Lights, Camera, Play Dead: The Top 10 Movies That Star a Corpse
You might know Swiss Army Man (2016), the debut feature of the writing and directing team Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert—or as they’re known, “the Daniels”—by its apt nickname “the farting corpse movie.” Although the film is notable for the fact that Paul Dano’s Hank is the only living protagonist and thus relies very heavily on Daniel Radcliffe’s Manny (and his flatulence), it is far from the only movie to make a corpse so central to the story. Here are ten other films that could rightfully be referred to as “that corpse movie”:
1. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
It’s no surprise that Swiss Army Man has been referred to as “‘Cast Away’ meets ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.’” This whacky, over-the-top ‘80s flick is the cornerstone of corpse-related comedy. When two hapless employees find their boss’s dead body, they decide to make people think that he’s still alive in order to enjoy his lavish beach house for the weekend. But when the party is over, they learn that their boss had hired a hitman to take them out and cover up his own insurance fraud – and that the only way to stay alive is to pretend that Bernie is still alive. A special mention goes to the sequel, Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993) - the production team managed to make two movies revolving around one corpse, and they also found a way to make that corpse dance.
2. The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Hitchcock’s dark-comedy film is a “whodunit” that is spurred by the discovery of a dead body on the hillside of a small Vermont town. The body, Harry, serves as a MacGuffin: a term coined by Hitchcock himself that refers to a plot device which drives the narrative but is not important in and of itself. Harry does not come alive at any point – nor does anyone pretend that he is still alive – but he does spark a series of events that profoundly change the townsfolk.
3. Stand by Me (1986)
Based on Steven King’s novella The Body, this coming-of-age film follows four boys as they search for the body of a child who was reportedly hit by a train and never found. This young boy’s body is another Hitchcockian MacGuffin, leading the four adolescents to find friendship and adventure.
4. Tideland (2005)
Terry Gillam’s 2005 film follows a young girl who lives in rural Texas with her drug-addict father – even after he dies of a heroine overdose. The girl, Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), retreats farther and farther into her own fantasy land and comes back home each night to spend some quality time with her father’s decomposing body. The father, played by Jeff Bridges, is a silent and motionless but nonetheless vital scene partner.
5. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Another film that makes light of a corpse post-heroine overdose is this 2006 Sundance hit. The Hoover family’s grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin, who won an Academy Award for his role) dies in the middle of the family’s road trip as they try to get their youngest daughter to a California beauty pageant in time to compete. Rather than halt their journey, the family takes grandpa’s body along for the ride.
6. Rope (1948)
The second Hitchcock movie on this list, this film is heavier on the “dark” and lighter on the “comedy.” Two young men kill one of their classmates and then invite his friends and family over for a dinner party. The Hickcockian-twist is that, unbeknownst to the guests, the dinner table is the wooden chest that contains the body. The corpse in this film is seldom seen but always present. Needless to say, you’ll never look at a dinner party the same way again.
7. The Wrong Box (1966)
If the elderly Joseph Finsbury can survive his brother Masterman, then he is set to receive a large fortune. Joseph’s hopeful heirs, cousins Morris and John, are intent on doing anything that they can to keep their uncle alive – even if it means ignoring his death. But their secret becomes a lot more difficult to hide when they accidentally ship the body to Masterman’s house.
8. River’s Edge (1986)
A teenage boy tells his friends that he murdered his girlfriend and left her body next to the river. As word gets out, more and more people go to visit the body – but none of them calls the cops. The story sounds too twisted to be true, but it was actually inspired by the real-life murder of 14-year old Marcy Renee Conrad.
9. Three Burials (alternate title: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) (2005)
When a Mexican cowboy in Texas is shot by a US Border Patrol Officer, the cowboy’s friend kidnaps the officer and the corpse and takes them on a trek to bury his deceased friend back in his hometown. The trio in this Cannes film may be unlikely road companions, but they sure do make for a trip to remember.
10. A Slight Case of Murder (1938)
This movie features not one, but four corpses – all mobsters sent to ambush former bootlegger Remmy Marko. With a body count this high, you know that the corpses are going to get a lot of attention.