The 105 Best Dark Comedy Movies (& Dark Comedy Writing Tips)
Art and Experience: 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…
A Clockwork Orange
A Serious Man
Arsenic and Old Lace
Burn After Reading
Death at a Funeral
Death Becomes Her
Death of Stalin
Death to Smoochy
Drop Dead Gorgeous
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Full Metal Jacket
God Bless America
Grosse Point Blank
Harold and Maude
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
In the Loop
Ingrid Goes West
Jo Jo Rabbit
Life After Beth
Little Miss Sunshine
Lost in Translation
Mary and Max
Monty Python’s Holy Grail
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Observe and Report
Rules of Attraction
Shaun of the Dead
Sorry to Bother You
Stranger Than Fiction
Thank You For Smoking
The Big Lebowski
The Cable Guy
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover
The Foot Fist Way
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Nice Guys
The Polka King
The Royal Tennenbaums
The Slums of Beverly Hills
The Truman Show
Throw Mamma From the Train
To Die For
Very Bad Things
Wag the Dog
Welcome to the Dollhouse
What We do in the Shadows
Wolf of Wall Street
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.
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!