefarious purposes or financial gain. But sometimes, Hollywood asks, isn’t abduction... kind of funny? Hey, maybe a kidnapping is just the sort of wild, unexpected detour you needed to really shake things up, help you learn important life lessons, and even fall in love—or so the movies have suggested over the years. The “hostage comedy” has fallen slightly out of favor since its apparent peak in 1994 (when no less than five films from this list were released) and somewhere after 1996's bleakly funny, yet sobering Fargo finally reminded everyone that, don’tcha know, we’re talking about real people here. Still, the sub-genre is making something of a comeback in 2018, what with the Anna Faris-starring remake of Overboard hitting theaters in April, and FX’s Trust adding a dryly kooky flourish to the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. Here are some of their predecessors that similarly found the hijinks in hijacking.


1. Cadillac Man (1990)

Combining the basic premise of Dog Day Afternoon with the sexual charisma of the late Robin Williams, Cadillac Man finds Williams playing Joey O’Brien, a slick car salesman who’s just as adept at talking marks into the driver’s seat as he is women into bed. Juggling three separate mistresses, an ex-wife he owes alimony to, a teenage daughter who’s recently gone missing, some mobsters he owes even more money to, and the looming threat of losing his job if he doesn’t make his monthly sales quota, everything comes to a boiling point for Joey when Tim Robbins’ angry, AK-47-toting lunkhead Larry takes his dealership hostage, looking to ferret out who’s been sleeping with his wife. Like Dog Day Afternoon, all of the film’s action is mostly confined to one pressure cooker location. But here it’s all played with a screwy, saccharine jocularity as Williams schmoozes his way into Larry’s good graces, punctuated by Robbins sporadically shooting up the place whenever he feels threatened—that goofball! [Sean O’Neal]


2. Overboard (1987)

Garry Marshall’s Overboard tends to get a pass because of its charming performances and the palpable chemistry between its leads—and real-life couple—Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. (Hawn, it must be said, also serves up some incredible ’80s loungewear.) Still, not only is the film dated and overly long, its entire, romantic premise is textbook gaslighting: After Hawn’s spoiled heiress falls off her yacht and develops a plot-advancing case of amnesia, Russell’s working-class carpenter kidnaps her, manipulating her not only into serving as a stay-at-home mom to his four, half-feral sons, but also into falling in love with him. Hawn learns a few lessons on humility and true happiness along the way, so this story of sexual slavery has a happy ending, at least. Still, it’s a cute, lighthearted spin on what is, unquestionably, abuse—something 2018’s gender-swapped remake tries to solve by having Anna Faris be the one to take Eugenio Derbez hostage. We’ll see if that earns it another pass. [Katie Rife]


3. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

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Stockholm syndrome goes to Spain for Pedro Almodovar’s gonzo romantic comedy Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The plot is another example of a narrative that, in today’s parlance, would be labeled “problematic”: Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is a young man recently released from a psychiatric hospital who kidnaps former porn star Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril), then holds her hostage while he tries to convince her to fall in love with him. Somehow, his ploy works. After Ricky breaks into Marina’s apartment, head-butts, gags, and handcuffs her to the bed, Marina goes from saying she’ll never, ever love him to having passionate sex with him in a matter of days; the whole standoff ends with them happily starting a new life together. It’s a deeply uncomfortable premise that only works thanks to Almodovar’s antic sense of absurdity, an anything-goes tone that serves the outrageous material well—even a story that’s this incredibly dark on paper. [Alex McLevy]


4. The Ref (1994)

Denis Leary spent the early ’90s foisting his (or Bill Hicks’) opinions on a captive audience of MTV teens. So naturally, his first movie roles played off that persona, often forcing other actors, like Demolition Man’s Sylvester Stallone or Judgment Night’s Jeremy Piven, to stand there and listen to him rant. The acrid Christmas comedy The Ref, from director Ted Demme—who helmed those MTV bumpers, as well as Leary’s No Cure For Cancer stand-up special—actually ties Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis down so they can’t escape the comic’s acerbic thoughts on their soulless yuppiedom. After Leary’s desperate burglar trusses up the unhappy couple, he soon becomes their de facto marriage counselor, interceding in their constant bickering while also helping Spacey find the confidence to finally lash out against the sterility of his upper-class suburban life, years before American Beauty. As a metaphor, breaking the ties that bind while you’re literally bound and gagged is about as blunt as they come, although The Ref is still nasty, if occasionally overbearing fun—kind of like Leary’s comedy. [Sean O’Neal]


