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The 30 best dark comedies of all time

The 30 best dark comedies of all time
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Can murder be funny? How about suicide, terrorism, or nuclear annihilation? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’ve come to the right place — our list of the 30 best dark comedies ever made. Walking a risky razor’s edge between relatable and offensive, hilarious and horrifying, these films all have one thing in common: a willingness to go there. Refusing neat classification, these are true genre-blenders, comedies plus, if you will. Comedy + horror? Comedy + dirty politics? Comedy + addiction? Comedy + war? Yes, please! 

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Everett; Annapurna Pictures



So what’s the appeal? We could say these films take uncommonly intelligent and complex approaches to storytelling, and that would be true. But perhaps the best answer is a simpler one: Dark comedies remind us that even when bad things happen, laughter remains the very best medicine.

30. I Love You to Death (1990)

TriStar Pictures/Everett



Serve spaghetti (with a killer sauce) for this one, folks, because marinara is the preferred vehicle for poison in this very Italian true-crime romp. Black? Pitch, because it’s about, ya know, an actual plot to kill an actual philandering husband (Kevin Kline in his prime). Based on the wild tale of a real woman (Frances Toto) and her multiple attempts to off her cheating spouse, Tracey Ullman plays the jilted wife with aplomb. Espresso-dark and over the top (with an amazing cast including Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix), the real story is crazier than fiction, but you won’t find any spoilers here. 

Where to watch I Love You to Death: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


29. Better Off Dead (1985)

CBS via Getty



So much to love here: a baby-faced John Cusack, quotable lines (Where’s my two dollars? Sorry I blew up your mom.”), random cartoon moments, Curtis Armstrong (Revenge of the Nerds’ Booger!) skiing in a top hat, goofball humor (dinner literally crawls off the plate), and because this is a dark comedy, a running “I’m going to kill myself” plot line that feels about as serious as everything else in this film, which is to say, not very. With a director with a name like Savage Steve Holland, what did you expect? Tell the kids this was exactly what growing up in the ‘80s was like. 

Where to watch Better Off Dead: Paramount+


28. War of the Roses (1989)

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett



An extra-dark comedy that veers toward sadism, the film is saved by the chemistry and star power of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas (fresh off their Romancing the Stone series) with an assist from an excellent Danny DeVito. There are no good guys in this divorce, especially when the family estate is involved. Smashing china, falling down the stairs, slugs to the nose, and worse. Even the pets don’t escape the wrath of this toxic couple, and watching them go from happy newlyweds to bitter foes feels, at times, genuinely sad. More than bleak, the film’s been named “one of the nastiest comedies of all time.”

Where to watch War of the Roses: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


27. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Universal/ Everett



The cinematic equivalent of a trip to Meow Wolf, Burning Man, Circus Circus, and Disney World (all at the same time!), this film must be seen to be believed — and for fans of dark comedy, it must be seen. Wickedly hilarious (and just so… wrong) from the get-go, this drug-singed, candy-colored nightmare remains a singularly chaotic vision, a freakish holy trinity/chemical reaction between the minds of Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp, and director/ringleader Terry Gilliam

The story begins with Depp’s voiceover reading Thompson’s famous words: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” As perfect as Depp’s maniacal performance is, he actually serves as the straight man (if you can believe that) next to the half-feral turn Benicio Del Toro conjures up as Thompson’s lawyer, stealing the show every time he blinks. Speaking of blinking, keep your eyes peeled for our favorite scene, when a simple walk into a casino goes a bit… tilted.

Where to watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


26. Four Lions (2010)

Midget Entertainment/Everett



A laugh fest about a bunch of suicide bombers? Yes, we think Four Lions might be the textbook definition of “dark comedy.” English filmmaker Chris Morris invites us to laugh at terror, literally, putting the stupidity of these hilariously clueless jihadists front and center. As EW’s critic put it, “These guys are not charming; they’re horrifying in their ignorance, and they cause real damage. But there’s a weird relief to be found in the opportunity to laugh ourselves sick at their expense, if only for an instant.” 

Where to watch Four Lions: Tubi


25. Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Neon

The sun-drenched black comedy Ingrid Goes West is filled with enough avocado toast, big hats, and selfies to double as an Instagram time capsule. Playing the charmingly unhinged Ingrid, an internet stalker of the highest order, Aubrey Plaza doesn’t hit a false note. And neither does her costar, Elizabeth Olsen playing a breezy L.A. girl personified. Olsen fully inhabits her role as a popular social media influencer and the object of Plaza’s obsession. EW’s critic praised the film’s “keen sense for the loneliness and inanity of a life lived online,” calling it a “clever, corrosive little trick of a movie.”

