The dark comedy is multi-faceted. There are so many parts that make ’em work, and so much has to go right for it all to take off. Any creative endeavor has a certain amount of risk involved, but the stakes seem even higher for creating a dark comedy. If it works, it’s like the return of Christ, the birds are singing, you’re a genius, and it might be one of the most daring expressions of cinema in years. If it fails, the director’s tasteless, crude, insensitive, a creep, an asshole, and viewed as having taken cheap shots.
Most associate comedy with being an escape from the realities of the world. In the case of the dark comedy, moviegoers are often tasked to confront them and laugh in its face. For that reason alone, dark comedies ask a lot from the audience: They want you to find murderers charming. They want you to empathize with money-launderers. Hell, they might even want you to spend time with Hitler. The most talented eyes of the genre, however, manage to keep everyone in their seats laughing — often at the edge.
What’s telling is that in an era where it’s popular to say, “comedy is too woke to take risks”, here we are, still taking chances on the taboo. As you’ll see below, the darkest comedy is thriving … and quite well. Within the last 10 years, more and more filmmakers are taking risks on the weird and unconventional, particularly with the rise of streaming. Go on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, type in “dark comedy”, and you’ll be flooded with all kinds of fringe parables that will either leave you cackling or cowling.
Not surprisingly, some of the best films of the past decade have been dark comedies. This is the decade that saw Martin Scorsese finally taking another swing at the genre, it gave us the brilliant Taika Waititi, and brought on some masterful works from veterans such as Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers and rising icons like Bong Joon-ho or Yorgos Lanthimos. Below, we’ve compiled what we feel are 25 of the greatest dark comedies of this decade. Some might raise your eyebrows, but that’s kind of the point.
25. JoJo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi took a risk with Jojo Rabbit this year, but it paid off. The unique tale follows a 10-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany, whose life is so consumed by the fascist party that he’s created an imaginary friend in a cartoonish, idiotic portrayal of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). When his mother takes in a Jewish refugee, the boy begins to develop feelings for her, which finds him questioning everything he believes in and idolizes. Despite its controversial premise, there’s a lot of heart in Waititi’s hyperbolic satire, and it’s a shining example of why some risks in comedy are still worth it.
24. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
To take a look at the best dark comedies of the 2010’s and not talk about the Coen Brothers is a complete sacrilege — if not, incredibly ignorant. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is their finest mark this period — an anthology film set in the post-Civil War Old West. Segmented into six different pieces, the film follows a rogue’s gallery of anti-heroes, from the titular singing gunslinger to a perverse cadre of bounty hunters, and it’s all laced with the subtle dash of dark humor that put the Coens on the map decades and decades ago.
23. Cheap Thrills (2013)
What would you do for $50,000? Would you physically and emotionally torture your best friend just to win some stupid contest? Would you piss in his shoes? Would you cut off his finger? Would you then eat his finger? Just how badly do you need that money? Cheap Thrills asks all of those questions and more. It’s a cat-and-mouse black comedy that pits two old pals against each other for the sake of a wealthy, bored couple, and director E. L. Katz rarely pauses for reflection. This thing moves, leaving the audience to meditate on the repercussions.
22. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
The Cabin in the Woods is a lot of things, but traditional it is not. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, this left-field horror comedy is a tongue-in-cheek dissertation on the entire genre itself. While the plot itself is rather simple — five friends venture to a remote cabin — Whedon and Goddard quickly let audiences know there are far greater forces at hand. Unpredictable and never lazy, The Cabin in the Woods is meta comedy done right: it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s tantalizing, and yet it’s also downright strange, sometimes all at once. That’s not easy.
21. Game Night (2018)
At first glance, Game Night looks like your average run-of-the-mill comedy as of late. Yet directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein churn out one of the most stylish and smartest mainstream comedies of the decade. Much of that success is indebted to Mark Perez’s razor-sharp screenplay, which rolls the dice on the film’s game-night-gone-rogue premise in every possible way. The twists go down early, too, right about the same time you discover this is far superior than your average post-2000’s comedy that stars Jason Bateman.