So in the late fall of 1982, when I heard that Tap was releasing a new album called "Smell the Glove", and was planning their first tour of the United States in almost six years to promote that album, well needless to say I jumped at the chance to make the documentary - the, if you will, "rockumentary" - that you're about to see. I wanted to capture the... the sights, the sounds... the smells of a hard-working rock band, on the road.
A fictional drama that poses as a documentary. When not an outright comedy (such as This Is Spinal Tap
), the Mockumentary almost always involves some kind of disaster (even the BBC's recent one about a space voyage involved a crew member dying). Fake news reports done by real life newsreaders are common, along with interviews with 'experts', real or fictional. A Mockumentary will often provoke controversy.
The BBC did a lot of Mockumentaries in the late 2000s (to the point of two or three a month). One BBC newsreader commented he did news reports for these programmes about twice a month.
Due to the miracle of computer-generated animation, the Discovery Channel has also taken to making mockumentaries about wildlife that no longer exists, such as dinosaurs, or has never existed, such as dragons, in the "filmed in their natural habitat" format.
See also: the Documentary Episode
, a Framing Device
used for certain episodes on a drama or comedy series. Meanwhile, the Faux Documentary
is what a Mockumentary becomes when it often discards the constraints of a supposed documentary crew. Also see Left It In
, when people in the documentary directly request (to the camera) that something be cut or edited out, a request that is denied, since you, the viewer, still get to see it.
A related trope is Phony Newscast
, when a fictional work is presented as a news program.
Compare Faux To Guide
, Speculative Documentary
, and Scrapbook Story
. Contrast: Documentary
, Documentary Of Lies
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- Big Bang Comics published a two issue History of Big Bang Comics, which detailed the fictional history of the comic book publisher whose Golden Age and Silver Age stories they were supposedly reprinting.
- The term "mockumentary" is most associated with the works of Christopher Guest. He has done quite a few of them, with largely the same group of actors. Much of the final product is rumored to be ad-libbed.
- This Is Spinal Tap, the story of an aging British rock group in their fading days of stardom. They struggle with playing continually smaller venues, incompetent band members, and the reality that they may be losing their fame. This Is Spinal Tap might be the Trope Maker for the genre, unless one counts The Rutles.
- On the commentary for the episode of The Simpsons which features Spinal Tap, Matt Groening recalls people booing the film because they thought that it was real, and yelling "those are the dumbest rock stars I've ever seen!"
- Waiting for Guffman: A small-town play about the town's history (including their close association with the stool industry and the town's historical visitation by aliens) might be visited by a Broadway talent scout.
- Best in Show, about a national dog show, and the dog owners.
- A Mighty Wind: three fading folk music acts give a televised reunion concert after the death of their impresario.
- For Your Consideration: a small indie flick called "Home for Purim" starts to generate Oscar buzz before it's even completed.
- Bob Roberts (1992) — The rise of an ambitious politician who isn't all that he appears to be.
- Death Of A President (2006) — A highly controversial feature-film mockumentary, set in 2010, reflecting on the assassination of US president George W. Bush in 2007 and its aftereffects.
- CSA: The Confederate States of America (2006) — A history of North America, and the role of slavery in particular, from the War of Northern Aggression to the 21st century. Warning: This documentary is a foreign program. The views expressed in it do not represent those of the network.
- Medium Cool (1969) — Filmed documentary-style during the Chicago 1968 riots, following the life of a TV cameraman. Possibly the greatest example of Real Life Writes the Plot.
- Confetti (c. 2006) — A British film about three couples (including a pair of nudists) getting married.
- Cloverfield (2008) — Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever, documented on a handheld camcorder by an ordinary schlub.
- District 9 (2009) is filmed partially in this style, with documentary segments and interviews about the history of the alien presence on Earth interspersed with conventionally shot scenes.
- Woody Allen's Zelig — about the life of a dysfunctional "human chameleon" that lived during the 1920s.
- Also Sweet and Lowdown, about a (non-existent) jazz guitarist Emmett Ray.
- As well as his first directorial effort, Take the Money and Run, about a famously incompetent criminal.
- One could also make a case for Husbands And Wives.
