Marty is a struggling writer who dreams of finishing his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths. Marty's best friend, Billy, makes a living by kidnapping dogs and collecting the owners' rewards for their safe return. Billy's partner-in-crime is Hans, a religious man with a cancer-stricken wife, Myra.
Marty writes a story for another psychopath, the "Quaker", who stalks his daughter's killer for decades, driving the killer to suicide. Billy suggests Marty use the "Jack of Diamonds" killer, perpetrator of a recent double murder, as one of the psychopaths. Billy places an advertisement in the newspaper inviting psychopaths to call and share their stories for Marty to use in his script. A man named Zachariah Rigby approaches Marty and shares his story, with the condition that the movie includes a message to his partner in crime.
Billy and Hans steal a Shih Tzu named Bonny, unaware that it is the beloved pet of Charlie Costello, an unpredictable and violent gangster. Charlie's thugs, led by Paulo, discover Hans' connection to the kidnapping. They threaten to kill Marty and Hans, but the Jack of Diamonds killer arrives and kills the thugs. Charlie traces Myra to the cancer ward and kills her after she refuses to tell him anything.
Billy goes to Costello's house to meet his girlfriend, Angela, who is also Charlie's girlfriend. After Billy reveals to her that he kidnapped Bonny, she calls Charlie to tell him. Billy, after finding out that Charlie killed Myra, shoots Angela in retaliation. Charlie arrives at Billy's address and discovers many packs of playing cards with the jack of diamonds missing, and realizes Billy is the "Jack of Diamonds" killer.
Marty, Billy, and Hans leave the city with Bonny. Hans reveals that he was the Quaker. Marty wrote his story after hearing it from a drunken Billy. The trio drive into the desert and set up camp. Billy suggests Seven Psychopaths end with a shootout between the psychopaths and Charlie's forces.
Marty and Hans see a headline saying that Billy is wanted in connection with the Jack of Diamonds killings. Marty confronts Billy, who reveals that he assumed the Jack of Diamonds persona to give Marty inspiration. Marty tells Billy they must go home. Meanwhile, Hans has a vision of Myra in which she is in a "grey place," leading Hans to question his belief in the afterlife. He ignores Marty's reassurances that his vision was a peyote-induced hallucination. Billy sets the car on fire, stranding the trio, and calls Charlie, telling him their location. Billy claims he impersonated Myra, causing Hans to leave.
Billy, with Bonnie in tow, anxiously waits for Charlie to arrive, intending to have a climactic shootout. Charlie arrives alone, without a weapon apart from a flare gun. An enraged Billy shoots Charlie, feeling cheated out of a shootout. Marty drives away with Charlie, intending to take him to a hospital, while Billy realizes the flare gun's purpose and fires it. Hans finds Charlie's thugs awaiting the flare signal. The large group catches the attention of the police, who draw closer. Hans pretends to draw a weapon, causing Paulo to shoot him in front of the police. Before dying, Hans says "It isn't grey at all".
The thugs head towards the signal, with police in pursuit, and encounter Marty and Charlie, who reveals that he only suffered a flesh wound. With backup, Charlie returns to Billy's location. After a shootout, Charlie and Billy have a stand-off, respectively holding Marty and Bonny hostage. Charlie releases Marty and shoots Billy just as the police arrive. Charlie and Paulo are arrested, but Bonny stays at the dying Billy's side. Marty visits the scene of Hans's death, and finds a tape recorder with suggestions for Seven Psychopaths.
Marty, having adopted Bonny, finishes the screenplay. Some time later, after the Seven Psychopaths movie is shown in theater, Marty receives a call from Zachariah, who intends to kill him for forgetting to leave a message as promised. On hearing Marty's weary and resigned acceptance, Zachariah realizes that Marty's experiences have left him a changed man, and decides to spare him.
The first casting announcements were made on 12 May 2011. Mickey Rourke dropped out of The Expendables 2 to co-star in the film. He later dropped out of Seven Psychopaths after having disagreements with McDonagh, calling him a "jerk-off." He was replaced by Woody Harrelson. Of the incident, McDonagh said "I was fine with it. Mickey's a great actor [...] I've known Woody [Harrelson] for years and years, and he was a perfect choice for this too. He's got those great dramatic elements which he's shown in Rampart recently, and he's always been a fantastic comedian. You need that in this – someone who can be out-and-out funny, but also turn sinister on a dime."
The film was shot in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, California. Filming was completed late 2011. The first set photos were revealed on 11 November 2011.
