Sometimes, the funniest things we come across are things we shouldn’t necessarily be laughing at. Maybe we’re laughing, deep down, at the absurdity of a moment or idea, or the outrageousness of a situation that we simply cannot believe. But that’s why movies that either incorporate or fully embrace dark comedy can be some of the very best—it allows viewers a way to recognize, understand, and unilaterally agree that some of these things are bad and shouldn’t be funny, but that by golly the filmmaker has figured out a way.
When we recognize that the people presenting jokes to us are, in fact, in on the joke, the entire context changes. Rather than feeling obligated to condemn behavior that is unacceptable, we can recognize the outlandishness of the actions, behaviors, or happenings, and laugh at them.
Some instances of dark humor are naturally going to go further than others. For example, it’s fair to argue that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character is dark comedy at its core; this character uses an audience that knows he’s not sincere to expose a number of darknesses in the world. Other examples could get more violent, like someone “accidentally” getting shot in the face in a crime movie, or someone removing their belt to tie a noose only for their pants to fall to the ground. There are different layers and different levels to dark comedy, but in any manner, you’re going to need some thick skin to appreciate it.
And for that matter, we’ve done the research. Sure, romantic comedies can be nice and sometimes funny, and there are many other subgenres you can just watch and feel good about. But for the purposes of this list, we’re looking at comedy that gets dark. Comedy that makes light of the worst of humanity—and makes viewers’ lives better for the whole laughing thing.
Ready or Not (2019)
Ready or Not is the perfect movie to kick off this list. This story of a young woman (Samara Weaving) marrying into a rich, legacy family takes a stunning twist early and never looks back. And if you don’t know where the story goes, well, we don’t want to be the ones to tell you—but things get bloody and violent and we really scrape at human depravity. The movie sits somewhere in between horror and thriller, but throughout it remains a sharp, biting satire of class differences, and keeps audiences laughing through every twisted and dark turn.
Get Out (2017)
Obviously, Jordan Peele—the Academy Award-winning horror filmmaker behind both Get Out and Us—comes from a comedy background, having been a part of the cast of MadTV and leading his own comedy series in Key & Peele. Which makes sense when you watch his first movie, Get Out. Get Out is only Get Out because it’s made by someone who knows how to so perfectly line moments of humor, levity, and satire into its otherwise chilling social thriller premise. You remember the teacup scene, and some of the thrilling climactic moments, but is it the same movie without laughing at Bradley Whitford’s Dean boasting how he would’ve voted for Obama for a third time if he could?
Midsommar is one of the most disturbing movies you’ll ever see—and also one of the brightest, aesthetically, on the list. A couple moments of brutal, can’t-get-this-out-of-your-head violence (and Florence Pugh’s mostly horrified performance) are balanced by some great comedic moments from Jack Reynor and Will Poulter as fairly undeniable assholes throughout the film.
Fargo is another perfect dark comedy for this list, and might just be the crown jewel of the sprawling catalogue of films belonging to writer/director duo Joel and Ethan Coen. The brothers have gotten acclaim throughout their career, but no movie better captures their style than this polite midwestern crime story that constantly steps the line between distrubing and dryly hilarious. It’s a movie so specifically in its own lane that its now inspired four seasons of similarly-themed television—and for good reason. It’s a modern classic.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Sorry to Bother You is the debut film from Boots Riley, who was previously best known for his Oakland-based hip-hop group The Coup and social activism. But he proved to be a natural with this debut satire that paints working people against its biggest villain: capitalism. LaKeith Stanfield plays Cassius, a Black man who rises through the ranks of his telemarketing firm when he realizes he can make more sales using his “white” voice. Armie Hammer is a standout as the Bezos-esque villain.
The movie has way more twists than you would ever expect, some incredible visual choices throughout, and a jam-filled soundtrack. Not only one of the best dark comedies, but one of the best movies of the 2010s in general.
World’s Greatest Dad (2008)
This underrated and underseen 2008 Robin Williams flick finds him as a dad with a stressed relationship with his son (Daryl Sabara from Spy Kids)—until he discovers something awful, and manipulates it. This movie takes things to a very dark place, and Williams delivers what might have been his most understated but heartbreaking performances.
