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Satire

The Truman Show
The Truman Show

Satire using humour, irony or exaggeration to expose and ridicule people or ideas has long been a key component of cinema, from early silent slapstick through to the modern day.

Whether it's through caricature, spoof, parody or something similar, satirising political figures, historical events, societal attitudes and so much more has echoed through the ages on the big screen. This list of great satires from real-world to fiction and from affectionate to biting inspire discussion and debate around many issues, including their targets, their success and their impact on contemporary pop culture.

Animal Farm

CertU

Age group7+

Duration69 mins

Animal Farm(1954)

A faithful animated retelling of the classic story by novelist George Orwell that sees farm animals split into conflicting groups.

A classic work of satire to kick things off in the form of George Orwell’s much-loved and often-cited tale about pigs and politics. With its mantra of “four legs good, two legs bad” and characters recalling Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, this early animation is a perfect starting point to open up discussions around the subject of satire and its applications to historical figures.

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Emma.

CertU

Age group11+

Duration125 mins

Emma.(2020)

A period romantic comedy based on the Jane Austen novel, in which a precocious young woman plays matchmaker within her social circle.

Another key text from a classic English author – this time from Jane Austen – comes in the form of 'Emma.', the latest adaptation of which puts a fresh, modern spin on the source material. Both novel and film satirise the high society period and setting, with the comedy of manners’ prominent themes exploring issues around gender, status, age and class.

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All About Eve

CertU

Age group11+

Duration138 mins

All About Eve(1950)

Pitch-black satire about an ambitious young actress hoisting herself up the showbusiness ladder.

A satire about showbusiness, this revered drama also has warring women at the centre of its story. Margo is one of the biggest stars on Broadway, but she’s just turned 40 and there’s a new girl in town. A timeless tale about passion, obsession and the fickleness of fame, it has silver screen icon Bette Davis in one of the lead roles who had a famous off-screen feud of her own.

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Dr. Strangelove

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration93 mins

Dr. Strangelove(1963)

When America accidentally launches a nuclear attack on Russia, it's up to a bemused British airman to save the day.

And now to a male-driven story which is very much about masculinity. Known as one of the most famous satires ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s film parodies the absurdity of war. Specifically homing in on the escalating Cold War tensions of the time, Kubrick and co examine what happens when too many men with too much power all get together in the same room.

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The Truman Show

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration99 mins

The Truman Show(1998)

Jim Carrey stars in this fascinating, existential satire about a man who discovers his whole life is a reality TV show.

From a group of men fighting to be in charge to a single man who is the oblivious lead of his own show, Truman Burbank was the biggest reality TV star of the 1990s. This incredibly prophetic tale from the pen of ‘Gattaca’ scribe Andrew Niccol skewered the dubious ethics of an entire format before the genre had even taken off in a film that continues to remain relevant.

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Best In Show

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration86 mins

Best In Show(2000)

Hilarious satire site in the world of championship dog breeding, from the creators of This is Spinal Tap.

An altogether different type of show is apparent in this highly-humorous mockumentary – a crucial component of the satire sub-genre – from the team behind ‘This is Spinal Tap’. Led by spoof specialist Christopher Guest and a hugely likeable ensemble cast with plenty of improvisation included, ‘Best in Show’ is an affectionate homage to dogs, their owners and other enthusiasts.

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The Producers

CertPG

Age group14+

Duration84 mins

The Producers (1967)

A truly classic comedy about washed-up Broadway producer who convinces his meek accountant to help him put on a doomed Nazi-themed musical.

Another variation on the theme of shows and indeed showbusiness sees master of the genre Mel Brooks enter the equation. In his directorial debut – which he adapted into a stage play years later, and then back into a musical for a film remake – sees a couple of Broadway hacks trying to put on the most offensive show imaginable so that they can pocket the money when it flops.

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Jojo Rabbit

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration108 mins

Jojo Rabbit(2019)

Comedy about a young boy in the Hitler Youth who questions his beliefs after developing a friendship with a Jewish girl he finds hidden in his house.

Finding comedy in the darkest of places has long been a trait of entertainers, with World War Two and the Nazis proving surprisingly popular. In Taika Waititi’s parody, a young boy finds courage and words of wisdom from his imaginary friend… who just happens to be Adolf Hitler. Despite its bleak setting, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ manages to extract absurd humour from every angle.

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District 9

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration108 mins

District 9(2009)

An extraterrestrial race has been living on earth for 20 years, segregated from humans and living in slum-like conditions in South Africa.