Where to watch Ingrid Goes West: Amazon Prime Video


24. Delicatessen (1991)

Miramax/Everett



Bathed in yellow smoke, this quirky French dystopia is a visually stunning collaboration between Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. If you’ve seen their other work of genius, The City of Lost Children, you already know what you’re in for: a living, breathing, beautifully surrealist nightmare. And while Delicatessen is, without a doubt, dark (the title is inspired by a butcher who uses his carving skills on, gulp, human meat), it’s leavened by fantastic performances and a sense of zany, off-kilter silliness happening within a meticulously crafted world. EW’s critic raved, “Delicatessen’s denizens, including one woman whose suicide attempts keep hilariously backfiring, are filmed to heighten their grotesqueness and are among the strangest characters to ever step in front of a camera.”

Where to watch Delicatessen: Amazon Prime Video


23. A New Leaf (1971)

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A New Leaf is a showcase for the freakishly talented Elaine May, pulling off a triple threat as the writer, director, and star. May plays Henrietta, a very rich, very awkward botanist with zero social skills who is targeted by a gold-digging creep (the excellent grump, Mr. Walter Matthau). His plan to marry this adorable nerd, murder her, and take all the cash does not go as planned in the most painful way possible (for the audience, too). Poor, innocent Henrietta falls madly in love with Matthau’s character, the first person to shower her with kindness and care. May’s sense of physical comedy is on full display here (her three-minute “trying to put on a dress” sequence, for example, is legendary) and the mix of true romance and utter tragedy (Matthau, play-acting as the perfect beau, changes her whole outlook on life as he plots her death) is groundbreaking. 

Where to watch A New Leaf (the original, not the Ben Stiller remake): Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


22. Fargo (1996)

GramercyPictures/Everett



The OG middle America noir is brought to you by the Co Bros, whose understated style — murdery Midwestern nice — is often imitated but never duplicated. (Now, if we could include Noah Hawley’s sublime small-screen spin-off we would, because the film and the FX series both mix humor and violence to create a deliciously dark comedy hot dish.) Fargo was hugely influential, being one of the first times mainstream moviegoers had seen plain-spoken folk at the center of a violent crime story, and the sensation of laughing while covering your eyes in horror (two words: wood chipper) became a core memory for ‘90s film lovers. 

With super great performances from the likes of Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi, EW’s critic described the setting as “a landscape so muffled by snow and Scandinavian-bred, low-affect courtesy that even murderous passion comes out goofy.” Indeed, with a plot swinging from mundane to terrifying, and plenty of detours into just plain stupid, Fargo still feels fresh nearly three decades later. 

Where to watch Fargo: Max


21. The Producers (1967)

John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty



For this, his first film, dark comedy hall of famer Mel Brooks went big, deciding that fearlessly taking on the Nazis (and the American public) would be a good introduction. This bold move paid off, cementing his place in cinematic history (and our hearts) forever, but at the time, well, you could say it took some Spaceballs. Yes, Brooks created something so risky — people just didn’t make fun of Hitler like that — that the studio nearly pulled it from circulation. A pitch from Peter Sellers, interestingly enough, is what saved it. Brooks later admitted his M.O. was this: When it comes to real-life horror, sometimes the only logical response is comedy.

Where to watch The Producers: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


20. The Death of Stalin (2017)

Entertainment One UK

From Armando Iannucci (Veep) comes a different sort of barbed political satire, a historical comedy as black as burnt toast. Set in 1953 after the titular dictator’s passing, the film revels in the chaotic, messy, bumbling power struggle that ensues among figures like Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). If this sounds a bit like Succession (created by Iannucci’s peer/former co-writer Jesse Armstrong, who worked on The Thick of It and In The Loop with him), we can only say that great minds think alike. Fun fact: In what may be the greatest compliment of all, the film was condemned by Russia as anti-Russian propaganda.

Where to watch The Death of Stalin: Tubi


19. The Lobster (2015)

Despina Spyrou

Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things, The Favourite), quite possibly the reigning dark comedy master of the current era, is never content to stay in the lines. Seemingly on a quest to make a film in each genre, though always through the lens of black comedy, The Lobster was his stab at dystopian, absurdist… romance? Starring Colin Farrell (looking like a defeated Ned Flanders) and Rachel Weisz, the story is set in a “resort” (ok, prison) whose “guests” are all singles tasked with finding life partners. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal (hence the title). But hey, it’s not all bad — you get to choose the animal! With a stacked cast (Olivia Colman, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw) and a cool (cold?) style, this film is an uncomfortable, surreal, and contentious love-it-or-hate-it kind of ride.

