Parody movies have been a staple of the comedy film genre for years. Ever since comedy writers realized that the corniness of poorly done drama or the over the top nature of action movies could be made fun of, they’ve been doing it in spades every time a movie comes out that isn’t great but is popular. That way, they can cash in on the brand recognition of that blockbuster, but attack it with the kind of humor they’re comfortable with. There are the gods of the spoof genre – Mel Brooks, David and Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Monty Python, Leslie Nielsen, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg – and they are distinguished by two very simple characteristics of their parodies. For starters, their spoof movies are timeless and can be enjoyed at any time in any year, even after the cultural fad surrounding their target has died down, and secondly, the audience is able to enjoy them and laugh at their jokes whether they have seen the movie/TV show/cultural phenomenon they are parodying or not. That’s how you make a great spoof movie. It sounds simple, but it’s actually really hard to pull off. So, here are the 15 brilliant spoof movies that managed to do it!
With his cult classic Spaceballs, Mel Brooks took aim at Star Wars with the story of Lone Starr and his half man half dog (“I’m my own best friend”) companion Barf taking on the evil Dark Helmet with the help of the wise Yogurt, all the while being pursued by Pizza the Hut, the alien gangster they owe money to. Spaceballs isn’t Mel Brooks’ greatest movie, not by a long shot, but it is dependably funny, the cast is great (including legendary comics like John Candy, Joan Rivers, and Rick Moranis), and the gag rate is impressive. The movie also plays around with some revolutionary and trippy fourth wall breaking techniques, like the characters watching the movie on tape to see what happens and catching up with themselves and all the jokes about the shameless business of merchandising that take jabs at George Lucas, whose only condition for Brooks’ parody was that he couldn’t bring out competing merchandise. Spaceballs also ends on a high note, featuring a John Hurt cameo that recreates his iconic chest-buster scene from Alien and ends with the alien doing a lavish musical dance number to “Hello Ma Baby.” Comic gold.
14. Scary Movie
It was an odd choice by the Wayans brothers to do a parody of Scream, since Scream was already kind of a parody by itself, satirizing the slasher genre with a sly, self-aware wit. But still, they did parody Scream (well, the plot parodied Scream, but the movie contains references to a whole bunch of different horror movies) and it became hugely successful, warranting a slew of successively worse and worse sequels. But this first one stands as a wonderfully funny movie that jabs the horror and slasher genres in that delightfully silly style that is unique to the Wayans brothers. If you’re looking for another Wayans brothers comedy to check out, Little Man is actually surprisingly enjoyable and definitely worth a late night, brain-switched-off viewing.
13. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a brilliant parodic take on the biopic genre. All those vapid, Oscar-baiting movies that deify rock stars and other historical figures are given a hard look in the mirror at the hands of Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow. Walk Hard specifically takes aim at the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the Ray Charles biopic Ray, but it’s a satire of music biopics as a whole. And it’s not just a movie parody; it’s a music parody, too. It pokes fun at the musical stylings of Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, David Bowie, and the punk rock movement of the 1970s. Kasdan said of the movie’s concept, “I just had this idea to do a fake biopic – or a real biopic about a fake person – and follow a musician’s career trajectory.” It was a stroke of genius and he pulled it off brilliantly. But it’s John C. Reilly who sells the whole thing with his straight-faced, pitch perfect performance in the lead role.
12. Hot Shots!
The campness and blind patriotism of Top Gun was ripe for parodying back in the ‘80s when it proved to be a huge hit. So, the team behind Airplane! took it upon themselves to make that happen, delivering a film that is hilarious and spot-on as a spoof. Hot Shots! was not only a critical and commercial hit (which would’ve been good enough) – it was also chosen as that year’s Royal Film Performance, one film chosen every year to be screened and attended by the British Royal Family, so it’s quite an honor, especially for a silly parody of Top Gun starring Charlie Sheen as Topper Harley. Also, this movie gets extra kudos for bringing together Sheen and his future Two and a Half Men co-star Jon Cryer for the first time.
