When asked for a few examples of spoofs or parody films, people are quick to offer up Scary Movie and its increasingly inane counterparts and spin-offs (I don’t care if it’s for the sake journalistic integrity, I refuse to watch Vampires Suck, Twilight itself sucked enough!) Some harkened back to ’80s gems such as Spaceballs and Airplane or commented on the crossover from TV such as Saturday Night Live or The Simpsons. In truth, with every blockbuster or successful film, there has been someone there to spoof it. Here’s where we look at the rise and demise of parody films.
Famed comedic duo Abbott & Costello have made their mark throughout the entertainment industry, from burlesque to radio to films during the 40s and 50s. They are best known for their “Who’s on first?” routine, but also made 36 films together including a couple parodies in which they meet some of their fellow Universal Studios horror counterparts. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein pits them against Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man utilizing all their best comedic tricks.
The 1960s saw the birth of the most successful movie franchise in motion picture history with the release of Dr. No in 1962, staring a handsome young Sean Connery as Agent 007, aka James Bond. This was not merely a beginning for a film franchise, but it also sparked the spy movie craze that’s still going strong today. Whether the imitations were sincere or satirical, the list of spy films that Bond has inspired is a very long one. Even the Beatles weighed in with a few pot-shots in their 1965 film Help! Decades later, the Austin Powers series has Mike Myers portraying a bungling international spy/playboy who, among other things, battles villains with names eerily similar to Bond nemesis, such as Dr. Evil and Gold Member.
Though they didn’t often target other films in their spoofs, no history of parody would be complete without the mention of Monty Python. First garnering popularity from their television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus (which ran from 1969 to 1974), and introduced to North American audiences by our own CBC, who were first to broadcast their show in 1970. They would go on to make the iconic Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) a satire on the story of King Arthur. So great was Monty Python’s influence that many a subsequent film or television program would pay homage to them with the inclusion of a Python gag.
With loosening censorship codes and societal changes, many counter-culture films gained a foothold in the 70’s. One of the sub genres that emerged in this time was Blaxploitation, with the original intent of empowering an entire ethnic group, it inevitably became a target of spoofs as does everything that portrays itself as righteous and mighty. Some films poked fun at the clichés of Blaxploitation, a recent example being Black Dynamite, but even those within the genre made a few parodies themselves such as Blacula (1972) and Blackenstein (1973).
We cannot continue past the 70s without mentioning Star Wars (1977) and its significance in movie history and prime fodder for spoof films. The most notable of these is Spaceballs (1987), which draws from Episode IV, V, and VI of Star Wars, as well as a few other sci-fi movie references including Alien and Star Trek. The Muppets spoofed Star Wars when familiar lines like “May the fish be with you” were used in Muppets From Space. Robot Chicken and Family Guy have also made Star Wars parodies in recent years.
The growing popularity of satire blended well with the humour of the 80s, the decade when iconic hits such as Airplane (1980) and Top Secret (1984) were made. Airplane mocked disaster movies of the 50’s, borrowing heavily from the plot of Zero Hour about a cross-country Air Canada flight, while Top Secret targets Elvis, spy films, and communist stereotypes. Sometimes a parody can work so effectively as a film that it becomes recognized in the very genres it satirizes, such is the case with The Princess Bride, which was recognized in AFI’s Top 100 Greatest Film Love Stories, and also hailed a great fantasy and adventure film. In fact, The Princess Bride’s intent was to poke fun at the excesses of European royalty.
The predilection towards spoofs and toilet humour continued on into the 1990s following much of the same formula as the preceding decade with the Naked Gun movies, Hot Shots, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Then the first Scream movie slashed its way onto the big screen in 1996 and a new era of satire was born. Scream’s fresh plot heralded in a new horror whodunit craze that overshadowed the film’s wickedly intelligent satirical traits. Wes Craven dared to make fun of horror movie formulas and have his characters dissect them as part of the story. To top it off, Craven was able to maintain a sense of fear and tension while delivering some scathing comedy.
It was either a sign that Scream was an instant classic or that Hollywood was rapidly running out of material to spoof, because a mere four years after its release, Scream, a satire itself, was targeted in Scary Movie. The 2000’s were not without standouts that transcended genres, Shaun of the Dead and Shrek are more than just silly imitations with Shaun of the Dead being the comic anti-thesis of zombie films, and Shrek’s purpose to debunk fairy tale stereotypes. Overall though, the Scary Movie model and its writing team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer dominated the genre. Date Movie took on My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and even Snakes on a Plane got spoofed in Epic Movie (really? Is it really worthwhile to mock a mockery?).
As we moved into the current decade once more specific series were targeted, with the aforementioned Vampires Suck and The Starving Games by Friedberg and Seltzer. We can also look forward to their upcoming Superfast, a spoof on the Fast & Furious movies out later this year. Given the current trend, I think it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to make Spoof Movie.