Thanks to YouTube, movie parodies are a dime a dozen. Anyone can do it and share their work with the click of a button. But once upon a time, in an era that predated YouTube, broadband internet, and even access to VHS technology, a few intrepid fans self-produced their own short film movie parodies and found clever ways to share their work. Here are some of the best.
Hardware Wars (1978)
The granddaddy of all movie parodies, Hardware Wars was an ultra low budget parody of Star Wars that played like a movie trailer (it even included narration by voice over veteran Paul Frees). With a cast of characters like Ham Salad, Fluke Starbucker, and the Wookie Monster, space ships that are actually kitchen utensils, and a basketball planet, what’s not to love? Yes, the humor is very dated, often childish, and sometimes oddly specific (the villain Darph Nader is a play on Ralph Nader), but back in 1978, when this was shown randomly on TV or passed around on bootleg VHS tapes, it was pretty mind blowing.
Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind (1980)
This is another trailer-style parody, based on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The comedy is still very crude and low brow, but the production is a bit more ambitious at times. Miniature sets! Animation! Singing mailboxes! This short was regularly run on HBO between movies as part of a series called “Short Cuts,” short films that filled in the gaps of their programming. This short was later released on VHS with Hardware Wars and the next movie on our list…
Porklips Now (1980)
Ernie Fosselius, the man behind Hardware Wars, returned for another parody — this time taking on the much acclaimed Apocalypse Now. Ditching the movie trailer gimmick for a full-on story-driven spoof, Porklips Now tells the story of a man named Dullard, who is sent by his butcher shop bosses to investigate a rival butcher who has gone rogue. While the set up is odd, the short is a dead-on parody of the infamous Vietnam War movie. In fact, if you haven’t seen Apocalypse Now, almost none of this will make any sense. But if you have, many of the subtle (or not so subtle) jokes will put a smile on your face, such as the climactic exchange:
Mertz: “Do you find my method acting unsound?”
Dullard: “I saw no acting at all…”
Pearl Harbor II: Pearlmageddon (2001)
This is an insanely well produced short film that sends up not only Pearl Harbor and Armageddon, but Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Bay, 3-D movies, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and even The Rock. This short was occasionally shown on Starz, and the music for was performed by Mark Snow, of X-Files fame. Very little information exists about this movie and how it came to be, but I’m guessing it was some kind of video production company’s proof-of-concept work to show off what they could do (around the same time, they also produced an award-winning comedy short called The Dancing Cow).
Saving Ryan’s Privates (1998)
Everyone made the joke, but director Craig Moss actually made the film. Like Pearl Harbor II, this was another short that would occasionally show up on Starz. But aside from a couple of good zingers, this movie isn’t nearly as good. It also appears to be another example of a production company showing off what they can do: while obviously very cheap, the short does look pretty nice. The director would go on to churn out various low budget, straight-to-video fare, most notably the Bad Ass movies with Danny Trejo. Sadly, the only available clip of the movie is a low quality iPhone rip. Even more sad, this “official” version was uploaded by the (apparently defunct) production company itself.
We may be up to our ears in Star Wars fan films now, but back in 1997, something of this quality was unheard of. The movie is a spoof of the TV show “Cops,” but with Storm Troopers, and featuring crude but effective CG effects; it debuted at San Diego Comic Con, and was an instant hit. The short was uploaded to the internet, but back in the pre-broadband era, few were able to see it. It wasn’t until later, when movie magazines started coming with free CDs and DVD promos, that most people were able to finally see it. The subject matter and humor are a bit dated now (the short is essentially two scenes that drag on way too long), but Troops is largely credited for starting the modern “fan film” movement.
The Blair Thumb (2002)
Steve Oedekerk’s acting career didn’t really go anywhere, but as a comedy writer and producer, he was hugely successful. He might be best known for the movie Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, but he also had a big hand in Jim Carrey’s early career, was a writer on In Living Color, and created the cartoon Jimmy Neutron. Something else he was well known for was the series of Thumb movies — Thumb Wars: The Phantom Cuticle, Bat Thumb, Frankenthumb, Thumbtanic, The God Thumb, and The Blair Thumb. Each 30-minute short is a well produced spoof, with a cast made up entirely of thumbs. Each movie was given its own DVD release, and the DVDs themselves were actually very well produced and full of great features, such as The Blair Thumb’s audio commentary. The “sane” commentary was a typical behind-the-scenes discussion, while the “insane” commentary featured the filmmakers screaming like lunatics for literally the entire running time.
Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
This classic cartoon gag, made entirely by Marv Newland, probably had its biggest exposure to audiences when it was paired with the TV broadcast debut of Godzilla 1985 (presented by Dr. Pepper). The “joke” of the short should seem pretty obvious. Most adults who see it for the first time give out a hearty chuckle, but children are largely put off by the slow-burn nature of the piece and usually walk away disappointed.
Hardware Wars: Special Edition (1997)
And bringing us full circle is the special edition of the classic that started our list. Released to coincide with the 1997 Star Wars Special Editions, this new version of Hardware Wars is the exact same movie, only with a fresh coating of new CG special effects blatantly slapped on top of the original film. The joke works well, as the new effects look ridiculously over the top.