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Comedy in the ’90s, Part 5: The Rise and Fall (and Rise and Fall) of the Spoof

In the ’90s, a genre that took flight with ‘Airplane!’ reached new heights thanks to the Wayans brothers and a de-frozen British spy named Austin Powers

Dan Evans

Nearly 30 years ago, a handful of smart people set out with one mission: to make some silly movies. What followed was a true golden age of Hollywood comedy that saw the arrival of megastars still with us today, a commercial explosion, and then, an eventual splintering that changed the genre forever. Welcome to Part 5 of Comedy in the ’90s, our six-part series documenting this decade-defining boom in all of its sophomoric glory.

In the summer of 1988, Shawn Wayans laughed harder than he had in his life. After school let out that June, the 17-year-old traveled to Los Angeles to stay with his older brother Keenen, who at the time was directing the blaxploitation spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Hanging out on the set of the movie that lovingly lampooned a genre by stacking jokes on top of jokes, he constantly found himself laughing his ass off. Whether it was Antonio Fargas’s pimp strutting around in platform shoes filled with live goldfish, Chris Rock’s cameo as a guy who orders only one rib at a rib joint, or Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown, and Bernie Casey’s characters assembling a comically extensive arsenal of weapons, there was never any shortage of hilarious moments. The experience moved Shawn to make a vow: “One day,” he recalls saying to himself, “I’m gonna write something like that for my generation.”

Released widely the next January, Keenen Ivory Wayans’s $3 million film grossed $13 million. Its success helped lead him to create In Living Color, the influential sketch series that premiered in 1990 and featured a mostly African American cast that included his siblings Kim, Damon, Marlon, and Shawn. At the same time as the show was becoming popular, Hollywood was cashing in on coming-of-age stories centered on young black men. Dramas like Boyz n the Hood, Juice, and Menace II Society warmly but heartbreakingly depicted the lives of inner-city kids. Shawn adored those movies, but he had also grown up on Mel Brooks and Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker comedies like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Airplane! “We were fans always,” Shawn says. “And still are. We love what they do.” And so, as a new category of black cinema took off, Shawn dreamed up a way of putting his own spin on it. “I came up with the idea to do a spoof of all of the hood genre movies,” he says. “That’s what was happening at that time.”

In hindsight, goofing on such serious subject matter may feel, well, very wrong. The Wayans, however, were never too interested in censoring themselves to appease anyone who might be uncomfortable, especially white audiences. “Black people aren’t supposed to be funny?” Keenen once said. “Woody Allen’s Jewish and he makes fun of Jews. No one’s ever accused him of being anti-Semitic.”

The screenplay that Shawn, Marlon, and Phil Beauman wrote in the early ’90s unapologetically skewered the era’s cinematic portrayals of racism, gun violence, and police brutality while also rolling its eyes at those films’ certain brand of preachiness. “We laughed till we gave ourselves headaches,” Shawn says. “It was that much fun writing it.” Under the guidance of Keenen, who planned to produce, the script went through a dozen drafts before it went out to studios. But none of them bit. After all, the pitch was for a hard, R-rated spoof made from a black point of view. Back then, that brand of comedy wasn’t just rare—to executives, it was completely foreign. “We just went balls out,” Shawn says. “I don’t think they got what we were doing.” Finally, though, one studio did.

At the time, Island Records, once the label of Bob Marley and U2, had a motion picture division, and in 1993, the company scooped up the rights to the Wayans’s script, which had been unsubtly but memorably titled Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Finally, Shawn had his chance to make a spoof for his generation.

“It’s the hardest thing to do, which I do say so myself,” Airplane! cowriter-director David Zucker says in regard to the genre. “People don’t know how to do it. They think it looks easy and there’s only been one other group that’s been able to do it, besides myself, Jerry Zucker, or Jim Abrahams—and that is the Wayans. And they don’t have our same rules, but they’re talented, funny guys. The other people are just hacks.”

