Best mockumentary movies of all time

Documentary films, when done well, are compelling and educational probes into the people, places, cultures, and human conditions around us, revealing often harsh or revelatory truths many of us were blind to prior. But you know what’s way, way funnier? Films that make fun of documentaries, turning the whole genre on its head. We’re speaking, of course, of mockumentaries. Satirizing such topics as serial killers, “forgotten” filmmakers, epic hair-rock bands, and even the undead, mockumentaries allow filmmakers to not only take aim at their subjects but take a shot at the documentary genre itself. As far back as 1938, Orson Welles’ fake news broadcast gone wrong, War of the Worlds, is considered to be one of the first examples of a mockumentary, while nearly 45 years later, the genre would earn its seal of authenticity with Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner’s game-changing This Is Spinal Tap. Things have obviously exploded from there, so we’ve put together this list of the best mockumentary films of all time, so you can explore the genre yourself.

Looking for something a little different? Maybe check out our list of the best alternate reality movies, or take to the stars with our list of the best space movies of all time.

Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Arguably the one that started it all, if you’re a fan of hard rock and you haven’t seen This Is Spinal Tap, someone has failed you, and it’s time to correct that. The feature film directorial debut of Rob Reiner, Spinal Tap stars the absolutely hilarious Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (who all co-wrote the film) as the titular band Spinal Tap, rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs on their way out of the limelight. Made with mostly improvised dialogue, This Is Spinal Tap is a spiritual predecessor to Guest’s later mockumentary work (several others mentioned below) and is the source of more classic rock jokes than, well, likely more than any of the band members could count.

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner
Director: Rob Reiner
Rated: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in Best in Show.

Best in Show (2000)

There’s a reason Christopher Guest is one of the absolute gods of the mockumentary. In a sub-genre that can, at times, be far too cruel to its subjects, Guest and his regular troupe of actors take great care to not only help us laugh at them but to fall at least a little bit in love with them. Guest’s second mockumentary, 2000’s Best in Show, is a perfect example. A satire of American dog show culture, a mock TV crew follows five different groups of dogs and their owners on their way to the fictional Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. From the hilarious Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara), who have penned entire albums worth of songs about terriers, to control-freak yuppies Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), Best in Show highlights not only the bizarre devotion that dog owners have to their pets’ dog show success, but also the fierce love they feel for them.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Stars: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean
Director: Christopher Guest
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 90 minutes

Paul Kaye in It's All Gone Pete Tong.

It’s All Gone Pete Tong (2004)

Developing a disability would likely be difficult for anyone, but what if that disability could take away everything you love the most? That’s the crisis that renowned Ibiza DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) faces in 2004’s It’s All Gone Pete Tong. Taking its title from British rhyming slang (where Pete Tong means “wrong”), Wilde’s drug-fueled rave life takes a turn when he starts losing his hearing and heads straight down the River of Denial, continuing to perform until he messes up badly enough to turn his loyal fans against him. Dubbed a mockumentary drama, It’s All Gone Pete Tong hasn’t reached the same cult status as This Is Spinal Tap, but the film proves to be clever, touching, and surprisingly uplifting.

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Stars: Paul Kaye, Beatriz Batarda, Kate Magowan
Director: Michael Matthews
Rated: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

The killer and two children from Man Bites Dog.

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Perhaps the darkest mockumentary you’re likely to find is the Belgian-made Man Bites Dog, in which the mock crew follows the exploits of a prolific serial killer. The film opens with its lead, Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde), strangling a woman on a train car in a scene that comes off every inch as brutal as Javier Bardem’s grisly strangling scene in No Country for Old Men. From there, we get a lecture from Ben about how much corpses need to be weighed down depending on their age and size before being dumped in the water. From his racist rants to his attempts to get on the film crew’s good side by sharing the money of his victims, Ben feels utterly and disturbingly real. You might laugh out loud every now and then at this one, but you might feel weird about it later.

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Stars: Benoît Poelvoorde, Valérie Parent, Rémy Belvaux
Director: Rémy BelvauxAndré Bonzel
Rated: NC-17
Runtime: 96 minutes

Jemaine Clement in What We Do in the Shadows.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Two wellsprings of Kiwi humor — Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement — direct and star in 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows about vampire housemates living in a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand. The mock documentary crew usually focuses on Viago (Waititi), the somewhat effete vampire annoyed at his housemates for not adhering to the chore schedule while also pining for his lost love. Clement plays the once vicious warlord Vladislav the Poker, while Johnny Brugh plays Deacon, the youngster of the trio at not even 200 years old. They’re soon joined by the freshly-turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who has trouble adjusting to his new role — including bragging to entire pubs full of patrons that he’s a vampire. Why do vampires hate werewolves, and what’s a werewolf’s favorite catchphrase? Why do vampires prefer virgin blood? And when you’re a vampire, what’s the hottest social event of the year? All these questions and more are answered in one of the most hilarious mockumentaries you’ll ever see.

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Rated: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

Mia Farrow and Woody Allen in Zelig.