5. Swimming With Sharks (1994)

Released in a year when America simply couldn’t get enough of tying Kevin Spacey to chairs, Swimming With Sharks shares The Ref’s approach to hostage situations as therapy—this time allowing Frank Whaley’s put-upon personal assistant and aspiring screenwriter to confront some harsh truths about the movie business, all while he tortures Spacey’s tyrannical studio mogul. George Huang’s showbiz satire is essentially a stage play (it’s since been adapted to the theater), and it uses Spacey’s immobility largely as an excuse to unspool long, sour dialogues about the dark side of Hollywood while also exploring the roots of what makes Spacey such a horrible boss—years before Horrible Bosses, or before Spacey became part of that dark side for real. [Sean O’Neal]


6. Airheads (1994)

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A spoof of heavy metal/grunge culture and how it’s, like, dumb and stuff, 1994’s Airheads doesn’t really have a lot to say about the crass commercialization of rock music or the overall venality of showbiz, but it sure does say it loudly. Michael Lehmann’s 1994 comedy finds Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and a just-bubbling-under Adam Sandler as the members of struggling “power slop, with an edge” band, The Lone Rangers. Frustrated by their go-nowhere career, they take over an L.A. radio station using some particularly convincing water pistols, holding everyone hostage until they agree to play their demo tape. Unfortunately, the tape is quickly destroyed, the hostage crisis drags on, and inevitably, secrets come out—like how Michael McKean’s slimy station manager just cut a deal to switch to an easy-listening format, or that Fraser’s rock god is really a recovering D&D-playing, booger-eating geek. Meanwhile, their dire circumstances help Joe Mantegna’s DJ character rediscover his rock ’n’ roll soul, and prompts an exploitative A&R guy (Judd Nelson) to come calling, leading to various epiphanies about the importance of not selling out... or something. [Sean O’Neal]


7. The Chase (1994)

Trapping audiences inside a car with Charlie Sheen back when that still sounded like rollicking good fun, 1994’s The Chase offers a more screwball spin on Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express, with a dash of Gen-X media criticism thrown in. After Sheen’s wrongfully accused bank robber takes Kristy Swanson’s spoiled debutante hostage, he commandeers her car and leads a phalanx of police, news copters, and assorted rubberneckers down a long interstate trip to Mexico, all while Sheen and Swanson bicker and bond. As in the other kidnapping comedies of its day, Swanson’s predicament provides an opportunity for self-actualization; she slowly learns to stand up to her domineering billionaire dad and take control of her own life along the way to falling in love with Sheen, that role model of personal responsibility. The Chase gets most of its laughs out of assorted slapstick pile-ups, but it’s also a chance for writer-director Adam Rifkin to satirize Cops-like reality shows and other tabloid news vultures. After all, is it not our own addiction to sensationalism that we are all “chasing,” with a reckless Charlie Sheen at the wheel? [Sean O’Neal]


8. Hostage For A Day (1994)

Remember the last time we were worried about the Russians? If you do, it’s probably not from the obscure 1994 made-for-TV movie Hostage For A Day—and for the sake of John Candy’s legacy, that may be for the best. In Candy’s sole outing as a director, George Wendt plays Warren Kooey, a stereotypically henpecked husband whose wife, Elizabeth (Robin Duke), has just blown through their life savings, prompting him to fake his own kidnapping at the hands of Russian terrorists. Warren’s half-baked plan is to abscond to Alaska with his own ransom money and track down an old girlfriend, but it gets even more complicated when actual Russians—one of them played by Candy himself—show up to take him hostage for real. Hostage For A Day was released just a month after Candy’s death, which adds an unexpectedly melancholy layer to this otherwise-standard zany kidnapping farce (though at least he didn’t have to read the reviews). [Katie Rife]


9. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)