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
You can probably classify most of Quentin Tarantino’s movies as at least including elements of dark comedy, but Inglorious Basterds definitely goes the furthest with it. Take every WWII story you’ve heard, and add a bit of an edge (aided by great performances from Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, and Brad Pitt, among others), and you’ve got a historical story without a real genre set against that very familiar WWII backdrop.
Our heroes, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, die almost instantly in this Tim Burton bizarro film that features posession, monsters, demons, and song and dance numbers. If you wanted the lightest dark comedy on the list, it’s certainly Beetlejuice, which might be the only feel-good movie about dying ever made.
The character of Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a sort of demonic spirit with a wicked sense of humor, is iconic and the namesake of the movie—but he only appears for a handful of scenes. (Which is a testament to how great Michael Keaton’s performance was.)
Death to Smoochy (2002)
Another movie where Robin Williams takes a swing into the dark (he was obviously more than just the guy from Mrs. Doubtfire and Flubber), Death to Smoochy tells the story of a children’s TV host (Williams) who loses his job following a scandal and is replaced by a younger and more dynamic replacement (Edward Norton as a Barney-esque purple rhino). A dark crime story that Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya may just have been inspired by for his upcoming “dark” Barney movie?
Knives Out (2019)
Knives Out is far from the darkest movie on the list, but it does sprinkle a good bit of humor in, as most Rian Johnson movies do. The perfect way to describe Knives Out would probably be as a darkly comedic whodunnit—most of the characters here are horrible people, and their behavior is played in a Succession-esque manor: for laughs.
Before James Gunn was the Guardians of the Galaxy guy or the man DC is trusting with The Suicide Squad, he made some edgy, gritty movies. One of them was 2011’s Super, which sort of has the feeling of a spiritual prequel to something like The Boys. A violent, vulgar revenge fantasy in the shape of a superhero crime thriller, Super tells a compelling story with some dark laughs—and legitimate shocks—along the way.
Observe and Report (2009)
This movie has often been confused with Paul Blart: Mall Cop—both are about mall security guards, came out right around the same time, and have that same sort of visual look—but the movies are nothing alike. Observe and Report features one of Seth Rogen’s best performances, as a mentally ill and at times morally questionable man who we see hungry for power in his world—which just happens to be a local suburban shopping mall. There are some parts of this movie that you’d imagine Rogen and company might wish they could have back, but from top to bottom this is an entertaining, funny movie that’s just depraved and dark enough to please fans of this list.
Assassination Nation (2018)
Imagine Euphoria—but the town the high school is set in devolves into anarchy. That’s basically the plot of Assassination Nation, which was directed by Sam Levinson (who created Euphoria). The cast includes a number of familiar names, including Bella Thorne, Joel McHale, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Bill Skarsgård (among others), and it’s nearly as bonkers as Euphoria itself. A great soundtrack coupled with some hyper-stylized visuals make this a great one for anyone seeking a little bit of madness.
American Psycho (2000)
The movie that made Christian Bale as big a star as he remains today, American Psycho to many might be the dark comedy. Equal parts brutally violent and dryly hilarious, Patrick Bateman is one of the most memorable characters of the century for a reason. Remember, you could have watched this movie, but you were stuck returning videotapes.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, which tells a coming-of-age story in an almost Mel Brooks manner of a young Hitler superfan (he’s 10 years old living in Nazi Germany, and even continually talks with an imaginary Hitler friend (played by Waititi)) who eventually finds a Jewish girl living in his home. That description sounds crude and risque, and, well, with this list that comes with the territory. But Jojo Rabbit is a sweet movie that tells a movie with a whole lot of heart—and you’ll be laughing and crying and laughing all along the way.
This Is The End (2013)
This Is The End might be the funniest movie on the list, and it’s certainly the most original. Seth Rogen and his usual gang of friends—Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill—are hanging out a massive, celebrity-filled party at James Franco’s house, and then the apocalypse quite literally happens. How would a bunch of rich celebs survive the end of the world? Find out in This is the End, and keep an eye out for Michael Cera’s incredible portrayal of “Michael Cera.”