It’s hard to fathom now, when the most effective big-screen comedies are often emotionally heavy, politically tinged, or surprisingly violent, but for a lengthy stretch the spoof could be reliably mined for box office gold. From the 1970s through the early 2000s, there were dozens of hits that played with the conventions of what was popular at the movies. By the new millennium, as the reality of a bleak future began to set in, joyful send-ups began to give way to sharper satires. But well into the 1990s, silly surrealism was still going strong at multiplexes. For that, the world had Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker to thank. Mel Brooks and Monty Python had made absurdist classics before them, but perhaps no single comedy of the late 20th century was as influential as Airplane!

ZAZ’s 1980 masterpiece was more than a decade in the making. In 1971, the three Milwaukee natives had founded the Madison, Wisconsin–based Kentucky Fried Theatre, an improv troupe that spoofed films, television series, news programs, and commercials. The show soon moved to Los Angeles, where, in December 1972, the three pals appeared on The Tonight Show.

Even before the release of their 1977 film debut, a John Landis–directed sketch collection called The Kentucky Fried Movie, the trio had begun to devise a feature-length spoof of a genre with which America had grown overly familiar. “Everybody had been exposed to a steady diet of airline disaster movies in the ’70s,” Zucker says. “And that’s why Airplane! so connected with audiences.” ZAZ’s script did contain elements of the blockbusters from that period, but it was mostly based on Zero Hour!, the 1957 adventure film starring Dana Andrews as a war-traumatized Royal Canadian Air Force veteran forced to land a commercial airliner when the pilots get sick after eating the in-flight meal of fish. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker’s story stuck close to its source material, so close that the writers had to secure remake rights from Warner Bros.

Initially, the Airplane! script was not a hot commodity. “All the studio executives in Hollywood, I mean everyone, turned it down,” Zucker says. It languished for about five years before the Airplane! brain trust managed to sell Paramount execs Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg on a novel idea: a comedy without comedians. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker knew that for their zany movie to feel somewhat grounded in reality, they needed stars with the ability to be unwaveringly earnest. The cast, including Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and Lloyd Bridges, was up to the task. Most notably, former dramatic actor Leslie Nielsen, then in his 50s, turned in a career-changing performance as the perfectly deadpan Dr. Rumack. It took him about 24 hours to acclimate to Airplane!

“At the first table read, we thought he was winking and aware that he was in a comedy,” David Zucker says. “What we actually did with Leslie, we gave him the cassette of Zero Hour! … He took it home overnight and he had it down 100 percent the next day. Just nailed the doctor. Leslie just had that way of being so serious and not at all, not even one speck, letting on that he was aware that he was in a comedy.”

Airplane! packs a lot into its 88-minute running time, from sight gags (the inflatable “Otto” pilot doll; the in-flight movie shows a plane crash) to one-liners (“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley”; “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue”) to jokes referencing other movies (Jaws, Saturday Night Fever). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar even cameos as copilot Roger Murdock, only snapping out of his alias when a kid criticizes his game:

The Kareem bit broke one of ZAZ’s 15 rules of comedy: “It’s usually not a good idea to remind the audience that they’re watching a movie.” But of course, the last rule is that there are no rules. “We’ve tried to follow these rules as closely as possible,” David Zucker once wrote, “realizing that perhaps what is most important is knowing when to ignore them.”

Released on July 2, 1980, the $3.5 million-budgeted Airplane! raked in $130 million at the worldwide box office. For years, it remained among the highest-grossing comedies of all time. “Seeing it for the first time was like going to a great rock concert, like seeing Led Zeppelin or the Talking Heads,” Peter Farrelly, who along with his brother Bobby directed ’90s classics Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary, told The New York Times in 2010. “We didn’t realize until later that what we’d seen was a very specific kind of comedy.” Airplane! inspired an age of expertly engineered scripts, a rapid-fire mix of silliness and smarts. But few fully committed to becoming the next Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker. That would’ve been damn near impossible. “The degree of difficulty of something like Airplane!—you can’t go 15 seconds without a joke,” says Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler’s longtime writing partner. “I could never do something like that at their level of success.”