Human rights also form a central part of ‘District 9’, a film which takes aim at apartheid-era South Africa and the racial segregation which took place there. In Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi, aliens have landed in the region and are being detained in a slum, with unrest between the extra-terrestrial creatures and the locals examined through its found footage format.

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But I'm A Cheerleader

Cert15

Age group14–16

Duration98 mins

But I'm A Cheerleader(1999)

An unconventional and outrageously styled comedy tackling homophobia and sexuality skilfully.

From racism to sexuality, human rights are also put under the microscope in this over-the-top cult classic. Megan’s friends and family suspect – due to her vegetarianism, amongst other things – that she may well be lesbian, and so decide to stage an intervention with the help of an “ex-gay” man. But her conversion therapy is more of an LGBT retreat: truly the campest of camps.

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Election

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration98 mins

Election(1999)

Reese Witherspoon made her name in this razor-sharp satire that uses a school election to send up both moral and political corruption.

Another female-led satire, also from 1999, is Alexander Payne’s ‘Election’. Adapted from a novel which is remarkably partly based on a true story, it follows perfect pupil and student body president candidate Tracy Flick who appears to have a clear path to victory. But her teacher wants anyone but Tracy to win and is apparently willing to make it happen by any means necessary.

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Bamboozled

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration130 mins

Bamboozled(2000)

This powerful Spike Lee satire sees a black writer, tired of the TV station he works at, plan to make a show so culturally insensitive he'll be fired.

Things don’t quite go to plan in ‘Election’ and nor do they here, when a Black writer seeks to create an offensive show in the hope that he’ll be fired with a sizeable payoff. With comparisons to ‘The Producers’, Spike Lee – as usual – pulls no punches in his representation of on-screen Black stereotypes, with the show becoming an inadvertent smash-hit.

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Dear White People

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration104 mins

Dear White People(2014)

Campus-based satire dissecting contemporary racial politics by following four African-American students studying at a privileged university.

Spike Lee helped pave the way for young Black filmmakers such as those who devised this sharp critique of US college culture. ‘Dear White People’ explores themes around representation, identity and privilege through the lives of four students and a controversial party thrown on campus, with the film’s popularity resulting in a spin-off TV show created in its aftermath.

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Get Out

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration104 mins

Get Out(2017)

A young Black man fears for his life upon meeting his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family for the first time.

All of which leads us onto arguably the most influential and significant satire of the decade, another title which puts “post-racial” America under the microscope. Jordan Peele announced himself as an extraordinary talent with this social thriller which interrogates attitudes around race and representation through a delightful mix of humour and horror.

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Four Lions

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration97 mins

Four Lions(2010)

Chris Morris's controversial comedy about a gang of would-be Islamic terrorists.

Another title which plays with stereotypes and has young British talent at the centre of it is Chris Morris’ outrageous terrorist comedy, ‘Four Lions’. When Omar (Riz Ahmed) and his friends seek to become suicide bombers – even though they can’t agree upon their target – chaos ensues. Full of farce and standout slapstick moments, ‘Four Lions’ is a film to be reckoned with.

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The Death of Stalin

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration107 mins

The Death of Stalin(2017)

Dark political satire about the chaos in the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.

Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci were collaborators on The Day Today before they each went off to pursue their own projects. Following up on his own political film spoof ‘In the Loop’, Iannucci’s next target was a historical figure. This film revels in the absurdity of formality, power plays and bureaucracy, with typically hilarious results including brilliant one-liners.

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Ingrid Goes West

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration98 mins

Ingrid Goes West(2017)

Social media satire in which a young woman named Ingrid moves to Los Angeles to befriend her latest obsession, Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane.

From a historical setting to a modern mania now, as ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is very much a critique of contemporary social media culture. It isn’t just the film’s protagonist or her fixation who are the targets here; quite simply everyone is complicit. This pitch-black comedy condemns society’s collective obsession with social media without feeling preachy or judgemental.

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Nightcrawler

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration115 mins

Nightcrawler(2014)

An unemployed man stumbles across a world of freelance crime journalism, going to extreme lengths to capture the footage that nobody else can.

We end by shifting to the mass media and the desire to be first in reporting. While not exactly a modern phenomenon, the film focuses on the ethical boundaries being continually pushed in news, journalism and reporting by some sections of the media, with sociopathic protagonist Louis Bloom a terrifying personification of an amoral contemporary society.

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