Ben Affleck's latest movie, Argo, tells the story of a real-life CIA Agent who staged a fake motion picture production to smuggle six American hostages out of Iran in 1979. Which just goes to show you how powerful a fake movie can be.
Whenever a movie needs to include a scene of the protagonists watching a movie, the filmmakers have to decide whether to pay money to show a real film or shoot a few scenes from a fake one themselves. Sometimes the movie is in production during the actual story, sometimes it's just thematically appropriate to what the characters are going through. Usually they're just awful, since in order to distinguish between the "reality" of the movie the audience is watching and the "reality" of the movie the characters are watching, the filmmakers need to make the movie-within-a-movie seem extra fake, just so nobody in the real-life audience confuses the two. But sometimes, just sometimes, the fictional movie looks so damned good, or at least so damned weird, that we'd really like to see it anyway. Today, we're taking a look at ten of the very best fake movies that were never technically produced.
First, we have to set down some ground rules. To start, each of the fake movies on our list have to be featured in an actual movie, not a TV series, comic book or internet sketch. (Otherwise this list would include nothing but “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “Robot Chicken” and College Humor sketches.) Secondly, we have to see at leas a few moments of footage from the movie, so we have a sense of what they’re actually like. Thirdly, the movie can't just be a punchline. The fake movies in Tropic Thunder, for instance, are just extreme parodies of real movies, and while they're really funny for a minute or two, we're betting they'd get pretty tiresome when stretched out to feature length.
But even with the field narrowed down a bit, we’re bound to have missed something brilliant, so leave your own picks for The Ten Best Fake Movies Ever (Not) Made below!
Angels with Filthy Souls
From Home Alone (dir. Chris Columbus, 1990)
Kids love the comedy blockbuster Home Alone, the film that shot Macauley Culkin to superstardom as a young boy accidentally left at home (alone!) while his family went on Christmas vacation. It’s easy to see why. When he wasn’t fighting off a pair of inept burglars, Culkin indulged in every possible childhood fantasy involving a complete lack of supervision, like watching movies with way too much violence. The film in question? Angels with Filthy Souls, about a heartless mobster (Ralph Froody) who guns down his own henchmen at the count of ten. 1… 2… 10! Angels with Dirty Souls might look like a stereotypical mobster movie, but we do know it was an enormous box office success in its day, because it led to a sequel, Angels with Even Filthier Souls, featured in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Jack Slater I-IV
From Last Action Hero (dir. John McTiernan, 1993)
Last Action Hero was an enormous box office bomb when it came out in 1993, but we think we know what the problem is: audiences didn’t want to see Last Action Hero, they wanted to see Jack Slater, the fictional action movie franchise starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an unstoppable supercop with a one-liner for every situation. The Jack Slater movies, all four of them, don’t seem like Oscar material (well, maybe Best Sound Effects Editing) but they sure look like a lot of fun, with Anthony Quinn hamming it up as a befuddled bad guy, Charles Dance popping in glass eyeballs for every situation and a cartoon cat providing backup. Schwarzenegger made a lot of bad movies in his career, but few of them were the kind of outlandish and pointless 1980s action spectacle that Jack Slater seems to represent. Maybe that’s not such a good thing after all.
From Bowfinger (dir. Frank Oz, 1999)
When hack director Robert K. Bowfinger (Steve Martin) finally finds the perfect screenplay, he does everything he can to get an A-list star… even film their part with their knowledge. That’s exactly what he does in Bowfinger, a hilarious Frank Oz comedy co-starring Eddie Murphy as Kit Ramsey, the biggest actor in the world, whose already tenuous grip on reality (he turns down scripts because the number of “K’s” in the text is a multiple of three) collapses under the machinations necessary to film his scenes on the down low. Chubby Rain is about an alien invasion of killer rain drops, and while that sounds cheesy, the guerilla filmmaking used to capture the footage probably makes it an impressive experiment in the cinematic medium, even if it failed.
The History of the World: Part II
From The History of the World: Part I (dir. Mel Brooks, 1981)
One of Mel Brooks’ funniest movies (and that’s saying something), The History of the World: Part I was a broad overview of human history, ranging from the creation of the fifteen… er, ten, Ten Commandments to the French Revolution, and everything in between. But unfortunately it had to end sometime, so before the end credits Brooks gave a preview of The History of the World: Part II, promising to fill in the gaps of history such classic comedy vignettes as “Hitler on Ice” and most importantly, “Jews in Space,” a Star Wars knock-off featuring Hassidic Rabbis flying around the universe in Star of David spaceships. Mel Brooks supposedly never intended to actually make The History of the World: Part II, despite fans constantly bugging him about it. Oh well, at least we’ll always have “Jews in Space.”
