Cult classic Weekend at Bernie’s turns 28 this week and to celebrate, we gathered up five more movies where dead bodies play a starring role.
Weekend at Bernie‘s is a ridiculous movie. It’s also a classic. The 1989 movie, about two pals who decide to pretend their dead boss is alive, endures in its dark stupidity. It came out 28 years ago this week and it got us thinking: what other movies revolve, at least to some degree, around dead characters? Or, more specifically, dead bodies. It’s a surprisingly familiar trope. Bodies have been propped up and used for laughs, served as a symbol of self-discovery, and all-around driven the plot of more storylines than you’d think. Here are five of our morbid favorites:
Weekend at Bernie’s
We would have loved to have been in the pitch meeting for this movie. It’s the story of Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman), two insurance company grunts who uncover an instance of fraud. They bring it to their boss, Bernie (Terry Kiser), who applauds their work and invites them to his house in the Hamptons to reward them. Only he’s actually the one behind it. Long story short: the guys go to the Hamptons, where Bernie had already put a mob hit out on them, and find Bernie murdered instead.
So what are two low-level employees who’ve stumbled upon their dead boss to do? Dress him up in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt and throw a rager, obviously. As Duane Byrge said in a Hollywood Reporter review at the time:
"At the seaside, Bernie’s dives into a fast-stroking Blake Edwards mode of crazy slapstick and knock-down farce. Director Ted Kotcheff loads the sight gags with proper firepower, detonating Klane’s pleasingly sick setups with appropriate blast. Ironically, Kiser is the farcical star — even though he’s a corpse throughout most of the movie. But with his rigor-mortised smirk and Ray-Ban shades, he’s one lively stiff."
So, weird, but still pretty funny, if you’re into that kind of humor. And clearly, the body was the star of the show. As Andrew McCarthy told the A.V. Club earlier this year: “That movie was completely stupid and fantastic.”
We totally agree.
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine has everything I love in a movie: understated humor, complicated relationships, powerhouse performances. It’s also got a dead body. Well, it does a little later in the movie, anyway. Spoiler alert: Grandpa dies. In a performance that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Alan Arkin plays the outspoken, coke-doing grandfather who’s coaching his granddaughter, Olive, for the talent portion of her upcoming beauty pageant.
On their way to the competition, Olive discovers Grandpa has died. But because the family is on a road trip and they’ve got a pageant to get to, they don’t have time to deal. Instead, in what combined is one of the funniest sequences in recent dramedy history, they sneak him out of the hospital and hide his body in the trunk. The scene where Greg Kinnear’s character is pulled over by a cop and everyone has to act like there’s not a dead body in the trunk is one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever.
Stand By Me
The body in Stand By Me isn’t used for laughs. It’s more a symbol: of adventure, of innocence lost, of the fragility of life. The short story the 1986 movie was based on was actually called “The Body.” It was part of the same collection of Stephen King stories that inspired The Shawshank Redemption.
The body in question in this case is that of Ray Brower. Brower had been missing for some time, and after overhearing a tip on where he might be, four young boys played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell (yes, as in Rebecca Romijn’s husband) set out to find his body.
It’s the quintessential coming-of-age story that’s been copied (we’re looking at you, Now and Then), but never duplicated. The boys do eventually find the body, after a series of character-building experiences and an unforgettable puking scene. We get a brief look at it, but even after a climactic showdown over who will get to claim Ray Brower with the movie’s villains, the characters recognize what the audience does: it was never really about the body in the first place.
Swiss Army Man
This movie was super weird, too. (Shocking that a movie in an article about dead body movies would be weird, right?) But it was nothing if not original. The basic premise: Hank (Paul Dano) is interrupted in his attempt at committing suicide by the sight of a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that had washed ashore. Hank figures out he can use the body for fun stuff like providing drinking water and riding like a jet ski propelled by, yes, the body’s farts. (That’s where the “Swiss Army” title comes from.) The two also kind of become buddies.
The movie actually was a big hit with critics. They found it to be unique and strangely heartfelt. Jeanette Catsoulis at the New York Times wrote:
"Contrivances like this can feel overdone. Yet as reality and illusion jostle for control of the frame, the movie shapes a tenderly empathetic portrait of a man whose loneliness runs so deep that even a friend who’s a stiff is better than no friend at all."
Audiences, on the other hand, weren’t always as impressed. Variety and other outlets reported that the movie was too bizarre for some. So much so that scores of people got up and walked out during its Sundance Film Festival screening.
Waking Ned Devine
If you haven’t seen Waking Ned Devine, do yourself a favor and rent it on Amazon. You will be delighted. The movie is about a close-knit Irish town that suddenly has a lottery winner in its midst, only nobody can figure out who. Turns out, the winner, Ned Devine, died of shock with the winning ticket in hand.
The rest of the sweet, silly movie revolves around the rest of the town scrambling to convince the people from the lottery office that Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) is actually Ned Devine so they can divvy up the money amongst themselves. They have a funeral for Michael and everything.
The body in this case is more plot-driver than anything else, but the scene where we learn Ned’s dead and find him on the couch with his TV dinner is so good, it had to make the list.