Even though mockumentaries by their very nature mock, not all subscribe to the satire or parody inherent in such a style. Mockumentaries, or fake documentaries, can cover everything from drama to horror, relying on the documentary approach to subvert such subject matter. But they succeed best in achieving laughs, and traditionally that’s what the style has been used to do most. Mockumentaries explore (and explode) subjects by revealing their absurdity, drawing upon everything from talking heads to cinéma verité in order to poke fun.
Ranging from the outright campy to the subtle dark humor of more nuanced approaches, mockumentaries offer a powerfully hilarious storytelling device that reveals the humor in everything from rock bands to New Zealand vampires. Here are the twelve best mockumentary films.
12. Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day
The popular Canadian television show Trailer Park Boys inevitably expanded their 30-minute format into several movies. Where the franchise’s first self-titled movie rehashed much of the first season’s plot, Countdown to Liquor Day goes off the rails in a new direction. Focused on ex-criminals and Sunnyvale Trailer Park residents Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, the camera crew that follows these three around often end up in the middle of gunfights or harebrained schemes all meant to outwit their nemeses, Trailer Park Supervisor Mr. Lahey and his Assistant Trailer Park Supervisor and sometimes lover, Randy.
If pop and rock serve as subject matter supreme for mockumentaries, then it was only a matter of time before someone did a send-up of rap. Fear of a Black Hat came out nearly one year after CB4, but Chris Rock’s take on the ‘rockumentary’ did it first. With a star-studded cast, including the late Phil Hartman and Charlie Murphy, Rock and co-writers Nelson George and Robert LoCash examined the gangsta rap scene. A “documentary” meant to parody N.W.A., CB4 followed around three aspiring young rappers who end up on a local kingpin’s bad side when he lands in jail and believes they’re the reason why.
10. Waiting for Guffman
The first of Christopher Guest’s three mockumentaries co-written with Eugene Levy, Waiting for Guffman introduced the world to a cast that would form the backbone of their other projects. The film picked up on This is Spinal Tap’s tradition while bringing a decidedly sweeter tone to the table. Corky St. Clair leads the lovable bunch of misfits who comprise the small-town theater group. They are determined to catch the eye of Broadway producer Mort Guffman, as they put on a play about their town’s history, Red, White and Blaine. Needless to say, things go wrong in all the right ways.
9. Drop Dead Gorgeous
With an all-star cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Brittany Murphy, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin and then-unknown Amy Adams, Drop Dead Gorgeous had the making of a hit, but it was a massive failure when it was first released. Give anything time, however, and its poignancy only grows, which is exactly what happened. The film has since developed a cult following thanks to its behind-the-scenes look at beauty pageants and their cutthroat contestants. Drop Dead Gorgeous is a biting satire about the competitive world involving both stage moms and their wannabe daughters.
8. Take the Money and Run
Critics tend to credit Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary Zelig as being the better of the director’s forays into the film style, but it’s his 1969 film Take the Money and Run, co-written with Mickey Rose, that first captured its quintessential tone. Equal parts derisive and ludicrous, the film follows the inept Virgil Starkwell as he experiments with—and naturally fails at—a life of crime. Coming before both This is Spinal Tap and The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, the film was one of the earlier versions of the mockumentary, and thanks to Allen’s early outlandish comedic approach, it succeeded in setting a strong foundation for future such films.
It was the film that launched a thousand impressions. When Kazakhstan-born Borat visited America, he brought with him several explosive assumptions and beliefs that came into sharp contrast with the celebrity and political figures he met and interviewed over the course of the film. As the dimwitted but eager Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen knew how to push people’s buttons thanks to his experience playing characters that do just that. But Borat struck a different nerve, especially when his ignorance worked to unveil entrenched racist, bigoted or sexist views with the people he met along the way.