Debate Club: Best Genre Spoof

Debate Club: Top 5 funniest genre spoofs

Contributed by
Jun 20, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week's installment, in honor of comedy month here at SYFY WIRE, we're picking the most hilarious genre spoofs.

We've already paid homage to the best sci-fi spoofs and the best superhero spoofs, so now we'd like to do a little roundup of the funniest takedowns of other genres. The western, the police drama, the horror film, the spy movie, the disaster flick: They've all got their champions, but each of them is full of clichés specific to the type of movie that they are.

But it's not enough to just make fun of those clichés — the best spoofs are actually pretty faithful reproductions of the movies they're aping, utilizing the genre's narrative template so that, if you didn't know better, you'd swear you were watching a straight-faced replica. Whether the humor is witty or crass, clever or base, these movies make us laugh and laugh.

All right now, everybody: Get in crash positions!

Scary Movie (2000)

They ended up making five of these, with the first two directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans, the second by Airplane! alum David Zucker and the fifth, sort of amazingly, by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike's cousin whose Girls Trip and The Best Man Holiday were legitimately great, albeit more conventional comedies.

But we'll focus on the first one, because it's the one that (mostly) introduced us to Anna Faris, who, bless her heart, actually made four of these things. There are lots of great jokes in these movies, but no one's funnier than Faris, who truly was up for anything in every movie. Faris is one of the more underappreciated comediennes of our time, and even when these movies are dumb, she's worth watching, pretty much every minute.

Top Secret! (1984)

Val Kilmer is not known as one of the movies' most self-aware or light-on-his-feet actors, which is why Top Secret! is so amazing to watch today: he's basically a cross between Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Elvis Presley and, yes, Leslie Nielsen. This parody of '50s films, musicals and spy thrillers was Kilmer's debut movie, and he's so charming and over-the-top funny that it remains astounding that he wasn't the biggest movie star in the world every year after that.

The movie is blindingly funny at times – this movie has so many cows – and inventive and daring in a way the ZAZ team wasn't always, particularly the infamous scene with Peter Cushing played, for no particular reason, entirely in reverse.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

"I really believe that it's the funniest movie ever made," Mel Brooks said in 2016 of his 1974 sendup of the Western. "Sometimes you get lucky."

Brooks' boast is highly debatable — it may not even be his funniest movie — but Blazing Saddles' irreverent, proudly inappropriate humor remains impressively scandalous nearly 45 years after the film’s release. Torpedoing racial insensitivity when it's not doling out exquisite fart jokes, Blazing Saddles punctured the sanctimony and widescreen majesty of so many classic oaters, presenting us with a group of foolish, vain characters trying to make peace with the fact that they've just gotten their first black sheriff. Co-writer Richard Pryor was initially supposed to take on the role, and while we'll always wonder what that comic genius would have done with Black Bart, Cleavon Little underplays the part beautifully.

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

The sequels are still pretty funny, but to get the true Frank Drebin, you have to get him on tap from the original. Based on the long-forgotten television show — one, by the way, that got Leslie Nielsen an Emmy nomination — The Naked Gun follows Lt. Drebin and his deadpan, just-the-facts 'attempts' at fighting crime in Los Angeles. But don't kid yourself: the genius of The Naked Gun was its still-ludicrous jokes-per-second ratio. It is possible the senses of humor of everyone you know between the ages of 35 to 55 was inspired directly by this movie... for better or worse. The baseball sequence that closes the film is still played at stadiums today, and hey, if you're making us be honest, we'll even say that O.J. is kind of funny!

Airplane! (1980)

Listen, we could spend this whole capsule just quoting classic Airplane! lines. (Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.) But it's important to remember that this Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker masterpiece was based on an actual movie, the forgotten 1957 disaster drama Zero Hour! (A hospital? What is it?) Airplane! stole that film's ridiculous plot and just added more jokes. (I am serious — and don't call me Shirley.)

Mocking everything from jive to suicide to Saturday Night Fever, Airplane! remains ground zero for the spoof genre, creating the roadmap for every rat-a-tat-tat comedy that followed. (You ever seen a grown man naked?) Airplane! is often tasteless, crude and juvenile. (It's an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.) And that's why it's perfect. (I just want to tell you both, good luck — we're all counting on you.)


Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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