After Airplane!, though, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker didn’t exactly come to rule the Hollywood landscape. For their next project, the trio again enlisted Nielsen for the TV crime drama spoof Police Squad! The underappreciated show premiered on ABC in March 1982 and was canceled after just six episodes. Two years later, they made Top Secret!, a middling war/spy/rock-’n’-roll movie spoof that more than doubled its budget but grossed only $20.5 million at the box office. What got ZAZ back on track was a nonspoof, Ruthless People. Written by Dale Launer (who would go on to write My Cousin Vinny), it featured Danny DeVito as a demonic husband who sets out to kill his heiress wife, Bette Midler. Released in 1986, the twisty, dark comedy cost $9 million to make and pulled in $71.6 million.

Coming off a hit, the trio then decided to try to resuscitate their long-dead police procedural and turn it into a film. Zucker recalls bringing the concept to Paramount chairman Frank Mancuso and expecting to be shut down. Despite Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker’s résumé, the idea of bringing back to life a TV series that starred a nearly 60-year-old man and didn’t even last a full season seemed ludicrous. “We go in with this crazy idea that we want to do a funny movie out of a failed television show,” Zucker says. “Frank Mancuso looks at us and he says, ‘OK.’ That was the end of that. You kind of expect the studio head to say, ‘Get out of here.’”

Directed by David Zucker and cowritten by ZAZ and Pat Proft, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!—the trio’s third movie with an exclamation point in the title—brought Nielsen back as bumbling Detective Frank Drebin and featured a hilariously eclectic assemblage of supporting actors like Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, and, yes, O.J. Simpson. For a second time in their careers, ZAZ had struck gold: The combination of lowbrow gags, deadpan one-liners, and physical comedy added up to a comedy classic and reinvigorated the spoof, just as audiences were seeming to indicate that the genre was a passing fad. There was just something undeniably appealing about ZAZ’s commitment to silliness played seriously. In their movies, the trio has explained, Nielsen plays “a fish in water”—while everyone else is flailing around him, he’s calmly swimming upstream. That purposeful, absurd obliviousness was his genius.

“We took these guys who had no identification whatsoever with comedy,” David Zucker says. “And that to us that was the joke. And people are amazed now to see that Leslie Nielsen had this whole career before [Airplane!].”

Paramount Pictures

The Naked Gun, which hit theaters in December 1988, cost $12 million to make and grossed $78.8 million at the box office. The smash launched a franchise as Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker began striking out on their own. Jerry Zucker directed the Academy Award–winning Ghost, the second-highest-grossing film of 1990. Jim Abrahams made Hot Shots!, a 1991 blockbuster that made $181.1 million poking fun at ’80s action movies. That same year, David Zucker’s The Naked Gun ​2 1⁄2: The Smell of Fear pulled in $86.9 million to outgain the original.

Peter Segal, who at that point had worked in TV and made several of Tom Arnold’s comedy specials, was hired to direct the third leg of the trilogy: Naked Gun ​33 1⁄3: The Final Insult. “No one gets that title right,” Segal still bemoans. “No one.”

His first day on set, David Zucker gave him valuable advice. “I realized the Leslie Nielsen in real life is not the Leslie Nielsen on screen,” Segal says. “It was a very different pace, a very different cadence. Very slow and methodical because that worked for him in his dramatic work. … David said, ‘Aren’t you gonna get him to go faster?’ I’m like, ‘How do you get him to go that fast in all the other movies? It’s a completely different person out there.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, it’s called directing. Go back there and tell him to go faster.’

“I thought the actors that I knew would just bring those personalities straight to the set,” adds Segal, whose directorial debut was one of the first movies to be edited with Avid, the now ubiquitous software that made piecing together a comedy built on endless takes easier than ever before. “And some do, and some do not. That was the genius of Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker for figuring that out on Airplane! Take dramatic actors and put them in comedic situations. And they’ll be just as funny.”

Released in 1994, Naked Gun 33 1⁄3 was yet another profit-turner, making $51.1 million against a $30 million budget. Segal then went on to make Tommy Boy with Chris Farley. He recalls that Brian Dennehy, who plays the star’s father, required a bit of coaching—the kind that he figured out how to do on his previous job. “I felt like he was kind of auditioning for me saying, ‘You know Pete, I can be funny,’” Segal says. “And I said, ‘No, no, no, you don’t have to. You don’t have to be funny. Be you, we’ll write for you, and if you just say the lines,’ and this is what I learned from Naked Gun—like you’re in a drama, they’ll be funny. As soon as you start leaning into the joke, and delivering it with a comedic boing, then it implodes.”

