Before Mark Zuckerberg's Meta, but after, er, the actual term “meta,” there were meta movies. The most recent and exciting meta movie is the new Nic Cage vehicle, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which has the longest buddy comedy f-bomb, if you haven’t seen it yet. Now, only time will tell if this will be one of the most Nicolas Cage movies ever, but I think it's safe to say that it's definitely destined to be one of the most meta movies ever, as it concerns Nic Cage playing himself, and his, well, "unbearable weight of massive talent."
But, as mentioned earlier, there have already been quite a few meta movies before this most recent film, and I, Rich Knight, the writer of this article, am going to pick my brain so that you, the reader, can watch them for yourself. Without further ado, I'm rolling out the red carpet from my mind palace, so that you can take a step inside my brain and learn about five other meta movies to watch before you see The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Well, looky here. If it isn't our good friend, Nicolas Cage, right at the start. In this early 2000s dramedy, Nic Cage plays both the writer, Charlie Kaufman (who's made several amazing movies, by the way), as well as his (made up for the film) brother, Donald Kaufman, in this twisty meta movie. Charlie, who is a legit screenwriter, is struggling to adapt the nonfiction book, The Orchid Thief, which is also a legit book, into a movie. Meanwhile, his "brother" is writing his own screenplay that somehow mimics all the tropes that his brother, Charlie, warns him against. It's…unique, to say the very least.
Spike Jonze (who you'll see on this list again in a second) directed this oddball film that also stars Meryl Streep, who plays The Orchid Thief's writer, Susan Orlean, as well as Chris Cooper, who plays the actual orchid thief that the book is named after. This movie is just one huge spiral down a drain of lunacy, and it has one of the most bonkers third acts I've ever seen in my entire life. That alone definitely lands it on this list, but it also delves deep into the idea of what it even means to be a creator in the first place.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Spike Jonze made another meta movie before Adaptation., called Being John Malkovich, which was also written by Charlie Kaufman. In this comedy, John Cusack plays a puppeteer who one day finds a portal into John Malkovich's head, and he schemes a way to make a profit off of it with his co-worker, played by Catherine Keener. Like Adaptation., it’s a strange one.
Being John Malkovich, which has an interesting ending that might have to be explained to be understood, is probably the most meta movie on this entire list. Malkovich is actually in the film, but he's playing an exaggerated version of himself, so it's hard to really tell where the character ends, and the actor begins. Thematically, these characters are literally getting inside his headspace. I mean, is this really what it's like to be inside Malkovich's head? What does John Malkovich even think about Being John Malkovich? I really want to know!
Last Action Hero (1993)
Definitely the most underrated Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ever, this action comedy by Die Hard director, John McTiernan, is about a kid named Danny (played by Austin O’Brien), who gets a special ticket that allows him to go into the screen and go on adventures with his favorite action hero, Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). Together, they have to stop a playfully over-the-top villain (Charles Dance) who enters into the real world. It’s really fun!
Last Action Hero is super meta since it plays with all the tropes that Schwarzenegger relied on back in his heyday. And a lot of the time, you wonder if the movie is laughing with Arnold, or at him. Thankfully, Schwarzenegger is very much in on the joke, so the film feels like both a homage and also a send-up to the popular movies in the early ‘90s. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of Arnold’s most popular period in pop culture.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Controversial opinion, but I think Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the best A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Directed by Wes Craven and also starring Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, and Robert Englund as themselves (actually, Robert Englund plays himself AND Freddy Krueger), this meta movie is about the making of a movie that actually becomes a reality. Langenkamp must become Nancy again from the first film in order to stop Freddy Krueger (known as the Entity) from taking her son.
A lot of people like to argue that New Nightmare was just a warmup for Scream, but I think New Nightmare is a lot more interesting (And more meta!) than Scream for actually tapping into the brain of its director’s imagination. If you dig horror, then you owe yourself a watch of this meta masterpiece.
My Name Is Bruce (2007)
And lastly, I’m a teensy bit reluctant to showcase this last one since some people might find it racist, but I think the closest movie to the upcoming The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, is probably My Name Is Bruce, which stars Bruce Campbell, as himself, being kidnapped by a teenage fan of his to destroy an ancient Chinese god named Guan Di. Bruce Campbell’s past movies are brought up relentlessly in this film, and there are several callbacks to The Evil Dead movies.
But, it’s the evil Chinese god part that people might be offended by. I think I get what Bruce Campbell, who directed the film, was going for, as I’m almost positive he was trying to satirize racist depictions of Asians, but I don’t know if he accomplished what he was aiming for. So, just keep that in mind if you plan to watch this film, since all the meta stuff around Guan Di is pretty good. It’s just the Guan Di aspect itself I’m not really into.
In the end, meta movies are usually pretty fun since you feel like you’re “in” on some kind of joke. For more information on other mind bending flicks, make sure to stop by here often!
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.