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When did "spoof" become such a dirty word? There once was a time when filmmakers like Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) and brilliant comedians like the late Leslie Nielsen (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) mastered the art of parody. No film genre was safe. Nowadays, however, movies like Michael Tiddes’ A Haunted House 2 arrive in theaters with a thundering eye roll. When did things go so wrong?
Open Road Films didn’t screen Marlon Wayans’ comedy sequel for critics. (I know, right?) That gave us an excuse to go back and celebrate the finest entries in the spoof genres… movies that packed in the laughs and took advantage of the creative leeway that comes with assuming a familiar genre. Surely you love these 10 vintage spoof movies.
We apologize for calling you Shirley.
And, of course, we want to hear from you! Tell us your favorite spoof movies in the comments section after the feature. Now, on with the list!
Team America: World PoliceWhat it's spoofing: The Bruckheimer/Simpson stable of steroid-soaked action films, particularly those that reek of blatant, jingoistic patriotism.
Why it's great: I feel like I need a montage to tell you all of the reasons why Team America should be celebrated as one of the 10 best spoofs of all time. Co-directors Trey Parker and Matt Stone bring all of the razor-sharp wit they normally cram into a half-hour episode of South Park, satirizing the easy target that is the action-hero genre. But the one difference that elevates Team America is the fact that Parker and Stone pull the whole gag off with puppets. Puppets! The duo have said repeatedly that they regret the decision, because of all the extra work it entailed. But the fact that hollow dummies recite the lines usually penned for similarly hollow Hollywood dummies just makes World Police that much funnier. Plus, that Matt Damon jab still kills to this day.
Airplane!What it's spoofing: Airplane! covers a lot of ground, with gags referencing movies like Jaws, Saturday Night Fever and Casablanca, but the main target is the big disaster movies of the 1970s like the Airport films and The Poseidon Adventure.
Why it's great: It’s not just that it is one of the most endlessly quotable films in film history . It’s not just that the team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker managed to create a pure comedy with an ensemble filled with dramatic actors. What makes Airplane! so special is its surprising timelessness, its ridiculous humor maintaining its hilarity 34 years after it was released. There isn’t a single inch of the film that takes itself seriously - from bickering airport announcers to conversations with little boys about gladiators - and its slapstick antics are universally delightful (who could forget the singing nun knocking the IV out of the dying girl’s arm?) Let’s also not forget that it launched the spoof career of Leslie Nielsen, who went on to become one of the most important names in the genre. Airplane! may have only come out in 1980, but it’s still one of the most influential spoof movies ever.
The Naked GunWhat it's spoofing: Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker went after uber-serious police procedurals with the 1982 television series Police Squad! Though shows like were the obvious influences, the creators say they really wanted to poke fun at M Squad, starring Lee Marvin.
Why it's great: Because as we discussed in the Airplane! segment, Leslie Nielsen is a brilliant comedian with impeccable timing and a sense of humor as dry as a California sidewalk in the middle of July. While investigating an attack on his colleague, Nordberg (played by a surprisingly hysterical O.J. Simpson), Frank Drebin (Nielsen) stumbles on an intricate plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth during her trip to America. The jokes are relentless. The pacing is incredibly fast. Punchlines are impressively random – Nielsen and Priscilla Presley’s "afternoon" date is hysterical. And Nielsen’s straight face somehow sells the lunacy of everything ZAZ dumped into the Naked Gun screenplay. The film inspired two sequels, and they were entertaining, but couldn’t approach the rapid-fire success of The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. Now, go stuff your beaver and watch it again, for laughs.
Shaun of the DeadWhat it's spoofing: This one is all about the zombies. It takes inspiration for its title from George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but rather than just focusing on one movie or franchise it’s ultimately its own special kind of send-up/tribute to the entire zombie subgenre.
Why it's great: There really isn’t anything immensely funny about the idea of undead, cannibalistic monsters spreading around the globe like a virus, but that’s exactly what makes Edgar Wright’s film such an excellent spoof. In addition to poking fun at the subgenre – like not mentioning "the Z word" and unique ways of removing the head and/or destroying the brain – it also fully embraces it as well. Not only is the movie screamingly funny and awfully sweet, it also has moments of pure horror. Rather than being cynical or mean with its deconstruction, the film is in many ways a loving tribute to what zombie movies can do both above and below the surface. Shaun of the Dead also ultimately opened the doors for both the action movie parody Hot Fuzz and the 70s sci-fi takeoff The World’s End, as it was the first movie in what would later be called The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. That’s a pretty big feather in its cap.
This Is Spinal TapWhat it's spoofing: Rob Reiner and his cast poked fun at the gratuitous excess of the rock documentary – the "rock-umentary," if you will. Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, EVERY band needed a movie telling fans how incredible it was one the road. Even the fake bands like Spinal Tap.
