Recently the news broke that Airplane! co-director David Zucker was preparing a new parody film. While Airplane! skewers of disaster films then scorching and starry, this new project of Zucker, entitled The star of Malta, would make fun of classic black films. The news of this production came as a surprise, and not just because Zucker previously said he was no longer directing films after the box office failure of his 2008 feature film. An american song. The shock here was mainly due to the fact that the parody film does not exist in modern mainstream cinema. This begs the question … can the parody movie still work?
For decades, the parody movie was a staple of Hollywood comedies. The genre became very popular in the 1970s thanks to Mel brooks works like Young Frankenstein. Such projects proved popular enough to ensure that we would all see the parody movie until the 1990s and 2000s. The targets of these movies have changed but work like this. Horror movie Where Not another teen movie assured that the fake movie was a regular show at your local multiplex.
The sudden shift from prominence to obscurity for the genre in the modern age has in part to do with the movies that are now available to make fun of. Typically, fake films work best when you plug self-serious films. To take Dead men don’t wear plaid, which put a clown’s nose on classic blacks by literally inserting wacky Steve martin in pictures of old entries in the genre. In the same way, Flaming saddles rooted comedy out of the western by centering its story on a character who looked more like Bugs Bunny than John wayne. The original Horror movie may have parodied horror / comedy knowing the genre Scream, but even this movie made sure to poke fun at a downright serious fare like The Blair Witch Project.
On the other hand, if the falsified films wanted to skewer the greatest films of the modern era, they would have more difficulty. It’s not that there’s nothing worth making fun of in superhero movies. However, the typical entries of this genre are already intertwined with gags that would have been comfortable in classic parody movies. Thor: Ragnarok, for example, took Black Widow’s “Sun’s get real low, big guy” line from Avengers: Age of Ultron and used it for comedic ends. Recontextualizing serious dialogue from a big budget fare and turning it into something wacky was the bread and butter of people like Mel Brooks. How can modern spoofing movies skewer the biggest movies of the day when they are already faking themselves?
During this time, F9, the last opus of the Fast Furious franchise (which got an obscure DTV parody in 2013 titled Super fast!), featured a scene in which Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) commented on how the Fast Furious the characters can apparently survive anything. It was so close to breaking the Fourth Wall that it’s amazing Fozzie Bear didn’t just hand Pearce the script for F9. It’s also another example of the kind of metagag that was once exclusive to spoofed movies, but is now the standard for the biggest features on the planet.
Another issue that plagues the existence of the genre is the modern definition of what now constitutes popular culture. In the 1970s, it was easy to determine which films were so well known that they could form the basis of a largely attractive parody film. There just weren’t a ton of options for mass entertainment back then, which ensured that it was easy to figure out what was and what wasn’t popular enough to become the next one. Hot shots!
But in 2021, things have changed dramatically. There is now a greater variety of pop culture available for consumption. As a result, pop culture is no longer defined by a big heavyweight that everyone recognizes, but rather by several notable properties with smaller fan bases. This has produced many positive effects, including allowing under-represented voices to be heard. However, that does mean that there aren’t as many pop culture touchstones that anyone can immediately recognize, making it ripe material for a largely appealing parody movie. The evolving nature of the modern media landscape has allowed many new types of films to emerge, but it has been difficult to find a place for the traditional parody film.
Certainly, there are many external factors that make it even more difficult for the parody film in the modern world of cinema. However, it is true that part of the problem with the genre comes from the negative public perception of parody films. No genre is foolproof against bad movies, and the parody movie was never an exception. In the 2000s, the gigantic success of Horror movie spawned a series of imitators who began to take this field to new lows in terms of overall quality. Instead of being seen as a trusted source for comedy, the parody movie has become synonymous with the worst kind of comedy film you can muster.
That might sound like an extreme statement unless you’ve watched the entries for the late 2000s parody movie. Aaron Seltzer and Jason friedberg alone, which includes features such as Meet the Spartans and Disaster movie, have become one of the most derided movies of all time, parody or otherwise. Beside their films, there were forgotten hiccups like Stan helsing, Extreme movie, and Superhero movie. Other duds for the genre included Disaster movie, Dance flicke, and even a 2013 installment in the Horror movie series, Scary Movie 5. Even David Zucker’s return to fake films, An american song, could not restore luster to this sub-genre. If anything, it seemed to suggest that if Zucker couldn’t make these movies work, who could?
Granted, that doesn’t mean all the fake movies of the 21st century are bad. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a fantastic exception to these standards, a hysterical skewer of musical biopic tropes. However, even this film illustrates why fake films have become rare. Despite strong reviews, Walk hard was a non-starter at the box office when it hit theaters in December 2007. Soon, financial blues would become the norm for the parody film at the box office.
With all of these factors at play, not to mention the decrease in the presence of big screen comedies in general for movie studios, it becomes much more understandable why the parody movie has disappeared. Movies like Popstar: Never stop, never stop prove that the genre can still produce quality comedy no matter what something like vampires suck can communicate. Perhaps the potential black David Zucker parody or another feature film can reignite a renaissance for this beleaguered parody film. Until a title proves otherwise, it just doesn’t seem like there is room in the cinematic landscape for the mainstream parody film.
“What you are doing is very anarchist. Very baller.”
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