When a film truly captures the public’s attention, what’s the next step? For the producing studio, that question is obvious: get to work on the sequel. But for other opportunists with a penchant for comedy, there’s potential for a parody. The art of the parody dates back to satire being used in literary works by famous historical figures from the ancient world.
Today, however, in the age of memes and social media, parodies (no matter how small) are colloquial in the internet landscape. With that said, let’s examine the best and most iconic film parodies of our favorite cinema classics.
“Parody” might as well be Mel Brooks’ middle name. As a director, Brooks thrived in this space and delivered some of the best parodies of theatrical productions in the entire niche genre. Robin Hood: Men In Tights hit theaters a mere two years after the Kevin Costner-led Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Much of the satire is directly referencing Prince of Thieves, including a humorous joke concerning a mole on the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) that mistakenly changed positions on his face throughout the production. In Men in Tights, Prince John had a mole that seemingly changed positions throughout the whole film as a running gag.
Men in Tights also pulled some if it’s knee-slapping jokes and gaffes from other famous cinematic properties such as The Godfather. The film is a proper collision course of slapstick comedy and satirical humor aimed at those familiar with the Robin Hood legend. It’s, perhaps, one of Mel Brooks most notable parody films.
Slasher horror films peaked in the 1980s and ’90s, especially among young adult audiences. Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger, and Michael Myers consistently targeted unruly or unsuspecting teens in their bid for blood and carnage across several films. These horror films were then examined through a meta lens in the Wes Craven slasher Scream, where teens attempted to deduce the identity of the Ghostface serial killer while using the rules established by horror cinema to predict the killer’s next maneuver. While framed with a serious tone, Scream was ultimately a commentary on the horror genre. It then received it’s own parody with Scary Movie, in which the tropes of horror films were then played for laughs.
While Scary Movie may have drawn from the horror genre at large for much of its humor, the entire narrative was a satire of Scream, with characters that were ridiculous caricatures of their counterparts in the original Wes Craven film. Like Scream, the film appealed to the teen demographic with it’s crude representation of a horror genre built for aging adolescents.
Fans of the spy thriller and espionage genre likely know Austin Powers quite well. In the late ’90s, SNL comedian Mike Meyers became the ironically off-putting, yet somehow debonair British secret agent Austin Powers. The entire film was a James Bond movie gag endlessly compounding the absurdity of the famous Ian Fleming character with even more absurdity in an effort to offer countless punch lines. When a popular Bond villain with a deadly frisbee hat known by the moniker of Oddjob is reflected in Austin Powers as a lethal shoe-throwing assassin referred to as Random Task, you know anything and everything in the Bond franchise is up for grabs.
Of course, International Man of Mystery was followed by two sequels that were equally as raunchy and obnoxious as the first. As a character, there’s no doubt that Austin Powers has made a name for himself in pop culture with plenty of quotable lines comedy fans will be regurgitating for years to come.
The outlandishly hilarious gents behind the Monty Python troupe are legends in the realm of comedy and slapstick humor. When it came to crafting a retelling of the Arthurian legend as a laughably cartoonish affair, Monty Python was certainly up to the task. King Arthur and his noble knights questing for the Holy Grail is a tale already steeped in legend. This parody is often revered for its buffoonish stylings and cheeky dialogue. Jokes are made at the expense of other notable legends such as the siege of Troy in Greek mythology, with the knights attempting to use a “Trojan”-style rabbit to sneak into a French Castle.
Whether it’s Knights who say “Ni” or ferocious bunnies that can rip a man’s head off, there are more than enough hijinks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail to deliver the chuckles comedy fans crave. It’s certainly Monty Python’s most notorious production and will endure as one of the most beloved depictions of the Arthurian tale in cinema history.
If you don’t know the name Leslie Nielsen, then chances are you’re a from a younger generation. Nielsen became synonymous with slapstick comedy later in his career in countless films within the niche genre including Dracula: Dead and Loving it, Naked Gun, Repossessed, Spy Hard, and others. He even appeared in the Scary Movie series as the President of the United States. But one film that he’ll always be remembered for is the disaster parody film Airplane! — and he’s not even the lead.
Airplane! follows a war veteran as he boards a flight to Chicago. The passengers aboard find themselves in a bind after a few hilarious mishaps lead to the flight crew being incapacitated — hence, the disaster.
If you’ve ever emphasized the gravity of situation to someone using the word “surely,” any cinephile worth his or her salt likely responded with the retort, “And don’t call me Shirley.” Thank Nielsen for that special line that is ultimately more popular than the film itself — although Airplane! is filled with plenty of memorable, laugh-out-loud moments alongside its most quotable line.
The Edgar Wright-directed horror comedy Shaun of the Dead is a parody of gore-laden proportions. As the name infers, this is ultimately a parody of the zombie movie genre, with wordplay reminiscent of the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead. Like the Romero series of zombie films, Shaun of the Dead deals with the sudden onset of a global zombie plague as an average-Joe electronics store clerk, Shaun (The Undeclared War‘s Simon Pegg), comes to grips with the apocalyptic end of the world.
Of course, nothing quite matters as much as Shaun’s small corner of the world, including his friends and cohorts. Shaun offers a darkly humorous glimpse at the survival plight of bumbling civilians wholly unprepared for the rise of the dead. The film goes to great lengths to trivialize the zombie genre with jokes and references aimed at everything from Romero’s work to the British horror film 28 Days Later. Despite the wit and hilarity, Shaun does offer a hefty amount of tension, blood, and gore that also gives it a level of true zombie-film credence. It’s a horror-comedy that straddles the lines of both genres expertly.
Perhaps the most celebrated parody film in the Mel Brooks filmography is none other than 1974’s Young Frankenstein. The late, great Gene Wilder partnered with Brooks in crafting this comedic take on the classic monster film. Wilder stars in the leading role as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. That’s right, Frederick, not Victor. In fact, the fabled mad scientist is Frederick’s grandfather, and is an infamous shadow Frederick wishes to escape. He loathes the idea of his association with Victor so much that he claims his name is pronounced “Fronk-en-steen.”
Of course, Frederick ultimately follows in the footsteps of his grandfather to humorous effect. The script contains countless references, jokes, and punch lines concerning the classic films Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein is oozing with Brooks’ trademark pun-laden, quippy dialogue and his penchant for visual gags and Three Stooges-esque chaos. With an aim to honor the classic era of filmmaking in which Frankenstein arose while simultaneously poking fun at the source material, Young Frankenstein excels and is, perhaps, one of the best examples of a parody done right in cinema.