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Danny Boyle followed up the smash success of Trainspotting with 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary, a rom-com caper that was seemingly convinced it could do anything: musical interludes, claymation, Tarantino-style violence, propulsive late-’90s electronica interludes, and so on. Boyle’s frequent muse Ewan McGregor plays a down-on-his-luck janitor and aspiring writer who gets dumped, then has his job replaced by a robot. Cameron Diaz—here in her post-Mask, pre-Something About Mary heyday—co-stars as the spoiled, possibly sociopathic daughter of McGregor’s former boss. What happens next is a tale as old as time, as McGregor decides to kidnap Diaz, only for her to escape, then return so that the two of them can pretend to hold her hostage. At one point, the budding couple even write a letter in her blood, demanding more money. Oh, and there’s also a supernatural framework, in which a pair of angels act as God’s cops, tasked with making sure certain people fall in love. There’s a lot going on here, in other words, but at heart it’s just your simple, everyday, boy-kidnaps-girl romance. [Clayton Purdom]


10. Excess Baggage (1997)

Poor little rich girl Emily Hope: All she wants is her father’s attention. When actual arson doesn’t work, the self-centered debutante—played by Alicia Silverstone, in the first film released by her own production company, and the second abduction-based romantic comedy of 1997—escalates to fake kidnapping, handcuffing and stashing herself in the trunk of her own BMW. Unfortunately, her scam becomes all too real when car thief Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) unintentionally nabs her as well, saddling him with a hostage he doesn’t want and who also won’t leave. Vincent is the rare principled car thief with a strict code of honor, which is supposed to make their budding romance more palatable. Meanwhile, it’s made clear that he’s really her hostage, forced into going along with her criminal schemes because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Director Marco Brambilla isn’t able to wring much screwball comedy out of this boilerplate premise, even with Christopher Walken showing up as Silverstone’s uncle. But the box-office failure of Excess Baggage could also be attributed to the fact that ’90s audiences were pretty surfeited on comedies about spoiled socialites falling for their captors by that point. [Danette Chavez]


11. Serious Moonlight (2009)

Actress Adrienne Shelly wrote the screenplay for Serious Moonlight, and after she was murdered in 2006, Shelly’s Waitress costar Cheryl Hines picked up the baton and made it her feature directing debut. It’s difficult to say whether Hines’ version reflected Shelly’s intentions; maybe, in Shelly’s hands, it would have been slightly more nuanced. But the Serious Moonlight that exists is a bitter, shrilly zany farce, starring Meg Ryan as a woman who refuses to accept that her husband (Timothy Hutton) is leaving her for another woman, so she knocks him unconscious, duct tapes him to a toilet, then refuses to let him go until he falls back in love with her—explicitly saying she’s relying on Stockholm syndrome to make him come back around. It’s a surefire strategy for rekindling the flames of your romance, then suffocating on the smoke and ash. And it’s a scenario that the film plays for laughs that are mostly just uncomfortable, even beyond the whole “abduction” thing. [Sean O’Neal]


12. Ruthless People (1986)

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What turns a hostage situation into a collaboration? A common enemy. In the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker comedy Ruthless People, that enemy is Danny DeVito, who plays a debased businessman and cheating husband who’s plotting to kill his long-suffering wife (Bette Midler) and take her inheritance. So he’s thrilled when a suburban couple he swindled (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater, peak ’80s) seemingly take care of it for him, kidnapping his wife and threatening to kill her if he doesn’t pay up. Over time, hostage and unusually gracious hostage-takers bond, realizing they’re more powerful as allies. They soon team up to bilk DeVito out of everything he’s worth, and deliver the comeuppance he so richly deserves. [Kyle Ryan]


13. House Arrest (1996)

When it comes to antisocial behavior from kids with negligent parents, the 1996 comedy House Arrest falls somewhere between the well-meaning pranks of The Parent Trap and the homicidal intent of Home Alone. Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollak star as self-absorbed baby boomers whose separation spurs their kids Grover (Kyle Howard) and Stacy (Amy Sakasitz) to lure them into the family basement, then nail the door shut and refuse to release them until they work it out. Grover and Stacy then invite all the neighborhood kids to lock their own troublesome parents in the basement as well, trapping the imprisoned adults in a never-ending group therapy session while the kids run wild upstairs. In the end, everyone works out their issues and embarks on second honeymoons and the like. Meanwhile, every kid watching from their own broken home learns that all they needed to do to keep Mom and Dad together was commit a little felony. [Katie Rife]


