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Artists and Models (1955)
Jerry Lewis and his partner, Dean Martin, were regularly cranking out box-office hits by the mid-'50s. But when former Warner Bros. animator-turned-director Frank Tashlin joined the feuding duo, it goosed the odd couple to greater heights: In this antic, ambitious comedy, Lewis plays a nerd with an overactive imagination who gets freaked out by his comic books. Keep an eye out for Shirley MacLaine in her second film.
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Hollywood or Bust (1956)
At this point in their rocky relationship, Martin and Lewis were only speaking to each other when the cameras were rolling (it was their last feature together). You'd never know it, though, watching this wacky road trip/Tinseltown satire which features a huge slobbering Great Dane and a cameo from Euro sex bomb Anita Ekberg.
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The Bellboy (1960)
This is where the brilliant second act of Lewis' career begins. Beginning with this stylish and hilarious flick about a hapless porter at Miami's Fountainebleau hotel, Lewis graduated from overcaffeinated man child (although he still played one on screen) to total filmmaker. Lewis wrote and directed the film in four weeks (he wrote it in eight days), moonlighting each night as the hotel's headlining performer.
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Released just months after The Bellboy, Lewis' riff on the classic fairy tale features him as the naïve, helpless victim of a wicked stepmother and a pair of sadistic brothers. Then a godfather appears and magically turns him from a loser into a lover — a theme he'd return to and perfect in The Nutty Professor three years later.
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The Ladies Man (1961)
Lewis returned to the director's chair for this saucy comedy about a shy young man named Herbert H. Herbert who ends up as the caretaker of a boarding house full of gorgeous young women. The cutaway sets and creative camera work are proof that Lewis was, as the French would later claim, a revolutionary auteur.
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The Errand Boy (1961)
Lewis runs amok in mail room when the financially strapped Paramount Pictures hires him to be an undercover spy at the studio. Not the best of Lewis' classic '60s films, but it holds a special place for anyone who wants a glimpse at the surreal hive of the studio backlot during Tinseltown's golden age.
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The Nutty Professor (1963)
Forget Eddie Murphy's 1996 remake of this Jekyll and Hyde tale, this is the version to see. It's also Lewis' greatest film, hands down. Playing geeky chemistry professor Dr. Julius Kelp, as well as his swinging Casanova alter ego Buddy Love, Lewis gives a tour de force turn. Some say Lewis modeled the Brylcreemed Buddy on the smarmy Dean Martin as a kiss-off.
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The Disorderly Orderly (1964)
This one's pretty straight forward: sight gags in the sanitarium. But what sight gags!
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The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
Shrouded in decades of mystery, this is Jerry Lewis' Rosebud. After all, he'd always maintained that it was his most personal project — so personal it was never released. Over the years, it's taken on the aura of myth. What we do know is this: After burning out on a string of hit comedies in the '60s, Lewis undertook a haunting drama about a famous circus clown (Lewis) who offends Hitler and is sent to Auschwitz, where he makes children laugh so they won't think about their grim fate. Only Lewis knows why the film never saw the light of day... and it looks like he'll take this mystery to the grave.
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The King of Comedy (1982)
Lewis got the comeback he deserved thanks to Martin Scorsese, who cast him as a Johnny Carson-like late-night talk show host kidnapped by a psychotic wanna-be stand-up comedian (Robert De Niro). Lewis shows off his dramatic chops with his portrayal of the hair trigger Jerry Langford — a performance that will go down in history as one of Oscar's biggest snubs.
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Arizona Dream (1993)
A weird but compelling '90s curio from Yugoslavian arthouse director Emir Kusturica, starring Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, and Lewis as Depp's car salesman uncle. The film is so strange that it was buried in a handful of theaters in the States, but for Lewis fans looking to dig a little deeper, this is well worth your time.