By Gail Rubin

Funny films can open the door to starting serious conversations about funeral planning issues. Watching and laughing lead to thinking and talking, and, then, perhaps, to getting organized and taking action.

So many folks won’t talk about funeral planning issues because they don’t want to be morbid, or they think it will jinx their lives. Of course, that’s a fantasy. But watching comedy films is fun and easy to do. Having a conversation about a movie can lead into a conversation about one’s own end-of-life arrangements.

These are a few of the funny funeral films I recommend to start funeral planning conversations:

Harold and Maude (1971) starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort is a cult classic! Cort is Harold, a young man bored with wealth but interested in death, and Gordon is Maude, a wonderful old lady who can see nothing but good intentions in the world. They meet by attending the funerals of strangers. Her philosophy of life and death is enlightening.

The Big Lebowski (1998) starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi. Another cult classic, this off-the-wall comedy was directed by the Coen brothers. A hilariously quirky comedy-thriller about bowling, avant-garde art, nihilistic Austrians, and a guy named The Dude. It is instructive for the scenes with the funeral director and ash scattering toward the end of the movie.

Waking Ned Devine (1998) starring Ian Bannen and David Kelly. When Ned Devine dies from shock after winning the lottery, two longtime friends, Michael and Jackie, discover the body and agree Ned would want them to benefit from his good luck. They embark upon an outrageous scheme to claim the jackpot by getting all the townsfolk to go along with their plan. Ned Devine’s funeral scene raises the idea of being present at one’s own life celebration and hearing what people would say about you.

Undertaking Betty (2002) starring Brenda Blethyn, Alfred Molina and Christopher Walken. Stuck in a marriage that’s killing her, Betty (Blethyn) thinks the only way to break from her two-timing scoundrel of a husband is to fake her own death! With the help of her rekindled old flame, the local undertaker (Molina), a quiet funeral is planned down to the smallest detail – but of course, nothing goes as planned. This film is especially instructive regarding personalized funerals produced by the only competing funeral director in town, who flamboyantly puts the “fun” in funerals (Walken).

Death at a Funeral (2007 UK version or 2010 US version) Both films follow the same story line: a family converges at a home funeral where many elements go awry and family secrets are exposed. The US version features an African-American cast headed up by Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. The films also raise issues regarding how to pay for a funeral and create a good eulogy.

Get Low (2010) starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek. Bill Murray as the funeral director provides much of the comedy in this low-key film. It’s based on the true story of a Depression-era man who threw himself a “funeral party” while he was still alive to hear what people would say about him. The film is instructive for those who might consider holding a living memorial service before they or someone else dies.

Most of these films are available as rentals, so check out a few, have a movie night at home, and start the conversation today!


Gail Rubin is a Certified Celebrant and author of The Family Plot Blog and A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She speaks to audiences using funny film clips to start funeral planning conversations. For information on additional films, visit

A Good Goodbye