Parody is a comic technique that imitates a previous text for the purposes of ridicule. For instance, in the film The Great Escape (1963) the character played by Steve McQueen is repeatedly thrown into solitary confinement ("the cooler") where he bounces a baseball against the wall to pass the time until his release. In the parody film Chicken Run (2000) the chicken Ginger gets sentenced to solitary confinement in a coal bin and bounces a rock against one wall to pass the time. The camera angle, the character's posture, and the sound of the ball bouncing off the wall all replicate the familiar scenes in The Great Escape . In order for this moment to function as parody for the audience, the spectator must be aware of the cinematic precedent, and able to connect it to the imitation (for the many young children who enjoyed Chicken Run , a coal bin is just a coal bin). There also must be a twist or element of comic difference to the imitation—in this case, the fact that the prisoner is a chicken and not a soldier.
The word "parody" comes from ancient Greek theater, and it translates as "beside" ( para ) "song" ( ode ) —that is, roughly, "this song must be understood beside that one." It describes a mode of address, rather than a genre per se. The term can be used to define an entire film, such as Airplane! (1980), which is a parody of the disaster movie. But the word can also be used to describe any technique by which one film references another for humorous effect. Though Monsters, Inc . (2001) is not itself a parody, it does include a slow-motion shot of the monsters entering the factory floor, which parodies a similar shot of astronauts exiting the mission control building in The Right Stuff (1983).
Film parodies can spoof specific films: for instance, Buster Keaton's The Three Ages (1923) is a parody of D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916). They can focus on individual filmmakers, like High Anxiety (1977) does with Alfred Hitchcock. Or they can take on the films of an entire era, style, or mode of filmmaking, as in Silent Movie (1976). But by far the most popular targets of film parodies are genres: Lust in the Dust (1985) spoofs the western; Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988), the police drama; This Is Spinal Tap (1984), the documentary; Love and Death (1975), the historical drama; Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), film noir; and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999), the Hollywood musical, among many others. Genres are a rich source of parodic inspiration because they tend to offer both a rigid set of conventions that can be easily reproduced and ridiculed and a wide range of original films from which to draw iconic scenes and characters.
Parody is frequently connected to satire, a form of comedy that emphasizes social criticism. While the target of parody is a text or set of texts, the target of satire is the society that produced those texts. Because genres, stars, and cinematic conventions express social values, these two forms of comedy intersect in significant ways. For instance, in the sports-film parody Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), the dodgeball finals are televised on ESPN8, and the announcer provides this introduction to the tournament in Las Vegas: "A city home to a sporting event that is bigger than the World Cup, World Series, and World War II combined." The language parodies television's broadcast conventions, often reproduced in the sports movie, which tend to oversell the importance of a single sporting event. So the genre