Monty Python’s comedy has maintained its impact over the years. But its their movie parodies in particular that stick out.
Widely regarded to stand among the most groundbreaking comics in the history of comedy, Monty Python trafficked in all kinds of humor. The troupe did regular sketches, sketches with a refreshingly absurdist sensibility, sketches with pitch-black comedy, musical numbers, live shows, animated segments, political satire, religious satire, social satire – and movie parodies
The Pythons’ own cinematic offerings were often parodies themselves, with further parodies layered into each scene, while a number of Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketches spoofed classic movies. Across their renowned oeuvre of comedy, the Pythons (each of them being cinephiles) delivered some of the most hysterical movie parodies ever created.
10 Ivan The Terrible, Part I
Prince Herbert, the effeminate prince played by Terry Jones who is pushed into a marriage he doesn’t want by his father in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is a parody of Prince Vladimir from the movie Ivan the Terrible, Part I.
Both princes are shown to have limited intelligence and share the same terrible haircut. The movie was written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein, a pioneer of montage theory and one of the most revolutionary filmmakers who ever lived.
Although Life of Brian is generally a spoof of religious epics, its opening title sequence takes satirical aim at the James Bond franchise.
The song that plays over the opening credits is a spoof of Shirley Bassey’s theme song from Goldfinger, while the title design itself complements that parody.
8 Throne Of Blood
Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood transferred the story of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth from medieval Scotland to feudal Japan for one of the most breathtaking masterpieces in the history of world cinema. The movie opens with a man on horseback riding through a thick blanket of mist.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail similarly opens this way, but the horseman is revealed to be pretending to ride a horse, with his squire clacking coconut shells together to create the sound of galloping hooves.
7 The Semaphore Version Of Wuthering Heights
In “The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights,” all the beauty and poetry in the dialogue between Heathcliff and Catherine in movie adaptations of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is gone as the characters communicate using flags.
This sketch is followed by several riffs on the same premise: “Julius Caesar on an Aldis Lamp,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Morse Code,” and “Smoke Signal Version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
The battle between the British Army and the Zulus was dramatized in the 1964 movie Zulu starring Michael Caine, which the Pythons subsequently spoofed in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
The spoof didn’t overtly reference anything particular from Zulu, as the sketch deviates into an absurdist gag about a man being bitten by a tiger, despite the fact that tigers don’t live in Africa, and the investigating soldiers finding two guys in a tiger costume, but it is shot similar to the movie.
5 Duck Soup
The Pythons borrowed a gag from the classic Marx Brothers comedy Duck Soup for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
In Duck Soup, the characters play the helmets of a line of soldiers like a glockenspiel. In Holy Grail, it’s the helmets of knights.
4 The Seventh Seal
There are a handful of references to Ingmar Bergman’s existential masterpiece The Seventh Seal in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, like the witch-burning, the flagellation, and the Swedish subtitles in the jokey opening credits.
But the Pythons’ greatest spoof of The Seventh Seal is in The Meaning of Life’s final sketch, which sees the Grim Reaper arriving at an isolated house in the country to tell the guests of a dinner party that they’re all dead.
This musical was the source of the Camelot-based musical number in the middle of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that ends with Arthur saying, “On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. ‘Tis a silly place.”
In the 1960s, Camelot was a wildly popular stage musical about King Arthur, and in 1967, it was turned into a movie. John F. Kennedy was such a huge fan of the musical that he nicknamed his administration after it.
2 Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days
If this sketch was made today, the director in question would probably be Quentin Tarantino. Back when Monty Python’s Flying Circus was on the air, the best-known director of ultraviolent movies was The Wild Bunch’s Sam Peckinpah.
The Pythons’ sketch presents a film adaptation of the whimsical musical Salad Days if it was directed by Peckinpah, complete with all the graphic violence that Peckinpah is known for (which, of course, incited a number of complaints from sensitive viewers when it first aired).
At the end of Life of Brian, when the titular mistaken Messiah is strapped to a cross and lined up to be crucified, one of the Romans declares that Brian is supposed to be freed and asks which one is Brian so they can let him down. While Brian tries to make his identity known, all the prisoners say that they’re Brian, in a parody of the final scene of Spartacus.
In Spartacus, as a sign of solidarity, all the revolting slaves announce, “I’m Spartacus!” In Life of Brian, these announcements are jokey plays on that phrase, like “I’m Brian, and so’s my wife!”