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What is it that attracts us to dark comedy? While it may not be all moviegoers’ cup of tea (as far as they are willing to admit, at least), it is a tendency among many audiences these days to stream or rent films that are as funny as they are disturbing.
Why do we gravitate toward these bleak, unscrupulous, and even disparaging stories that often have us questioning our own morality when they make us laugh? Is it out of some morbid curiosity we all harbor deep down that we can only rely on cinema to quench?
Whatever the reason may be, the point is that dark comedy, if you have the stomach for it, can be a lot of fun, even if the situations the characters go through are not. So, if you need your morbid curiosity quenched, these are 10 of the funniest, and grimmest, films available to rent and stream to remind you that it is always funnier when it is not happening to you.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
There is no doubt to the darkness lurking within Stanley Kubrick’s directorial vision, from the interstellar cautionary tale 2001: A Space Odyssey, mentally scarring thriller The Shining, or commentary on dehumanization in the military in Full Metal Jacket, but that does not mean the iconic visionary does not have a sense of humor about these things. Case in point: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a zany political farce that questions how easily one misunderstanding could lead to World War III and how more complicated the rush to prevent it could get. Comedic legend Peter Sellers brilliantly balances multiple roles alongside George C. Scott, parodying his Oscar-winning role in Patton years before he even plays it, in this ironically sophisticated satire about childish reactions to very serious problems.
Throw Momma From The Train (1987)
Writing professor Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) thinks his student, Owen (Danny DeVito, also making his directorial debut), is joking when he offers to kill his ex-wife if he kills Owen’s mother in return. However, when his ex-wife turns up murdered with Owen revealing himself to be the culprit, Larry finds himself contemplating if he should go through with the deal after meeting the absolutely vile “Momma” (Anne Ramsey, nominated for an Academy Award for the role) in this amusingly strange take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Average good girl Veronica’s (Stranger Things’ Winona Ryder) struggle to navigate high school is worsened by her friends, a clique of hateful, upscale popular girls, all of which are named “Heather.” But when she crosses paths with a rebellious sociopath named JD (Christian Slater), she believes she may have found the solution to her conflict: just kill ‘em. The biting high school satire Heathers, which inspired a TV series adaptation in 2018, was the Mean Girls before 2004’s Mean Girls, but a lot meaner. |
Death Becomes Her (1992)
When writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) reignites her longstanding bitter feud with the actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep), the woman who stole her fiancé (Bruce Willis), Madeline’s solution comes in the form of a potion that will guarantee her eternal youth. Little does she know that Helen has used the same formula, so when the ladies’ back-and-forth sabotaging turns to murderous means, the results are not quite what either of them had expected. With cartoonishly gruesome, Oscar-winning visual effects, director Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her is a riotously clever romp that is spooky enough to play on Halloween (which is exactly when I first saw it).
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino was surprised when his tribute to cinema was nominated for a dramatic Best Picture Golden Globe instead of in the comedy division. Perhaps the Hollywood Foreign Press misunderstood what was so funny about his interweaving anthology depicting a near-tragic night out between a hitman (John Travolta) and his boss’ wife (Uma Thurman), a boxer (Bruce Willis) facing the consequences of winning a fight he was supposed to lose, and another hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) seeking redemption after a near-death experience. If you ask me, the clever use of mundane conversation spoken between people who make a living in violence, upbeat ’70s pop hits juxtaposed with scenes of a horrifying nature, and the dazzling energy of an old-school farce holding it all together makes the otherwise nihilistic and dark Pulp Fiction a damn fine piece of comedic gold.
Before the Star Wars prequels made him a household name, Ewan McGregor gained notoriety in unique film, in which he plays Renton, a young Scotsman with a 14-year-old girlfriend (Kelly Macdonald) struggling to get himself clean despite his and his friends’ deep immersion into the drug scene. This sort of story sounds less Cheech & Chong and more Requiem for a Dream, but Danny Boyles’ surrealist take on John Hodge’s adaptation of the novel by Irvine Welsh is not without its quirky humor that keeps the film lively and endearing experience that later inspired a 2017 sequel. Trainspotting is unusually affable look at world through the eyes of a heroin addict.
Where To Rent Online: YouTube
The fact that co-writing and directing duo Joel and Ethan Coen had the world convinced that this Great Plains-set crime thriller was based on a true story is an amazing joke in itself, but that is not all the humor this Academy Award-winning critical darling has to offer. After struggling used car salesman Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy) hires two inept hitmen (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife as part of a ransom scheme, and an accident leaves the criminals responsible for a triple murder outside Brainerd, Minnesota, the pressure begins to cook when pregnant sheriff Marge Gunderson (Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) takes the case. At times, Fargo feels less concerned with the complexities of its noir-ish narrative and more with lampooning the cultural quirks of its setting: a trick that earned the Coen Brothers more respect than they must have anticipated.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
As a follow-up to the success of Fargo, Joel and Ethan Coen introduced yet another dark comedy, this one far less concerned with its central mystery plot and far more with its variety of eccentric characters which earned it a reputation as one of the most worshipped comedies of all time. Jeff Bridges’ aging L.A. stoner The Dude reluctantly plays detective with his loose-cannon Vietnam vet friend and bowling buddy, Walter (John Goodman), when a case of mistaken identity (and an unjustly soiled rug) gets him wrapped up in the supposed kidnapping of a millionaire’s porn star wife.
A box office failure that critics were not kind to initially, The Big Lebowski has inspired repeat viewings among fans, an annual gathering of “Achievers,” and even an entire way of life based on its central character, and if you haven’t seen it already, it might just be the film to tie your life together.
In Bruges (2006)
We have already seen a couple examples on this list prove that mismatched pairings of paid assassins can be quite funny, such as amateur Irish hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) and his veteran companion Ken (Brendan Gleeson). The latter criminal tries to make light of their situation when their boss (Ralph Fiennes) forces them to hide out in the quaint, Belgian town of Bruges, but his guilt-stricken younger partner has lost all sense of optimism or cordiality for reasons that slowly become more clear as the film’s humor slowly becomes less frequent.
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is, without question, an aggressively dark comedy, but if you think his feature-length debut is the peak of his experiment in testing the limits of tragedy’s comedic appeal, I recommend you check out his 2017 brutal satire Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri.
Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) (2014)
For his celebrity satire, Alejandro González Iñárritu cast Michael Keaton (best known for playing superhero Batman) as Riggan Thomas (best known for playing superhero Birdman) who believes a stage adaptation of a Raymond Chandler story may be his last chance to be relevant again, not to mention he is an alcoholic, suicidal, and possibly schizophrenic. Best Picture Oscar-winner Birdman is one of the most dazzling cinematic experiences I have ever had for how Iñárritu turns filmmaking on its head with the hilarious, yet bleak, meta show business commentary, its score comprised entirely of jazz drums, and how he and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki pull off the illusion that the entire movie is filmed in one shot. It is like watching a magic show up close and remaining oblivious to how the trick is done.
Where To Rent Online: Amazon
Do you have a favorite bleak film that tickles your funny bone that we did not mention? If so, let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for more streaming recommendations here on CinemaBlend.