Features and Columns · Movies

Farce and Fiction: What Makes a Great Movie Within a Movie

Why aren’t we calling movies within movies “cinemaception” though?
Tropic Thunder film within a film
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on April 28th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay celebrating the best meta-movies within movies.

You gotta admit, it’s always a treat when there’s a movie within a movie. After all, who doesn’t love a fake trailer?

Meta-movies tend to act as bite-sized Hollywood satire, a quick way to take potshots at genre conventions, aesthetics, and marketing techniques. A one-off gag is all well and good. But at their best, meta-movies can tell us a fair amount about the fictional world that they’re a part of.

To give an example: the fake teasers that precede 2008’s Tropic Thunder lampoon everything from awards-hopeful Oscar bait (“Satan’s Alley“) to overwrought action franchises (“Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown“), clearly establishing the satirical gait of the actual film to follow. These fake trailers also introduce us to our key players, a gaggle of actors whose in-universe film choices tell us what we need to know about their Hollywood status.

As the video essay below emphasizes, the best meta-movies are the ones that transcend mere throwaway genre satire and wriggle their way into the narrative itself. The essay makes a distinction between “fictional movies within movies” and “movies predominately about the making of fictional movies.” So don’t expect to see any appearances from Living in Oblivion‘s low-budget indie film or The Player‘s “Habeas Corpus” or the titular movie in Hail, Caesar!. Instead, you’ll find a thorough and delightfully celebratory breakdown of meta-movies that add a little spice to the films that they’re a part of. 

Watch “The Best Movies Within Movies“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by the New York-based Patrick (H) Willems. Willems has been making content on YouTube for the better part of a decade. You can find Willems’ own directorial efforts and their video essays on their channel here. You can also find Willems on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.