Movie lovers usually just want to enjoy their typical western, space adventure, or disaster movie. Sometimes, however, viewers might want to cut these grand stories down to size in ludicrous and sometimes offensive spoof movies. As The Frida Cinema prepares for a drive-in screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, allowing viewers to enjoy making fun of the grand tale of King Arthur, cinephiles can watch these spoof movies at home.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
From acclaimed satirist Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles spoofs westerns. The film makes fun of them by pointing out something that most Westerns had not: they take place in a time where people had backward beliefs. Brooks does this by having the sheriff sent to save the small town, a common trope in Westerns, be a black man. This difference brings out the racism, and the stupidity, of the town folk for comedic purposes.
The film also makes fun of the artificiality of Hollywood. In its climax, the brawl in the small town spills into the set of musical filming on the same lot, breaking viewers’ immersions and reminding them the small towns they see in Westerns are completely fake.
However, these jabs at Westerns and Hollywood would not work without the film’s great cast. Cleavon Little, playing the heroic sheriff, and Gene Wilder, the town drunk, lead the film as an unlikely interracial friendship. Other cast members include Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, and even Brooks himself. Their great performances helped make Blazing Saddles into a classic comedy that was eventually selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
Kentucky Fried Movie is an anthology made up of sketches, several of them spoof of film genres. Their most notable sketch, “A Fistful of Yen,” is a spoof of Kung Fu movies, specifically Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.
Other sketches make fun of film genres such as sexploitation films, blaxploitation movies, and disaster movies. Kentucky Fried Movie also spoofs other media such as class educational films, newsreels, and commercials.
While not the best work of writers David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, it launched their careers as they went on to create other great spoof movies such as Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
After making fun of King Arthur, Monty Python set their sights on an even bigger tale to take on: the New Testament. The film follows Brian, a Jew born on the same day as Jesus Christ himself, who is mistaken for the messiah.
The film turns important moments in Jesus’ life and turns them on their head for comedic purposes. The crucifixion of Brian, the stand-in for Jesus’ crucifixion, is turned into a grand musical number. Another moment sees Jesus gives his sermon to a large crowd, but because some listeners are so far away, they misinterpret what he is saying. Other gags in the film are used to make fun of a variety of subjects, such as love of authority or the differences between sects of the same religion.
By satirizing religion, Life of Brian invited controversy. Many considered it blasphemous and it was banned in several countries. However, that did not stop it from becoming the highest-grossing British film in the United States upon release and go on to be seen as one of the best comedies ever.
Not only is Airplane! a great comedy, but it is probably one of the few spoof movies to become more famous than the film it was making fun of: the 1957 disaster movie Zero Hour! Both films follow a veteran pilot on a commercial flight who has to take over the plane after several people, including the pilot, get deadly sick from food poisoning. The difference is that Airplane! points out how ridiculous this plot is and amps it up even more.
Over its 87-minute runtime, viewers are constantly hit with jokes, puns, double entendres, pop culture references, and absurdist humor. What really sells the humor is the cast playing it completely straight, especially Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty as the film’s two leads. But the standout performance in the film is Leslie Nielsen in his breakout role, most notable for one of the film’s most famous lines when he asked, “Surely, you can’t be serious?” and he responds with, “I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.”
Some of the film’s humor may be outdated, but Airplane! hits viewers with so many gags that the bad ones are quickly forgotten and viewers get more than enough laughs to make this spoof movie standout.
Another Mel Brooks entry on this list, Spaceballs spoofs the legendary space opera Star Wars as well as other science fiction movies. The film tells the adventure of the mercenary Lone Starr as he is hired to save Princess Vespa and along the way, crosses paths with the villainous Dark Helmet.
Brooks gathered a talented ensemble cast to portray his version of famous science fiction characters. Bill Pullman plays Lone Starr, a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, and John Candy plays his co-pilot Barf, this film’s version of Chewbacca. Brooks plays a parody of Yoda named Yogurt and Rick Moranis plays the antagonist Dark Helmet, a far less intimidating version of Darth Vader. John Hurt even reprises his role from Alien for a hilarious cameo.
The film takes jabs at the tendency of big franchises such as Star Wars to exploit its popularity for merchandising. The canceled sequel to Spaceballs was even titled Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money, pointing out how even the best filmmakers can sometimes value money over art. Along with its absurdist humor and fourth-wall-breaking, Spaceballs is an enjoyable film for both science fiction and comedy fans.