These films do more than just poke fun at the rich and famous.
How can a filmmaker call out unfair socioeconomic class differences? Black comedy is the answer. A black comedy is a movie, play, or other creative work that uses humor to address the tragic or upsetting subject matter. The genre has been established for decades, and filmmakers have used it skillfully to denounce troubling social concerns like capitalism and classism.
Black comedy and the wealthy make for a rewarding pairing in movies. From thriller blockbusters to Academy Award-winning movies, filmmakers are the ones who would never pass up the opportunity to condemn the privileged in their works.
The 2022 black comedy Triangle of Sadness, written and directed by Ruben Östlund, follows a fashion model celebrity couple who board an action-packed cruise for the super-rich. However, a storm approaches, and the passengers experience severe motion sickness during the seven-course captain's dinner. Thus, the trip ends tragically. As the survivors are stranded on a deserted island, hierarchy is abruptly turned upside down.
Östlund’s Triangle has some glaringly obvious points, but over its well-earned two-and-a-half hours, the viewers’ schadenfreude continues to thrive as these horrible individuals proceed to humiliate themselves. Moreover, Östlund cleverly played with the actual levels of society in anticipation of the eventual destruction of societal norms.
Ready or Not, a black comedy film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, follows Grace (Samara Weaving), a recently wed bride. She must adhere to a cruel custom of her in-law family: the bride must attempt to survive her wedding night as the others hunt her down.
The movie is full of simple gags about how insane the wealthy are and how callously they approach their duty of hunting down and executing a woman on the property of their mansion. Despite the violence and gore in the movie, Ready Or Not recognizes that affluent entitlement has no boundaries. Although not nuanced, the film is still generally satisfying.
Parasite is a 2019 South Korean dark comedy thriller directed by Bong Joon-ho, the mastermind behind award-winning films such as Snowpiercer and Mother. The film's plot revolves around a low-income family's scheme to work for a wealthy family and infiltrate their home by pretending to be unrelated, highly qualified individuals.
With Bong's deft exploitation of class conflict and income inequality, Parasite begins in elation and ends in tragedy, leaving audiences breathless the entire time. Additionally, Bong, a master storyteller, and camera movement unpack the film's many significant aspects with grace and economy to subtly reveal his intentions and critique both sides of the social scale.
Sorry to Bother You is a surrealist black comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley, which is also his directorial debut. To excel in his profession, a young black telemarketer (LaKeith Stanfield) develops a white accent: as he gets sucked into a corporate scheme, he has to decide between profiting from his involvement or joining his activist friends in organizing labor.
If the ultimate purpose of Sorry to Bother You is to reveal the powerful financial puppet masters dictating our culture and transforming common people into physical and corporate slaves, Riley was remarkably successful. In addition, the movie takes a comically astute look at racism and slavery in a new and original way.
American Psycho is a horror black comedy film directed by Mary Harron and based on Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name. The movie centers on a Wall Street yuppie named Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), obsessed with wealth, prestige, and fashion. Additionally, he is a killer who kills and dismembers acquaintances and strangers without cause or justification.
The horror of capitalism, wherein other people are merely used as props for the dreams of men who become richer by the minute, is openly and directly addressed in American Psycho. With its frighteningly dark comedy, acidic breakdowns of society, and an unsettling glimpse into the compulsions of a serial murderer, the film has a lot to offer audiences.
High-Rise is a British dystopian black comedy film directed by Ben Wheatley and adapted from British writer J. G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name. The movie follows Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), who relocates to a new flat two miles west of London in search of soulless obscurity, only to discover that the other tenants of the building have no intention of leaving him alone. Laing accepts the intricate social dynamics playing out around him and decides to be a good neighbor.
The film's contemporary but straightforward message is that a society in which everyone is expected to remain in their position would inevitably disintegrate. The movie lacks subtlety but makes up for it with plenty of content and style. Additionally, High-Rise is more relevant today than it was when Ballard first thought of it since the poor are often left to pay the societal and economic tab.
The black comedy thriller Thoroughbreds was written and directed by Cory Finley in his directorial debut. It follows a high school senior, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), and her emotionless friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke) as they plan to assassinate Lily's stepfather (Paul Sparks) by making a deal with a drug dealer.
Thoroughbreds is a quite batty movie that violently shakes the problems of the young and privileged. As the film's plot moves toward its conclusion, the tone becomes noticeably darker as the characters discover that their privilege and wealth can't shield them from who they really are. Additionally, Cooke and Taylor-Joy deliver outstanding performances that are a must-see.
In the French satirical comedy-drama The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir, upper-class French society members and their employees display moral callousness on the verge of catastrophe.
Although the movie might not be to everyone's taste, its humanity and understanding cannot be denied. Moreover, The Rules of the Game simultaneously delivers vicious societal satire and a kindhearted comedy of manners with a somber undertone. Despite being a failure upon release, the movie's renown has since only increased as a result of the circumstances of society.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a biographical black comedy crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and based on Jordan Belfort's 2007 memoir of the same name. It describes Belfort's (Leonardo DiCaprio) viewpoint on his time working as a stockbroker in New York City and how his company, Stratton Oakmont, was ultimately responsible for his collapse due to widespread Wall Street corruption and fraud.
The film doesn't strive to be likable; instead, it only wants to serve as a reminder of how cruel and manipulative excessive wealth can be. Additionally, it perfectly captures how the American dream has been corrupted through Scorsese’s brilliant visual storytelling. The cast also gives outstanding performances that stand alone as justification for a rewatch.
Michael Winterbottom's satirical black comedy Greed is loosely based on Philip Green, chairman of the Arcadia Group, and it centers on Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan), a billionaire high-street fashion mogul, and the events leading up to his 60th birthday celebrations on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Greed is a delightfully vicious movie that parodies the super-wealthy and exposes the shady side of capitalism and retail. Winterbottom, Coogan, and the amiable supporting cast make the subject humorous and entertaining, despite the film's weighty issues.
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Jessie Nguyen is a Senior List Writer at Collider. She is a Vietnamese writer, copywriter, and blogger who was interested in television and movies from a very young age – a Succession reference if you may notice.