In the early-to-mid-’90s, before and after The Final Insult, America was bombarded by spoofs. In 1993, the Samuel L. Jackson and Emilio Estevez–starring buddy cop riff National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, Mel Brooks’s medieval-themed Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Hot Shots! Part Deux all came out. That summer, Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan also re-teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger on Last Action Hero, an underrated meta-take on the explosion-laden blockbusters for which its lead was famous. In one scene, Schwarzenegger’s character, Jack Slater, appears in a movie-trailer-within-a-movie for a unique Shakespeare adaptation. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” the voice-over booms. “And Hamlet is takin’ out the trash!” The rather experimental Schwarzenegger vehicle, his follow-up to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, made $137.3 million at the box office against an $85 million budget.

As the decade progressed, the genre that ZAZ popularized proved that it had staying power. In 1996 alone, Nielsen’s James Bond spoof Spy Hard, the fake gritty teen drama High School High, and Tim Burton’s ’50s sci-fi homage Mars Attacks! were released; along with, of course, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

Directed by Paris Barclay, the Wayans’s Boyz n the Hood–based spoof is an often-filthy, trope-busting mishmash. Shawn plays neighborhood good guy Ashtray opposite Marlon’s violent Loc Dog, whose three-pronged hairdo is at one point accented by an antenna. But what Don’t Be a Menace lacks in subtlety it makes up for with belly laughs: Whenever the dialogue becomes overly preachy, Keenen Ivory Wayans shows up as a mailman and shouts “message!”; as Officer Self Hatred, Bernie Mac delivers a soliloquy worthy of his name; and there are fart jokes, comically exaggerated sex scenes, and also references to movies like Jungle Fever, Dead Presidents, and Colors.

Island Pictures

Moviegoers appreciated Don’t Be a Menace—it cost $3.8 million to make and grossed $20.1 million—but critics largely sneered at the spoof. “It’ll be interesting to see if audiences at this time in American culture will rally behind the film’s gleefully politically incorrect bravado,” one wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Let’s just say there might be better ways to observe the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend.”

The reaction didn’t surprise Shawn Wayans, who by then was the cocreator/star of the sitcom The Wayans Bros. “There’s always old white dudes who don’t get it,” he says. “... Because people ain’t tapped into the culture, they might not know what the hell you’re doing. But the people that do know, they pass it on to the people that didn’t know and explain it. They’ll say, ‘Look, this movie isn’t funny to you, but you didn’t see Boyz n the Hood or Menace II Society? Go back and do your homework and watch those movies and then watch this again.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh wow, oh shit, that shit is hilarious.’”

But beyond audience or critical reaction, perhaps the one review a spoofer fears or anticipates the most is that of spoofee. And one night after Don’t Be a Menace was released, Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton stopped by a comedy club to see the Wayans. He told them that he was a fan of the movie. “You always want to make the people laugh who you’re making fun of,” Shawn says with pride. “If you can do that, you’ve done it well.”

Around the same time the Wayans were making Don’t Be a Menace, another ’90s comedy icon was developing a spoof of his own. In 1995, Mike Myers left Saturday Night Live. That year, he began writing a script that paid tribute to the kind of English comedy that his Liverpudlian father loved. It sent up the James Bond series while also resurrecting ’60s mod culture. “It was one of those things where I didn’t know if anybody would get this movie who didn’t grow up in my house,” Myers told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. The comedian, who hadn’t been in a movie since Wayne’s World 2, showed the screenplay to his friend Jay Roach, who helped punch it up. Michael De Luca, then an executive at New Line Cinema, reportedly liked the script so much that he essentially green-lit Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery on the spot. At the urging of Myers, the studio hired Roach, who had never made a major film, to direct.