The Purple Rose of Cairo
From The Purple Rose of Cairo (dir. Woody Allen, 1985)
Saying that times were hard in The Great Depression is a serious understatement, but at least people like Cecilia (Mia Farrow), an abused housewife and put-upon waitress, had fanciful movies like The Purple Rose of Cairo to go to. The film seems like little more than a frolic, about a group of socialites who have an adventure in Cairo and then bring their guide back with them for romantic comedy shenanigans, until something strange happens. The main character (Jeff Daniels) notices that Cecilia has seen his movie over and over again, finally stepping off the screen entirely to take her on the town. The rest of the cast is speechless, and more to the point trapped in their scene, since the story can’t go one without the hero, leaving audiences bewildered. One of Woody Allen’s most heartfelt movies has a lot to say about escaping harsh realities into seemingly harmless fantasies (not necessarily a good thing), but if The Purple Rose of Cairo can alter the space/time continuum if you watch it over and over again, just give us a copy and we’ll put it on repeat.
From Scream 2-4 (dir. Wes Craven, 1996-2011)
The first Scream told the story of a pair of serial killers inspired by horror movies. In the second Scream, and every sequel that followed, we see that those crimes were the inspiration for an entire series of horror movies called Stab. Though many of them look rather bad, that’s obviously part of the charm of the slasher genre, and with cast members like Heather Graham, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Luke Wilson and Tori Spelling (well, maybe not so much Tori Spelling), it’s a series we know we’d want to see, even as it devolves devolve into utter nonsense by the fifth film (you know, the one involving time travel). Besides the first Stab was directed by Robert Rodriguez – literally, since he directed the movie-within-a-movie sequences from Scream 2 – so they can’t be all bad.
From Orgazmo (dir. Trey Parker, 1998)
This curious precursor to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon stars Parker himself as a Mormon missionary in Los Angeles who gets talked into being a porn star. He needs the money to pay for his wedding, so he agrees so long as he doesn’t have to do any of the actual sex scenes, and so long as nobody ever finds out about it. Unfortunately the film, Orgazmo, turns into a nationwide phenomenon, breaking out of the porn subculture into mainstream cinemas, becoming one of the biggest financial successes of all time. Wow… that must be a great porno movie. Adding to the mystique is the fact that the star actually donned his character’s costume – and a gun that gives its targets uncontrollable orgasms – to bring the Orgazmo’s corrupt director Maxxx Orbison (Michael Dean Jacobs) to justice.
Stolz der Nation (Nation’s Pride)
From Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2010)
Not that we’re trying to go out of our way to compliment Nazi Germany or anything, but those guys really knew their propaganda. Stolz der Nation, a German World War II film celebrating Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) who fended off an Allied invasion all by himself. Sounds suspenseful, but more than that it’s an incredibly impressive historical curiosity. Not only did Zoller play himself in the movie, but it’s the film that was playing when [SPOILERS] Adof Hilter and Joseph Goebbels were assassinated by a clandestine military operation spearheaded by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), with a little historically undocumented assistance by the theater’s owner, Shoshana Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent). If any prints of Stolz der Nation survived, it would be required viewing in schools across the country.
The Dancing Cavalier
From Singin’ in the Rain (dirs. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952)
Considered one of the greatest movies ever made, Singin’ in the Rain stars Gene Kelly as a silent movie star struggling to acclimate to the invention of synchronized sound, eventually reinventing himself as a song and dance man. If that sounds familiar to you, then you probably understand why not everyone was floored by The Artist. In any case, when his first “talkie,” The Duelling Cavalier, flops at advance screenings, the hero takes it upon himself to reshoot the picture as The Dancing Cavalier, a musical with the heroine’s atrocious speaking voice now dubbed by Debbie Reynolds, and featuring an extended, utterly pointless dance number in which the hero falls asleep and envisions himself centuries into the future as an aspiring Broadway star. The finished product is a roaring success, but it also sounds like such an incredibly weird motion picture that it’s either a timeless classic or the weirdest “classic” film this side of Un Chien Andalou.
Enigma of Loch Ness
From Incident at Loch Ness (dir. Zak Penn, 2004)
Zak Penn, the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand and Inspector Gadget, also directed one of the most interesting mockumentaries of the last decade. The film was Incident at Loch Ness, and starred both Penn and acclaimed documentarian (and legendary badass) Werner Herzog as themselves. Penn is producing the documentary Enigma of Loch Ness, and spends most of the film torturing Herzog, who is ostensibly directing the picture, by trying to make it more commercial. Before Penn can plant a fake Loch Ness monster in the famous lake, however, their ship is attacked by – wouldn’t you know it? – the actual Loch Ness monster. It’s a pity Enigma of Loch Ness was never finished, because proving the existence of the world’s most famous urban legend would have finally earned him that pesky Oscar… unless he was up against another World War II documentary of course.