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20 Great Black Comedies That Are Worth Your Time

03 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jeremy Span

best black comedy

Black Comedy is a revealing and subtle genre strand of comedy. A good dark comedy movie manages the difficult task of blending the dark and twisted with the hilarious, often delivering both at the same time. If you’re watching a black comedy and laughing your head off – but feeling horribly guilty about it – or laughing out of panic – seeking your own means of tension release, then you are at the mercy of that successfully delivered balance.

This list is a guide to some essential films in the genre. They are important films of the genre because they establish a set standard or infuse its conventions in unique ways. They may not be the greatest films ever made but they are prime examples of how the genre works and are a great starting point for anyone looking to see the different kinds of films this genre has to offer; some subtle, some in your face, some lurid – but always hilarious.

 

1. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Charlie Chaplin’s first film not featuring his iconic ‘Tramp’ persona is a black comic treat. Based on an idea by Orson Welles, “Monsieur Verdoux” follows bank teller Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) who has been laid off after thirty years’ service. To support his wife and child who he loves dearly, he marries and murders a series of wealthy widows.

Before “Kind Hearts and Coronets” made the act of murdering many a fun affair, Chaplin hilariously reveled the task in a bold outing after finally leaving his classic Tramp character behind. While some might not be ready for it yet at the time, “Monsieur Verdoux” has aged remarkably well, revealing a dark side of the famous auteur and comedian.

The film is not without Chaplin’s usual social and political commentary as seen in earlier works such as “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator”, here Chaplin is able to voice his views on crime and punishment during Veroux’s trial when he dismisses his killing of a few, for which he has been condemned, as no worse than the killing of many in war. While his finest work was in the silent age, “Monsieur Verdoux” is a deliciously dark treat for fans of both black comedy and the man himself.

 

2. Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Undoubtedly this is one of the finest black comedies ever made. The film is presented as the memoirs of Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), an impoverished, dapper gentleman in Edwardian Britain, who plots to inherit the title and riches of the Duke by murdering the eight members of the D’Ascoyne Family who stand in succession to the title before him.

The film is iconic for its fun and mesmerizing performances from Alec Guinness who portrays all eight heirs (one of which being a Lady Suffragette). It is not laugh-out-loud comedy, but delivers a biting wit that often leaves you wondering whether you should be laughing at all.

Screenwriter Robert Harmer takes seeming delight in the witty and clever dialogue, culminating in an astonishing minimalist performance from Price who carries the film as the very likeable and cunning murderer. He draws sympathy and delight to his cause, as the audience reveling with each murder. Part social satire and part murder farce, “Kind Hearts and Coronets” is a terrific product of Britain’s famous Ealing Studios.

 

3. The Trouble With Harry (1955)

The Trouble With Harry (1955)

You may be surprised to hear that the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, tried his hands at a little comedy, delivering this wickedly dark comedy about four residents of a small Vermont village who end up working together to solve the problem of what to do with Harry…. the corpse of a man found in the hillside.

The film is essentially a romantic comedy presented in bright techni-color, with an undertone of the classic Hitchcock thriller. The devilish director implores his staple Macguffin in the form of the body while the bigger story sees the four pairing off and falling in love. “The Trouble With Harry” lies in stark contrast with the rest of Hitchcock’s iconic filmography, but it shows the director can handle a little heart and humor when he wants to.

 

4. The Ladykillers (1955)

The Ladykillers (1955)

Another defining film of the genre and a classic Ealing Studios production, “The Ladykillers” can give any modern comedy a run for its money. The film follows a group of thugs headed by Alec Guinness’ Professor Marcus, who rent rooms in the house of a sweet widow while they execute a robbery at the nearby Kings Cross Station. When the widow discovers the loot and threatens to go to the police, the criminals decide she must be dealt with.

The film delivers great performances from Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom (the latter two becoming the future pairing in “The Pink Panther” series) and other seasoned British actors with a balance of witty dialogue and humorous sight gags. Perfectly paced and executed, “The Ladykillers” is simply brilliant filmmaking that leaves you wanting more.