14. Celtic Pride (1996)

The year 1996 saw the release of not one, but two major motion pictures in which professional athletes are harassed and abused by deranged fans, their tones distinguished by their respective talent. In The Fan, Robert De Niro stalks a baseball slugger played by Wesley Snipes—that’s the serious one. Meanwhile, Celtic Pride casts Damon Wayans as Utah Jazz star Lewis Scott, who’s kidnapped by Boston Celtics fans Jimmy Flaherty (Dan Aykroyd) and Mike O’Hara (Daniel Stern) before Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Celtic Pride is also marked as a comedy by the names on its script—a mid-Larry Sanders Show Judd Apatow and then-Saturday Night Live cast member Colin Quinn—who pose thematic questions about what athletes truly owe the people who root for them, while also gingerly skirting the dicey prospect of two white Massholes abducting a wealthy black man. (To its credit, the film lampshades that subtext early on: “Is this racism? A backlash from the O.J. Simpson verdict?” Wayans asks.) Amid all the comedic gunplay, duct-taped wrists, and matching of wits that ensues, Lewis finally persuades Jimmy and Mike to re-prioritize their lives, while Jimmy and Mike convince Lewis to pass the ball every now and then, just in time for the big game. The coda then shows Jimmy and Mike breaking in to kidnap Deion Sanders, those incorrigible scamps. [Erik Adams]


15. Treehouse Hostage (1999)

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In one of his final on-screen roles, Jim Varney reprised his Ernest character in slapstick spirit—if not in name—for this rather dismal Disney Channel movie, which finds him playing a counterfeiter named Carl who’s on the lam after a prison break. After Carl holes up in the backyard treehouse of Timmy (Joey Zimmerman), the preteen troublemaker and his friends, all with horrible bowl haircuts, decide to hold him hostage so he can be the surprise guest for their “current events” project. Naturally, holding a grown man against his will proves to be more complicated than they ever expected. Painful hijinks ensue, which are complicated even further when it turns out their school principal is also involved in Carl’s racket. In the end, Carl’s name is cleared, the real bad guys are put in jail, Timmy becomes a school hero, and everyone just kind of overlooks the various levels of criminal endangerment involved—much like we’ll just overlook this one in Varney’s filmography. [Gwen Ihnat]


16. Malibu’s Most Wanted (2003)

In the surefire comic mishmash of abduction and minstrel-show-level racial caricatures, Malibu’s Most Wanted stars Jamie Kennedy as “B-Rad,” the son of a California gubernatorial candidate (Ryan O’Neal) who’s locked in a tight race, which isn’t helped by B-Rad’s psychiatrist-diagnosed case of severe “gangstaphrenia.” Fed up, his father’s campaign manager hires two black actors to pose as hardcore thugs and kidnap B-Rad, taking him on a tour of a “true” gangsta’s lifestyle—robbing a convenience store, participating in a rap battle, uh, seeing a horror movie—in order to scare B-Rad into embracing his whiteness. But after their whole crew is taken hostage by a real gangster, leading to an ever-escalating war of gunfire and posturing, the film ends with everyone finally embracing B-Rad for the regressive stereotype that he is. Meanwhile, Malibu’s Most Wanted simultaneously holds its audience hostage, forcing them to sit through Kennedy’s endless mining of “hip-hop” catchphrases like “Don’t be hatin’!” [Alex McLevy]


17. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

It counts as priceless irony that Alan Partridge, the vain alter ego of comedian Steve Coogan, will never know how successful he is. Introduced on the 1991 BBC news-radio spoof On The Hour, the clueless media personality has spent nearly every project he’s headlined yearning for a better career, tragically unaware that the man playing him has meanwhile built a small multimedia empire of TV series, DVD specials, fundraisers, and fake autobiographies around the character. In 2013, Partridge finally made his fledgling leap to the big screen with Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (released in the States as just Alan Partridge), which inserts him into a tense standoff at the small Norwich radio station where he works. Like most hostage comedies, this dry British cousin to the aforementioned Airheads hinges on a dark gag: that the cravenly fame-obsessed Partridge sees the responsibility of negotiating with the gunman, an aggrieved former colleague played by Colm Meaney, primarily as an opportunity to finally claim the spotlight. As always, the joke is on Alan, in more ways than one, but being “the face of the siege” does allow him to be the hero he’s always wanted to be. (Now imagine how excited he’d be to see his face on a movie poster.) [A.A. Dowd]