The Great Dictator (1940): Anything can be funny. Comedy exists in part to bring levity to tragedy, which is why Charles Chaplin decided to channel his rage at the ascent of the Third Reich into this slapstick belittling its figurehead, who had the balls to steal the Little Tramp’s slim ’stache. Chaplin went even further into dark comedy with Monsieur Verdoux, a featherweight comedy about a serial killer. But first he ensured the Nazis and the Holocaust could always be comic targets, paving the way for To Be Or Not to Be, The Producers, Life Is Beautiful, etc.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): How serious was the threat of nuclear annihilation the year Stanley Kubrick made light of it? It also produced Fail-Safe, which plays exactly as Strangelove ’s straight-faced doppelganger.
The End (1978): “When I think about killing myself, I get a hard-on,” confesses sickly Burt Reynolds (who also directed) before he embarks on a series of botched suicide attempts. And if that sounds bleak, don’t worry, because he’s often aided by Dom Deluise.
Citizen Ruth (1996): Abortion itself may not be funny. The intensity of the debate—that’s another story. Alexander Payne’s feature debut mocks both extremes, with Laura Dern’s preggers white trash caught obliviously in the middle.
Divine Intervention (2002): In occupied Palestine, pissy neighbors dump trash in each other’s yards, a female terrorist unleashes Matrix moves, border police act extra nutty and a bound-and-gagged Palestinian prisoner is removed from the back of a van to give directions to a tourist. A series of deadpan blackout sketches, often in the style of Jacques Tati, from one of the most miserable places on earth.
Lions (2010): Suicide bombers targeting London. Peaceful Muslims rounded up and subjected to rendition. Innocent people (and crows and sheep) blown up. No, it’s not too soon for any of this to be made hilariously funny.
Six Long-Running Film Franchises