October 25, 2019

The 106 Best Dark Comedy Movies (& Dark Comedy Writing Tips)

best dark comedy movie writing
Looking to write the next Fargo? Or Young Adult? These tips for creating dark comedies can help. 

The best dark comedy movies of all time make you laugh at some sick and twisted stuff. 

They're incredible entryways into an expanded view on comedy and what comedic writing can do on the page. 

Have you ever laughed at a funeral? Or chuckled at a horrible event? Or maybe you just have a sick sense of humor when it comes to the world. 

Well, it seems like dark comedy, or black comedy, might be right for you. This subgenre of comedy uses disturbing situations or scenarios to tell their complicated stories at human height, often with Coen Bros.-esque results.

Today I wanted to look at the 105 best dark comedy movies and grab five tips that have proven effective in the dark comedy genre. These can help you better shape your stories into movies that more closely resemble those on your DVD shelf. 

Are you ready? 

Let's kill some darlings. 

What is a dark comedy? 

Dark comedy definition

A dark comedy, also known as a black comedy or gallows humor is a genre of comedy incorporating a style that pokes fun at a subject matter that is widely considered taboo. This highlights subjects that are considered serious or painful to discuss within normal society. 

Where did black comedy come from? 

In the 1930s, a theorist named Andre Brenton was analyzing works from Jonathan Swift, particularly A Modest Proposal. Which was a humor-filled piece about ending starvation by eating babies. Breton coined the term for his book Anthology of Black Humor and he credited Jonathan Swift as the originator of black humor and gallows humor. 

What are the 105 best dark comedy movies? 

There are so many great dark comedy movies out there, I wanted to give a non-comprehensive list that just helps you add to your streaming queues. So here's a list of some of the best dark comedy movies that you can use to inspire yourself. 

What are the 105 Best Dark Comedy Movies? 

Here's our list in alphabetical order...

  1. A Clockwork Orange
  2. A Serious Man
  3. Adaptation
  4. After Hours
  5. American Beauty
  6. American Psycho
  7. Arsenic and Old Lace
  8. Bad Santa
  9. Barton Fink
  10. Being There
  11. Bernie
  12. Birdman
  13. Brazil
  14. Burn After Reading
  15. Choke
  16. Cold Pursuit
  17. Death at a Funeral
  18. Death Becomes Her
  19. Death of Stalin
  20. Death to Smoochy
  21. Delicatessen
  22. Doctor Strangelove
  23. Drop Dead Gorgeous
  24. Election
  25. Falling Down
  26. Fargo
  27. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  28. Fight Club
  29. Four Lions
  30. Free Fire
  31. Full Metal Jacket
  32. Game Night
  33. God Bless America
  34. Grosse Point Blank
  35. Happiness
  36. Harold and Maude
  37. Heathers
  38. Hot Fuzz
  39. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  40. I, Tonya
  41. In Bruges
  42. In the Loop
  43. Ingrid Goes West
  44. Jawbreaker
  45. Jennifer's Body
  46. Jo Jo Rabbit
  47. Kick Ass
  48. Killer Joe
  49. Knives Out
  50. Life After Beth
  51. Little Miss Sunshine
  52. Lost in Translation
  53. Mary and Max
  54. MASH
  55. Matchstick Men
  56. Misery
  57. Monty Python’s Holy Grail
  58. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  59. Network
  60. Observe and Report
  61. Office Space
  62. Other People
  63. Pulp Fiction
  64. Raising Arizona
  65. Repo Man
  66. Rules of Attraction
  67. Rushmore
  68. Serial Mom
  69. Seven Psychopaths
  70. Shaun of the Dead
  71. Sightseers
  72. Slither
  73. Snatch
  74. Sorry to Bother You
  75. Stranger Than Fiction
  76. Sunshine Cleaning
  77. Super
  78. Sweeney Todd
  79. Thank You For Smoking
  80. The Babysitter
  81. The Big Lebowski
  82. The Cable Guy
  83. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover
  84. The Foot Fist Way
  85. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  86. The Hosptial
  87. The Informant!
  88. The Lobster
  89. The Nice Guys
  90. The Polka King
  91. The Royal Tennenbaums
  92. The Slums of Beverly Hills
  93. The Truman Show
  94. Three Billboards
  95. Throw Mamma From the Train
  96. To Die For
  97. Tragedy Girls
  98. Trainspotting
  99. True Romance
  100. Uncut Gems
  101. Very Bad Things
  102. Wag the Dog
  103. Welcome to the Dollhouse
  104. What We do in the Shadows
  105. Wolf of Wall Street
  106. World's Greatest Dad

