Almost since the dawn of celluloid, parody films have been an integral part of the cinema-going experience. It was over fifty years ago that the Carry On franchise was at the peak of its power, while more recent years have inflicted upon us the notorious Scary Movie series, and its similarly unfunny cousins Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, and so on. This year, we have the less abstract (but quite inexplicable) Fifty Shades of Black sending up EL James’ BDSM odyssey. It often seems like no film or genre is beyond the pale for a hastily written spoof to cash in on its name. However, while these derivative train-wrecks may seem like easy targets, especially when considering recent examples such as the offensively dreadful Movie 43, it should be remembered that parodies have the potential for good as much as evil.
For starters, many classics of the comedy genre have been parodies, often becoming more famous than the films they mocked. The 1980 disaster spoof Airplane! is rightly revered as one of the funniest films of all time, but few can recollect that it was based on earlier aerospace dramas Zero Hour! and Airport 1975. Likewise, the legendary Leslie Nielsen vehicle The Naked Gun is remembered immensely more favourably than the fifties television series M Squad from which it drew inspiration. When they’re made with a little effort and a touch of wit, parodies can secure a place in the annals of comedy greatness.
parodies do have the potential for good as much as evil
The influence of spoof films has also done much to bring about change in the wider film industry, often for the better. When Austin Powers mocked the tropes of the spy genre in the late 1990s, it exposed the silliness and complacency of the aged James Bond franchise at the time. As Daniel Craig put it, Austin Powers “kind of fucked us”. The result of this savaging was 2006’s Casino Royale, a film which recast the Bond franchise in a more brutal and exciting mold, reinvigorating the spy for a more cynical generation. Just as political satire has put many a politician in their place, so too have film parodies made Hollywood executives think twice.
It is not my intention to make excuses for unoriginal and unfunny schlock, but to make the case for parody done properly. The modern trend for cash-grab spoof films has undeniably damaged the genre’s reputation, but as long as the silver screen remains so ripe for mockery, let’s not give up just yet.