The Best Parody Movies

Definition and examples of this comic film genre

Mike Myers and Heather Graham in Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me
1999 Mike Myers And Heather Graham star in "Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me".

Handout / Getty Images

A parody movie is a style of comedy film that spoofs various aspects of other films. Many parody films focus their humor on gags related to familiar film genre conventions, like those of Westerns, horror movies, and spy movies. Parody films also often feature humor based on contemporary pop culture.

Did You Know?

The highest-grossing parody movie of all time in the United States is Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), which grossed $213.3 million.

Definition of Parody Movies

By definition, a parody movie is a comedy that derives its humor from satirizing or lampooning another film, film genres, or other types of media.

Some of the earliest parody movies were comedy shorts spoofing feature films. For example, Stan Laurel (of later Laurel and Hardy fame) starred in a comedy short titled Mud and Sand (1922), which is a parody of Blood and Sand, a film starring Rudolph Valentino (Laurel's character is named Rhubarb Vaselino). Another comedy team, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, made a series of feature films parodying horror movie conventions, including 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

The undisputed king of parody movies is American filmmaker Mel Brooks, who has directed such popular parody films like Young Frankenstein (1974), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Spaceballs (1988), among others. Brooks’ films often satirize film genres (Blazing Saddles is a parody of Westerns) as well as specific films (Spaceballs is mostly a parody of the original Star Wars trilogy, but also features humor based on other sci-fi franchises like Star Trek and Alien).

On the other hand, some parody films are criticized for pop culture humor that lacks creativity. In particular, parody filmmaker duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who were the screenwriters of Spy Hard (1996) and the project that ultimately became Scary Movie (2000), have been denounced by critics and audiences for parody films they have directed, including Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007), and Meet the Spartans (2008), with many of their films ranked among the worst films of all time on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Top Parody Movies

From the earliest parody movies to the more recent box-office hit releases, these are some of the top parody movies.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

American actor Gene Wilder stars as the grandson of the original Frankenstein, with Peter Boyle (1935 - 2006) as the new monster in the Mel Brooks film 'Young Frankenstein', 1974. Much of the laboratory equipment was originally used in the 1931 James Whale film version. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

After a successful career as a television comedy writer and creating the TV spy parody series Get Smart, Mel Brooks transitioned to writing and directing feature films. One of his best parody films is Young Frankenstein, a black and white movie that lovingly homages the style of Universal Studios' monster film franchises from the 1930s through the 1950s. The screenplay was co-written by Brooks and actor/writer Gene Wilder, who played Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of Victor Frankenstein.

Airplane! (1980)

Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, and Otto in Airplane! (1980). © 1980 - Paramount Pictures

Airplane!, which was written and directed by David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, parodies disaster movies, particularly the air travel-based ones released during the 1970s like Airport (1970) and its sequels. Airplane! also features humor based on some of the hassles of airline travel as well as absurd humor, slapstick humor and clever verbal jokes.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988).

After Airplane!, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker created the police procedural parody series Police Squad!, which was quickly canceled. The series starred Airplane! star Leslie Nielsen as bumbling police officer Frank Drebin. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker took the Drebin character to feature films with 1988's The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! In the movie, Drebin works to stop a plot to assassinate the Queen of England. After its box office success, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker released two Naked Gun sequels.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Elizabeth Hurley and Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).

Writer/star Mike Myers parodied the original 1960s James Bond movies (as well as their imitators) with Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, a smash hit 1997 comedy about a British spy who is cryogenically frozen in 1967 and brought back in the present day. In addition to the various Bond movie jokes, much of the humor derives from Powers’ difficulties with adapting to the modern world versus his experiences in the Swinging Sixties. Upon its release, the Austin Powers character became a genuine pop culture phenomenon and the movie was followed by two sequels.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell, stars in the movie "Galaxy Quest.". Photo Dreamworks

The 1999 comedy Galaxy Quest satirizes the original Star Trek television series in a clever way. The cast of a classic sci-fi television show (including characters played by Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman) are mistaken by extraterrestrials to be an actual crew of a spaceship when they think the television show depicted actual events. The film has since become a cult classic, particularly among Trekkies.

Scary Movie (2000)

Dave Sheridan in Scary Movie (2000).

After horror movies like Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and The Blair Witch Project (1999) became box office hits, Dimension Films released this Keenan Ivory Wayans-directed parody of 1990s horror films. After becoming a box office hit in its own right, Scary Movie was followed by four sequels, each parodying then-recent horror movies. Later films in the franchise featured David Zucker and Jim Abrahams in creative roles.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead (2004).

In this UK spoof of George A. Romero's Dead film series, co-writer/director Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg depict an unimpressive "everyman" (Pegg) who becomes a hero during a zombie apocalypse. The film references and plays off genre conventions typically seen in zombie movies.