The movie parody game has gone through a lot of changes in the last few decades. With A Haunted House about to hit theaters, followed by Scary Movie 5 in April and The Starving Games sometime later this year, things can get confusing. It seems like a good time to look at the big movers and shakers of the parody genre and where they stand, quality-wise.

The Wayans Brothers

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Films

Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood

Who Are They?

Typically, the modern Wayans brothers parody film stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans with Keenan Ivory Wayans doing something behind the scenes, whether it be producing, writing or directing. Higher profile Wayans brother, Damon Wayans, usually sits these out.

Are They Good?

Despite their tendency to scrape the bottom of the laugh barrel with stuff like White Chicks and Little Man, most of the Wayans brothers’ actual parody films are better than their reputation would indicate. I like all three of the films listed above, with a particular fondness for Scary Movie 2. Yes there’s a lot of jokes revolving around bodily fluids and the actual parody aspects of the jokes are pretty half-baked, but Chris Elliott’s little hand was a stroke of genius.

What Are They Doing Now?

Marlon Wayans is starring in this week’s non-Wayans Brothers parody film called A Haunted House, which looks like another Scary Movie, but without the brand name. The other guys haven’t really been active since 2009′s parody film Dance Flick, which was more of a Wayans nephews film.

Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker

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Films

Airplane!, Police Squad!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun, The Naked Gun 2½

Who Are They?

David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker

Are They Good?

They are among the very best. Airplane alone is widely considered one of the funniest films ever made. Add The Naked Gun to the mix (particularly if you include its short lived-television origin Police Squad!) and you have comedy legends who defined the whole genre. And that’s without the sorely underrated Top Secret!

As each member of the group split off to do their own things, however, results varied. Of the three, Abrahams has done the best to keep the torch burning. His Hot Shots!, both part one and deux, come closest to matching the trio’s previous highs.

What Are They Doing Now?

Only David Zucker appears to be up to much lately. His output is divisive to say the least. Along with taking over parts three and four of the Scary Movie franchise from the Wayans brothers, David Zucker also directed the right-wing polemic An American Carol, which few people saw, and those who did largely panned it. Scary Movie 5, cowritten and coproduced by Zucker, comes out later this year.

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

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Films:

Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans

Who Are They?

Oh, I know this one! They are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Before directing movies of their own, they cowrote Spy Hard and Scary Movie.

Are They Good?

Not really. To make this call, I sat through a lot of their stuff and the very best of it was sub-Saturday Night Live low-hanging fruit. Within whatever currently popular film genre they’re supposedly parodying, Friedberg and Seltzer actually spend their time humorously acknowledging as many tabloid-level culture gags as possible, making them quite possibly the most dated films ever made. In fact, we may ultimately discover Friedberg and Seltzer’s true contributions to cinema lay not as a parody team but as suppliers of uncanny time capsules for our robot overlords to examine in the future.

What Are They Doing Now?

After three years of silence since 2010′s Vampires Suck, Friedberg and Seltzer return with two 2013 films: Best Night Ever and The Starving Games, the title of which illustrates the highest form of humor these guys typically achieve.

Craig Moss

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Films:

The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It, Breaking Wind

Who Is He?

He’s either a hack or a genius parodist focused solely on other parodists.

Is He Good?

Not at all. Craig Moss is sort of the straight-to-video version of Friedberg and Seltzer. It may not seem possible for the form to devolve further from their low water mark, but Moss somehow manages. It’s quite easy to make a comparison between the two parody forces now that both have offered their particular takes on Twilight. Friedberg and Seltzer named theirs Vampires Suck, which would be a decent joke from a five year old. Moss’ version is called Breaking Wind, eye rolling regardless of age. Moss’ films are so bad, in fact, that they enter into anti-comedy territory and might actually offer more laughs, if unintentionally.

What Is He Doing Now?

Craig enjoys copying the title scheme used by the Wayans brothers’ Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and in that spirit, you can find his new film, 20 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on video later this month.

Mel Brooks

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Films:

Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie

Who Is He?

He is the king. And it’s good to be the king.

Is He Good?

Graded purely on a joke-for-joke basis, Brooks might be outshined a bit by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team. But by pretty much all other standards, he has them beat. Brooks’ films are both hilarious and classy, often displaying genuine fondness for what it satirizes. His targets are also widespread and varied. Like many parodists, Brooks might tackle a single film (Young Frankenstein) or a genre (Spaceballs), but unlike the rest he also took on tropes of single directors (High Anxiety) and even social injustice (Blazing Saddles). Most of this films are highly regarded classics of unshakable stature.

What Is He Doing Now?

Mel Brooks has found tons and tons of success turning his older films into Broadway plays. So far The Producers and Young Frankenstein have received the treatment, with a stage musical version of Blazing Saddles on the way.

Leslie Nielsen

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Films:

Spy Hard, Repossessed, Wrongfully Accused

Who Is He?

Probably the greatest spoof/parody actor of all time.

Is He Good?

Leslie Nielsen may not have been a writer or a director, but his role in the parody world cannot be understated. Starting out as a straight actor in films such as Forbidden Planet, The Poseidon Adventure, and even enjoying later roles in horror films like Creepshow and Prom Night, Nielsen spent the second half of his long career as the iconic representation of the entire spoof genre thanks to his deadpan work in Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Leslie Nielsen didn’t work solely in Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films – he was a spoof brand all by himself, especially in the ’90s. His later appearances in Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie, make him an active part of both the old school, the middle era, and this new generation of spoof films. He also starred in a Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It, so he’s basically all over this list.

What Is He Doing Now?

Sadly, Leslie Nielsen passed away in 2010. His gravestone displays a fart joke (“Let ‘er rip”), so it’s safe to assume he’s still making people laugh to this day.

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