The 15 Best Mockumentaries, Ranked

The art of the documentary aims to reveal some kind of hidden truth to its audience. And this desire for being earnest makes the genre ripe for comedic material. Enter the mockumentary, an often comedic riff on the documentary, primarily through outlandish characters that are larger than life and oddly specific topics that are almost too weird to be true. If documentaries are seen as documents of truth, then mockumentaries are a mirror reflecting back at the audience, revealing just how easy it is to fabricate reality. They aren't always funny though, especially when looking at films such as "Punishment Park" and "Man Bites Dog," where the films' realities are bleak and provide a harrowing look at the capabilities of human cruelty.

Filmmaker Christopher Guest made a career for himself out of the mockumentary, and quite a few of his works appear on this list. He truly understood how to create a hilarious, yet earnest, mockumentary that was just nice enough to its characters so it avoid being mean-spirited. His work helped inspire a movement of filmmaking that mocked our reality and exposed the ridiculous nature of being human. Alongside the work of Guest, we've compiled and ranked the top 15 mockumentaries out there.

15. Real Life

Albert Brooks plays himself in his 1973 directorial debut, "Real Life." This is Brooks' spoof on the real reality TV show "An American Family," which was popular in the early 1970s. Brooks decides to follow a regular American family for a year, with a documentary crew documenting the entire endeavor. Cameras are installed on the walls and each family member is given a camera to carry through their daily lives. These surveillance cameras are a precursor to their more common use in contemporary horror found footage films, such as "Paranormal Activity." But, as Brooks begins the project, he quickly realizes he's been dropped into a rather dysfunctional family. This is also a rare instance of a mockumentary with its director or project lead in front of the camera. Brooks isn't just the director, but the fictional character and audience proxy. It culminates in one wild ending that cements "Real Life" as a pitch-black comedy about both the American family and obsession with a project.

14. Hard Core Logo

"Hard Core Logo" is the first of many movie mockumentaries on the list. While the subjects of this list span a wide range of humanity, musicians are often the topic of the comedic subgenre. Here, director Bruce McDonald looks at the world of punk rock and follows the fictional Canadian hardcore band Hard Core Logo as they get back together for an anti-gun tour. Why guns? Because leader Joe Dick's (Hugh Dillon) mentor and rock legend Bucky Haight (Julian Richings) was shot. Supposedly. It's already off to a wild start. As is common for reunions, emotions run high as the bandmates come back together on their drive across Canada. Also, the band and the crew do acid together, which in reality would be a big ethical violation, but here it's pitch-perfect. It's outlandish and actually quite dark as it looks at Joe's struggle with mental illness. The film is also a loose adaptation of a Canadian novel of the same name, but McDonald takes it a step further by make himself a character and turning the story into a mock music documentary.

13. Forgotten Silver

Before "The Lord of the Rings," Peter Jackson directed a mockumentary with Costas Botes in 1986 called "Forgotten Silver." Jackson and Botes play themselves as filmmakers who rediscover the lost works of the forgotten New Zealand director Colin McKenzie (who was fabricated for the film). They claim that he accidentally discovered the tracking shot and the close-up, making McKenzie seem like a massive pioneer in the world of cinema. In fact, "Forgotten Silver" aired on TV labeled as a true story, similar to the British pseudo-science film "Ghostwatch." This caused a lot of backlash from viewers, as they were convinced about McKenzie's existence. Jackson and Botes weaved together contemporary footage with faked archival footage to closely mimic the expected conventions of the documentary. They were able to fool viewers and showcase just how easy it is to convince and manipulate audiences with the idea and label of "truth."

12. I'm Still Here

Do you remember that strange period of time when Joaquin Phoenix said he was quitting acting to pursue a rap career? Who could forget that absolutely bizarre interview on "The Late Show With David Letterman" in 2009? Well, the joke was on all of us because it was all an intricate hoax for his mockumentary "I'm Still Here," directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck. It was a shocking look at the level of fabrication behind celebrities. 

It's also downright impressive that Phoenix was both able to keep up the joke for so long and that he was able to make it so convincing. Phoenix even did a cringe-worthy rap set in Miami in the name of comedic filmmaking. It's like "Borat" (which we'll get to later), but without a terrible accent and wig to hide behind. Instead, Phoenix grew out his hair and looked like an absolute train wreck. And honestly, it's a massive power move.