5 Tips for How to Write a Great Dark Comedy Movie

1. Kill the Cat (or Dog)

We joke around talking about the idea of saving the cat or creating a character who is likable. But that notion is (usually) always bullshit. Still, the area where you have the most leeway to lead with an unlikeable character (who is still interesting) would be in dark comedy. 

Characters within a dark comedy can be built out as horrible people. 

Mavis Gary in Young Adult is back in town trying to get a man to cheat on his wife. The guys who are In Bruges are hitmen, one of which shot a child. 

And the people in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are all sociopaths. But we still laugh at them. 

As long as you have a character with clear motivations and some relatable character traits, you can usually get away with making them a total piece of shit. The comedy can come from that and from their actions. 

For example, we love when the protagonist in As Good As It Gets, played by Jack Nicholson, puts a dog in a trash chute. It's funny and despicable. 

2. Juxtaposition

The comedy in dark comedy comes from things we usually hold to be sacred juxtaposed against things we find funny. One of my favorite recent examples of this comes in the form of the Hot Priest in Fleabag Season 2. 

Fleabag's lust for a priest is both funny and disturbing. When you're writing, think of serious topics and try to find the humor in them. 

Like the movie National Lampoon's Vacation does when you find out Clark Griswald has accidentally killed the family dog by dragging it behind his car. 

This is an awful thing. Horrific. But also damn funny. 

3. Death Is Your Friend  

Nothing is more serious than death. It's the official end. So why not use it in comedy? 

Death is the centerpiece for lots of dark comedy. You can use it like in Death at a Funeral, and turn a sad event into a place of hijinks. 

Three Billboards used a rape and murder in a way that allowed for an Oscar-winning movie about a darkly comedic investigation into racism in America. 

The point is, death is your friend. So let people die as much as you can, and find the laughs. Fargo is great at this kind of story. It even puts dead people into wood chippers. Or what about a dark comedy like Defending Your Life? Or The Good Place

They use death and the afterlife as a setting for the story. So lean in to the woodchipper.

4. There's Room to be Weird 

If you haven't figured it out, dark comedy is an excellent place to just be a freaking weirdo. No idea is too weird to inject comedy into it. Think about Life of Brian, which is just the story of Jesus but hilarious. 

Or Full Metal Jacket, which is about the Vietnam war. This is your turn to do anything, so what do you want to do? 

You can do something subtle and close to reality like Zack and Miri Make a Porno or you can be surreal like Dr. Strangelove

All you need is the space to laugh at the weird and reserved. 

5. Let the Tone Guide the Story 

The thing about a black comedy is that it thrives on unique tones. You can do it broadly, it can be close to reality, it can even walk toward drama and all the way to farce. Filmmakers like the Coen brothers are masters of doing it in all possibilities. 

They have wildly farcical pieces like The Ladykillers and play the dark comedy very bleak with Burn After Reading. They're able to work biblically, with A Serious Man, and, finally, they find comedy in violence with Fargo, which we mentioned earlier. Oh, and Blood Simple

All these movies have strikingly different tones but comedy works within them. 

So dare to take any genre and add some dark comedy to it! 

What's next? Writing tips from Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a force of nature. She can write, act, and produce better than most people on this planet. So what lessons can we learn from her? Click for more.      

Your Comment

2 Comments

Buzzard should be on this list

January 7, 2020 at 7:48AM

0
Reply

Love cold pursuit but the best one I like is Death Is Your Friend it was the one I liked the most... Thanks for list

January 7, 2020 at 10:41AM

0
Reply

You mention Dr. Strangelove in the article and embed a clip, but it's not on your list of 105 best dark comedies. An oversight I assume?

January 20, 2020 at 9:09AM

0
Reply