20 serious movie scenes that are unintentionally hilarious
When (why, and how) tragedy becomes comedy – 20 scenes from cinema that induce tears of laughter instead of sorrow...
Ahead hefty enough spoilers for us to warn you about them for: The Dark Knight, The Thing, Antichrist, Snowpiercer, The Wicker Man, Lawless, Brothers, Seven and Crash.
There are mild spoilers for the other films mentioned.
Sometimes, all you want to do is settle down to watch a film you know is going to make you laugh – some of us head towards the comedy section of our DVD shelves, while others bust out Titanic to laugh when the guy falls into the propeller. If you’ve ever found yourself in the second group laughing at violent death in the movies, it’s not your fault – perhaps the scene making you hysterical is overwrought and hasn’t earned the emotional response the director was trying so hard for. Or an actor is serving up a performance of the thickest, richest ham.
Perhaps the editing is too abrupt, or you’re like me and “HA!” during sex scenes because you’re extremely immature. Sometimes the plot is going to such a horrible place the only way you can deal with it is to start howling with laughter. Or maybe it’s funny because you’re a psychopath, I don’t know.
Here are 20 films and scenes that are supposed to be intensely serious or tragic, but hit the comedy side of the BAFTA mask instead – we’ve got (failed) attempts to tackle degenerative brain conditions respectfully, sudden death, addiction battles, and there are two appearances from Brad Pitt, so brace yourself if you’re easily offended by such things (to be clear: it’s not the subject matter that we’re laughing at here – there are some serious topics in the examples below that we’d never make light of – rather how it’s been dealt with on screen). I love watching Hollywood do well, but I also love to watch when it fumbles this badly. Let’s start on a fairly light note…
20: Acrobatic vehicular manslaughter in Meet Joe Black
*Faint sound of engines revving*
So, picture it: you’re working on Meet Joe Black. Your film revolves around Heartthrob Deluxe of the ’90s, Brad Pitt. You’ve got him baby-blue eyed and floppy blonde fringed, suntanned and six-packed. You’ve been careful to frame him in soft focus and lingering close-ups for your audience, you’ve introduced him as the film’s protagonist – we’re supposed to care about him, and root for him throughout his journey.
Then you launch that dreamboat over the top of a speeding cab in a car crash like a ragdoll. Twice. If more schmaltzy romance films had random slapstick violence thrown in like this, maybe I’d watch more of them.
19: Kurt and Co. charge Wilfred Brimley in The Thing
Countdown to old guy getting a smack in the chops – five, four…
At this point in the alien-parasite thriller things have got pretty tense – there’s a chance most of the isolated crew are infected, and Brimley’s Blair is tearing up the station in an effort to stop the alien getting beyond the base and into the world outside. How do you stop a crazed work colleague from ranting, waving a gun around, and shooting at everyone?
If you’re Kurt Russell’s MacReady, you and your pals skip the reasoning, and just charge him with a fold-out table and rabbit-punch him in the head. The abrupt ‘old man gets double-tap to the face’ always gets at least one rewind in my abode – it’s just a house rule now.
18: Let’s play ‘Orgasm or Parkinson’s?’ with Love & Other Drugs
“Oh God, this film really sucks”
A thoughtful exploration of the mental and physical effects ailing health can have on a woman through the various stages of her life, as well as its cruel work on the man who loves her… is a movie called Amour directed by Michael Haneke, Irisby Richard Eyre, or Away from Her by Sarah Polley. Love & Other Drugs, however, is the Edward Zwick film that took a best-selling book about ethics in the US pharmaceutical industry (Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy) and turned it into an Anne Hathaway/Jake Gyllenhaal romance + Parkinson’s ‘comedy’.
Tacking on a half-baked ‘Surprise! Your girlfriend has Parkinson’s!’ plot (that wasn’t in the original book) to add drama to your romcom/give your male lead something to umm and ahh about is disrespectful to people suffering with the disease, and makes for a bizarre and uncomfortable watch for everyone. What tips the experience over to incredulous laughter is the “Is she having an orgasm in this sex scene, or is she having a Parkinson’s-related tremor – oh, she’s having both” moment mid-movie. Something this terrible deserves a sarcastic standing ovation and slow clap on every viewing – thank you, Hollywood!
