For Those About to Mock

10 Mockumentaries That Turn Up the Hilarity to Eleven


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It was only a matter of time before Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen collaborated on something like Documentary Now!, their new homage to the art of documentary filmmaking. Back in their Saturday Night Live days, the three friends put together a sketch titled “Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros: History of Punk,” parodying the rock docs they grew up loving. With Documentary Now!, they’re digging in, and paying tribute to famous docs from Grey Gardens to Nanook of the North.

Mockumentaries, as a form, have been with us for decades, poking fun at politicians, celebrities and regular folks who dream a bit too big.  Here are some of our favorites, the mockumentaries that weren’t afraid to turn up the volume (and the laughs) to eleven.

1. Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan (2006)

It’s hard to remember after years of terrible “My wife!” impressions, but when Borat first exploded into theaters in the fall of 2006, it was a revelation. Edgy and brash, but with a point of view, the surprise hit comedy challenged its audience while still being deliriously funny. Sacha Baron Cohen had made his bones in the mockumentary/news magazine spoof form — most famously on Da Ali G Show, where Borat the character was born — but had struggled to translate his collection of characters to the big screen. Following the fictional feature Ali G Indahouse, which felt like a one note sketch that never ended, Cohen set his hapless Kazakhstani newsman loose in the real world. As a result, the filmmakers were able to explore the highs and lows of American culture while also working in some nude male wrestling. All together now: “Very Niiiiiiice!”

2. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

The big bang of the modern mockumentary, this comedy classic single handedly showed a generation of movie and music fans how it was done. Rob Reiner’s film follows the out-of-touch, raucous, and fading heavy metal band Spinal Tap on what would prove to be a fateful tour, sending up both rock-and-roll and the documentaries about the scene. The movie was both over-the-top and spot-on, and more than one fan walked out of the theater believing that Spinal Tap was a real band. While the film opened to middling box office, VHS and TV airings helped it to become one of the biggest cult hits of the ’80s. It was even selected by the Library of Congress for preservation by the United States National Film Registry, meaning that when aliens land on the planet a million years from now, they’ll still be able to enjoy a rousing performance of “Big Bottom.”

3. Waiting For Guffman (1997)

Christopher Guest, who played lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, acts as both director and star this time. Gathering many of the performers who made Spinal Tap a hit, this would be the first in a series of groundbreaking and hilarious mockumentaries made under his direction. Here Guest’s sights are set on the world of community theater, and the dreamers with more heart than talent who make up their ranks. Probably the funniest of Guest’s directorial efforts, which also include stellar entries like Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, this film knew that desperation mixed with delusion is a potent mix for comedy. And it was recently announced that Guest would be helming a new film about mascots for Netflix, perhaps adding another classic to this list.

 4. The Office (2001-2003; 2005-2013)

Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for the BBC in 2001, The Office centered around the run-of-the-mill lives of a group of office workers. Vastly more cutting than the majority of sitcoms on the air at the time, it initially struggled to find an audience, before breaking out into an international hit. Known for its dry wit and cringe-worthy comedy, the humor reflected a dark, more adult understand of the struggles of day-to-day life. While the show has since be remade in a variety of countries, including the long-running and great-in-its-own-right NBC hit, the original is still one of the most revolutionary TV comedies ever made.

5. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

When you think of Denise Richards, comedy isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind, but the Wild Things actress is surprisingly stellar in this dark comedy about the world of local beauty pageants. Directed by Michael Patrick Jann of MTV’s The State, the movie follows the high stakes and low-down schemes of the girls competing in the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess PageantMuch like Waiting for Guffman, the filmmakers here know that small town folks with outsized dreams equals comedy gold. An all-star cast, with everyone from Brittany Murphy to Allison Janney to Amy Adams in her film debut, help sell the dark humor and pearly white teeth of the Minnesota pageant world. Another film that didn’t hit big out of the gate, but has grown over the years to become a beloved cult classic.

6. Zelig (1983)

One of the most underrated comedies in Woody Allen’s filmography, this fictional documentary about a mysterious “human chameleon” who randomly appears at famous moments throughout history did the whole “insert a comedic actor into classic photographs and news clips” thing way before Forrest Gump shook hands with Nixon. Mixing archival footage with interviews with authors and experts, Zelig remains influential and one of the strongest films from Allen’s post-Annie Hall years

7. Fear Of A Black Hat (1993)

Following in the footsteps of This Is Spinal Tap, but with a bit more of a political edge, filmmaker and star Rusty Cundieff is the guiding voice behind this ode to the world of early ’90s hip-hop. While it comes across as a bit dated today, Cundieff was one of the first filmmakers to take on the world of rap, as well as the cultural reaction to the genre. While the Chris Rock comedy CB4, which covered much of the same ground, came out the year before, Fear Of A Black Hat is considered the more significant (and funnier) of the two. A flop at the time, songs like “Booty Juice” and “F*ck The Security Guards” have helped this mockumentary outlive the era it was mocking.

8. Take the Money and Run (1969)

Woody Allen is considered a genius for many reasons, but one has to only look at this movie to have a sense of what a game changer he was. Long before the other films and shows on this list hit it big, Allen was exploring the comedic possibilities of the documentary form. The second film directed by Allen, and the first to use live footage (his debut, What’s Up, Tiger Lily used footage from a Japanese spy film and overdubbed it), the film centers around an inept bank robber as he flounders through life. Full of the silly comedy and sight gags that marked much of Allen’s early success in film, the big difference here is the documentary style. Truly ahead of his time, this film’s humor holds up remarkable well, considering it was made 46 years ago.

9. Tanner ’88 (1988)

Written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau and directed by Robert Altman, the HBO miniseries Tanner ’88 was ahead of its time. Using the mockumentary form, the filmmakers dived into the 1988 Presidential election as it was happening, eliciting cameos from the likes of Bob Dole, Gary Hart (remember him?), Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson. With an astute understanding of the political landscape, and sharp sense of satire, there has never been anything quite like Tanner, which commented on a political campaign from the inside. Look for a young Cynthia Nixon as the titular candidate’s daughter, a role she reprised in the 2004 sequel series Tanner on Tanner.

10. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame co-wrote and stars in this spoof doc about a group of vampires who hang out in a New Zealand suburb. A hilarious antidote to our current era of sparkly, super-emo vamps, What We Do in the Shadows earned rave reviews for its fresh take on both the horror and mockumentary genre.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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