 

5. Dr Strangelove: Or ‘How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb’ (1964)

mwbw-drstrangelove

Widely considered to be one of the greatest black comedies of all time, “Dr. Strangelove” came at the height of Cold War tension, boldly illustrated the ridiculousness the many strategies involved in avoiding any major conflict.

The film was adapted from the novel ‘Code Red’, a nuclear war thriller, by Peter George. When Kubrick came along and saw how absurd it sounded, the tone of the film as born. ‘Dr. Strangelove” centers on a paranoid military general who dispatched orders for a nuclear attack and the subsequent rush to stop it. Satirizing the tension between the US and the Soviet Union, “Dr. Strangelove” would be Kubrick’s only real comedy.

Kubrick’s’ reveled in the experience of directing a comedy, employing many sight gags amongst his trademark meticulousness in both storytelling and style. With a tour de force performance from Peter Sellers in three roles, “Dr. Strangelove stands as one of the greatest satires ever made and is a truly ageless masterpiece.

 

6. M*A*S*H (1970)

MASH

The perfect complimentary film to “Catch-22”, “MASH” follows a group of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War.

The delightful dark comedy sees the troops trying to keep themselves together at a time of horrific war. The film still holds up as an illustration of the complete insanity of war. The film was considered gruesomely bloody, yet ironically there were no battlefield scenes.

This can be due to Robert Altman’s spot on direction of atmosphere, with the horror of war portrayed with a subtle blend of a very human sense of humor. From the opening shots we feel the slow mood of the film, yet if we look a little closer, we see comedy and havoc all around. It is a real, moving watch.

 

 

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  • csmif

    “taste of cinema”? This site should be called “lists of movies we like”

    • Pretty confused as to what you were expecting? Did you think you’d actually be able to taste cinema through this website?

      • csmif

        No, idiot. I’m just tired of the endless lists. Its lazy.

  • nrvs

    After Hours is my all time favourite movie. Good to see it get some love here. Also, this list needs The Guard.

  • Vince Duggan

    Hiring a proofreader any time soon? I’m available.

  • Veronica Clarke

    I have to admit I was surprised to see ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ on this list as I never saw that as any kind of comedy.
    Would thoroughly recommend ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ and ‘Ladykillers’ to anyone who hasn’t seen them. They are both priceless.
    Suggested addition – ‘The whole nine yards’.

    • GertaLives

      Agreed, Dog Day Afternoon delves into some absurdity, but it’s very real, and deeply human and tragic rather than comedic.

  • Ted Wolf

    The word is complementary with an e.

  • Michael Gregg

    I typically enjoy the site and usually discover new cinematic gems with each list, however this particular list was painful to read. The writing was poor and rife with all kinds of errors.

  • lueua

    adam’s apples?

    • Su Reis

      Agreed

    • mainmac

      Not to mention The Green Butchers, Flickering Lights.

  • Dušan Drašković

    the butcher boy is brilliant

  • hellboyz

    Trainspotting (1996), thank you for smoking(2005), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) should be on the list

  • RockyJohan

    Six Shooter actually won the oscar….

  • Sidharth J Dev

    er..Pulp Fiction? Reservoir Dogs?

    • Joel Zachariah

      pulp fiction , yes ….

  • Stephen C

    People keep calling Happiness a dark comedy but I never saw anything humorous in it.

    • Brian Lussier

      Agree with you there.

    • Joel Zachariah

      there isnt anything rofl in the movie … its twisted humour … the director portrayed the oppressed life of Hoffman in a very dark yet comic way … also the way he approached the conversation between father and son about masturbation … you have to give a lil bit of credit there ..

  • Brian Lussier

    Two points: #1, Dog Day Afternoon is in NO WAY a comedy, black or other! Serious mistake here man! #2, Dr. Strangelove should be #1.

    • Rainmaker

      The list is sorted by the year of release.

  • Bruno Gael

    Relatos Salvagens!