Where to watch The Lobster: Max


18. Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Annapurna Pictures

EW’s critic praised Boots Riley’s genre-defying dark comedy as “the most wonderfully bizarre film of 2018,” and with good reason. Following telemarketer Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield in a role he was born to play) down a serious rabbit hole, this twisted, Oakland-based take on Alice in Wonderland starts weird and gets progressively weirder, building to a surreal conclusion you cannot look away from. Not to be outdone, the amazing Tessa Thompson turns in a fantastically free-wheeling performance as Cass’ artist girlfriend, Detroit.

Where to watch Sorry to Bother You: Amazon Prime Video


17. Groundhog Day (1993)

Columbia Pictures/Getty



Groundhog Day is an existential miracle disguised as a Bill Murray comedy. What appears to be a bouncy, silly romp about a slightly surreal situation (Murray plays Phil, a weatherman reliving the same day over and over) is, at its core, actually quite deep. With director/co-writer Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters) at the helm, this film asks surprisingly big philosophical questions — How do we get unstuck? What mistakes do we keep repeating? What is the point of life? — without ever hitting us over the head with them. 

Where to watch Groundhog Day: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


16. Election (1999)

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Paramount/ Everett 



If Elle Woods had an evil little sister, she would be Tracy Flick, a frighteningly ambitious girl who blows up a man’s life. 23-year-old Reese Witherspoon (playing a convincing 16) owns the role of Flick, a high-intensity creep with perfect posture, chipper enough to cut. The terror in her teacher’s eyes (Matthew Broderick, bringing the schlub factor) tells us everything — she’s a monster in a sweater set. This one takes place in the heartland (Nebraska), where, similar to Fargo, the flat colors and plain-spoken style serve to put the fiery story into high focus. Written and directed by Alexander Payne with his usual self-assured, sunny, satirical edge, it’s based on the novel of the same name by an author who is no stranger to the dark (comedy) side, Mr. Tom Perotta.

Where to watch Election: Max


15. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Amazon Studios

Sacha Baron Cohen’s mustachioed, overly-confident Kazakh is back, baby, in yet another tragicomic wonder. Traveling through the U.S. with his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is like a reimagined, unscripted version of a bizarro buddy comedy, full of moments so unwieldy they give new meaning to the word “awkward.” Some of the most iconic bits include the now-infamous Rudy Giuliani encounter and the horrifying father-daughter OB-GYN visit. As EW’s critic writes, “His outrageous, uncountable isms — the confident screeds against women and Jews, the casual endorsements of incest or indentured servitude — are of course satirical, and entirely the point.”

Where to watch Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Amazon Prime Video


14. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Universal Studios; Getty



Pair the dark comedy dream team of Charlie Kaufman (writer) and Spike Jonze (director) with a stellar cast willing to go there (Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz, John Cusack), and the result is one of the most surreal films ever. Being John Malkovich, a wild gem EW’s critic described as a “delightfully absurdist, occasionally off-putting masterpiece of existential voyeurism that runs on its own off-brand logic,” is a mind-blowing treat. Trying to explain its appeal on paper is almost impossible, but we’ll try. One of the plot devices is a portal/tunnel allowing access to the Malkovich brain. Another is a “half-floor” jammed between two normal, full-sized floors. Also, puppets, obsessive love, body-swapping, a rescue chimp, and more puppets. It’s dream-like and claustrophobic in the best way.

Where to watch Being John Malkovich: Amazon Prime Video


13. In Bruges (2008)

Everett Collection

Dark as a cup of Yorkshire Tea, In Bruges, penned by writer/director Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin) tells the tale of two hit men visiting the Belgian tourist town of Bruges. The decidedly not touristy reason for their visit? One of them, (Colin Farrell) has accidentally killed a young boy, and the other (Brendan Gleeson) has been ordered to off him. The setting for this settling of scores is the film’s third star. Lovely and rich in history, Bruges is famous for its canals, stone bridges, and quaint pubs, painting a charming backdrop for a couple of excellent performances in a film that “deals with a heavy subject matter in an incredibly funny way,” says EW’s critic

