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14 Movies Where Actors Poked Fun At Their On-Screen Persona

May 6, 2021 990 votes 179 voters 23.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the best examples of actors making fun of themselves.

It isn't unusual for actors to poke fun at themselves on-screen. Cameos were practically invented for this purpose. There's a second, deeper level of self-mockery, though - one that only a select few stars have attempted, and it comes when they make fun of their carefully established on-screen personas. In other words, they ridicule the very bread and butter of their professional existence.

This can be achieved in a couple of different ways. Sometimes the actors plow right into their personas, doing heightened versions of whatever it is they're known for. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero is a prime example. Other times, they utterly subvert their own images, doing a flip-flopped version of what fans expect. Think of Jason Statham in Spy for a stellar example. Regardless of how they go about it, such spoofing can help show a whole new facet of their abilities to the public. It's also a lot of fun to watch.

Which of the following actors who poked fun at their on-screen personas is the most on-point? Your votes will decide.

  • With movies like The Terminator, Predator, and Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the definitive action star of the '80s and early '90s. He made a name for himself playing indefatigable heroes who administer their own forms of justice to people (or creatures) that deserve it. More often than not, his characters would drop a witty quip before delivering the fatal blow. It's not a stretch to say the actor helped set the template for modern action pictures.

    Schwarzenegger lampooned his own firmly established image with Last Action Hero. He plays Jack Slater, an action star remarkably similar to Schwarzenegger himself. One of his biggest fans is a young kid who magically enters a movie screen, getting an opportunity to take part in a thrilling adventure alongside Slater. The sight of Arnold needing a kid to help him is part of the satire. The star also spoofs his own penchant for spawning catchphrases on-screen. Even his desire to "stretch" is mocked in a bit showing Slater in an action-packed movie version of Hamlet.

    Having mastered the action genre, Schwarzenegger was obviously ready to let his fans know he didn't take himself too seriously, so he pushed all the stereotypical action. Oddly, this willingness to mock his own image didn't sit well with fans. Last Action Hero is one of the most notorious bombs of the 1990s.

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  • Michael Keaton is, to many people, the definitive cinematic Batman. Playing the Dark Knight in Tim Burton's 1989 adventure catapulted him into superstardom. They say the key to casting a good Batman is to cast a good Bruce Wayne. Keaton proved that, excelling in both forms. And since Batman was one of the first big comic book movie adaptations, the actor truly set the bar for all subsequent superhero movie leads.

    Having that history - or, some would say, baggage - made him an intriguing choice to star in 2014's Birdman. His character, Riggan Thomson, is an aging actor who achieved fame by playing a superhero on-screen. In fact, he spends the entire movie trying to escape his past, only to find it impossible. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was undoubtedly aware that emphasizing the similarities between Thomson and Keaton would infuse the film with a whole additional level of subtext. Birdman very intentionally reminds viewers how similar the fictional man is to the real one. When Keaton is in costume as the Birdman, he's daring the audience not to remember his turn as the Dark Knight.

    Keaton certainly brought firsthand knowledge to the role, giving the character an authentic vibe that's mesmerizing to watch. The Academy rewarded him with his first Oscar nomination for his self-referential work.

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  • Gloria Swanson was a true cinema pioneer. She first rose to fame during the silent era, starring in a series of popular pictures and becoming one of the first female producers. She received three Academy Award nominations over the course of her career. In short, she's a legend. Eventually, though, her star began to fade. As with many performers of the silent era, she struggled to achieve the same level of success once sound was introduced. Swanson ended up taking a nine-year break from movies before starring in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard.

    By that time, she was considered a past-her-prime actress, so it made total sense to cast her as Norma Desmond, a former silent movie actress who's past her prime. Over the course of the story, she's slowly driven to madness in her quest to make a comeback. Since this was something of a comeback role for Swanson, she presumably identified strongly with Norma. The veteran performer goes full-throttle here, delivering a grand, theatrical turn in which she chews the scenery like there's no tomorrow. It's a sly spoof not only of her own silver screen past, but also of what the public assumed she was like by 1950.

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  • Richard Dawson was an actor who appeared on the 1960s sitcom Hogan's Heroes, among other things. But he is best known as the host of the game show Family Feud. There, he made it his trademark to kiss all the female contestants. His charm won over audiences, leading to 10 years on the program. 

    The Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi/action movie The Running Man is about a game show in which convicted criminals serve as contestants. They can win their freedom by surviving a televised manhunt. In a shrewd bit of casting, Dawson was hired to play that show's host. Whereas on Family Feud he radiated a sense of joy and fun, his Running Man character is the complete opposite side of the coin - a guy who knows how to put on a slick show for the cameras but is actually an evil creep who manipulates his players for ratings.

    Dawson visibly relishes the chance to turn his public image inside-out. He takes all the qualities that made him a good game show host - energy, charisma, and showmanship - and reveals how they could also be used for malice.

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