Thanks to the talents of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the label “spoof” has lost all respect in the cinematic world. Often credited as “two of the writers of Scary Movie” (both as a joke and warning sign), Friedberg and Seltzer devolved the spoof film using an arsenal of pop culture references, bathroom humor and non sequiturs. Keeping it classy was never the goal.
While their rampage through genre and cultural phenomena may never end, spoofing doesn’t have to live with shame either. Plenty of filmmakers have figured out ways to satirize the movie world and tell their own stories at the same time — it’s the movie-going public that’s afraid to use the dreaded s-word.
Let’s suck it up and admit the truth: these ten films are hilarious, well-made and spoofs through and through:
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Hitchcock Movie
Mel Brooks figured it out early: when life gives you meshuggenehs, make meshuggeneh-ade
The legendary comedian/writer/actor/director may not have been the first to parody film, but he certainly was one of the pioneers. Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein are among the greatest comedies of all time (even AFI thinks so), but his love letter to Alfred Hitchcock, High Anxiety, might be the pinnacle of his spoofing. Equal parts Spellbound and Vertigo, Brooks’s High Anxiety dabbles in all of the Hitchcock tropes while telling a story all on its own — occasionally with songs.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Historical Epic Movie
Very few comedians in the world could turn “Le Morte d’Arthur” into a series of comedic sketches, but that’s why we’re still talking about Monty Python today. At first glance, the British comedy troop’s use of Arthurian lore is an excuse to dress people up in knight’s armor and tell coconut jokes, but as a whole the skewers a more modern version of those stories, period epics that have been a staple of cinema since the beginning. Compare Holy Grail to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (which actually premiered after Python’s comedy) and see the similarities.
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Disaster Movie (oops!)
Airplane! successfully parodies every mediocre disaster movie because it essentially is a mediocre disaster movie. Lifting most of its plot and dialogue from the 1957 film Zero Hour!, Airplane! peppers the over-dramatic script with the Zucker Bros. now-signature sight gags and one-liners, something the Vampires Suck crew still hasn’t figured out how to land. Much like the plane in this movie.
This Is Spinal Tap
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Concert Movie
Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap planted the seed in star Christopher Guest’s head that would define the actor/director’s career, but Reiner’s one-off still remains one of the funniest mock docs ever produced. Mirroring films like Gimmie Shelter, The Last Waltz and the lives of actual musicians, Reiner turned the dim-witted rock trio into alternate personas for Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, who continue to this day to perform as Spinal Tap. The Library of Congress recently added to film to its Film Registry — whether they knew if it was real or not is unknown.
The Naked Gun
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Crime Movie
When your crime procedural show fails to draw an audience…just turn it into a movie.
The Zucker Bros. once again rejuvenated the spoof film with Naked Gun, a feature version of their short-lived TV show Police Squad. Naked Gun manages to transcend being simply a riff by turning bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin into a personality on par with Inspector Clouseu. His gritty narration and no-bullshit attitude are straight out of a 100 crime thrillers, but in this case, Drebin has absolutely no idea what he’s doing (and lovingly so). Leslie Nielsen was a classically trained actor and his commitment to Drebin’s lunacy is a big reason we shed so many tears when he passed away last year.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Spy Movie (or as Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer did call it, Spy Hard)
The Austin Powers franchise may have overstayed its welcome by Goldmember, but the original film is a pitch perfect spoof of the Bond series, especially the more absurd years (read: Roger Moore). Bond has Blofeld, Austin Powers has Dr. Evil. Bond has M, Austin Powers has Basil Exposition. Bond has Octopussy, Austin Powers has Alotta Fagina. The entire trilogy sticks to the formula — although even after 22 films, they still haven’t figured out a logical way to get James Bond to drink poop. Advantage: Powers.
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Star Trek Movie
Dean Parisot’s space adventure has grown to cult status since its lackluster theatrical run, thanks in most part to being an outright love letter to all things Trek. Galaxy Quest disguises its spoofiness by putting the cast of a Trek-like show on an actual mission to save an alien race on the brink of destruction, giving itself the freedom to crack jokes at the expense of the franchise’s many quirks and “logic.” William Shatner wasn’t too fond of Tim Allen’s performance as the show’s Captain, but hey, you can’t nail everything.
Shaun of the Dead
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Zombie Movie
Director Edgar Wright avoids calling his films spoofs (for the same reason we’re scared too), but the difference between Shaun of the Dead and Scary Movie is simple: passion. A self-professed Romero junkie and movie geek, Wright’s love the for the horror genre oozing from each frame. He takes every moment from the zombie playbook taken and spins into comedic gold. We laugh for two reasons: Wright and his leading men Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have superhuman timing and, as fans, we’ve seen these scenes before…just without the upbeat Queen soundtrack.
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Action Movie
Big-screen adaptations of SNL sketches perform modestly at best (both financially and critically) and Will Forte’s adrenaline overdose MacGruber saw similar results — but damn if it isn’t one of the funniest action spoofs in recent years. MacGruber jumps from mere play on Macgyver to full-fledged Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer flick, thanks in most part to director Jorma Taccone’s (of Lonely Island fame) slick directing and the film’s overlit cinematography. With the feel in place, Forte kind of just does his thing (i.e. sticks celery up his butt) and it all coalesces and spoofs without pulling directly from its source material.
Be Glad It’s Not Called: Fantasy Movie
Your Highness isn’t as sharp or quick-witted as most of these classic spoofs — but it’s a step in the right direction. Instead of pummeling us with countless Krull references and relying on their goofiness to keep the film moving, director David Gordon Green and star Danny McBride (who also wrote the film) set their usual foul-mouthed, man child characters in a world full of magic and monsters, following the plot points and letting their modern perspectives do the talking. The combo wavers from successful to bizarre like the roll of a d20, but how often are studios are putting out films reminiscent of ’80s fantasy?
What spoofs do you love?