Hollywood tends to avoid dark humor, because they’re putting a lot of money into these movies and they want them to sell to a wide audience, and not everyone’s sense of humor is a dark one. But to people who do enjoy devilishly dark humor, the lame, watered down, harmless comedy that usually comes out of Hollywood just won’t cut it. They need comedy to made out of murder and kidnapping and disability and incest and all the other things that Hollywood comedies would usually steer clear of. Sometimes we want to just laugh at things we normally wouldn’t laugh at – but Hollywood usually won’t let us! However, sometimes a script will manage to sneak through the cracks and get Hollywood funding that is rammed with dark humor and can be enjoyed by the sick minded individuals among us. Most recently, that order was filled by the Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams comedy thriller Game Night about a couples’ game night where the murder mystery game goes terribly wrong and just might involve real life criminals. Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Game Night has now entered a lexicon of dark comedy movies that must be seen. Here are all 10 of the greatest dark comedies that you must check out!
10. Horrible Bosses
Back in the summer of 2011, Bridesmaids was a tough act to follow up for the year’s slate of comedy movies, but Horrible Bosses was up to the task. With a smart take on the Strangers on a Train concept in which three friends (played hilariously by the fantastic trio of Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) agree to kill each other’s bosses. The dialogue and the gags are all razor sharp and hysterical. Some of the jokes in the movie have been accused of being offensive, but dammit, that’s the point of black comedy! Kevin Spacey is a touchy subject right now, but you can’t deny that the performance he gives in Horrible Bosses as an infuriating self-serving office superior is brilliant, as are the performances of the other titular bosses: Jennifer Aniston, whose sexual harassment of Day’s character is even more topical now in the days of the #TimesUp movement, and Colin Farrell, who just goes all out insane as Sudeikis’ abusive cokehead manager. Horrible Bosses is a dark comedy through and through, and that’s what makes it so incredible. By not sweetening or dramatizing or sentimentalizing anything, the movie remained pitch black throughout and marked itself as a devilishly dark comedy to be reckoned with.
9. The King of Comedy
If recent movies like Dirty Grandpa and Little Fockers have shown us anything, it’s that Robert De Niro has lost every single comedic fiber of his being. Everything that we saw in Midnight Run and Meet the Parents and Analyze This that made us laugh is now gone. It’s a shame, because he once gave us one of the greatest dark comedy movies of all time in The King of Comedy. It was a collaboration with his good friend Martin Scorsese and it’s kind of like if Taxi Driver was funnier and if Travis Bickle was an optimist rather than a pessimist. The main character in The King of Comedy, Rupert Pupkin, is an aspiring standup comedian who is so delusional that he sits in his mother’s basement and has imaginary dinners with famed comic Jerry Langford (played beautifully by the late, great Jerry Lewis) and sits down for an interview with a cardboard cut-out of Liza Minnelli. He has dreams of being a star and he’ll stop at nothing to get there – even if it means kidnapping the star of a TV show and holding the network to ransom in order to get some airtime for his material. It’s dark, but it’s a hell of a watch.
8. American Beauty
Directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball, the man who would later give us Six Feet Under on HBO, American Beauty is a darkly hilarious and powerful satire of married life in suburbia. It sees a husband and wife – played fantastically by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening – each going through a midlife crisis at the same time. For the husband, Lester, that means getting a job at a fast food place, trying to get in shape, taking up pot smoking, and becoming infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend. For the wife, Carolyn, it means becoming a gun nut, starting an affair with a business rival, and speaking her mind whenever she feels like it. This movie says everything that every frustrated wife, husband, mother, father, and child has ever wanted to say but kept their mouth shut. Everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your boss, Lester says to his. Everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your spouse or partner, Lester and Carolyn say to each other. And it’s hilarious! Audiences and critics fell in love with American Beauty and its raw honesty. It grossed over $350 million worldwide and won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.
7. Four Lions
In a post-9/11 world, it’s not easy to turn Islamic State terrorism into comedy, but that’s exactly what the great satirist Chris Morris did in 2010 with his movie Four Lions, which stars Riz Ahmed as a budding young terrorist jihadi living in Sheffield of all places who gets together a group of radicals to carry out a bombing attack on the London Marathon. This doesn’t sound like great comedy fodder, but that’s where Chris Morris thrives. He wrote the movie’s provocative screenplay with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the ingenious comic minds behind Peep Show, and it’s utterly hilarious. The intention with the film was to show the “Dad’s Army side to terrorism,” and with that in mind, this movie is a farce. It’s filled with witty banter and ridiculous moments of slapstick, like when Faisal accidentally blows himself up in the middle of a field. This movie is as if the Three Stooges plotted a terrorist attack. But it’s not disrespectful, because the beautiful thing about the script is that it humanizes both sides of the radical fence. This level of verisimilitude was achieved by Morris interviewing all kinds of experts during his three years of research: the police, the feds, imams, unradicalized Muslims – everyone.
6. In Bruges
This darkly comic little crime movie is well on its way to becoming a cult classic. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who recently became an Oscar nominee for his film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, In Bruges is the story of two Irish hitmen who are hiding out in the Belgian city of Bruges, waiting for the heat to die down after a hit gone wrong. The central trio of Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes make this movie truly unmissable. Gleeson plays the calm and collected voice of reason, while Farrell is hysterically funny as the brash, loud-mouthed wild card, and Fiennes’ foul-mouthed mob boss is one of the most ingenious creations in the history of cinema. Like a violent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, In Bruges brings in various different plot elements that seem random and scattershot – the dwarf who takes horse tranquilizer, the Canadians etc. – and ties them all together in the big payoff at the end. It’s exactly like Curb Your Enthusiasm, except it’s set in Europe and it’s drenched in blood. This movie is genuinely one of the funniest ever made – even after it’s over, you’ll be laughing at it for hours. Every now and then, you’ll remember a funny part from it and chuckle to yourself. That’s the kind of movie it is.