Where to watch In Bruges: Amazon Prime Video


12. Beetlejuice (1988)

Warner Brothers/Everett

With its signature sweet but creepy tone, this Tim Burton film is exhibit A in how scary things (death, the paranormal) can be adorable — and the trick is in the perspective. When the world’s nicest couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) perish and become ghosts, only a certain depressed goth princess named Lydia (Winona Ryder, who else) can see them. Serving as their real-world representative, Lydia defends them against idiots like her parents (nearly “killing” them with a seance) and sleazebag monsters (Michael Keaton’s slapstick Beetle-dude). Hilariously funny and at times downright scary, this genre-defying movie is creative both in concept (death is kinda like the DMV?) and in aesthetic (a feast of practical effects, namely a stripped sandworm). There simply isn’t a dull moment.

Where to watch Beetlejuice: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


11. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

James Hamilton/Disney

The Royal Tenenbaums feels vintage in the best way, like something unearthed from our collective consciousness. With its beautifully obsessive, antiqued look — from the color palette to the precision-centered cinematography — its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it doll house details aren’t just there to look pretty. Under the exquisite surface is something quite moving, a grieving family grappling with the kinds of big, swirling, complicated feelings that make life hard and art great. Perhaps EW’s critic said it best: “[T]he Tenenbaum children are precocious and extraordinary, yet not protected from unhappiness by their own gifts.” 

Where to watch The Royal Tenenbaums: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


10. Some Like It Hot (1959)

Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty

This whiz-bang, cross-dressingly chaotic flick is as fresh now as it was in 1959 — but hey, writer/director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard) wasn’t called a genius for nothing. Two musicians (dynamic duo Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) go full drag while on the run from the mob (seeing their distinct takes on “feminine” is just one of the joys here) and hop on a train full of traveling female musicians (an all-girl band complete with Marilyn Monroe). No wallflowers here; the women are brash, brassy, and refreshingly bold. And while the on-screen action is champagne for the senses, irrepressibly bubbly and bright, its themes are on the serious side, dabbling in desperation, reinvention, and forgiveness.

Everyone in this film has got a con (or five), lying and cheating non-stop, but Wilder doesn’t pass judgment. Rather, he sympathizes with their gloriously human imperfections. Stunningly progressive on multiple levels (that last line!) it never stops being funny (literally, every line), hurtling toward its famous conclusion like an express train.

Where to watch Some Like It Hot: Max


9. In The Loop (2009)

Nicola Dove/IFC Films/Everett



Two words: Armando Iannucci. As fans of his HBO creation (Veep) already know, the man has a serious way with political comedy… the darker, the better. An offshoot of his excellent BBC TV series The Thick of It, In the Loop is like a nastier version of The West Wing after 100 pots of coffee. The film, featuring Steve Coogan and James Gandolfini, winningly depicts a bumbling U.S. government running headlong into a Middle East war. As EW’s critic lamented, “In the Loop invites its audience to think, and presumes a certain love of Monty Python. Not to mention an appreciation of Dr. Strangelove.” (See no. 1 on our list.)

Where to watch In the Loop: Tubi


8. Pink Flamingos (1972)

Everett Collection

Predating trash culture, reality TV competitions, true crime obsessions, and even Jackass (see: Divine’s dog poop snack), John Waters’ masterpiece of filth is something you have to see to believe (unfortunately, finding it can be a bit of a challenge). Perhaps EW’s critic said it best, in honor of the 25th anniversary, declaring it hilarious, shocking, and scary: “The film has lost none of its danger, its wit, its psychotic exuberance… Pink Flamingos still stands as the purest, most joyful jolt of outrage in movie history.”

Where to watch Pink Flamingos: Not available to stream


7. Harold and Maude (1971)

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An outsider romance peppered with gallows humor and bubbling over with giddy optimism, Harold and Maude is a life-affirming, weirdly wonderful film about a rich kid with a death wish and his love affair with an exuberant 79-year-old woman. Fans of Wes Anderson will appreciate this for vibes alone, from the sweet Cat Stevens soundtrack to the autumn in New York color palette. A big bomb upon release (perhaps not surprisingly, given the love scene and the numerous over-the-top suicide enactments), it’s now considered a beloved cult classic — and the ideal expression of director Hal Ashby’s shaggy, unconventional, open-hearted storytelling.

