The parody genre was one of those weird movie genres that never really seemed to get any respect. Can you blame them when most of their recent efforts have sullied and tarnished the name of the parody film causing it to fall from grace and die a very slow and painful death? It’s hard to find anyone who has anything positive to say when they think of a parody film, especially if they’re only exposure to it is the “Movie” franchise (Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie). It’s crazy to think that at one point the parody genre was held in such high regard with the likes of Mel Brooks releasing films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in the 70s and the ZAZ Directing trio with their masterpiece Airplane! in 1980 and The Naked Gun Series (giving the world the master of the parody film Leslie Nielson).
With a bad taste to its name I felt it would be a great time to suggest ten parody movies to check out that could redeem the genre, and give you some chuckles in these weird times. To be clear this isn’t a recommendation for the best of the lot, everyone knows the classics so what would be the point recommending them, but rather a recommendation of lesser-known parody movies you might not have heard of that are definitely worth the look!
1. Silent Movie (1976)
What better way to start this list off than with the master and grandfather of the parody movies himself, Mel Brooks. A fan of the theatrics and the vaudevillian, Mel Brooks set out to make his own slapstick silent movie reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and poke fun at the silent movie with this love letter to the era. With great cameos, slapstick comedy stunts and one of the greatest gags that utilizes the world’s famous mime, Marcel Marceau, it’s a fun, enjoyable ride for any silent movie fans and Mel Brooks delivers!
2. High Anxiety (1977)
Another Mel Brooks movie! Hard not to mention him twice on a list of parody films when he has so many and this is another one of his overlooked parodies that never seems to get any love and sits in the shadows of his bigger feats (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Spaceballs!). Known for his tongue in cheek tackles of specific genres, this time he takes on the directing style of a specific director and makes his own Alfred Hitchcock film. High Anxiety (named after the tension that Hitchcock films create in their suspense) is the perfect homage to the late director, taking every trope and technique he uses (both storywise and technical) and throws it together to create a movie filled with tension, mystery and of course laughs! There’s enough references in this one to keep any Hitchcock fan engaged.
3. Top Secret! (1984)
Hot of the smash hit that was Airplane, the directing trio of Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker returned bigger and harder with a parody film on a more epic scale than the last. Starring a young Val Kilmer, the movie follows an Elvis Presley type who is set to do a concert in Germany during World War II who finds himself mixed in with the French underground and part of a rescue mission. The plot may sound complicated and boy does the movie know it, referencing it in one of the best fourth wall gags out there. The directing trio come harder with the visual gags, upping the jokes per minute, picking up the pace and attacking the viewer with more laughs than anticipated. To wrap it up all nicely with a pretty bow, they even incorporate a bunch of original songs that poke fun at the styles of The Beach Boys and Elvis. I would argue that this is a much better movie than Airplane, but seeing as Airplane deserves its place in film history, this one has widely gone unnoticed sandwiched between Airplane and the Naked Gun Series. It’s a real shame because it not only has some of their best gags but is quite the achievement for a parody film as a whole and deserves more recognition.
4. French and Saunders Movie Parodies (1987 – 2005)
For something a little different, these ones are short film parodies rather than feature-length. French and Saunders were a female comedic duo who had a sketch comedy show on the BBC. Not shy of imitation, a staple of their show was song style parodies, where’d they parody artists by creating an original song in their style. Not one to be shy of the parody, they started to get a little more ambitious and did longer sketches that were parodies of popular films at the time (Which they would eventually continue doing for Comic Relief). Most of these parodies took the form of a Behind the Scenes look at these movies, showing interviews with cast members, directors and the same two stunt/prop crew members who have an affinity for using ants when large crowd scenes are needed. Amongst their parodies are a BTS look at Titanic, A gender-swapped Harry Potter, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Mamma Mia and Lord of the Rings. Playing the leads themselves, often playing the joke that Dawn French is a large woman playing roles like Jack from Titanic, they always give almost near-perfect impressions, particularly Jennifer Saunders, and a host of cameo appearances from British actors jumping in as part of the fun (notably Jeremy Irons playing Snape in the Harry Potter Parody). Not feature films but still worth a mention!
