12 Movies Like Tropic Thunder That Will Surely Make You Laugh

Comedy films from major studios may have hit a downward spiral in the past decade, but during the early 2000s, the genre flourished under the likes of Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, and the Farrelly brothers. In 2008, "Tropic Thunder" united many of the greatest comedic actors of the era in a masterwork that put Hollywood's feet to the fire.

Ben Stiller is one of the funniest leading men of this generation, but he's also proven to be an incredible director in his own right. Stiller proved his merit as a filmmaker with his 1994 debut film "Reality Bites." The independent comedy was the perfect stepping stone to his 2001 breakthrough hit, "Zoolander," in which he merged a large ensemble of stars and a hilarious screwball premise with a good deal of satire.

Stiller's sense of humor is both broad and intelligent, and "Tropic Thunder" only increased the self-awareness that makes him so unique. The film gave Stiller the chance to make fun of his own career by letting him play a faded movie star who is trying to be taken seriously.

That's just the beginning. "Tropic Thunder" also lampoons many cinematic classics, particularly war films like "Platoon." While its premise and the foul-mouthed humor is universally funny, having a strong foundational knowledge of older films will help you appreciate just how clever Stiller's movie really is. Here are some other great movies to watch alongside "Tropic Thunder."

Duck Soup

The best comedy films are those that feel distinct to the era in which they were released. "Tropic Thunder" is a response to the entertainment industry in 2008, and the film's best characters are designed to satirize prominent figures of the era. Tom Cruise's Les Grossman, a vile, cruel film executive, is a chilling parody of Harvey Weinstein. Stiller skewers celebrity culture with the wacky group of movie stars that his character, Tugg Speedman, assembles for his planned war epic; it calls into question why anyone would take actors seriously.

Just as "Tropic Thunder" is a time capsule for the early 21st-century, older comedy films can similarly be used to explore history. The Marx Brothers were pioneers of early cinematic comedy, and their 1933 masterpiece "Duck Soup" is a fascinating look at pre-World War II era politics. Similar to "Tropic Thunder," it follows a group of bumbling lead characters who ironically end up impacting world events.

Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is installed as the president of Freedonia in order to appease Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), a wealthy widow who manages the small nation's budget. Firefly has no political experience, but must do his best to manage an upcoming war so that Mrs. Teasdale will continue to fund the isolated country. "Duck Soup" was the last film to star all four of the Marx Brothers; Zeppo appears as a secretary, and both Harpo and Chico play secret agents of Freedonia's rival, Sylvania.

The Circus

"Tropic Thunder" was refreshing in how it lampooned the entertainment industry. In an era when the private lives of Hollywood stars were the subject of over-the-top media coverage, "Tropic Thunder" featured a less-than-appealing look at what these performers' daily lives actually looked like. Stiller's Speedman is publicly ridiculed for the poor quality of his action films, Jack Black's Jeff Portnoy is addicted to drugs, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus goes to ridiculous extremes to prepare for his roles. It was humorous to see these well-known actors acknowledge the reality of the industry, as each of their characters were inspired by prominent actors of the time.

Stiller is hardly the first comedy icon to pull back the curtain on his own profession. Charlie Chaplin is known as one of the most important and influential stars of the silent era, and his 1928 film "The Circus" examined the life of circus performers. While it's an uproarious slapstick adventure, Chaplin revealed a sad truth behind his iconic character, the Little Tramp. While he yearns to be a great actor, the Tramp discovers that he can only make others laugh unintentionally . All the mayhem that unfolds as the Tramp is employed by a ringmaster occurs because of Chaplin's blundering, foolish nature; at least the other performers in the circus are just as incompetent.

The Lavender Hill Mob

"Tropic Thunder" isn't just a great comedy, but a surprisingly exciting adventure that features impressive setpieces and other action elements. Some comedy films fail if they rely only on improv and dialogue, and Stiller understood that introducing more kinetic elements would make the story more exciting. As the characters learn that they're trapped in a real war-torn country, they realize that they're in actual danger. Speedman, Lazarus, Portnoy, Kevin, and Alpa aren't particularly likeable characters, but they do develop actual skills when they're forced to survive on their own.

"Tropic Thunder" isn't a traditional "buddy cop" action-comedy, as it's more focused on an ensemble of strange characters. An older film that also falls under that same unique description is the 1958 British comedy classic "The Lavender Hill Mob." Alec Guinness stars as Dutch Holland, an unassuming London clerk who discovers that the bank he's employed at is hiding a secure stash of gold. Holland realizes that, under the right circumstances, he could leverage his knowledge of the bank's operations and put together a team to stage a heist. So, Dutch assembles his crew, but soon discovers that he's in over his head.

Like Stiller's Speedman, Dutch has an interesting character arc. He's endearing despite his selfish qualities, and he uses his seemingly harmless persona to survive actual danger. In addition, the chase sequences in "The Lavender Hill Mob" are simply thrilling.

Some Like It Hot

There's a performative quality to "Tropic Thunder" that is very entertaining, as each of the actors are delivering complex comedic performances. Not only are each of the actors playing prominent figures in the fictional "Tropic Thunder" universe, but they must also embody the different characters those actors have played over the course of their fictional careers.