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Burn After Reading (2008)
Another entry from The Coen Brothers, who just know how to do this kind of thing. Burn After Reading is similar to Fargo in the fact that its telling a small-time, screwball crime-adjacent story; this one also ties in a thread about inept government agency screw-ups. Featuring Frances McDormand, George Clooney, John Malkovich, and one of the most entertaining Brad Pitt performances of all time.
Heathers is a perfect pick for this list in that it’s a teen comedy and a dark thriller rolled into one package. ’80s icons Winona Ryder and Christian Slater give some of their best work here as an outsider-in-nature girl who doesn’t feel comfortable being friends with the popular clique, and the new kid sociopath who she teams up with to bust loose.
Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Do you like slasher movies? Those are basically black comedy in and of themselves, but Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon takes things a step further. The movie is basically a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary focusing on a man’s desire to become the next Jason or Freddy. Freddy himself, Robert Englund, is here to grant the movie both his approval and as a fun little meta-joke.
Fight Club (1999)
Director David Fincher’s masterful adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name is a work of blunt, brutal violence, and commentary on the modern (well, 1999’s) state of self and masculinity. The movie has a dry, dark snark throughout, and perhaps the coolest performance of Brad Pitt’s career (definitely the coolest look).
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove was ahead of its time—and that’s saying a lot, since it was considered an instant classic at the time, too. The movie satirizes the back and forth and fears of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union; fears no one had any idea would still feel so real nearly 60 years later. Peter Sellers plays three roles, and George C. Scott plays the Air Force’s Chief of Staff.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction was Quentin Tarantino’s second film (after Reservoir Dogs), but it was his major breakthrough. Told through a series of non-linear but connecting vignettes, the movie is a thrilling crime story that will have your jaw dropped one moment and find you laughing at a funny retort or something so outrageously absurd the next. One of the great movies of all time for balancing just about anyone could want in a movie in one package.
The Other Guys (2010)
Things never get too dark with a Will Ferrell comedy, but The Other Guys is basically half action movie and half high brow goofball comedy (it’s directed by Adam McKay, who also did Anchorman and Talladega Nights before recently moving to movies like The Big Short and VICE). Ferrell and co-star Mark Wahlberg bounce off each other perefectly, and bother are up to the challenge of delivering a funny like even when things are looking grim in the movie’s mid-recession white collar crime scheme.
Bedazzled is far from a cinema event, but this 2000 comedy with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley (a remake of a 1967 film) is a nice comedy with heart—that just happens to center on a naive guy making a deal with the literal devil. Short and goofy, this is a fun one to put on if you feel like smoothing your brain out and remembering that Brendan Fraser was a movie star who could do comedy, action, drama, and whatever he really wanted. What an underrated legend.
This Academy Award winner for Best Picture is…well, it’s one of the best movies you’ll ever see, and that’s not an exaggeration. It takes away from Parasite to know literally anything about it before watching it; so we’ll just say this is a movie about class differences, and within that has a slice of just about every genre we’ve been discussing, and is stunningly gorgeous to look at. Bong Joon-Ho hive forever.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
The Cabin In The Woods is a delightfully meta take on horror films (specifically slashers like the Friday the 13th series) that has some fantastic twists and a really great cast, including Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth. The more horror movies you’ve seen, and the more familiar with the genre you are, the more you’ll enjoy The Cabin in the Woods.
Horrible Bosses (2011)
One of the most beloved comedies of the 2010s is Horrible Bosses, which finds three very funny actors who, at the time were best known for their TV roles in Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jason Sudeikis (SNL) and Charlie Day (Always Sunny landing a true breakthrough comedy. The three guys play characters all equally fed up with their abusive or manipulative bosses—and decide to do something about it, that something being…uh, killing them.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The ‘mockumentary’ has become a fairly normalized format for both TV and movies, but this Rob Reiner feature film about a very dumb but fairly famous fictional rock band was the OG. Not that dark, but the movie still satirizes dark points in culture and makes fun of what rock bands want and what fans want to see. One of comedy’s all-time classics.
Groundhog Day (1993)
You know the concept: a guy has a crappy day. And then has that same crappy day again. And again. And again. And…you get the point. The time loop film has been done a few times (most recently in 2020’s Palm Springs), and it always gets into pretty heavy ideas of mortality and passage of time—but none are better than Groundhog Day, which is humorous, heartfelt, and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s a movie that’s got to be near the top of any Bill Murray fan’s list.