11. Team America: World Police
It was already clear from all the shots they take at him on South Park that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are not fond of the bombastic action movies of Michael Bay, which are rife with misogyny and product placement and glorify the American military. But they solidified this when they parodied every aspect of that in their own over-the-top action extravaganza, Team America: World Police. Even the title, those four words, is a satirical jab at the US military, and it only gets more searing from there. Disappointed that the then-new Thunderbirds movie was being done with live action actors and CGI rather than the traditional puppets, Parker and Stone decided to make their own puppet movie, realizing that puppets make the explosive action and cliche-ridden melodrama of Bay’s movies hilarious. And they were right. As a movie parody, as a political satire, and as a Parker/Stone comedy, this movie is a timeless classic.
10. Shaun of the Dead
The creative powers behind Shaun of the Dead insist that it isn’t a parody, but rather a romantic comedy that happens to take place on the day of a zombie apocalypse. But it does tackle the cliches and conventions of the zombie genre in a humorous way, while still homaging the work of the late, great George A. Romero in affectionate fashion. Shaun of the Dead follows a good rule of thumb of movie parodies (and parodies on the whole): making fun of something (a book, a movie, a TV show) will only work if you genuinely care for the thing you’re making fun of. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost clearly care very deeply for the zombie genre and love Romero’s movies, and that’s why the affectionate parody works. The same goes for their follow-up Hot Fuzz and buddy action movies, but Shaun of the Dead is easily their finest cinematic hour.
9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
After a few years of their very successful and revolutionary and groundbreaking sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it came time for the absurdist British comedy troupe to consider making a feature length movie. So, they wrote a screenplay that lampooned Arthurian legend and got the funding to make it through a bunch of rich rock stars who were Python fans like George Harrison. The budget wasn’t very high, but ever the comic geniuses, the Pythons used this to their advantage to create more jokes, living having the actors run around and make clip-clop sounds instead of hiring horses for the production. The end result is one of the silliest, funniest, greatest spoof movies ever made. The readers of Total Film magazine voted Holy Grail to be the fifth greatest comedy film of all time.
8. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
The character of Austin Powers is himself not a parody of James Bond, but rather a parody of the hippie, flower power, swinging ‘60s culture. But the stories that he’s placed in are parodies of the kind of storylines and cliches that you get in the Bond movies. That’s what makes this movie and its sequels a wholly original creation by Mike Myers. It’s safe to say that there’s no other movie that’s even remotely like it. And as a parody, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery tackles the cliches and plot points of the James Bond movies as sharply as Mel Brooks or ZAZ, like when the spy is sent to be killed elaborately in a different room by a henchman where he can easily escape, rather than being killed by the villain when he has the chance, and then the henchman’ family being informed of his death, reminding us that these are human beings being killed and discarded, not just faceless drones. And the character of Dr. Evil, who Myers interestingly plays by doing his impression of his old SNL boss Lorne Michaels, is the icing on the cake, a pitch perfect send-up of the classic Bond villain Ernst Blofeld.
7. Young Frankenstein
Perhaps Mel Brooks’ finest film (it’s debatable; it’s a toss-up between this, The Producers, and Blazing Saddles), Young Frankenstein very almost didn’t get made. Gene Wilder pitched the idea of a comedic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s seminal gothic horror novel Frankenstein to Brooks and the director didn’t think the world needed another Frankenstein movie, so he almost decided against it. But Wilder persuaded him to do it with his unique take: the grandson of Victor Frankenstein wants to be taken seriously as a scientist and not associated with his wacko ancestors. So, Wilder and Brooks rented out a hotel room and banged out one of the funniest screenplays ever written, and turned it into one of the most iconic comedy movies ever made. The movie is endlessly quotable, beautifully shot as a black and white homage, and packed with hilarious performances, particularly Wilder’s and Marty Feldman’s.
