In celebration of the release of A Haunted House – a parody of recent found-footage films like Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside – we’re counting down some of the best films the parody sub-genre has to offer. Although it has become harder and harder to find solid examples of parody talents like Mel Brooks, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, we still believe that the concept can work when done right.
However, it’s just as easy to deliver a parody that feels lazy and lacks any sort of comedic or satirical punch – just look at films like Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, and Date Movie.
Thankfully we have these Top 10 Parody Films to remind us just how good the sub-genre can be.(LISTED IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.)
Perhaps the most obscure title on our list (spoiler alert), the 1984 comedy Top Secret! features a very young Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers, a rock-and-roll singer that becomes a WWII spy. And though Kilmer is the most recognizable face in the film, it’s the one-off characters – like Déjà vu and Chocolate Mousse (yes, those are character names) – that steal the show.
Top Secret! is at times subtle with its humor, and requires an attentive ear or eye, but it’s also filled with plenty of visual gags to ensure the audience is always smiling. If you’ve never seen Top Secret! we highly recommend it.
While it’s unclear what the legacy of Michael Myer’s Austin Powers will be – especially if they end up making the long-gestating fourth film – for now International Man of Mystery still (mostly) holds up as a solid parody of the spy genre – namely the James Bond series. What’s even more impressive than the film’s ability to poke at the promiscuity of Bond, though, is Myers turn as both the hero and villain.
No doubt a challenge for any comedic actor, Myers was able to create two distinct, and memorable, personalities that helped sustain an entire film filled with endless gags and potty humor. Yes, the two Austin Powers sequels beat many of the first film’s jokes to death, but evaluated as a single film, the jokes in International Man of Mystery were pretty hilarious.
As we enter a new era of Star Trek, and fans begin to look back on how far the franchise has come, it’s hard not to think of Galaxy Quest at the same time. While not a direct parody of Star Trek’s content, Galaxy Quest is more a comedic expose of the dynamic that is rumored to have existed between the series’ actors after it went off the air.
Tim Allen leads a cast that includes notable faces like Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Rockwell, as they poke fun at many of the sci-fi character tropes from the jaded thespian to the fateful “red shirt.” However, when these TV has-beens find themselves in the midst of a real space conflict, the film brings things full circle by paying homage to the spirit of Star Trek, albeit with much better special effects.
The film that arguably put director Edgar Wright on the map (for anyone that hadn’t seen Spaced that is), Shaun of the Dead is the film that poked fun at zombies before The Walking Dead transformed them from generic horror movie fodder into a cultural phenomenon. What makes Shaun of the Dead work so well is its ability to parody your typical zombie outbreak movie, but place two “below average Joes” at its center.
And Wright didn’t stop genre-bending there, either: He went on to take jabs at action films with Hot Fuzz, which reunited the director with his Shaun stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. It’s tough to choose between the two, but we give the slight edge to Shaun of the Dead for catching us completely by surprise.
Beyond being a great parody of the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Young Frankenstein is also some of director Mel Brooks’ best work. Starting first with a star-studded cast – including comedic legends like Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, and Marty Feldman – and a sharp script, the film was destined for great things even before a single roll of film was shot.
Granted, it takes some time to get going, but when Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Fronkenstein) first meets Igor (pronounced Eye-Gor) the film grabs hold and never lets go. And like many of the movies on this list, Young Frankenstein works on so many levels beyond being a great parody. Also, Frau Blucher!
Much like Mel Brooks is the king of parody film directing (more on him later), Leslie Nielsen is the king of parody acting. In fact, he was so dedicated to the genre that he continued to star in parodies – like Scary Movie 4 and Stan Helsing – up until his death in 2010. But there’s no question that his role as Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad is his most iconic – so iconic that he essentially played the same character in nearly every film he made thereafter.
Sure, Naked Gun borrowed heavily from the lead of many of the films that preceded it, but most were ensemble affairs. Naked Gun, on the other hand, works because Nielsen is just so good. Though many will try, there will never be a comedic actor quite like Leslie Nielsen.
Comedic duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello met plenty of (fictional) literary and cinematic icons in their day, but none of those encounters hold a candle to when Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Though the name would suggest Abbott and Costello only come into contact with the mad Doctor and his monster, the film also features Bela Lugosi in his legendary role as Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman. For its time, the film was pretty unique, poking fun at what were supposed to be horrific characters.
Yes, when viewed today, the humor of Abbott and Costello might not be as appealing, but there’s no mistaking the two had a knack for timing and physical comedy that is much harder to find these days. Certainly an oldie, but definitely still a “goodie.”
There’s something about Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs that, for Star Wars fans, just hits on so many levels. The movie follows the story of Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his faithful pal Barf (John Candy), as they try to stop Rick Moranis’ Dark Helmet from conquering the universe. Spaceballs takes the framework of Star Wars‘ story and tells its own tale, one that could stand as an engaging sci-fi comedy all on its own.
Though many of the films on this list poke fun at genres or subtly reference films or novels, Spaceballs takes George Lucas’ epic space adventure head on – but does so from a place of reverence. Now, had Mel Brooks made Spaceballs after Episodes 1 through 3 had been released, we might have been treated to a very different (read: meaner) film.
In terms of jokes-per-minute in the parody sub-genre, audiences would be hard-pressed to find a better film than Airplane! Directors Jim Abrahams and David Zucker went on to find great success in the genre – they are the team responsible for Naked Gun and Top Secret! – but it was Airplane! that really set the tone for their entire career, and arguably paved the way for the success of many of the modern films that appear on this list.
From the “don’t call me Shirley” line to Robert Hays’ never ending torrent of sweat, there are so many little details packed into Airplane! that even a second or third viewing might not reveal all it has to offer. Sometimes parodies like to let their jokes breath and give the audience time to adjust; Airplane! sought to keep them coming, rapid fire.
The comedic troupe Monty Python created some pretty memorable features in their day, but it’s typically Monty Python and the Holy Grail that stands out above the rest. Based loosely on the exploits of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Holy Grail features so many iconic scenes – from the battle with the black knight to the ‘Holy Hand Grenade’ – that it’s hard not to endlessly quote the film after just one viewing.
More importantly, though, Holy Grail hearkens back to a time when comedy didn’t always need to be so broad, and could still appeal to a wide range of audiences in the process. And who hasn’t wished they could ride a fake horse clapping a pair of coconuts together?
Choosing just 10 films was not an easy task, but hopefully our list contains a solid mix of the old and the new. Of course there were plenty of films that deserve honorable mention:
Scary Movie – The Wayans brothers combined the R-rated, gross-out comedy with the parody genre and delivered one of the most successful films (financially) in the sub-genre.
Blazing Saddles/Robin Hood: Men in Tights – A case could be made for a list comprised entirely of Mel Brooks films, so holding these two out (especially Saddles) was more about variety than anything else.
What are some of your favorite parody films?
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