Austin Powers was both deeply silly and refreshingly original. Myers’s title character, an irrationally confident ladies’ man who awakens 30 years after being cryogenically frozen in 1967, has teeth right out of The Big Book of British Smiles, phallic chest hair, and an accent that everyone who saw the movie imitated (usually poorly). The actor also played Austin’s nemesis Dr. Evil, whose mannerisms and voice were at least partly borrowed from SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels. The comedy—which unlike ZAZ spoofs, relied on improvisation—had a gag about a Swedish-made penis enlarger, a sequence where Myers and costar Elizabeth Hurley’s naughty bits are cleverly covered by a variety of objects, and a fantastic supporting cast. (Seth Green as Dr. Evil’s petulant teenage son Scott was an inspired choice.)

Released on May 2, 1997, Austin Powers was only a modest hit at the box office, making $67.7 million against a $16.5 million budget. But for the second time in less than a decade, Myers had made a film that turned into a cultural phenomenon. Like Wayne’s World, it was almost irritatingly quotable. Catchphrases like “Yeah baby!,” “Shagadelic!,” and “Oh, behave!” were repeated ad nauseam. Kids dressed up as Austin Powers for Halloween. There were even Austin Powers–themed bar mitzvah parties. (OK, maybe that was just my brother.)

New Line Cinema

“I loved the first Austin Powers,” Adam McKay, director of movies like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Big Short, says. “It was imaginative, hilarious, and like nothing else being released at the time. For me it began the run of comedies that would go on for the next 10 years or so.” Myers and Roach made two sequels over the next five years: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldmember. They combined to gross $608.7 million, an astounding total that speaks to both the unlikely success of Myers and his franchise, and the power of spoofs.

Yet by the late ’90s, on the whole, the feather-light genre had begun to lose ground to more incisive, subversive, and sometimes downright nihilistic comedies that reflected a world that was about to become even more terrifying than it already was. Consider 1998 and 1999: Jim Carrey starred in The Truman Show, which predicted the rise of reality TV and mass surveillance; Warren Beatty cowrote, directed, and headlined Bulworth, the story of an idealistic-turned-cynical U.S. senator who takes a hit out on himself so his daughter can be the beneficiary of a life insurance settlement—then, feeling totally liberated, starts bashing his corporate donors, smoking weed, rapping, and campaigning on single-payer health care; Mike Judge recreated a typical American workplace in Office Space and found humor in its soul-crushing banality; Alexander Payne made the decade’s best political satire with Election, a psychologically brutal tête-à-tête between Matthew Broderick’s social studies teacher and Reese Witherspoon’s overachieving class presidential candidate; and Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out with a pair of raunchy movies, the sports spoof BASEketball (directed by David Zucker) and the censorship-skewering animated musical South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

Except, obviously, for BASEketball, none of those films resembled a Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker comedy. “They’re written more like dramas are written,” says Galaxy Quest’s Dean Parisot. “You have high stakes, emotional stakes, for the characters, and then they screw it all up. They’re put into a world of horror and they’re trying to survive their way through it.” Still, comedic filmmakers continued to, whether they knew it or not, take lessons from ZAZ.

When Parisot was preparing to make Galaxy Quest, a movie in which the cast of a beloved Star Trek–like TV series is unwittingly forced into actual interstellar drama, he sought out serious actors. “I treated it as a drama that happened to be funny,” he says. “That was the hard part, I wasn’t bringing comedians on.” Aside from Tim Allen, who was already attached to the project when Parisot came on board, the action-packed, ahead-of-its-time satire—it took aim at and embraced fan culture—didn’t rely on comedy superstars, instead casting Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub, and Sam Rockwell. “I was bringing on people who I thought were funny,” Parisot says. “If they committed to the part they would understand why it was ridiculous.”

As usual, Rickman stole his scenes as the resentful actor who was the show-within-a-movie’s science officer. The tension between him and Allen’s character, who played the fake series’s pompous captain, mirrored William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s relationship. “Alan and Tim were kind of like that in real life,” Parisot says. “Tim would come in and fart and make vomiting sounds. And Alan would just be in the corner rolling his eyes going, ‘Oh, God.’ And I remember them having a discussion one day where Alan said, ‘Tim I don’t understand why you have to come in and entertain the crew every day.’ And Tim said, ‘Well, it’s my process.’ And Alan said, ‘That’s not a process. That’s just foolishness.’ But they came to actually like one another and then became friends.”

