A decade ago, Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids broke new ground for female-led comedies. There had been comedies starring women before Bridesmaids – from 9 to 5 to Working Girl – but they were few and far between. Kristen Wiig’s starring vehicle inspired a wave of female-led comedies with no interest in the male gaze, like Trainwreck, Booksmart, and Feig’s own The Heat and Ghostbusters.
If the Oscar-nominated script for Bridesmaids had been written a couple of decades earlier and a pre-Judd Apatow comedy mogul picked it up in the 1980s, it might’ve starred such legendary performers as Gilda Radner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lily Tomlin.
8 Gilda Radner As Annie
Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo as a starring vehicle for herself. The role of Annie made her a recognizable star across the world and launched her movie career.
Annie is a relatably flawed everywoman who keeps hitting a new rock bottom. Wiig refined her comedic skills on Saturday Night Live, so in the ‘80s, this role could’ve been played by Gilda Radner, one of the seven original SNL cast members.
7 Whoopi Goldberg As Lillian
The role of Annie’s best friend Lillian, the one who’s actually getting married, was played by Wiig’s SNL co-star Maya Rudolph. Rudolph nailed line deliveries like, “Why can’t you be happy for me and then go home and talk about me behind my back like a normal person!?”
Lillian is characterized as a deadpan reactionary figure opposite Annie’s midlife crisis. In the ‘80s, the part could’ve been played by Whoopi Goldberg, whose self-titled one-woman show won her a Grammy and earned her a spot on Broadway throughout the decade.
6 Carol Kane As Rita
Originally played by Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rita has the least romantic view of Lillian’s upcoming wedding, because she’s been married for years and all the passion is gone from her relationship with her husband.
In the ‘80s, Carol Kane was primarily known for appearing in the opening and closing acts of the horror classic When a Stranger Calls, answering the calls from the ominous titular stranger. But she’s mainly a comedic actor, having given kooky turns in Annie Hall, The Princess Bride, an episode of Seinfeld, and more recently in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She could’ve made a hysterically deadpan Rita in an ‘80s production of Bridesmaids.
5 Lily Tomlin As Megan
It would be tough for anybody to replace Melissa McCarthy as Megan in Bridesmaids. The role of Megan earned McCarthy an Academy Award nomination and made her a global movie star overnight. But if anybody could play the role in the ‘80s, it would be Lily Tomlin.
Not only is Tomlin a comedy legend who rose to prominence in the ‘70s with her dry, biting, Grammy-winning standup; she’s also an Oscar nominee herself, thanks to her naturalistic turn in Robert Altman’s ensemble epic Nashville.
4 John Cleese As Officer Rhodes
Annie’s most wholesome and suitable love interest, Officer Rhodes, was originally played by Chris O’Dowd. In the ‘80s, this part could’ve been played by John Cleese, who played a romantic lead opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda.
O’Dowd had become endeared to audiences with his role as Roy in The IT Crowd. Cleese broke away from his Python beginnings and launched a solo career with a similarly iconic sitcom character of his own: Basil Fawlty.
3 Tracey Ullman As Becca
Becca is the newlywed Disney fan played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper who has a much happier view of marriage than Rita (until she opens up that she’s not as happy with her new spouse as she seems). In the ‘80s, this role could’ve been played by iconic sketch performer Tracey Ullman.
Notably, Becca is the youngest of the group. Ullman’s sketch show – the one that launched The Simpsons – shot her to stardom in the late ‘80s when the comedian was still in her 20s.
2 Carol Channing As Judy
Annie’s mother Judy, who attends AA meetings despite never having touched a drop of alcohol, was played hilariously by Jill Clayburgh. Bridesmaids ended up being Clayburgh’s final film appearance, as she passed away in 2010 before the movie’s release.
In the ‘80s, the part could’ve been played by Carol Channing, a legend of stage and screen who received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Muzzy Van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Channing didn’t appear in a single movie in the 1980s – after 1968’s Skidoo, she only ever did cameos or voice roles – but she likely would’ve made an exception if a script as great as Bridesmaids came along.
1 Jane Fonda As Helen
The role of Helen Harris III can’t just be played by a comedic actor; it needs to be played by a dramatic actor with comedic chops. Helen could’ve been one-dimensional and wholly unlikable, but Rose Byrne brought nuance that humanized the character.
Jane Fonda could’ve made a great casting choice for Helen in the ‘80s. She was hilarious in 9 to 5 and Cat Ballou, but also gave universally praised dramatic turns in Klute and Coming Home. She could’ve leaned into the snobbish personality quirks that make Helen hilarious, but also would’ve captured the flaws and insecurities that make her human.
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