17: And you thought it was impossible: Aaron Eckhart makes facial disfiguration hilarious in The Dark Knight
Harvey, why so hilarious?
Approximately 75% of Harvey Dent’s appearances in The Dark Knight are kinda funny, and it’s not just down to the Richard Madeley style semi-mullet Eckhart is rocking for the role. Though, on reflection, that helps. There’s also the awesome facial expression he pulls when Rossi points a gun at him in court, then there’s the way he yells his dead girlfriend’s name every time a character mentions her, like ‘RACHEL!’ ‘RACHAAAALL!’ RACHUUUUUUL!’
But his efforts to extract himself from a warehouse filled with explosives while tied to a chair is the real wonder – violent yet ineffectual shifting around in his seat for a few seconds, dramatically tipping himself to the floor with a “blarrrrgh!”, turning his face directly into the gasoline that’s leaking all around him, then huffing and puffing it in and out of his mouth. An interesting attempt to escape the situation, and one that gets me howling 100% of the times I watch it.
16: Antichrist: Why, yes: women will just watch their child fall to their death if in the middle of an epic bang
“Get away from the window, Bobby – who am I kidding, I don’t care, LOL”
Like most people who’ve sat through Antichrist, I had no idea what to take away from the experience. But laughter probably wasn’t supposed to be it… If you haven’t seen the film, I’ll sum the storyline up for you. Disembowelled fox – nudity – real penetration, apparently – Charlotte Gainsbourg: sad her son died – Willem Dafoe: decides isolation in a wood cabin will help – Charlotte has a serial killer wall of paper cuttings – sex scenes – hammer to testicles – scissors to genitalia – something, something – etc. – it goes on.
I think the point the film was making was…women are evil. Women like sex too much? Willem Dafoe should do one more unerotic erotic film to go in a boxset with this and Body of Evidence. Not sure. Whatever the message, it’s grim, but there are laughs to be had in the drawn-out slow-mo sex scene where Dafoe and Gainsbourg don’t notice their son falling out of a window. Well, Gainsbourg’s character does notice something is amiss, glancing over Dafoe’s sweaty straining shoulder. Then she just, y’know, keeps going with what she’s doing.
15: Cannibalism is comedy in Snowpiercer
I wouldn’t eat that, Cap
As anyone who’s sat through Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal: the Musical will swear to, cannibalism is no laughing matter… but a tearful line reading of “I know what people taste like. Babies taste the best!” from Chris Evans in Snowpiercer really is.
14: Dun Dun DUUUUUUN – dramatic threesome in Shame
“Den of Geek… are laughing at my grundle?”
At the pinnacle of Brandon’s struggle with sex addiction in Shame, when the character is at his lowest point, there’s a threesome set to dramatic music that goes on for what feels like a long, long time…if you’re seeing it, say, in a packed cinema screening and everyone else is paying rapt, silent attention.
Of course, addiction, in whatever form, should be no laughing matter (according to everyone else in the audience at the screening where I saw the film, anyway), but the cognitive dissonance of seeing three attractive people having very energetic sex in a scene that’s supposed to be taken as tragic was too much for me. Yes, either the cognitive dissonance, or having the maturity level of a 12 year old.
13: The original and best – the ending of 1973’s The Wicker Man
“HOW DID IT GET BURNED, HOW DID IT”- uh, wrong film
“Think what you’re doing!!! OH GOD! [quick camera zoom on face] OH JESUS CHRIST! OH GOD!!! CHRIST!! NO, NO, DEAR GOD! CHRIIIIST!!”
12: Rachel gets fridged (cooked?) in The Dark Knight
Would a ‘KA-POW!’ joke be in poor t- yes.
Let’s head back to The Dark Knight for a slightly guiltier laugh. I don’t like the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ cliche that still abounds in my beloved comic books, comic book film adaptations, and Nicolas Cage movies – where wives and girlfriends get killed off in order to give a male protagonist (Spidey, Wolverine, Nicolas Cage) an excuse to bawww and beat-up bad guys.
