I get questioned a lot about the state of MAD movie parodies, usually from people lamenting them as shorter, less frequent and sometimes weaker than the ones in the past. There was a time when the latest issue of MAD could be counted on to have at least one movie parody and one TV show parody in it, and often more than one. The parodies averaged over 6 pages in length, and the targets were usually highly regarded dramas and films that were either critically acclaimed, box office hits or both. Artsy, off the wall films like “A Clockwork Orange” got the MAD treatment as often as films like “The Godfather”, and “JAWS”. MAD seemed equally interested in skewering movies that took themselves too seriously as they did ones that sold a lot of tickets. Parodies would show up in the magazine an average of 3 months after the month of their initial release. Artists like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Angelo Torres, along with writers like Arnie Kogen, Stan Hart and Dick DeBartolo made the movie parody a MAD trademark.
Fast forward to today. It’s been pointed out that whole issues go by without a movie parody in them. When the parodies do show up, they are often short (4 to 5 pages seems to be the typical size now), and the only movies that get attention seem to be the mega blockbusters, regardless of the worthiness of their content. There are a few exceptions (like “The Royal Tennenbaums”), but largely the only time critically acclaimed, bona-fide Oscar contenders get into MAD are if they also are big money makers. Films like “Million Dollar Baby”, “Crash”, “Capote” and “The Pianist” are passed over in favor of sequels like “Spider-Man 2”, “X2”, “Harry Potter”, etc. Even films that were box office disappointments but still had that high profile buzz like “Constantine” and “Van Helsing” made it over more dramatic and less popcorn-eating fare.
So what happened? Why the change in MAD’s direction with movie parodies? I don’t believe there has really been that much of a change in MAD’s philosophy. The major changes have been in the dynamics of the movie industry itself, which I feel is forcing MAD to alter their approach to one of the most popular aspects of their magazine.
Back in the 60’s through the 80’s and even into the 90’s, the way movies were distributed and shown was very different than it is today. There were no giant 20??á¬¨‚Ä†theater cineplexes, and movies did not open on 3,000 screens coast to coast on the same day. Most towns outside the largest of cities had only a few theaters, and they mostly had one screen each. Films were released in stages, starting with their ‘premiere’ in the biggest cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. There would be a lot of buzz and reviews and articles in the paper about the films, even though only a small part of the country had the movie playing at all. After they played in the big cities for a while they began to trickle down to the minor cities, then the bigger towns, then the smaller towns, and finally the one theater towns. In this way movies played for many, many months and seeing them was a much bigger event than it is today. There were many times, other than opening day, where you literally couldn’t get a ticket to see a film for weeks because there were far more people wanting to see the film than there were available seats, so successful films routinely played for many months. Today you can go to one of probably 3 cineplexes in even a smaller town on a whim and go into a half empty theater to see a just released movie. No lines, no sell outs. No longer an event. Films now have a significantly shorter shelf life, many out on DVD when their counterparts in the 70’s were still playing in theaters. Films themselves have changed a lot since the advent of the “blockbuster”. Back in the day, Oscar contending films were also the ones that made the money and stayed in theaters the longest. Today Oscar winners often tend to just do decent in ticket sales, whereas the popcorn-eaters make the big bucks but get ignored critically, mostly because they don’t deserve critical attention.
These changes in the film industry have changed the way MAD approcahes the movie parody somewhat. While it’s always been MAD’s philosophy that it’s pointless to do a parody of a film nobody has seen or cared about, the incredibly short runs of today’s movies compared to yesterday’s means that they mostly stick with the extremely high profile mega-blockbusters, and it’s rare that those films are Oscar contenders. Whereas in the past MAD could write, draw, edit and publish a film parody and have it on the stands in 3 months and still have the film both in theaters and on the minds of readers, today by the time 3 months go by, there have been 8-10 more recent??á¬¨‚Ä†big movies??á¬¨‚Ä†or wannabe blockbusters out, and the film getting lampooned is in the dollar theaters if MAD is lucky, and totally gone from the scene and the public’s eye if they are not. The parody seems outdated even though the turn-around time is no different than it was years ago for MAD. This change in dynamics makes movie parodies very hard to work in today’s world. I think this has??á¬¨‚Ä†led to less frequent film parodies and the advent of doing the parody BEFORE the release of the film, working from scripts and trailers in an effort to be more timely with the content. I’ve said before here that I prefer seeing a film first when doing a parody of it, since there is so much more to a movie than the script, but I understand the reasoning in both a reader’s interest and purely sales point of view.
As for the length, that seems to be an editorial trend. Perhaps they are catering to the shrinking attention span of today’s youth, or maybe they just want to make room for other content. The juries still out on that one, but I think MAD is underestimating it’s readers if it’s the former. I think readers are quite capable of getting through a 6 page movie parody. MAD has always operated on different levels and not been afraid to do adult humor along with the booger jokes.
Personally I would like to see more film parodies in MAD, and not just so I can draw them. I’d also love to work on more meaty films like the “Cinderella Man” types as opposed to the “Mission Impossible 3’s”. Don’t get me wrong, I love working on any movie parody, either after or before a film’s release. They are always challenging. I’m just hoping the movie parody doesn’t become even more of an endangered species than it seems to be now. I really hate opening an issue and finding no film parody in it, and that’s not that uncommon anymore.
Times, they are a’changin’. MAD has had to roll with them, making major changes in the last 10 years or so. It’s a big challenge for them and I have a lot of respect and confidence in the editorial staff at MAD that they’ll make the changes they need to in order to keep the magazine fresh and publishing for another 50 years. Hey! If they read that line maybe I’ll get a raise!
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