The film's score was composed by Carter Burwell, who previously composed the score to McDonagh's In Bruges. Lakeshore Records released the soundtrack digitally on 23 October 2012, with a physical release date of 20 November 2012.
Seven Psychopaths was released in North America on 12 October 2012, and opened in 1,480 theaters in the United States, grossing $1,360,000 on its opening day and $4,275,000 on its opening weekend, ranking #9 with a per theater average of $2,889. On its second weekend, it dropped down to #11 and grossed $3,273,480, with a per theater average of $2,212. By its third weekend, it dropped down even more to #15 and made $1,498,350, with a per theater average of $1,494. It was released 5 December 2012 in the United Kingdom.
Seven Psychopaths received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 82%, based on 202 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Seven Psychopaths delivers sly cinematic commentary while serving up a heaping helping of sharp dialogue and gleeful violence." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film holds a score of 66 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a positive review and a "A-" grade, praising McDonagh's writing, stating that it "hits a unique pitch between dark, bloody satire and interpersonal conflicts that makes his finest work play like a combination of Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin." About the film itself, he wrote: "A less controlled and slapdash character piece than In Bruges, McDonagh's new movie benefits greatly from a plethora of one-liners that toy with crime movie clichés in the unlikely context of writerly obsessions." Claudia Puig of USA Today also gave the film a positive review, writing that "men in movies are often just overgrown boys, and Seven Psychopaths is out to prove it – in the most twisted, hilarious way possible." Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four. He praised the performances of main cast members and McDonagh's writing, stating that "Walken sometimes leans toward self-parody, but here his performance has a delicate, contained strangeness. All of the actors are good, and Farrell wisely allows the showier performances to circle around him. Like any screenwriter – like Tarantino, for example, who is possibly McDonagh's inspiration here – he brings these people into being and stands back in amazement." About the film, he added: "This is a delightfully goofy, self-aware movie that knows it is a movie." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B+" grade, stating: "An energetically demented psycho-killer comedy set in faux-noir L.A., Seven Psychopaths rollicks along to the unique narrative beat and language stylings of Anglo-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), channeling Quentin Tarantino."
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter praised the performances of the main cast members, he stated: "As creatively bankrupt Marty, Farrell is in subdued mode here, his performance largely defined by the endless expressivity of his eyebrows. He serves as an excellent foil for Rockwell, whose line readings continually dance between knowingness and idiocy, and Walken, who ventures as far into deadpan as you can go while remaining conscious. And Harrelson has fun contrasting his devotion to Bonny with his contempt for humanity." He wrote about the film that "while it's way behind the Pulp Fiction curve, Seven Psychopaths can be terrifically entertaining." Catherine Shoard of The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five, indicating a positive review, she wrote: "There are scenes of complete brilliance, Walken is better than he's been in years, cute plot loops and grace notes." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three stars out of four, stating: "Blood splatters, heads explode, and McDonagh takes sassy, self-mocking shots at the very notion of being literary in Hollywood. It's crazy-killer fun." Ty Burr of Boston Globe also gave the film three stars out of four, stating that the film is "absurdly entertaining even after it disappears up its own hindquarters in the last act, and it gives some of our weirder actors ample room to play."
Michael Phillips of Chicago Tribune gave the film three stars out of four, writing that "the result is a clever, violent daydream. But McDonagh's skill behind the camera has grown considerably since In Bruges. And the way he writes, he's able to attract the ideal actors into his garden of psychopathology." Dana Stevens of Slate magazine gave the film a positive review, stating: "It's at once a gangster movie, a buddy comedy, and a meta-fictional exploration of the limits of both genres - and if that sounds impossible to pull off, well, McDonagh doesn't, quite. But the pure sick brio of Seven Psychopaths takes it a long way." Richard Corliss of Time magazine also gave the film a positive review, writing that "small in stature but consistently entertaining, Seven Psychopaths is a vacation from consequence for the Tony- and Oscar-winning author, and an unsupervised play date for his cast of screw-loose stars." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, stating: "On balance, one could argue that Seven Psychopaths warrants a better rating than a mediocre **1/2, but the aftertaste is so bitter that it diminishes the sweetness that started off the meal."
Peter Debruge of Variety magazine gave the film a mixed review, stating that "the film's overall tone is so cartoony, it's easy to imagine someone spinning off a macabre animated series of the same name....." and that "compared to McDonagh's best work for stage (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and screen (In Bruges), Seven Psychopaths feels like either an older script knocking around the bottom of a drawer or a new one hastily tossed off between more ambitious projects." Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist also gave the film a mixed review, stating that "somewhat spastic and overcooked, Seven Psychopaths might have a few too many."