6. This is Spinal Tap
This movie basically singlehandedly invented the mockumentary genre, paving the way for The Office and Parks and Rec and Modern Family and so many others. Mockumentaries are pretty commonplace now, but This is Spinal Tap was so fiercely original and groundbreaking that when it was first released, audiences were confused and thought they were watching a real documentary. As a parody of rock documentaries (rockumentaries) of the time like Gimme Shelter, This is Spinal Tap succeeds far beyond accurately capturing their style. Real life rockers have commended the film for how accurately it captures the life and times of a rock ‘n’ roll band performing on the road. Notable gags include the band not being able to find the stage, the dwarf dancers being hired after the dimensions of the Stonehenge prop got mixed up and it came out really small, and the band’s drummers dropping like flies.
5. Galaxy Quest
All comedy these days is somewhat meta and self-aware, since Abed’s ramblings about being in a TV show on Community proved to be so popular. But years ago, it was a revolutionary and subtle style of humor employed by this searing satire of the Star Trek fan base, starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman as stars of a popular science fiction series. They get abducted by aliens who believe that the episodes of the show are historical documents of their intergalactic adventures, and plan to use them to defeat their own enemies. One reviewer called the parody of Star Trek in the movie “an affectionate, long-overdue ribbing,” while another wrote, “Sharply written and performed, this hilarious romp affectionately skewers television sci-fi, its stars, and its fans.”
4. Blazing Saddles
Seth MacFarlane attempted to recreate this movie’s satirical take on the western genre and the history of the Old West a few years ago with his own film A Million Ways to Die in the West, but nothing in that area will ever be able to top Blazing Saddles. As a parody of the western genre, as a satire of the Wild West, and as a social commentary on the racism of the 1800s that has continued to this day, Blazing Saddles is absolute perfection. The movie was controversial at the time for its risky handling of racial subjects, but the screenplay was co-written by the great Richard Pryor – one of the finest standup comics of all time and one of the very first voices for the African-American community in the comedy world – and according to Mel Brooks, all of that stuff came from him, and in fact, he wanted to put even racier (no pun intended) language and jokes in the script. Brooks and the other writers had to water Pryor’s contributions down! Anyway, that combination of sensibilities and styles paid off greatly as the result stands as one of the greatest spoof movies and indeed comedy movies ever made.
3. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
When Terry Jones got sick of being asked what Monty Python’s next movie would be after Holy Grail, he joked that it would be called Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory (based on the alternative title of Patton). But after these initial jokes, the Pythons had a serious discussion and decided that it might be fun and comedically fulfilling to do a parody of a Biblical epics that would also attack Christianity and organized religion as a whole. The movie is a semiautomatic joke weapon, firing off another laugh bullet at every opportunity. Particularly scathing and satirical is the People’s Front of Judea bit, while the “Crucifixion or freedom?” sketch and the “He’s not the Messiah” moment are just downright hilarious highlights. Life of Brian is consistently ranked on lists of the greatest comedies ever made, and that’s certainly not a coincidence.
2. The Naked Gun
With Police Squad!, the writing team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker gave the world one of the funniest TV comedy series ever to hit the airwaves. But sadly, it was before its time, and the show was cancelled after just six episodes, and for the stupidest reason ever. It was literally cancelled because you have to pay attention to the show to understand the jokes and follow what’s going on. Ten or twenty years later and it would’ve probably been one of the most successful comedies in TV history. Luckily, ZAZ got a second chance with their lead character of bumbling idiot cop Frank Drebin by bringing him to the big screen, where he found greater success. The Naked Gun is a relentless comedy classic that doesn’t let up for a second – it’s genius!
Not just the greatest spoof movie of all time, but easily the greatest comedy movie ever made, period, Airplane! was conceived by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker out of an accident. They used to tape late night commercials to get material for their live sketch show, and one night, when they were watching over one of these tapes, they stumbled across a crummy B-movie called Zero Hour!. The story of a doomed plane struck a chord with them, and it eventually became their debut feature film. Through various different groundbreaking techniques, like casting dramatic actors in comedic roles to deliver the silly lines completely straight and therefore sell them and using a combination of sight gags and wordplay to eek out the most possible laughs from the movie, Airplane! revolutionized comedy.