Where to watch Harold and Maude: Paramount+


6. Ruthless People (1986)

Buena Vista/Everett



On the lighter end of the dark comedy spectrum, Ruthless People is an utter joy from beginning to end, a mid-80s classic that still sparkles today. Silly? Super, but with a pure heart, and real… you know, feelings at its core. Danny DeVito plays a scheming, no-good husband whose treatment of his brassy wife (a divine Bette Midler) has you rooting for the kidnappers (soft-spoken rays of sunshine, Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) who snatch her for ransom. Midler’s creative, extremely DIY basement “gym” (and her resulting mental and physical glow up!) remains one of the funniest, most unexpectedly heartwarming character transformations of that era.

Where to watch Ruthless People: Amazon Prime Video


5. Adaptation (2002)

Columbia Pictures

If you’re looking for a movie that requires all of your undivided, phone-down attention, let us introduce you to Adaptation. EW’s critic described the Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze puzzle box as a “giddy Mobius strip” in 2002, and, now that we’ve finally regained our balance, we still agree. Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast as a tortured, frumpy, socially awkward screenwriter (is there any other kind?) AND said screenwriter’s twin brother, whose ham-handed, more commercial attempts at writing pays off infuriatingly well. And that’s the whole thing… oh, wait. Did you forget this is a Kaufman joint? Yes, there is a SECOND film nested within the first, starring a little-known actress (Meryl Streep) playing a real-life writer (Susan Orleans) and re-enacting her famed, flower-hunting non-fiction tale (The Orchid Thief). If you liked the other Kaufman/Jonze partnership (Being John Malkovich) you’ll love this.

Where to watch Adaptation: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

The Orchard; Madman Entertainment



EW’s critic declared this film’s mix of deadpan New Zealand humor and horror to be a winning combo, crafting a “perfect mockumentary” about a vampire clan that later spawned an equally electric FX show of the same name. Birthed from the wryly funny, slightly twisted minds of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows takes a fresh approach to its ancient subject matter, applying a blase, almost bland, Real World-meets-Guffman approach to the inherently dramatic vamp lifestyle. Flashes of shocking violence (after all, a guy’s gotta eat) present tonal shifts that work brilliantly, while an inherent sweetness (that ending!) keeps things relatable for us soft-hearted humans.

Where to watch What We Do in the Shadows: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)


3. Heathers (1988)

New World Pictures/Everett



No one did edgy teen comedy, ‘80s style, better than the Winona Ryder-Christian Slater dream team. And no one ever will again, because Heathers is a (wonderfully) problematic time capsule. Is Slater’s Jason Dean just a gaslighter in James Dean’s clothing? Yes. Are we surprised that a teen suicide satire didn’t age well? Nope. But that’s what a good dark comedy can do: Make you squirm as you laugh. The dialogue is whip-smart, crackling, and basically unprintable here, so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself. (And if the use of red lighting, fire, and smoke doesn’t convince you this is a comedy leaning hard into horror, the murders will.) 

Where to watch Heathers: Tubi


2. Withnail and I (1987)

Cineplex-Odeon Pictures/Everett



This charmingly shaggy, extremely British, incredibly boozy tale based on writer/director Bruce Robinson’s own experiences follows the exploits of two unemployed actors (an iconic Richard E. Grant and his patient beyond measure roomie/enabler, Paul McGann) who’ve “gone on holiday by mistake.” Deemed “one of the funniest films ever made” by EW’s writer, the movie gifts us with the most memorably messed-up train wreck in all creation: Grant’s Withnail, an indelible, sallow-faced cocktail of pity, pomposity, and gin. A celebration of horrible flats, youthful cluelessness, and wide-eyed (if not idiotic) innocence, the film captures a brief snapshot in the timeline of these men’s lives. Like the best dark comedies, its emotional gut-punch (in this case, near the end) isn’t sentimental but happens organically, catching you by surprise. 

Where to watch Withnail and I: Max


1. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Everett



As the film that (many would argue) both defined and perfected dark comedy as a form, placing Dr. Strangelove at the top of our list was a no-brainer. Comments from Stanley Kubrick revealing his inspiration for the film — the threat of nuclear destruction was just too insane to present as anything but a comedy — could also serve as a thesis statement for the entire genre. Overflowing with powerhouse performances from Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, and, of course, Peter Sellers (in no less than three roles: President Muffley, Capt. Lionel Mandrake, and Dr. Strangelove himself) the movie was, according to EW’s critic, “the first time an American film director had dared to cloak a serious political statement in black comedy.” 

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Where to watch Dr. Strangelove: Max




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