Galaxy Quest was released on Christmas in 1999 and made $90.7 million against a $45 million budget. In the months following its release, Parisot received a phone call. It was Patrick Stewart. “I’d like to talk to you,” said the man who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He sounded serious. “Uh-oh, this is gonna be bad,” Parisot remembers thinking. “He goes, ‘I’d like to have lunch this afternoon.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ Now I’m really worried.”

That day, they met at an upscale restaurant. Stewart looked angry. “He walks up to me, looks me in the face, and then bursts out laughing, gives me a big hug, and says, ‘That thing is funny as hell!’ He was wonderfully sweet and effusive. He said he wasn’t gonna go see it and then he saw it and loved it.”

However, the director, adds: “I never heard from Shatner.”

By the turn of the century, purely zany big-screen comedy appeared to be dead, or at the very least, on life support. “I think the spoof kind of fell into disrepute, as it does every once in a while,” David Zucker says. Silliness, especially when it’s not done well, can be exhausting.

“The ratio of comedy you have to have, the amount of jokes per page, is five times that of a regular narrative story that you’re telling,” Shawn Wayans says of spoofs. “It’s a lot of work. That’s why you don’t see a lot of them—or you don’t see a lot of good ones.”

After making Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Shawn took a break from coming up with film ideas. “That movie really took everything we had out of us comedically,” he says. “I wasn’t really thinking of nothing for a minute.” But then, while watching the meta-gore fest Scream, he had an epiphany. “It hit me, like, ‘Yo, this shit is funny,’” he says. “And then I went to Keenen, he was like, ‘Yeah it is funny.’”

Soon, the Wayans brothers began working on a script sending up a then wildly popular genre: teen slasher flicks. “It was harder to write— just because Don’t Be a Menace we really, really knew the genre and all of the things that was funny,” Shawn says, “whereas this one we really had to immerse ourselves into that world and understand it more.”

Miramax’s horror division Dimension Films, which had produced Scream, reportedly acquired the rights to the screenplay before it was finished. Bob Weinstein, brother of disgraced Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein, championed the project. It was simply dubbed Scary Movie. Director Keenen Ivory Wayans made sure that the comedy closely followed the conventions of the genre that it was making fun of. “In a parody, you still have to tell a story,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “What people tend to do is write a bunch of jokes and just string ’em together. That won’t hold up; you have to create a narrative.”

The details mattered. Shannon Elizabeth specifically mocked Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character’s behavior in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Regina Hall made sure her on-screen death was exactly like Jada Pinkett’s demise in Scream 2. Anna Faris, in her first major role, delivered a bravura performance as a bewildered final girl. And amidst those on-point sendups, the Wayans sprinkled their signature puerile sense of humor. (The riff on Johnny Depp’s character’s gruesome death in Nightmare on Elm Street was particularly gross.)

Released on July 7, 2000, Scary Movie was a shockingly huge hit, the biggest the Wayans have ever had. It grossed $278 million at the box office, proving a theory that David Zucker has long held about spoofs. “It’s always fresh,” he says, “because it depends on the audience having familiarity with [a popular] genre.” In addition to spawning a sequel, which generated $141.2 million at the box office, Scary Movie helped expose—and ultimately kill off—the cliché-plagued genre that it was skewering. It also spawned imitators. Some, like the clever Not Another Teen Movie, helped do the same thing to their genre of inspiration. Others, like Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Superhero Movie eventually turned the genre into a putrid parody of itself.

From there, the spoof died down, exhausted and unable to meet the heights set by the Wayans in 2000, while producer/director Judd Apatow began to usher in a new era of comedy. But as the movie landscape evolved, the Scary Movie franchise allowed the spoofs genre to come full circle: David Zucker directed the third and fourth sequels of Scary Movie. Unlike their R-rated predecessors, Scary Movie 3 and 4 were, in typical ZAZ fashion, PG-13. Somehow, Zucker restrained himself from inserting exclamation points into their titles.

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