What Is a “Black Comedy” Movie?


You’ve probably heard a film described as a “black comedy” or a “dark comedy,” but what exactly does that genre term mean?

Though more recently some have equated the term “black comedy” with comedy films aimed at African American audiences (for example, the Friday and Barbershop movies), the traditional definition of black comedy has nothing to do with race.

Typically, a black comedy – or dark comedy – is a film which takes a heavy, controversial, disturbing, or generally off-limits subject matter and treats it in a humorous manner. Some black comedies set out to shock their audiences with their unexpectedly humorous take on a serious subject. In many cases, the goal of a black comedy is to shed light on controversial or disturbing subject matter through humor. There are also many films that are drama, thriller, or horror films that nevertheless contain memorable moments of dark comedy, including Fargo (1996), Fight Club (1999), and American Psycho (2000).

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of black comedy in film is the final scene of 1979’s Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The film – which is about a Jewish man in Biblical-era Judea who is misidentified as the Messiah – ends with a mass crucifixion scene in which those who are slowly dying on crosses sing a jolly song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” to pick up their spirits. Obviously, that situation isn’t humorous to everyone and upon its release Monty Python’s Life of Brian was banned in several countries. The comedy group used this to their advantage by using the tagline “The film that is so funny it was banned in Norway!” on posters.

Though there are dozens of great choices, here is a short list of some of the most popular black comedy movies of all time.

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