Why it's great: Hello Cleveland! Musicians will tell you, to this day, that the accuracy of the jokes in This Is Spinal Tap slice to the bone. And that, in a nutshell, is the beauty of a spoof when it is firing on all cylinders. Audiences should be laughing, but the people who actually do the things that are being spoofed should cringe at the beating there are taking at the hands of the lampooners. Spinal Tap felt like it could have been another band touring alongside Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen or Black Sabbath. The irony being that, eventually, Spinal Tap was accepted by the masses as a legitimate rock outfit. The snake swallowed its own tail as the spoof band became a touring group. Smell the Glove, indeed.
History Of The World Part IWhat it's spoofing: If it can be described using the word "epic" – be it biblical, sword and sandal or even science-fiction – then it is fair game for Mel Brooks in this multi-chaptered comedy musical.
Why it's great: In case nobody has informed you, Mel Brooks is a true genius, and arguably his greatest work is History of the World, Part 1. Dancing from major historical event to major historical event, the film is able to focus on some of the most horrific events of the past and create moments that make you cry laughing. Who else could put together a lavish musical number complete with synchronized swimming in a sequence about the extreme torture of the Jewish people during the Spanish Inquisition? With nods to movies like Spartacus, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brooks shows a keen understanding of the material he’s spoofing and twists it to perfection. We did never get to see a History of the World Part II - meaning that Jews in Space and Hitler on Ice never actually became a thing – but even better than a sequel is the fact that 33 years later we’re still laughing hysterically just thinking about the original.
SpaceballsWhat it's spoofing: Star Wars, plain and simple.
Why it's great: Because back when Spaceballs came out, few besides Mel Brooks would have the Death Star-sized balls to go after the campiness of George Lucas’ untouchable trilogy of films. And yet, by introducing characters like Pizza the Hutt, Barf (the incomparable John Candy), and Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), Spaceballs basically demanded mainstream audiences to acknowledge how silly Lucas’ mythology could be – and this was YEARS before the Prequel Trilogy! Spaceballs also creatively broke down the fourth wall for audiences, having heroes obtain a copy of a VHS so they could fast-forward through boring parts. It went after Star Trek, Alien and Planet of the Apes, tearing down a vaunted genre when it was at the top of its game.
Austin Powers: International Man of MysteryWhat it's spoofing: You ever hear of a certain British super spy named James Bond? From Dr. Evil to the GoldenEye’s bathroom brawl, Jay Roach’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery basically exists to poke fun at 007.
Why it's great: A British shagadelic secret agent gets frozen during the 1960s and brought back in the modern day to battle against his arch-nemesis and stop his plans to hold the world hostage. Even if the first Austin Powers movie was a straight action blockbuster with that plot line I would be interested in seeing it, but making it even better is that it’s one of the funniest spoof movies ever made. Mike Myers is ridiculously over the top in the titular role, and the Bond references fly by so fast that it’s hard to keep up (Alotta Fagina for Pussy Galore? Perfect). Some of our best memories of Austin Powers have admittedly been slightly dampened by over exposure to too many bad impersonations over the years and two sequels that failed to live up to the original, but with enough distance, the movie becomes just as fresh as it ever was, and just as funny.
Not Another Teen MovieWhat it's spoofing: Everything from the American Pie movies to the John Hughes catalogue. In 2001, it seemed like movie theaters were clogged with teen-centric rom-coms, and Not Another Teen Movie sliced them in half with a sharp, satirical scalpel.
Why it's great: Because no joke in Not Another Teen Movie could go too far. For the most part, director Joel Gallen simply restaged scenes we’d grown so accustomed to, thanks to movies like Pretty In Pink, Bring It On or Can’t Hardly Wait. You know, the "sprint to the airport gate" sequence, or the "catch a touchdown and win the big game" routines. But Teen Movie carried them through to a ludicrous conclusion, often with hilarious results. It helped that Teen Movie had a fantastic cast, including young Chris Evans, Lacey Chabert, Jaime Pressly and – in a memorable cameo – Molly Ringwald, the "Queen" of the genre.
Last Action HeroWhat it's spoofing: This is a rare case where you can find the list of films being spoofed by simply looking at the filmography of the central star. The Last Action Hero blatantly makes fun of the bloated, stupid blockbusters that Arnold Schwarzenegger spent his entire career making.
Why it's great: We here at Cinema Blend have never been shy about our appreciation for the works of Shane Black, and while his Christmas movies have gotten most of our attention, Last Action Hero is no less of a gem. Though it’s a much different kind of spoof than most of the other titles on this list, its humor is just as clever, funny and weird as any of them. Black’s keen ear for dialogue is on perfect display with more one-liners and quips than can be counted, but more importantly the meta commentary on the ridiculousness of big budget blockbusters is pitch perfect. Whether it’s Schwarzenegger’s Jack Slater complaining about how much his hand hurts after using it to smash in a car window, or Charles Dance’s Benedict proclaiming that bad guys can actually win in the real world, the film is completely packed with smart, well-executed parody.