5. Johnny Dangerously (1984)
Amy Heckerling was on a high in 1984, just two years removed from her breakout hit Fast Times in Ridgemont High. Next, she placed her bets on a script by two former Diff’rent Strokes writers, a 30s gangster movies spoof titled Johnny Dangerously, the codename of its lead, an honest man forced to take on a life in crime when his sick mother’s medical bills start to get too burdensome.
According to Heckerling, her movie bombed on the box office because no one was really into classic gangster movies at the time – nowadays, with the discrete resurgence of the genre (Public Enemies, Gangster Squad), would Johnny Dangerously become a cult hit among viewers?
That’s an answer we’ll never have, but the fact remains that the film is a cleverly structured parody, bringing most of its comedy from original characters and not references to James Cagney movies.
There are plenty of quotable lines and off-kilter characterizations from a terrific cast including Griffin Dunne, Marilu Henner, Peter Boyle, Maureen Stapleton and Danny De Vito, besides Michael Keaton’s glowing performance as the lead. On the edge of his comedic run in the 80s, Keaton shows perfect timing here, and that should not be surprising for anyone who followed his early career.
4. Team America (2004)
Are we over Jerry Bruckheimer-produced machismo blockbusters? Probably not, even though they are less successful and less dominant of summer slates nowadays, mostly supplanted by Marvel and DC’s superhero adventures. It’s a testament to the cultural impact (for better or, most probably, for worse) of these movies, though, that Team America still works as well as it does.
Essentially a parody of action movies with patriotic themes and terrorist villains, Team America recycles tropes from Top Gun and its countless spawn of children and perfectly nail the political absurdity and often xenophobic tones of those films.
Chock-full of silly, gross and vulgar gags, like one would expect from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Team America boasts unforgettable scenes like the puppet sex (nine years before Anomalisa!), and absurdly ridiculous songs, but its most valuable moments are in it’s a little subtler nods to the films its spoofs, like the soundtrack mimicking Hans Zimmer’s swells and “ethnic” compositions. If we never really get rid of Bruckheimer and its toxic blockbuster culture, then at least we’ll have Team America to laugh about it.
3. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest’s absolute masterpiece is this spoof on music documentaries , the film that originated the term mockumentary and the use of talking heads and the pretense of a doc crew on comedies.
The catch here is that Spinal Tap not only tackles the weird conventions of music documentaries, but also the idiosyncrasies and excesses of 70s rock n’ roll, and rock stars in general – and we all know we’re dealing with that up until today. The little details are what make the movie relatable and timeless.
The jokes about turning the amps up to 11 and never finding a stable drummer, though, are only part of this wondrous comedy, that has spawned so many imitators and so many references it should be considered more than just a cult classic: it’s a classic, period.
The hilarious Stonehenge prop scene remains one of the most hilarious and most influent moments in comedy, and the performances by the trio of leads (Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Guest himself) rank among the most committed and brilliant on these kinds of movies.
2. Young Frankenstein (1974)
When the author himself declares a movie his biggest achievement, there’s little room for arguments. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks’ favorite among his films, and it’s easy to understand why, as the spoof on classic monsters of literature and cinema draws on a fertile and essentially immortal reference for laughs.
James Whale’s Frankenstein films are timeless classics, and the story they tell is buried even deeper on everyone’s subconscious, so that essentially guarantees that almost no joke will go over the less-informed public’s head.
What makes Young Frankenstein great, however, is the same thing that makes every other movie on this list great: the enduring prowess of its comedy and its marvelous cast, especially Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle, that steal every scene they’re in as Frankenstein’s assistant Igor and his young, confused monster.
“Puttin’ on the Ritz”, a duet Boyle sings with Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein, is probably still the single greatest comic musical number in the history of cinema. Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachmann and Terri Garr put on quite a show too, and Young Frankenstein is therefore a classic on its own right.
1. Airplane! (1980)
Sometimes, it almost feels like every contemporary parody movie is actually a really bad spoof of Airplane!, ZAZ’s masterpiece and an essential film for anyone who wants to understand comedy and the 80s, not necessarily on that order. It stars Robert Hays as Ted Striker, a common man trying to win the love of his life, Elaine (Julie Hagerty) back – aiming to do that, he books a trip on the plane Elaine is serving in as a flight attendant, but things go wrong when the crew and passengers start to fall ill from food poisoning.
Including a cameo from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the breakout comic role of Leslie Nielsen as the now infamous Dr. Rumack, who said those immortal words: “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley!” Essentially a spoof on disaster movies that were all the rage during the previous decade (The Towering Inferno, the Airport series),
Airplane! Goes way off that predefined path as it sizzles through with a collection of unforgettable jokes and some of the silliest, most hilarious performances to ever grace the screen. Airplane! is bigger and better that just a spoof, because, as many of the movies on this list, it essentially stands on its own.
Author Bio: Caio Coletti is a Brazilian-born journalist, a proud poptimist, and has too many opinions to keep them all to himself.