But I laugh at this example, and I will fight you if you deny that the editing of Rachel’s death scene is completely unsympathetic, and therefore funny as f- fiery death can be. All Rachel gets out is a wistful “Someday-” before being blown to bits – just to give two boyfriends something to cry about. Harsh, Nolan, way harsh.
11: Wait – what? Last scene of Lawless
Probably should have read the book…
A lot of shi- stuff happens to bootlegging Bondurant brothers Howard, Forrest, Jack and their gal pal Maggie during the 115-minute running time of Lawless. So, the fairy tale ending where everyone settles down, gets married to someone of the opposite gender, and spawns in a nice log cabin in a picturesque setting is a little blah after the grit of the rest of the film.
But don’t worry, there’s still two minutes left until the credits roll! Just enough time for mumbling Forrest to wander out onto an icy lake alone, dance, crash through into the freezing water and die horribly in an ‘oh, oops, almost forgot, this also happened…’ rushed denouement. Audience: “Wait, what – he died?”
The downside of doing long list articles, as regular readers will know, is that every now and then, we have to spread them over two pages. They tend to make things a little more manageable for both yourselves and ourselves, as a rule. This isn’t a ruse to get multiple clicks off you to read a list, please be assured.
Enough waffle from us, anyway: here, our countdown continues…
10: Melodrama and crappy SFX in Ghost
Patrick Swayze – forever a legend, despite being on this list
I first saw Ghost in an end of year science lesson in the 8th year at secondary school – you know the lessons where the teacher couldn’t be bothered, and just slung a tape in the VCR? Watching Sam’s death scene had most of my classmates crying in the middle of the lab…while a few others (just me) desperately tried to hold in hysterical laughter.
It’s the melodrama of Molly cradling Sam’s body and begging him to “hold on”, when he’s clearly already very dead, mixed with the close-ups of Sam’s gurning face as his spirit looks down at the body he’s just vacated. The rubbish early 90s special effects only add to how badly this scene misses the mark as a sad moment – I love it. You know those times when you’re trying so hard not to laugh, you wee a bit in public? Let’s say no more.
9: Tobey Maguire has done some bad things and he really, really wants you to know about it, in Brothers
Massive thanks go to Tobey Maguire for making the final showdown in this film – which explores some upsetting and frightening issues very much in the news at the moment – worth a chuckle. If you’ve seen Brothers, did you buy the idea of Tobes as a star high-school footballer? Did you buy him as a US Marine? If that’s a ‘nope’, then there’s no way in movie-hell you’d believe 5 foot 7ish waif-edition Maguire can take on 5 foot 11 beefcake-variety Jake Gyllenhaal in a physical confrontation, not even with a gun.
Mags bulges his eyes out at Jake, he yells, he squeals. He brings so much ham, it’s only fitting that this scene takes place in a kitchen.
8: Suddenly, everything Colonel Trautman says is a double entendre in First Blood
You kiss Ma Trautman with that dirty mouth?
The scene – Colonel Trautman sits in a crowded bar downing whisky and sucking on a thick cigar, worried about his old friend John Rambo. Teasle, the local cop, scrolls over and asks if he can join him. After this, almost everything Trautman and Teasle say in the scene takes on a shimmering sexual intensity.
Examples: “…I could almost taste it”, “it gets confusing sometimes. You can bet in Vietnam, me and Rambo got plenty confused”, “what would you have done with him, if he came in? Would you wrap your arms around him, give him a wet sloppy kiss? Would you have blown his brains out?” HELL YEAH.
7: Romantic ‘me time’ foiled by sneaky sleeping parent in Black Swan
Bloodshot eyes – looks like someone else can’t get enough late night Trautman/Teasle fanfic
The collective nightmare of a generation: mum catches you messing with your cash and prizes when you think you’re alone. The jump cut from heavy breathing mid self-hump Natalie Portman to sleeping mum in chair right next to bed is accompanied by a horror-film soundtrack sting… exactly what you’d hear in your own head if caught with your hands in the cookie jar.
6: Special (line) delivery in Se7en
“Awwww, Gwyn – $2000 for a Goop vaginal detox kit?”