Spring Breakers (2013)
Spring Breakers is certainly not for everyone, but it’s certainly nice to look at. A group of co-eds (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) party hard, and eventually meet a scumbag arms dealer named Alien (one of the most insane James Franco characters you’ll ever see). The movie is light on plot and heavy on aura that makes you feel like you took a few of the same substances the characters on-screen took. Mesmerizing movie.
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Everyone loves Aubrey Plaza, mostly from her work on Parks and Recreation, but she’s got some really underrated film work that proves her talent and unique charisma is really for real. Ingrid Goes West is a great commentary on social media and self confidence; Plaza stars as a quasi-stalker who builds her life around an influencer (Elizabeth Olsen) who she runs into.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
One of the biggest underdog hits of the 2000s was Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that pivots between adorable, vulgar, and quite dark. A story about a family (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, and Alan Arkin!!!!) driving its young daughter in a VW van to a deranged pageant for children turns into a fairly flawless dark comedy jam.
You’re Next (2013)
You’re Next is a brutal slasher film that doesn’t take itself seriously even in the slightest. Not to say that it’s a Scary Movie-esque parody, because it’s not—it’s just a good old fashioned thriller where the body count piles high and if you don’t take it too seriously it’s a sharp time that you’ll find yourself both laughing and and terrified of.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Will Ferrell is best known for his work in zany comedies like Anchorman, Elf, and Step Brothers (and for good measure, because those movies are incredible). But anyone curious if he can stretch his range a bit can have that question answered with Stranger Than Fiction, which finds Ferrell playing an uninteresting IRS agent named Harold Crick who’s life becomes a lot more interesting when he hears a voice (Emma Thompson) narrating his life like its a book.
The movie is funny, engaging, and sad at all the right times, and features both a brilliant cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and others join Ferrell and Thompson) and great music (most of which is by Spoon, one of the best alternative bands in the business).
The Favourite (2018)
The Favourite is a royal British story that even appeals to people who aren’t fans of the genre. The story of two cousins (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) and their competition to become the favorite aide to an ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman in an Academy Award-winning performance). The movie is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and will have you laughing and compelled throughout.
Risky Business (1983)
If you’ve only ever seen Risky Business‘ iconic scene where Tom Cruise does a no pants dance to a Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band song, you’d probably think that Risky Business is an all-fun light-hearted romp. It’s not! Risky Business is actually closer to a darkly comedic thriller, with Cruise giving one of his earlier star-making performances (as a kid who befriends a sex worker and her friends/colleagues) and The Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano showing up as a rather menacing pimp who’s on Cruise’s character’s tail. Bonus: one of the best scores of the ’80s. Synth heaven!
The Girl Next Door (2004)
The Girl Next Door is kind of a spiritual sequel to Risky Business. A kid (Emile Hirsch) develops a crush on his next door neighbor (Elisha Cuthbert), who turns out to be a pornographic movie actress. Part teen comedy and part thriller (with Timothy Olyphant as the villain!) with a great soundtrack, and this is a movie well worth your time.
Bad Santa (2003)
The title of this modern holiday classic basically explains it all: Billy Bob Thornton plays an alcoholic con man who makes end’s meat by dressing up as Santa and running schemes with his cohort (who, naturally, dresses as an elf). Vulgar, funny, and even a little heartwarming, this a movie that’s an end-of-year staple, but would be a fun watch whenever you cross its path.
In Bruges (2012)
This Colin Farrell/Brendan Gleeson story has rightfully become a cult favorite. The story of two hitmen unwinding in Belgium following a messed up hit and awaiting further instruction sounds basic—but it’s one of the most fun movies on the list.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
The movie that really launched the latest act of Michael Keaton’s career finds Keaton (a former Batman) playing an actor named Riggan Thompson best known for playing a superhero (here called Birdman). The movie is all shot in a series of edits that make it look like the entire film was one long, continuous shot; It’s got a great cast (Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis join Keaton) and won Best Director (For Alejandro G. Inarritu) and Best Picture at the Oscars.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Being John Malkovich is one of the most uniquely-scripted movies you’ll ever see, and, like most of Charlie Kaufman’s best work, feels a natural fit for any list of best dark comedies. The story here centers on an aspiring puppeteer (John Cusack) who finds a portal into the mind of famous actor John Malkovich (played by John Malkovich), and shares that secret with his work crush (Catherine Keener) and neglected wife (Cameron Diaz). The movie is a piece of genius that feels just as sharp now as it did in 1999.
Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is the perhaps-even-more-meta Adaptation, which features Nicolas Cage as both Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald Kaufman (who…is fictional). It’s one of the most interestingly written stories ever about writing, self-confidence, and self-loathing.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
The film adaptation of the long-running adult animation series South Park is the adeptly-named Bigger, Longer, Uncut, which at the time was one of the most vulgar films of all time and remains so to this day. Completely lewd and offensive throughout, the movie is actually a musical—with some really great songs—and a story that has as much heart as it does over-the-top humor. One of the greats of the genre.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
This star-studded (Aaron Eckhart, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, William H. Macy, JK Simmons) satire finds Eckhart in a great performance as a cold, dry, lobbyist speaking on behalf of Big Tobacco. This was the feature debut of Jason Reitman, who went on to make some of the best movies of the past couple decades (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult).
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Maybe the funniest movie on this entire list is Wet Hot American Summer, which came out to mixed/negative reviews but has since become a universally-beloved comedy/absurdism classic. An absolutely stacked cast (Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poheler, among others) are all operating at their peak comedic powers in this off-the-wall story of the last day at a sleepaway camp.
The first Borat made waves in the world, as Sacha Baron Cohen’s titular character filmed, and convinced people they were really in a low-grade Eastern-European documentary. By fully-committing to his ignorant and often offensive character, Cohen exposed some of his subjects at times to rightful humiliation, and at other times just made jokes and bits that everyone was in on. Honestly, can anyone watch Borat and ever think of wrestling the same?
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
A sequel to Borat came at exactly the right time, 14 years later. Baron Cohen is up to his old tricks, this time joined by his daughter (newcomer Maria Bakalava) for a story that’s just as vulgar and hilarious—but touching on up-to-date subjects, like Donald Trump and COVID-19—as the original.
A Simple Favor (2018)
A Simple Favor has an interesting tone. In some ways, it’s like if Gone Girl and Desperate Housewives had a baby—a sort of compelling mystery with a bit of suburbia satire. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are both great, and Henry Golding continues his streak of likable winning performances.
The Cable Guy (1996)
Perhaps the most underrated movie in Jim Carrey’s vast catalogue, The Cable Guy finds the superstar actor as, well, a cable guy who’s just looking to make friends with a regular joe coming off a break-up in Matthew Broderick. Until things start to get weird. The movie is directed by a guy you may have heard of named Ben Stiller, and produced by another guy you may have heard of named Judd Apatow.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
Velvet Buzzsaw is one of the most unique movies on this list in that it’s part slasher, part very funny and very dry art-house satire. Not a super common joining of the genres! Jake Gyllenhaal is great, as is Rene Russo, Daveed Diggs, and the rest of the movie’s very stacked cast.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
This Coen Brothers movie finds Josh Brolin as an old Hollywood fixer investigating a plot that finds a big-time dim-witted movie star played by George Clooney (doing more great work with the Coens) kidnapped and missing. Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and Alden Ehrenreich are part of this very funny movie’s stellar cast.
I, Tonya (2017)
You’d think that I, Tonya was a Fargo-esque movie if you didn’t already know it was a true story. The movie goes in-depth on the story of figure skater Tonya Harding and new exclusive interviews tell the story the only way it could be told (and that’s made abundantly clear by Harding’s New York Times profile that came out almost simultaneously with the film). Perhaps Margot Robbie’s best performance.
Game Night (2018)
The directors behind Horrible Bosses re-teamed with Jason Bateman for Game Night, which might even be funnier and darker than Bosses. Imagine a game night with friends and family that devolves into a full-on immersion in the criminal underworld—without the participants even knowing what they’ve gotten into. Bateman’s co-stars are all top notch, including Kyle Chandler, Rachel McAdams, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, and more.
Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.
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