As the great comedian Charlie Chaplin once said: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in a long shot.” Films about dysfunctional family relationships are those special kinds of entertainment that convey the importance of strong family bonding to audiences. Yet, the appeal of these dysfunctional family movies stems from their satirical commentary on the adamance of sustaining family values which led to unprecedented situations.
Be it a tragedy or a comedy, dysfunctional family films constantly undergo reinterpretations that manage to sustain audiences’ interest in the genre.
Updated on March 17, 2023, by Hannah Saab:
Movies about family problems and all the messiness that comes with these relationships continue to dominate cinema today, as evidenced by the most recent Oscar winner for Best Picture (along with six other awards), Everything Everywhere All at Once.
11 ‘Goodnight Mommy’ (2014)
Two nine-year-old twin brothers await their mother’s return to their lakeside home. When their mother arrives home from her cosmetic surgery, the twins are startled by their mother’s bandaged appearance and sudden personality change. In the absence of a father figure, the children discover clues that their “mother” is not who she claims to be.
Fans of extreme horror films would be bewildered by the Austrian film that befuddles the line between innocence and malevolence. Goodnight Mommy is an unsettling portrait of a changing relationship between a mother and her sons, and not for the better.
10 ‘The Quiet Family’ (1998)
Sometimes the best partners in crime are your family members. And with the Kangs in The Quiet Family, this is most certainly the case. The South Korean dark comedy follows a family who owns a lodge in a remote hiking area. After their first customer committed suicide, the family hastily buries the body to avoid unwanted attention and bad publicity. Unfortunately, their customers start dying under outrageous circumstances, which continuously besieges the family to cover up their misdemeanors.
The darkly comedic movie is perfect for audiences with an offbeat sense of humor. As the Kangs’ antics escalate towards the unforgettable conclusion, audiences won’t be able to take their eyes off their screens.
9 ‘Shiva Baby’ (2020)
One of the stand-out indie films of 2020, Shiva Baby is a comedy-horror hybrid that highlights the tragedy of being a bisexual college student in a Jewish family that thrives on gossip about other people’s misfortunes.
Attending a shiva (Jewish mourning rituals) with her clueless parents, the main protagonist Danielle (Rachel Sennott), is thrown into impassive conservations with judgemental relatives, comparisons with her ex-girlfriend, and direct confrontations with her sugar daddy and his wife. Maybe Danielle and The Graduate‘s Benjamin should attend counseling together.
8 ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974)
The film that spearheaded the slasher genre and inspired horror films to launch into franchises. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most controversial horror films despite its comparatively less bloody content.
On their way to investigate grave robbing, a group of teenagers stumbles upon a family of murderers who prefer dining on human flesh. Led by the iconic Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) armed with his chainsaw, the vulnerable targets must do everything to survive the slaughterhouse family’s inhumane antics.
7 ‘Eraserhead’ (1977)
Film buffs don’t call him the “Master of Surrealism” for nothing. David Lynch‘s feature debut Eraserhead not only baffles fans with its ambiguous imagery, but its eerie score and dubious characters are exactly what nightmares are made of.
Focusing on the imminent fear of parenthood, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is distressed with his life spiraling out of control when his girlfriend gave birth to a mutant child. Unable to tolerate the newborn’s ceaseless cries and screeching, Henry’s girlfriend took off, leaving only the undependable protagonist to take care of their alien child while hallucinations swarmed his mind.
6 ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ (2021)
A much-needed lighthearted take on the genre, Mike Rianda‘s directorial debut became an instant classic family film when it first premiered. The Mitchells vs. the Machines chronicles the disastrous road trip of the Mitchells, a wacky family with proud parents, a weird young son, and an awkward teenager, Katie (Abbi Jacobson). They struggle to bond like a regular family, which becomes even harder when the robot uprising starts to happen around them. Soon, it’s up to the Mitchells to find a way to work together and save the world.
With witty pop culture references, fantastic animation, and a surprising emotional depth, the animated movie has something to offer for viewers of all ages. It’s a painfully relatable look at many modern families’ struggles today, and an inspiring tale of how it’s possible to overcome anything (even the robot apocalypse).
5 ‘Hereditary’ (2018)
Toni Collette is definitely the face of the dysfunctional family in movies. In Hereditary, after the death of the secretive matriarch of the Graham family, her daughter Annie (Collette) and her family start having increasingly strange encounters that threaten their once peaceful home life.
One of the best psychological horror films about demonic families, Hereditary is also a heartbreaking film about the sufferings experienced from losing your loved ones, prompting one to resort to extreme measures to ease their pain.
4 ‘Boyhood’ (2014)
Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood took 12 long years to portray the coming-of-age story of Mason Evans Jr. From the age of 6 all the way to 12th grade at age 18. The film examines Mason’s bumpy transition from childhood to adolescence and his ever-changing relationship dynamics with his divorced parents and sister.
Detailing the little things in life, such as relentless sibling bickering, unfulfilled promises made with parents, and first experiences with romance, Boyhood is a poignant tale of growing up brimming with anecdotes that many will resonate with.
3 ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001)
Aside from the symmetrical shots and deadpan humor, movies about family relationships have also been director Wes Anderson‘s trademark in cinema.
The Royal Tenenbaums depicts the eccentricities, heartaches, and disappointments faced by the Tenenbaums. And it all started, perhaps, because of patriarch Royal Tenenbaum’s (Gene Hackman) sudden departure from the family. After learning of her ex-wife’s potential remarriage, Royal returns to his family 22 years later, claiming he had cancer. However, his grown-up children have other equally exasperating matters on their minds.
2 ‘Knives Out’ (2019)
Featuring a star-studded ensemble cast, the success of Knives Out lies not only in the movie’s dry but sardonic hilarity but its ingeniously plotted whodunit narrative. One of the most famous movies with dysfunctional families, the mystery film begins when acclaimed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his house. While the police believe it to be suicide, the renowned Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) thinks there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
With the help of Harlan’s personal maid Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Detective Blanc commences his investigation into the enigmatic but deteriorating Thrombey family, with each member shrouding secrets that may be shed light on Harlan’s untimely demise.
1 ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (2022)
The international phenomenon and now Oscar-winning masterpiece from the Daniels, Everything Everywhere All at Once follows the wild journey an aging Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) embarks on after learning she’s the only one who can save the multiverse. It’s the last thing she needs considering she’s already struggling to maintain her hectic laundromat, failing marriage, and messy relationship with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu).
The zany film takes viewers on an unbelievable and often hilarious trip as Evelyn discovers her alternate selves, soon learning that the big baddie she has to stop is a version of her own daughter. At its core, EEAAO is a stirring movie about a dysfunctional family just trying to find its place in the wide universe (and next to each other).
NEXT: Family Films That Are Great For Kids But Not As Good For Adults