Satire can be categorised as humour based on irony and exaggeration of vices, mistakes and opinions. Usually being a take on a way of life or a metaphor for a system, Film has always been a way to criticise and shame political ideas, economical movements and ways that people live their lives. Satire in films is one of the oldest institutions of opinion-based filmmaking and continues to be increasingly important today. This list of satirical films showcases the wide variety of satire in film’s history.
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
One of the most famous films on this list, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is about an unstable general who orders a nuclear strike on the USSR, following the US President, his advisors and the Royal Air Force’s attempts to stop the attack. Widely considered to be one of the greatest comedies of all time, the film was a satire of the fear surrounding the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.
Based on fictional television network UBS, Network received universal critical acclaim, winning 4 Academy Awards and being inducted into the National Film Registry. Network’s use of satire focuses on the exploitative nature of media and how it feeds off human anguish. After news anchor, Howard Beale’s on-air outburst, the channel exploits his rants instead of taking him off the air.
The Truman Show (1998)
The Truman Show is what it says on the tin – a reality television show based on the life of Truman Burbank, an unwanted baby who was raised to believe the show in which he stars is real life. The film deals with many themes, such as existentialism and morality, as well as once again criticises corporate media and the ironic falseness of reality television.
American Beauty (1999)
Originally conceived during the media circus surrounding the Amy Fisher trial, American Beauty centres on a midlife crisis from an advertising executive. It portrays materialism, relationships (both paternal and sexual) and the American Dream. The film’s style is very peaceful and static, which contrasts with the high amounts of tension and frustration felt by the characters, while also matching the feel of American suburbia where the film is set.
Fight Club (1999)
Considered a cult classic, Fincher’s Fight Club is a metaphor for the conflict between a younger generation and the value system of advertising. Discontented with his job, the unnamed protagonist lives like a robot, buying things from catalogues and suffering from insomnia, until he forms an underground fighting club. From there, things get out of hand. With themes of homoeroticism and intense violence, the audience is kept from guessing the twist ending.
Office Space (1999)
Another film that pokes fun at white-collar America is Mike Judge’s comedy Office Space, in which Peter Gibbons and his friends are disenfranchised with their office jobs. With scenes and characters that strike a chord with office workers all over the world, Office Space has since become a cult film. The characters outside of the leads are stereotypical bosses and overenthusiastic workers, as well as the sterile and boring work environment help set the tone of the film.
American Psycho (2000)
A pastiche of big business and narcissism, American Psycho has themes of materialism and as an extension, capitalism. With characters obsessed with keeping up appearances and fancy lifestyles, with all conversations dominated by status and backstabbing comments. The film received acclaim for its script and Christian Bale’s performance, with many famous and notable scenes.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Satirising both the tobacco industry and its marketing spin-tactics, Jason Reitman’s comedy-drama follows a tobacco spokesperson that tries to balance being a role model with lobbying cigarettes. Tobacco companies were not quick to comment on the film and have been rather tight-lipped on both the novel and the film.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
A relatively overlooked and unknown film to round out this list, World’s Greatest Dad revolves around a father who pens a suicide note after finding his son’s body after an accidental death. The note is found by a classmate and the students in his start to claim how they were friends with him and how they will miss him, which is a complete lie – a satire of how people and the media react to accidents and painful events.