The final act of Se7enhas some masterclass-level acting from Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset, Kevin Spacey as the killer, and Gwyneth Paltrow as the head in a box (did I remember to warn about spoilers if you haven’t see the film yet? I did, right?). But, this film was made in 1995, a few years before Brad Pitt learned how to act to the same standard, so his yelps of “The baux, what was in the baaauuuuxxx? Awwww!!” make the heavy ending of the film just that little bit easier to take. And to mock afterwards.
5: The Last Airbender – unfortunate usage of British homophobic slang
Probably should have watched the series…
Anyone who grew up outside of the UK and unfamiliar with our strange ways and words can perhaps accept that a character who bends water, earth, fire, and air is called a ‘Bender’ – sure, that vernacular makes sense. But if you, for instance, went to a crappy bullying-intensive comprehensive school in the UK and watch The Last Airbenderwithout knowing anything about the mythology, your reaction might be “WHOA THERE – why so harsh to the magical gay kid?” After the third use of the word, you might be sniggering. And maybe after about 30 minutes into its runtime, asking yourself “why am I watching this film?”
4: “It’s sticky!” – Frodo tries to run from genitalic symbolism in The Two Towers
“Genitalic isn’t a word”
There’s a deep mine of psycho-sexual symbolism in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings that readers of the books and audiences of the Peter Jackson film adaptations don’t have to dig very far to find. Consider Shelob: a giant spider who catches unwary travellers in her webbing and eats them. But also: a hairy drooling creature with a dripping stinger, desperate to get some, ahem, meat inside of her.
According to local (pervert) orcs who hang around to watch the action when she gets her hands on some man-flesh, she’s “always hungry”. She represents a forceful, dominant, insatiable element of hetero female sexuality, and the men (plus hobbits, dwarfs and elves) of Middle Earth are terrified of her “having her way with them”. Well, that’s how I see Shelob, anyway. So, Frodo running away from the giant vulvic spider thing in a panic always makes me sporfle. Also: that face he’s pulling up there cannot be ignored.
3: Racism: Medieval style, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
*Topical comment about UKIP*
There are a fair few things about the Sheriff of Nottingham’s BFF Mortianna that clues the audience into the fact she’s a bad ‘un in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. She works black magic with blood and spit, has sharp talons like a monster, and a fright wig even worse than Tina Turner’s in the music video for What’s Love Got to Do With It. There’s her outright evil ways and corpse-like appearance, too.
But sometimes that’s just not enough to stop an audience warming to a character, you know? So why not throw in the fact she’s a bigot as well? I think it’s the incongruity of a real-world repellent personality trait fighting with the fantasy/supernatural stylings of evil in this characterisation that makes it so ridiculous, I don’t know. She doesn’t just have command of dark and destructive forces, she also really, really hates other races. Total prick.
2: Disclosure discloses that Hollywood knew nothing about technology in the 90s
“Digicom virtual reality database… for entertainment use only” – you’re damn right it’s entertaining.
For those too young to remember 1994, hacking a computer hard drive back in the day used to entail donning virtual reality gloves, an SFX visor, and schlepping through a VR mansion full of data and pulling files out, manually. It was very literal, going through virtual files, back then. And if someone else wanted to stop you messing with their computer files, well, gosh, they’d generate a 3D framework of their body and use that to stand in front of you.
Oh no, hold on, that’s not true. That’s just how the makers of Disclosurethought computer hacking worked, and made Michael Douglas act out in the film.
1: All that talk about Elias Koteas’ anus in Crash
I wonder what they’re both thinking about
You rent out Crash hoping to have a laugh at Hollywood’s efforts to explore racism in America (and doing a horrible job because the film is written, directed, and bankrolled by rich white men who fart foie gras), and instead you find you’ve unwittingly got the 1996 Crash about sensual car crashes instead.
But don’t fret, skip to the scene where James and Catherine discuss Elias Koteas while having sex. Catherine uses the word “anus” three times in, like, five seconds. Anus. Elias Koteas’s anus.
So, which ‘serious’ moments in cinema make you seriously crack up?