5. Hot Shots! (1991)
Hot off the popularity of the directing trio’s newest series, The Naked Gun, Jim Abrahams, the Abrahams part of the trio, decided to go solo with his own brand of parody film and proved himself worthy of the solo gig with his movie Hot Shots! A parody of the Tom Cruise movie, Top Gun, Abrahams pokes fun at every moment from the ridiculous airplane maneuvers to the bravado and machismo of the leads. With a surprising performance by Charlie Sheen, supported wonderfully by the great Cary Elwes as his enemy and Lloyd Bridges, of Airplane fame, returns as the dim-witted general who has artificial replacements for basically every body part due to war injuries, who manages to say of the dumbest lines ever with such amazing delivery that they somehow work. It’s another laugh a minute parody film that isn’t afraid to throw its punches and has a nice ensemble cast of memorable characters.
6. Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
This one is an interesting entry on the list. Created by National Lampoon with the idea that it would become a series (hence the 1 in the title) but ended up flopping, so any plans for sequels were scrapped. This movie fell into obscurity never to be mentioned again… and that’s a real shame because as far as parodies go, it’s pretty solid and absolutely hilarious. Parodying buddy cop movies (specifically the Lethal Weapon series, with other cop thrillers thrown into the mix), it turns a lot of the tropes on its head while still maintaining a legit mystery plot for the two detectives to uncover. On top of that, check out this cast: Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson as the leads, William Shatner and Tim Curry as the villains, cameos by Whoopie Goldberg, Jon Lovitz, Denis Leary, Charlie Sheen, Denise Richards, Corey Feldman, Phil Hartman… I mean, Jesus! Usually, a cast wouldn’t be enough to sell a film as good and means nothing, but in this case, this is a super cast of talented actors who know how to play comedy and their deadpan delivery is on point here. No matter how ridiculous everything is, they deliver every line seriously like they believe everything they’re saying (which is key to comedy). Tonally, it supports the feel of the cop movie while bringing out the humour. Underappreciated, it is worth a check out for any parody lover!
7. Mafia! (1998)
Jim Abrahams is back and this time is making fun of the Italian gangster films that defined the genre. From Coppola to Scorsese, no big name is missed with this one. Somehow seamlessly blending together the plots of Godfather parts 1 and 2, Casino and Goodfellas to create a coherent story, it’ll keep any fan of these films laughing their way through as the viewer is hit with gaga after gag (especially all the Italian related jokes). Although this one can be hit or miss at times, Abrahams captured the vibe of these gangster films so well and even incorporated some famous techniques utilized by the above mentioned directors. Not all the gags work here, but the performances sell the movie and we get the final performance of the great Lloyd Bridges, here playing the Don himself, spoofing Marlon Brando’s famous role from The Godfather. Any fan of the Italian mobster movie would love this parody and find themselves laughing at every reference thrown their way, for awhile it was even my favourite parody that I kept watching over and over.
8. Baseketball (1998)
David Zucker, of Zucker Abrahams Zucker directing trio, had a slightly different career trajectory than his brother Jerry Zucker, who went on to direct Ghost and Rat Race. David Zucker very heavily stayed on the parody train, also going on to direct Scary Movie 3 and 4, but before that, he teamed up with the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and created this genre parody of inspirational sports movies. Based on a game he and his friends used to play when they were younger, Zucker takes every cliché and trope of the inspirational, underdog sports movie and heavily makes fun of it, from the evil sports mogul, the dying make-a-wish kid and his one dream, the team needing to win the season, and the trials and tribulations of friendship between the teammates, it’s all dissected and twisted on its head to bring the laughs. And with the two South Park boys leading the cast, you know what you’re getting. A cult classic through and through, with fanatic fans of the movie, there’s no surprise how it managed to remain so. If you don’t find yourself laughing at the tropes, you’ll definitely enjoy the absurd game that is Baseketball and how they try to psyche each other out while playing (one-liners and gags galore). With incredibly quotable moments, no holds barred comedy and one of the funniest hospital scenes I have ever seen, it’s a wild ride of a parody film from start to finish. Don’t come in expecting references to specific films though, this purely a genre parody.
9. Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
Around the time Scary Movie came out, it seemed to start the really awful trend of the crappy parody movies. Everyone can trace the end of the genre back to Scary Movie, and although the Scary Movie franchise would hail as possibly the best of that era, there’s no denying that it started the gross trend of the Movie movies (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, etc.). Parody was dying a slow and painful death, getting hit hard at the box office with some of the worst reviews imaginable. It’s no wonder, they became lazy and relied heavily on referential humour, to the point that the gags were basically “hey remember this?”. Parody films seemed to reach the end and were incapable of coming out of this slump. However, within this era, a parody movie was created that would unfortunately, suffer the faith of the other Movie movies around it. Not Another Teen Movie suffered from the expense of purely being a parody movie at the wrong time and was unjustly criticized and put down purely for being a parody movie. Did this one suffer the same referential humour the other movie movies were doing? Sure, it had its moments for sure, but lazy it was not and as far as parodies go, it’s pretty solid. With romantic teen comedies being a massive staple of the late 80s and especially the 90s, Not Another Teen Movie attacked these films head on with no remorse. Specifically hitting on all the John Hughes films (a golden idol apparently that is untouchable and immune to criticism (another reason this movie received a ton of hate)). Poking holes in every badly written character, plot point and odd choice made in these films, they didn’t care, bringing them to light in a raunchy and vicious way. The raunchy comedy is not for everyone, but beneath it all is a well made parody that seamlessly brings together the plots of films such as Pretty in Pink, She’s All That, Varsity Blues, Breakfast Club, American Pie, Never Been Kissed, Cruel Intentions, and more. You would think mixing this many movies together would create an over-bloated mess but it somehow works really well. And if you are indeed a fan of referential humour than good news, they recreate a ton of iconic moments from these films to keep you satisfied. With a host of great cameos from teen stars of that era and a soundtrack that will throw your nostalgia into whack, it is a heavily underappreciated parody that deserves a little more attention than it got. Plus it stars a young Chris Evans before he became Captain America as the Popular Jock, that’s worth enough of a check out.
10. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
The smartest thing Judd Apatow has probably done as a producer was to not sell Dewey Cox as a parody. I remember when it came out, it was sold as a comedy and one that was absurd and silly, but never was the word parody used anywhere (and if it was, I definitely missed out on that and could be wrong). Point is, Dewey Cox amidst the death of the parody genre, stormed the scene as one of the strongest and best parodies in almost two decades. Dewey Cox spoofs the biopic movie, with the heaviest hitters being Walk the Line and Ray. However, Dewey Cox didn’t just manage to bring the laughs with this one, they parodied the generic biopic so damn well that they created the best blueprint of every trope and cliché of the Biopic films that filmmakers now look onto this movie to see what not to do when creating a biopic movie. It’s a testament of how good this movie is as a parody that if you watch a modern-day biopic and it falls under the Dewey Cox template, it can be seen as a failure (looking at you Bohemian Rhapsody). On top of that, we get amazing performances by an all-star cast, and a stellar one from leading man John C. Reilly and some of the best original music to be found in a parody movie ever. A lot of care and meticulous effort was put into this parody to not only create a believable biopic but one that rips apart the whole genre. Unlike its predecessors, the gags aren’t over the top and as much in your face and more work within the context of the scene, coming off more as exaggeration rather than random visual gag. This parody even manages to squeeze in some genuine sentimental moments mostly thanks to John C. Reilly’s performance as Dewey Cox. Slightly dismissed but easily one of the best!
So there you have it! 10 parody movies you might not have known that I feel are worth checking out. I’m curious as to what the future of the genre has to hold. If they continue going int he direction of Dewey Cox, then a Resurrection of the genre could be in store, but if they’re continuing in the direction of the Movie movie franchise and letting the horrid Seltzerberg duo continue to make movies, then there could be a final nail in the coffin for the genre coming soon. I for one would love to see it make a comeback, but that’s a topic for a different article.