  • asalways

    Fargo is a bit too thrill for me as a black comedy…

  • tonno

    Rescue Dawn should be here too

  • FlyteBro

    Bah, another uninspired list where Taste of Cinema keeps mentioning the same movies and same directors as in all the other lists here. You do know there are more filmmakers than Scorcese and Cohens around, right?

    • Joel Zachariah

      would care to add a few to the list ? looking around for some decent dark comedies … and also cant blame the author … its more of personal choices … other than dog day i dont think there is another movie that doesnt belong on the list …

      • FlyteBro

        Sure it’s all about personal choices, but my point is that all the writers on this site apparently have the same personalities, as they keep writing about the same handful of movies, directors and actors, over and over in just about every list they publish. Whether it’s a list of crime movies, thrillers, action, comedy, whatever, they always line up the usual suspects of Scorsese, Cohens, Hitchcock, Kubrick, DeNiro, Hoffman, etc. They might just as well edit all the lists on this whole site together into one, and call it a list of “A bunch of famous movies”. And the fact that most of these lists only mention big Hollywood names (except for the ones which focus on “world cinema”) further shows that the writers have very limited knowledge, as they are apparently oblivious to the fact that people form other parts of the world also produce some pretty great films.

        Off the top of my head, some great black comedies that are not mentioned here:

        The Bothersome Man (2006)
        Mary and Max (2009)
        In China They Eat Dogs (1999)
        Weirdsville (2007)
        Cheap Thrills (2013)
        The Green Butchers (2003)
        Two Hands (1999)
        Ted Bundy (2002)
        The Idiots (1998)
        Day of the Beast (1995)
        Together (2000)
        Bone (1972)
        Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
        Buffet Froid (1979)
        Monday (2000)
        Man Bites Dog (1992)
        Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
        Edmond (2005)

        Black comedy is also a very prominent genre in short films, as the shorter playtime and lower budgets allows for more edgy and to-the-point humor. Here’s a list of short black gems, that are available on youtube:
        Suiker (2010)
        Spider (2007)
        Staplerfahrer Klaus (2000)
        Elevated (1997)
        Fallen Art (2004)
        Bara Prata Lite (1997)
        The New Tenants (2009)
        Ernst & Lyset (1996)

        • Mark Repp

          Nice list, FlyteBro. Maybe you should write for this site instead of slamming it. I would also add “Day of the Wacko.”

        • Unkle Amon

          Day of the Beast and Ex Drummer are gems!

        • Lars Franssen

          I hadn’t even realized these lists were all by different guys. Maybe they’re all from the same film school? Anyway, thanks for disabusing me.

  • williamdais

    Pulp Fiction absolutely needs to be on this list!

  • Harsha Raman

    What about American Psycho (2000)? Wouldn’t that classify as a ‘black comedy’?

    • Joel Zachariah

      nah man i dont think so … even dog day afternoon is no way a dark comedy …

  • Joel Zachariah

    Ryan Reynolds ‘The Voices ‘ … i think that should be a fine addition to this list … a bit new though …

  • The Man Who Wasn’t There

    This is listed chronogically, how in the name of god can you criticize the list for Strangelove isn’t #1?

  • Scruffy The Janitor

    Possibly too dark for some people, but I’d say Calvary deserves to be on here instead of Seven Psychopaths. One of the best scripts of the last few years.

  • eilonwy

    I was expecting to see Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace listed here

  • Klaus Dannick

    God, I. HATED Buffalo 66.

  • fantail31

    Harold And Maude? The Player? The Great Dictator? Nurse Betty?

    Interesting how the black comedy genre is done most effectively on TV now. As cinema audiences have dumbed down considerably over the years,
    HBO, AMC and Showtime have picked up the mantle. Most of their great shows are all black comedies.

  • Andre Troesch

    Swimming with Sharks

  • Grosse Pointe Blank, The Grifters, Miami Blues would fit in nicely here.
    Re- The King of Comedy: that film is in an unsettling universe of its own

  • Paulo Carreira

    I really liked The Voices (2014). It’s the definition of a dark comedy.

  • Josh Wolf

    PULP FICTION, YOU HEATHENS!