What is Satire? Meaning and Examples from Film


Definition: Satire is a genre of literature and the arts that employs humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in contemporary politics and other topical issues. Through its insightful and often biting commentary, satire aims to improve society by encouraging change or reform.

Satire is a powerful way to deliver commentary on politics, culture, and various societal norms.

Satire can be subtle or overt, and it spans a wide range of subgenres, each with its unique focus and method of critique.

There are many subgenres of satire which have been explored in movies.

Different Subgenres of Satire in Movies

mockumentary parody illustrative image

Here’s a list of different subgenres of satire explained, including movie examples.

Satire typeExplanationMovie Example
Political SatireTargets politicians and political processes, mocking everything from policy decisions to the behavior of individual politicians. It’s often found in editorial cartoons, articles, TV programs, and online content.Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is a classic example of political satire, mocking the Cold War attitudes and nuclear scare between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Social SatireFocuses on societal behaviors and norms. It ridicules societal trends, classes, and habits to expose the folly and vices in society.Get Out (2017) uses horror elements to satirize racial tensions and liberal hypocrisy in the United States, making profound observations on societal behaviors and norms.
ParodyImitates the style or character of a work, genre, author, or public figure in a humorous way to comment on the original work or broader societal norms associated with that work.Spaceballs (1987) parodies the science fiction genre, particularly the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, using the original’s style to create humorous commentary on space opera tropes.
SpoofA lighter form of parody that playfully mocks a genre, film, or work rather than making a serious critique. Spoofs often involve exaggeration and humorous imitation.Airplane! (1980) uses exaggerated situations and characters to create humor without intending to provide serious critique.
Horatian SatireNamed after the Roman satirist Horace, this subgenre is playful and seeks to entertain while pointing out societal follies. It’s characterized by a gentle, amused tone rather than by indignation.The Simpsons Movie (2007) is a prime example of Horatian satire, gently poking fun at societal norms, family dynamics, and environmental issues.
Juvenalian SatireIn contrast to Horatian satire, Juvenalian satire, named after the Roman poet Juvenal, is more severe and bitter. It addresses social evils through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule.A Clockwork Orange (1971) offers a darker, more cynical look at societal issues, such as youth violence and the failures of the criminal rehabilitation system, using scorn and outrage as its primary tools.
Menippean SatireTargets mental attitudes rather than societal norms or specific individuals. It often employs a variety of literary forms—such as essays, dialogues, and verses—to lampoon stereotypes and intellectual attitudes.Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) critiques the American Dream and societal norms through a drug-fueled journey, employing various literary forms to lampoon stereotypes and intellectual attitudes.
BurlesqueExaggerates or distorts the manner or style of something more serious for comedic effect. Classic burlesque focuses more on literary and dramatic works, while modern burlesque can also encompass performance art.Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) takes a comedic approach to the legend of Robin Hood, exaggerating and distorting elements of the story and style for humorous effect.
IronyWhile often considered a rhetorical device rather than a subgenre of satire, irony is a key component in many satirical works. It involves stating something that implies the opposite, usually subtly and understated.American Psycho (2000) uses irony to critique 1980s yuppie culture and the emptiness of consumerism, with the protagonist’s true, violent nature contrasting sharply with his polished exterior.
SarcasmA form of verbal irony that is more direct and cutting. It’s often used in satirical works to convey contempt or mockery.Thank You for Smoking (2005) employs sarcasm to critique the tobacco industry and lobbying practices, with characters often using direct and cutting remarks to make their points.
MockumentaryA film or television show that mimics the style and structure of documentary filmmaking to satirize its subject matter, often through fictional events presented in a non-fiction format.This Is Spinal Tap (1984) satirizes the rock and roll lifestyle, following a fictional band on tour through a series of comedic and exaggerated misadventures.
FarceInvolves exaggerated, improbable situations intended to entertain and amuse, often through slapstick, absurdity, and physical humor. While not exclusively satirical, farce is frequently used to lampoon societal norms.The Pink Panther (2006) uses exaggerated characters and improbable situations, focusing on the bumbling Inspector Clouseau’s attempts to solve crimes, using slapstick and absurdity to lampoon detective stories.

Different Ways and Purposes for the Use of Satire in Film

There are many reasons for using satire in films, often related to the movie theme, ranging from political to genre spoofing. Here are some examples:

Cultural/Pop Culture Satire

Films in this category comment on trends, celebrities, or phenomena in popular culture.

“The Truman Show” (1998), directed by Peter Weir, serves as a prescient critique of reality television and the blurring lines between personal privacy and entertainment long before the explosion of reality TV and social media fame.

Economic Satire

This involves critique of economic policies, systems, or ideologies.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), directed by Martin Scorsese, can be seen as a satirical take on the excesses of capitalism and the corrupting power of greed, showcasing the rise and fall of a real-life stockbroker.

War Satire

War satires critique the military and the concept of war itself.

“MAS*H” (1970), directed by Robert Altman, uses the Korean War as a setting to satirize the absurdity of war and the bureaucracy of the military, using humor to cope with the horror and absurdity of conflict.

You might like 10 Best War Moves Every Filmmaker and Movie Buff Should See

Environmental Satire

Films that use satire to comment on environmental issues or human interaction with the environment.

“WALL-E” (2008) by Pixar, primarily a children’s movie, offers a satirical look at consumerism, waste management, and environmental neglect, presenting a future Earth choked by garbage.

Religious Satire

This form of satire takes on religious institutions, figures, or beliefs.

“Life of Brian” (1979) by Monty Python is a controversial yet humorous take on religious fervor and dogma, set in the time of Jesus Christ and focusing on a man named Brian who is mistaken for the Messiah.

Genre Satire

This involves films that parody specific genres.

“Scream” (1996), directed by Wes Craven, revitalized the horror genre by satirizing the conventions of slasher films while still being an effective horror film itself.

It pokes fun at the clichés of the genre, such as the “final girl” trope and the predictability of the plot twists.

Also, check out Horror Subgenres Every Filmmaker Should Know (and Why)


Satire in movies is often used for social and political commentary, cleverly wrapped in humor and entertainment.

Through exaggeration, irony, and wit, filmmakers can critique societal norms, behaviors, and institutions in an engaging and thought-provoking manner for the audience.

Satirical movies often challenge viewers to reflect on their beliefs and the world around them, sparking important conversations and potentially inspiring change.

Up Next: What is Irony in Film? And How To Use It in a Screenplay


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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