11. Waiting For Guffman

This is the first Christopher Guest's first appearance on this list, but it certainly isn't his last. This master of mockumentary directed "Waiting for Guffman" in 1996 as a spoof on Simon Beckett's classic "Waiting for Godot." Guest plays Corky St. Claire, a former off-Broadway performer who wishes to get his (second) big break into the theater world. So, he assembles a ragtag group of locals to perform the musical "Red, White, and Blaine" about the history of their fictional town of Blaine, Missouri. Then, Broadway producer Mort Guffman says he'll come to see the show. This cranks the anxiety up quite a few notches as Corky frantically prepares for his arrival. Thus begins the titular wait for Guffman. The musical contains several important points about the town's history, particularly about why it's the stool capital of the world, its UFO, and much more. This is a musical production, so it's another musical mockumentary, but this time poking fun at the world of community theater, which is itself its own unique experience.

10. Fear of a Black Hat

Rusty Cundieff is known for his 1995 horror film "Tales From the Hood," but before that, he directed the mockumentary "Fear of a Black Hat" in 1993. This is another mockumentary about music, this time about rappers in the early 90s hip-hop scene. Kasi Lemmons is our filmmaker, writing her thesis about hip-hop music. She decides to follow the rap group N.W.H. (a riff on the real rap group N.W.A.) to study their process, their lives, and their relationship with music. But they aren't just any group. For every performance, they wear ridiculous hats as what they call political commentary about their slave ancestors and how they worked in the hot sun. But political commentary doesn't necessarily match their lyrics, which are poking fun at critiques of rap music being vulgar. Their lyrics are vulgar to the extreme, but again they claim it's a political statement. Cundieff's "Fear of a Black Hat" is to hip-hop what "This is Spinal Tap" is to rock 'n' roll.

9. A Mighty Wind

The next Christopher Guest entry is his 2003 mockumentary "A Mighty Wind," this time poking fun at folk singers. Three folk bands—The Folksmen, The New Main Street Singers, and Mitch & Mickey—come together for a reunion tour in honor of their deceased manager. This is a decade after their heydays, so of course, nerves are running high. The documentary crew is filming the backstage report and interviews with each group to create a special for the fictional PBN. As filming continues, the crew documents more and more of the complicated dynamics between the quirky folk singers leading up to their reunion tour. The film stars a slew of Guest regulars, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKeen, and Jane Lynch. This concoction of comedic masters results in a hysterical look at washed-up musicians who reflect on their tumultuous careers while still continuing to look at their special idiosyncrasies. Guest really captures the aesthetic of the typical music documentary and uses that to his comedic advantage in how he "interviews" his characters and reveals their backstories.

8. Drop Dead Gorgeous

Just like the world of music, beauty pageants are another strange ritual just begging to be satirized. Michael Patrick Jann's 1999 film "Drop Dead Gorgeous" does just that but with a dark twist. The mockumentary opens following contestants at the regional American Teen Princess Pageant in Minnesota. Contestants, played by Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, and Brittany Murphy, talk to the camera about their excitement to win the pageant. And of course, there are ridiculous dynamics unfolding between the pageant moms and organizers alike. It wouldn't be a movie about beauty pageants without helicopter stage moms obsessed with their kids. 

But everything takes a strange turn when contestants start to die in freak accidents. This is mockumentary meets dark and outlandish comedy as it takes an already ridiculous tradition even further to the extreme. With each strange accident involving explosions of swan floats or falling stage lights, "Drop Dead Gorgeous" just gets weirder and funnier. Jann knew how to make this funny and took it to the next level to create something incredible.

7. What We Do In The Shadows

Taika Waititi's "What We Do In The Shadows" is the perfect movie for horror and comedy fans alike. A film crew follows a house of vampire roommates who are trying to navigate life in New Zealand in the 2010s. Each of the vampires, played by Waititi, Jermaine Clement, and Jonathan Brugh, brings something truly zany to the table. Clement's Vladislav is a particular standout who loves orgies and turning into a cat with a human face. 

More than being vampires, these are just three dudes (plus the ancient vampire in the basement) trying to learn how to live together. Dressed in Victorian garb, they meet about the chore wheel and who needs to do the dishes. They also frequently have run-ins with a pack of werewolves led by Rhys Darby. It's a meeting of beloved horror creatures placed into very regular, everyday scenarios. But it's never too scary or gory, making it accessible to those who aren't horror aficionados. Plus, it birthed the "What We Do In The Shadows" series, which is one of the funniest shows on TV.

6. Man Bites Dog

Released in 1992, "Man Bites Dog" is another early mockumentary — and it's a rather harrowing one. Two filmmakers follow serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) and film his heinous crimes without intervening. While watching and becoming complicit in his crimes, they also listen to his musings about life and the best methods for murdering victims. He's almost amused by his crimes, constantly bragging about his skills. But then the crew shows the excruciating details of his murders, making "Man Bites Dog" feel like a snuff film. It feels forbidden and taboo, a step further into the world of true crime as the crew finds themselves sucked into Ben's murderous tendencies. It's not only a terrifying look at the mind of a sociopath, but it also critiques documentarians who become too personally involved in their work. As soon as they step into the world of Ben as active participants, there's no turning back for their morals or their attempt to depict the truth about serial killers.

5. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

This mockumentary is the brainchild of the comedy music group The Lonely Island, which is made up of Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg. Schaffer and Taccone direct the film, with Samberg starring as documentary subject and pop star, Connor Friel. After a hit song "Turn Up the Beef" with the rap group The Style Boyz, Friel launches a solo career. His new name: Connor4Real. The mockumentary follows the rise and fall of the pop star and the lengths he'll go to maintain his fame. But it's also a tale of friendship between bandmates that sees a lot of highs and lows. Plus there are musical numbers for songs such as "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)."

The music industry is such a popular subject for the mockumentary because it already exists as this ridiculous, over-the-top thing that's full of glamor and fame. This is one of the latest music mockumentaries and it perfectly captures the nature of contemporary pop musicians and their antics (looking at you, Justin Bieber).

4. Borat 1 & 2

Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" series straddles the line with mockumentary because all of his interview subjects are real people. Cohen's Borat is a character, but the people in the scenarios he films don't know that. He takes advantage of ignorance — and politicians — to reveal the ridiculous truth about the American people. And in the second "Borat" film, Cohen brought in Maria Bakalova to play his daughter, which only amplifies the comedy and the absolutely bizarre situations they find themselves in. This is where the infamous Rudy Giuliani scene came from as he solicits sex from Bakalova. That's what makes these films so important. Say what you will about the character himself and Cohen's methods, but something about it feels dangerous. We're in on the secret and that facade could be shattered at any moment. This is improv to the extreme, off the cuff and unplanned. It's a terrifying prospect especially as he interacts with the more conservative groups found in the US.

But that doesn't mean "Borat" wasn't met with its fair share of controversy and lawsuits about how Cohen portrayed them without their consent, including a group of fraternity brothers whose drunken antics were rather embarrassing to say the least.

3. Punishment Park

One of the few non-comedic mockumentaries on this list, "Punishment Park" takes place in an alternate version of the 1970s, where prisons are full. President Nixon declares a state of emergency and a new method of carceral punishment arises. The arrested, all anti-Vietnam War activists, can either go to prison or spend three days in Punishment Park. There, they must run across the California desert and try to escape from the federal officers hunting them. It's a survival horror film told through the lens of a mockumentary. Made in 1971, director Peter Watkins criticized the American occupation of the Vietnam War while we were actively occupying the country. It's an incredible subversive film that even today speaks to a terrifying, and not-so-different, alternate reality where speaking out against the government reduces you to nothing more than an animal to be targeted by the authorities. The ending is especially nihilistic in its attitude about escaping the System with a capital S. It's by no means as cheerful as most of this list, but it's an important document of how mockumentaries can just as effectively, and more creatively, reveal horrific truths about the human condition.

2. This is Spinal Tap

Mockumentary? More than rockumentary. In his 1984 cult classic "The is Spinal Tap," Rob Reiner plays documentarian Marty DiBergi who follows the British metal band Spinal Tap. They're also known as England's loudest band. Michael McKean and Christopher Guest star as childhood friends David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, respectively, and are not always the most clever, to put it lightly. They write "11" on their amps to make it seem like they're getting louder. But, as is often seen in the film, Marty questions their rationale. DiBergi the fictional filmmaker is his own character, which isn't often seen in mockumentaries. The filmmakers are mostly nameless and barely shown. But here, Reiner makes the filmmaker more of a character to provide a foil to the absolute foolishness of this group of musicians who write songs such as "Sex Farm." It's a hilarious look into the world of rock 'n' roll and pokes fun at the rockstars we idolized then, and now. In the book "American Hardcore: A Tribal History," Glen Danzig of The Misfits said he watched the film and thought, "Hey, that's my old band."

1. Best In Show

As a child who grew up obsessed with watching dog shows, Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary "Best In Show" is spot-on in its depictions of the people that breed and show their dogs. And it stars an incredible cast of comedians as cutthroat dog owners gunning for first place at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play a quirky couple with a terrier named Winky. Jennifer Coolidge plays a woman with a sugar daddy and a love of poodles. John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean play a gay couple with an award-winning Shih Tzu named Miss Anges. Fred Willard is the wacky announcer. Parker Posey steals the show as a yuppie woman obsessed with her Weimaraner. I could go on.

The stakes could not be lower, but somehow Guest makes this both hilarious and weirdly tense. He captures the already ludicrous world of dog handling—if you don't believe it, please google dog show handlers—and makes it the best mockumentary out there, but also a comedic masterpiece.