Stiller's Speedman is best known as the star of the "Scorcher" franchise, a parody of action films like the Die Hard and Rambo series. Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus pokes fun at "method" acting, which performers like Daniel Day Lewis are known for. He never breaks character, which is particularly amusing when the Australian actor is cast as the African-American Staff Sergeant Lincoln Osiris. It's a risky performance by Downey Jr. that paid off despite the controversy that surrounded it; he even received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.

"Tropic Thunder" asked its ensemble to give actual performances and not just rely on their comedic personas. This is the same thing that made the 1959 classic "Some Like It Hot" so groundbreaking. The film follows two hapless musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), who disguise themselves as women in order to escape the mafia. Curtis and Lemmon deliver hilarious performances, as they're forced to pretend to be elderly women for an extended period of time. Like "Tropic Thunder," it was a controversial film upon release due to the cross-dressing and subversion of gender roles.


"Tropic Thunder" was hilarious because it forced celebrities to be vulnerable on screen. When Stiller's Speedman plans to make a war epic that will earn him critical acclaim, he's not prepared to actually have to survive on his own. Speedman and his co-stars venture into the "Golden Triangle" in Thailand in order to film a war epic similar to "Apocalypse Now," but they're oblivious to the fact that there are actual drug lords operating in the same area. Watching these clueless characters gradually realize they must embody the same roles they were portraying is very, very funny.

The same self-aware humor that made "Tropic Thunder" so endearing is something the Beatles were very well known for. The band's 1964 classic "A Hard Day's Night" followed the musicians' adventures ahead of an upcoming performance. It was entertaining to see John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr play exaggerated versions of themselves, and the 1965 sequel "Help!" placed them in an even more ludicrous adventure, one similar to "Tropic Thunder." In the movie, the hapless band becomes intertwined in an international conspiracy, and, as in"Tropic Thunder," ends up impacting world politics.

Ringo is targeted by a cult, inspired by actual Thuggee culture, when he accidentally acquires a sacred ring. The cultists track the band across the world as they're protected by Scotland Yard; it's hilarious to see the Beatles deal with an actual international crisis.

Broadway Danny Rose

"Tropic Thunder" has many insights on the film industry. The parodies of actual films that are previewed before the opening credits are funny in their own right, but they're also not that far removed from the types of projects that Hollywood actually produces. For example, Stiller's Speedman attempts to shed his action star persona with a more serious performance that will win him an Academy Award; he plays a mentally disabled character in the Oscar-bait style film "Simply Jack," which only earns him ridicule. "Tropic Thunder" shows the ramifications that this misstep has on Speedman's career, and how it strains his relationship with his agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey).

When making "Tropic Thunder," Stiller was already a prominent star, and his experience helped prepare him to tackle a cutting-edge parody of Hollywood. Woody Allen made a similar career move with his 1984 comedy "Broadway Danny Rose," in which he starred as a theatrical agent thrust into a criminal conspiracy involving the New York mafia. Like Stiller, Allen had already done extensive work as both an actor and director, so his vision of the New York theater scene felt very realistic.

Allen's character, Danny Rose, is known for his strange clients, and he's asked to pretend to be the boyfriend of Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), a well-known Broadway performer. Danny is unaware that Tina used to date a gangster, and he becomes a mafia target when the demons of Tina's past come back to haunt them. Given recent revelations, Woody Allen's movies can be hard to watch for modern viewers. However, if you're willing to divorce the man from his work — something easier said than done — you'll find plenty to like here.

Withnail & I

"Tropic Thunder" explores the sad realities of show business, in particular the plight of actors who watch their dreams of being taken seriously disappear. Despite winning five Oscars and receiving plenty of critical acclaim, Downey Jr.'s Lazarus is never satisfied with his performances. Stiller's Speedman is routinely criticized for his bid at awards glory in "Simple Jack," and Black's Portnoy is forced to take roles in embarrassing family comedies in order to make enough money to satisfy his drug addiction. It's far from the Hollywood glitz and glamor that each of these characters imagined for themselves.

While the "Tropic Thunder" characters at least have the fortune of being famous and well-paid, the leads of the 1987 British cult comedy "Withnail & I" are not so lucky. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) share a flat in London and desperately bid for any acting parts they can get. In "Tropic Thunder," Speedman is overwhelmed by his co-stars' eccentric nature. Similarly, Marwood is frequently embarrassed by the eccentricities of the drug-addicted Withnail.

Withnail's drug dealer, Danny (Ralph Brown), only causes more chaos in their lives, and they are forced to appease his flamboyant uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths). Marwood is very uncomfortable around Monty, who tries to seduce him, but they're forced to meet his strange demands in order to survive. It's because of their profession that the pair must deal with these odd characters.

Top Secret!

In "Tropic Thunder," Speedman's career has taken a downward spiral, as the other actors and professionals in the industry always imagined that he was as dull and witless as his character in the "Scorcher" films. It gives Speedman something to prove throughout his adventure, and he uses the practical stunt training he received over the course of his career to survive the hectic violence in the Golden Triangle. His set of skills is hardly traditional, but they are beneficial to his team of co-stars, who begrudgingly grow to respect him.