Zelig (1983)

There are those who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere, and then there is the subject of Woody Allen’s poignant 1983 fictional documentary Zelig. Played by Allen, Leonard Zelig becomes known as the “human chameleon” for his ability to instantly assimilate with any group, whether it’s with wealthy Boston socialites, blue-collar servants, or even the Nazis. Using authentic newsreel footage and inserting actual historical figures into the narrative for hilarious cameos, Allen achieves something truly funny and thought-provoking with Zelig.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: PG
Runtime: 84 minutes

Peter Jackson in an editing room in Forgotten Silver.

Forgotten Silver (1995)

While he may be known better for his horror films or for adapting the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson has also dipped his toe into the world of the mockumentary. He did it so well, in fact, that a lot of viewers didn’t realize his subject was fictional. Forgotten Silver first aired on New Zealand television in 1995, purporting to be a documentary about forgotten New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie. Clips from McKenzies’s supposed films are included, but in reality, they are carefully orchestrated fakes directed by Jackson himself. As remembered by Empire OnlineForgotten Silver fooled most of its viewers, and a lot of them weren’t too happy about it. For that fact alone, it’s worth a watch.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Jeffrey Thomas, Peter Jackson, Johnny Morris
Director: Peter Jackson
Rated: N/A
Runtime: 53 minutes

Two men screaming into a mic in Hard Core Logo.

Hard Core Logo (1996)

If punk rock fans are desperate for an answer to This Is Spinal Tap, the closest filmmakers have gotten so far is the 1996 Canadian-made Hard Core Logo. The mockumentary follows the reunion of the titular punk band, which is brought back together after member Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon) takes advantage of a tragedy. As the band goes back on the road, secrets are revealed, lives are changed, and egos clash all over again. The insane antics of the band sometimes prove to be even goofier than Spinal Tap, if that’s possible, while at other times, the depiction of the aging group’s internal struggles comes off as genuinely relatable. If you’re a fan of punk rock, you shouldn’t miss Hard Core Logo.

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Stars: Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, John Pyper-Ferguson
Director: Bruce McDonald
Rated: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

Borat surrounded by his fellow villagers.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

The mockumentary is old hat to Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s been presenting characters like Ali-G and Borat as real people to the unwitting for years. In the Oscar-nominated Borat, Cohen brings one of his most popular characters to the United States and uses him to satirize the country. Under the premise that he’s being sent by the Kazakh Ministry of Information, Borat Sagdiyev leaves for America, where he’s destined to fall in love with Pamela Anderson, has fights in the nude in full view of hotel guests with his producer Azamat, and takes over hosting duties for rodeos. Edgy, courageous, and absolutely hilarious, Borat needs to be seen to be believed.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell
Director: Larry Charles
Rated: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

The New Main Street Singers in A Mighty Wind.

A Mighty Wind (2003)

It doesn’t take too long to figure out that music is a favorite subject of mockumentaries, but 2003’s A Mighty Wind is a bit different. Rather than conceiving a single satirical music group, like in This Is Spinal Tap or Hard Core Logo, Christopher Guest and his go-to troupe of actors came up with three folk music acts, each dusting themselves off for a concert in honor of the recently deceased folk promoter Irving Steinbloom.

What sets A Mighty Wind apart from Guest’s other mockumentaries — and most mockumentaries in general — is how powerful the emotional core proves to be. As we laugh at the bizarre histories and pedantic bickering between the different folk groups and the pampered children of Steinbloom, it’s impossible not to be touched by the bittersweetness permeating the film. This is particularly true of the film’s climax with a performance of A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow, a song from folk duo Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara), a tribute to Canadian folk heroes Ian and Sylvia, who never performed together after their 1975 divorce. The song was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 2004 Academy Awards.

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer
Director: Christopher Guest
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 90 minutes

The Rutles in All You Need is Cash.

The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978)

If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll either love it or hate it. In 1978, the TV movie The Rutles: All You Need is Cash aired on NBC to almost universal critical acclaim, as well as some of the absolute lowest ratings on the network that week. Eric Idle of Monty Python fame joined other funny men to make a dead-on parody of the Beatles’ history, complete with a soundtrack full of dangerously close plays on Beatles tunes — e.g. Ouch! instead of Help! and Piggy in the Middle replacing I Am the Walrus. Along with its hilarious take on one of the world’s most famous rock bands, All You Need is Cash includes cameos from original Saturday Night Live cast members such as Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi; Idle’s fellow Python alum Michael Palin; and music celebrities like Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, and even one of the stars being parodied — George Harrison.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Eric Idle, Neil Innes, John Halsey
Director: Eric Idle, Gary Weis
Rated: N/A
Runtime: 74 minutes

The title character in Kenny.

Kenny (2006)

Kenny was released in Australia to such acclaim that it spawned the spin-off TV series Kenny‘s World. Shane Jacobson stars in the mockumentary film as Kenny Smyth, a plumber who works for a company that rents portable toilets. With a subject absolutely ripe with comic potential, Kenny goes in a wonderful, unexpected direction. Rather than a series of endless poop jokes, the mockumentary is a compassionate and funny portrayal of a man who harbors more pride and optimism for a job most would put at the top of “the most undesirable job” list and it proves a pleasure to get to know him.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Shan Jacobson, Eve von Bibra, Clayton Jacobson
Director: Clayton Jacobson
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 100 minutes

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