The Hollywood film industry and the vanity of actors is ripe for satire, but it’s been done a million times. How do you find a new take on it? Well, if you’re Alejandro González Iñárritu, you edit an entire feature length movie to look like it was done in one take, you lay down a soundtrack of jazz drums over the whole thing, you cast a boatload of hugely talented actors, and you make it super dark. Birdman is the story of a washed up actor named Riggan Thomson who used to play a hugely popular superhero in movies and has since been forgotten about and is in dire need of a comeback. Already, this is a meta premise, since Riggan is played by former Batman actor Michael Keaton, who was forgotten about after hanging up the Caped Crusader’s cowl and desperately needed a comeback. Well, he got that comeback in the form of this truly brilliant dark comedy. Birdman swept the Academy Awards that year – which is unusual for an overtly comedic film – winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Frankly, if we’re being perfectly honest here, Keaton should’ve won Best Actor, too. He gave the best performance of the year as Riggan, but since the Academy is all political and everything, Eddie Redmayne won for being the new kid on the block who played a famous real life icon in a biopic. It’s all political. Keaton was the best that year.
4. Dr. Strangelove
Generally when directors who are known for drama movies attempt a comedy movie, it goes very poorly. When Martin Scorsese tried to make a Superbad-style raunchy romp, it was called After Hours and it failed miserably. The key is to go for black comedy. All of the clout and the serious themes and the relevance of a drama, but it’s also hilarious. When Scorsese went into dark comedy with his ominous showbiz satire The King of Comedy, he succeeded admirably. The same goes for Stanley Kubrick, who responded to the Cold War and the fears of nuclear annihilation by laughing at it. He made a movie that captures the paranoia of the 1960s and the tyrannical megalomania of the United States military and the impending sense of doom that was brought on by the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he also made it delightfully silly with Monty Python-esque dialogue like, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!” A lot of the humor in Dr. Strangelove is helped along by the incomparable Peter Sellers, who plays damn near every character in the movie and nails every single one. The accents, the mannerisms, the body language – they’re all very distinctive characters, and they’re all hilarious! Dr. Strangelove is like Austin Powers, but with sociopolitical relevance. It’s brilliant!
3. Deconstructing Harry
This may not be Woody Allen’s finest work, but it is his darkest. There’s a scene where a teenage boy orders a prostitute, a scene involving the Devil, a scene in which Woody’s character kidnaps his own son – it’s a very, very dark movie. It’s the story of Harry Block, a writer who has found success on the page by translating his most intimate personal experiences into stories, but his real life has suffered because of this, as his thinly veiled writing has exposed infidelities and true colors. So, really, the movie is a reflection on writers and how their writing affects their social lives, and it’s great. It’s a brilliant character study. There’s a hell of a cast in it, too: Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Demi Moore, Tobey Maguire, Elisabeth Shue, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban – it’s rammed up the wazoo with brilliantly talented actors from all walks of the cinematic spectrum. It’s also filled with beautiful darkly comic moments, and it’s terrific filmmaking, drawing on such influences as Fellini and Bergman. Everyone has their own favorite Woody Allen movie, since he’s made dozens of movies in a variety of different styles and sensibilities, but if your sensibility is a dark one, this will almost definitely be your favorite entry on his filmography.
Frances McDormand may have just won an Oscar for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but it wasn’t her first performance in a black comedy movie to earn her an Academy Award. That would be Fargo, the Coen brothers’ slick comedy thriller. This movie’s tone and style are so unique and brilliant that FX made a TV show out of it that’s just as darkly comic and just as critically acclaimed as the original. But the greatest incarnation of Fargo will always be the original movie, which tells the story of a down-on-his-luck salesman who hires two guys to kidnap his wife and hold his rich father-in-law to ransom for her. As one might expect, things do not exactly go to plan. Cut homicides, shootings, double crosses, betrayals, revenge plots – well, you get the picture. Pretty much anything that can go wrong does go wrong – and no matter how gruesome it gets, it’s always played for laughs! Fargo has been named one of the 100 greatest films in American history by the AFI and Roger Ebert wrote in his initial review that it was “one of the best films I’ve ever seen,” and added that “films like Fargo are why I love the movies,” which is certainly some high praise!
1. Game Night
There’s a lot to love in the new movie Game Night. It’s from the same directors who rebooted the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise a couple of years ago, and that movie was hilarious – especially its dark moments, like Ed Helms accidentally coming off as a pedophile by the motel pool and Charlie Day’s suicidal rafting instructor. Clearly, these guys know how to make you laugh at the things that you’re not supposed to. With Game Night, they went all out. They make you laugh at kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking, gun violence, underground fight clubs, infidelity, assault – everything you’re not supposed to laugh at. It is also helped along by a fantastic cast. Jason Bateman is always reliable for big laughs, especially when the material is dark (see: Horrible Bosses, Extract, The Ex, Arrested Development) and kudos to the directors for allowing Rachel McAdams to be more than just the lame, nagging wife that women in comedy movies are often pigeonholed to be – McAdams racks up some of the biggest yuks in the movie, and she’s also a gun-toting badass who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. But it’s Jesse Plemons who steals the show as the creepy neighbor Gary. He kills with his deadpan delivery of every single line. After this and the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister,” Plemons may now be typecast as a creep, but he plays the character perfectly.