Val Kilmer's character, Nick Rivers, faced similarly low expectations in the 1984 comedy masterpiece "Top Secret!" Rivers is an American rock star in the middle of a global tour when, during a stop in East Germany, he has a chance encounter with rebel leader Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge). Rivers learns of Hillary's mission to stop a plot by former Nazis to capture a nuclear device and destroy the NATO fleet, and ends up saving her by delivering an impromptu performance that distracts her captors. Rivers continues to surprise everyone as he and Hillary travel across the globe, working undercover to stop the world-ending threat.

Like "Tropic Thunder," "Top Secret!" explored the cynical reality of Hollywood, and how showbusiness intersects with actual world events. It lampoons the films of Elvis Presley, 1960s spy thrillers, and World War II serials all at once, similar to how "Tropic Thunder" parodies war films.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

"Tropic Thunder" is grounded in a version of reality that feels very authentic, thanks to the references to current Hollywood stars, films, and trends. Not only are the main characters all molded after actual actors, but there are many brief cameo appearances by famous celebrities, such as when Tobey Maguire appears in the fake trailer for Lazarus' romantic epic "Satan's Alley." Jon Voight makes a particularly amusing appearance at the end of the film when he loses the Academy Award for best actor to Speedman, an in-joke that references Voight's actual Oscar loss to John Wayne at the 1970 Academy Awards (for "Midnight Cowboy" and "True Grit," respectively).

It's one thing for a film to have cameos, but the ones in "Tropic Thunder" actually serve a story purpose. In a similar vein, Kevin Smith's films frequently feature references to the movie business, and the cameos in his movies are more complex than simply shoving a famous face on screen. 2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" paired many of the characters from his View Askewniverse with their real-life counterparts, making for one of Smith's funniest overall films.

The stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) were the basis for the comic book characters Bluntman and Chronic, developed by Holden McNeil in "Chasing Amy." As such, Affleck amusingly appears in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" as both Holden and himself, explaining to Jay and Silent Bob that their story will be adapted for the big screen. Upon learning the news, the duo go on a cross country adventure to stop the film's production — and run across some more famous faces along the way.

Rat Race

"Tropic Thunder" is very fast-paced and often goes in unexpected directions. It's not clear what will happen to Speedman and his co-stars next, as they're constantly met with new dangers once they begin their shoot in the Golden Triangle. Moments of slapstick action and violence keep the viewers engaged, as the narrative is entirely unpredictable.

The 2001 comedy "Rat Race" is one of the most ridiculous slapstick comedies of the 21st century. The eccentric billionaire Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) gathers a group of six strangers and sends them on a secret race to find a stash of $2 million. The bumbling attorney Nick Schaffer (Breckin Meyer), unstable helicopter pilot Tracy Faucet (Amy Smart), shamed football referee Owen Templeteon (Cuba Gooding Jr.), scheming thief Duane Cody (Seth Green), and stressed-out businesswoman Merrill Jennings (Lanei Chapman) all race from a Las Vegas casino to a Silver City, New Mexico train station to claim the reward.


The references to popular film culture in "Tropic Thunder" are more complex than simply acknowledging the existence of tropes and cliches. The film examines the nature of franchise culture, awards races, studio politics, and other specific elements of the film industry. While much of the satire criticizes the issues in the Hollywood system, it also pays loving tribute to a number of cinematic classics.

The 2011 comedy "Paul" has a similar appreciation for film history, and the science fiction adventure both critiques and celebrates fan culture. In one of their rare collaborations outside of Edgar Wright's filmography, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play obsessive sci-fi nerds Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, who are on a cross country adventure to San Diego Comic-Con, and look for UFO sites as they cross Area 51 in New Mexico. There, they encounter an actual alien, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), and decide to help him escape government authorities. They also befriend the local radical fundamentalist, Ruth (Kristin Wiig); Paul's existence forces Ruth to question her religious beliefs, and makes both Graeme and Clive question their fandom.

Hail, Caesar!

The parody of studio politics and the relationships between actors is one of the best elements of "Tropic Thunder." Tom Cruise's eccentric performance as the oppressive studio executive Les Grossman feels particularly realistic, as Grossman is cruel to the actors and directors he employs, particularly his assistant Rob Slolom (Bill Hader). Grossman is also overwhelmed by the stresses of the job, and has no real appreciation for making quality films.

The Coen Brothers' 2016 ensemble comedy "Hail, Caesar!" takes a much more sympathetic look at the life of a studio executive. The film follows the career of Hollywood "fixer" Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who is tasked with managing various Old Hollywood stars throughout the 1950s. Like "Tropic Thunder," "Hail, Caesar!" features many great performances by prominent actors who play exaggerated versions of movie star cliches. The film features George Clooney as the Charlton Heston-esque Baird Whitlock, Alden Ehrenreich as the singing cowboy Hobie Doyle, Channing Tatum as the Gene Kelly-like Burt Gurney, and Scarlett Johansson as musical icon DeeAnna Moran.