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The Dark Humor of Adam McKay Movies

By David Young · August 29, 2022

Shedding Light on the Dark Humor of Adam McKay Movies

What’s one thing all Adam McKay movies have in common? Dark humor about a very real issue in the world.

There are a lot of ways that a screenplay can open the eyes of the audience. It can shed light on the job of a desk-riding cop or showcase real behind-the-scenes manipulation in the White House. Whatever the story, the principles are the same: there’s a truth that has to get exposed. That’s Adam McKay’s own fascination, too — in every single story he puts together, he creates an opportunity to look behind the curtain. The thing about Adam McKay movies, however, is they do that using dark humor. 

Let’s take a look at his most notable films and see how he sheds a darkly humorous light on some of the darkest parts of human existence.

Scripts from this Article

The Big Short

Our world isn’t perfect — and neither is our economy. One place where those imperfections become glaringly clear is through the events of The Big Short (which McKay wrote and directed), a film where a dramatic collapse of the housing market allows many people to take advantage of the flawed economy. This film tells its story through three separate narratives, but they all tell us the same thing: the money game is a very corrupt thing.

As certain people take notice of Michael Burry’s own investments, the story showcases people with different agendas leaning in to get their big win. This script is based on true events, and the dog-eat-dog world it depicts is still out there. Adam McKay doesn’t invent it — he uses the story here to shed a light on it.

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Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

While films often cover the story events that become worthy of news coverage, Anchorman steps into the lives of the people covering the news. Ron Burgundy, the titular character of this comedy, is a man who has everything — until another anchor comes to shake things up. The infatuation and competition that ensue help to show who Ron really is. 

Of course, this story is not one that exposes a specific industry but instead can pull back the curtain in a different way. We get to see the verisimilitude (and hilarity) of the life of news anchors — or a very fun version of that — where everything from station rivalry to relying on teleprompters gets shown in an exaggerated light. 

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Vice

This is another true story put onto the big screen, and it’s one that many people won’t soon forget. Vice recounts the influence of one particular Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Cheney’s own manipulative tactics and means of controlling mass perception are showcased in a biopic that really makes it clear why he’s known as the most powerful VP ever to take the role.

While people may already know that Cheney’s own methods were often underhanded and frighteningly effective, they get a special look into the reality of it thanks to this film and the way McKay writes it.

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The Other Guys

Everyone loves to watch a great action hero cop do their thing. No one really pays any mind to the desk jockeys who have to do the majority of the work for the station to keep running. These are “the other guys,” and this film starts to display that world as it crosses over into the action-hero milieu. 

The Other Guys doesn’t just show what the people do behind the scenes to keep a police station intact. It also shows off what happens to cops who really start to think of themselves as action heroes, bringing the initial power duo down a notch as they take their famous jump.

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Don’t Look Up

This may not be a true story, but it’s a real problem that gets exposed to the audience when they watch Don’t Look Up. Now, more than ever, there are people unwilling to accept supported facts and to live in ignorance. Even when science spells doom for them, they look the other way — and that’s the truth that gets exposed in this story.

Whether it’s a disease, climate change, or an incoming rock from space, we have to be able to look at proven threats and act against them. Without that willingness, people will continue to be dangerously ignorant of the threat in question — and that puts us all in danger.

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Adam McKay is a writer who wants to peel back the superficial layer to get to a pattern. Whatever that pattern is, his story will be instrumental in revealing it to an audience. This could be a pattern of corruption, a pattern of what happens behind the scenes, or a pattern of ignorance and willing misinformation. This pattern, once hidden, becomes the centerpiece of an Adam McKay movie. 

If you want to learn how to reveal something like these patterns in your own stories, be they dramas, comedies, or a mixture of these, start by checking out some scripts that continually do this each time. Read Adam McKay movie scripts now and figure out how to pull back that curtain yourself!

Scripts from this Article