- The first Saw movie had one of these on the Special Edition DVD that attempted to portray the events of the movie as real.
- The Mating Habits Of The Earthbound Human — Both a romantic comedy and a satirical nature documentary featuring two humans in their natural habitat and an alien as the expository narrator.
- Being Michael Madsen is a mockumentary movie in which the Rayban-wearing, gravelly-voiced actor Michael Madsen uses the fact that he's best known for playing ear-severing psychos to great effect. He is making a movie when a young female star disappears, and he is somehow involved...
- Much of A Hard Days Night was filmed in Mockumentary mode.
- Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver, the story of a fictional New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie. According to the material Jackson "discovered" in this movie, McKenzie was the first man to make audio film and color film, and one piece of footage proves that a New Zealandic inventor created the world's first working flying machine.
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
- A film called The National Film Board of Mars Presents: What on Earth? is a mockumentary where the supposed propaganda board of the Martian government does a documentary about the dominant form of life on earth: automobiles. Makes fun of the organization that did create it, the National Film Board Of Canada, and the fact that the Martians have confused automobiles with the drivers that infest them.
- The Belgian pitch-black comedy Man Bites Dog is about Affably Evil Serial Killer being followed around by a film crew. The documentary style made the violence even more disturbing by giving viewers the uneasy feeling that they're watching a Snuff Film.
- Fear Of A Black Hat (1994) — Spinal Tap meets Hip-Hop
- Brothers Of The Head about conjoined twins in the 1970s sold by their father to be stars in a freakish rock band.
- The segment of the character Jack Rollins/Pastor John in I'm Not There is presented as a mockumentary.
- My Winnipeg is a "docufantasia" with a collection of stories about Winnipeg (most of which are wildly distorted exaggerations of actual events and persons) and angry rants about how the status quo isn't being preserved and how women are pathetic.
- Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) is a mockumentary that catalogs event-created mutants who have undergone mental and physical changes in the "Violent Unknown Event". Some of them have water-based dreams, others have physical mutations or have dreams about birds, and others spontaneously learn bizarre, almost-alien languages (or Estonian, if you want to be PC). The mutations resemble a recently discovered biological mutation process that doesn't follow the typical Darwinian process of sexual transmission of new mutations to descendants, but instead involves acquired traits created by changes in the way the body creates proteins. The mockumentary is noteworthy in that it was made three decades before scientists figured this out.
- The DVD Commentary for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension insist that it's a dramatization of real events. We believe them.
- I'm Still Here chronicles Joaquin Phoenix's transition from actor to aspiring rap artist, which involved Phoenix's public persona and appearance changing drastically; he became introverted, mumbled uncomfortably through interviews, and apparently put a moratorium on personal grooming as evidenced by his disheveled hair and new, gnarly beard. During the filming period, few were certain as to whether Phoenix was serious about becoming a rapper or if the entire thing was a Kaufmanesque ruse. Only after the film premiered did Phoenix confirm that the ordeal was a hoax, and he began appearing in interviews as his old, well-groomed, clean-shaven self.
- REC is portrayed as a TV program where a journalist and a cameraman cover the night shift of one of Barcelona's local fire stations.
- In the Tropic Thunder special DVD edition, there was a documentary of the movie within the movie and how it got derailed. This had elements of Documentary Of Lies at the end when it was implied that the actors disappeared into the jungle and got blown up.
- Get Ready to be Boyzvoiced is about the rise and fall of a Norwegian boyband that performed songs that would get them booed off Eurovision. It's all Played for Laughs of course.
- The 1950s B-Movie, Phantom from Space, although, with the exception of the Stock Footage and the narrator's voice-over, it might fall more under mocudrama.
- First On The Moon, a 2005 Russian darkly comic mockumentary about the Soviet Moon flight back in 1938.
- ... And God Spoke (1994) — Chronicles two ambitious filmmakers as they attempt to create a big-budget Biblical epic.
- The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a horror movie in this style. In a rare example for the horror genre, this was made to look like an actual documentary, rather than just shaky cam.
- The premise of independent UK thriller Exhibit A is that the footage we're seeing— a series of recordings on a teenaged girl's handheld cam documenting the rising tensions in her once normal family and their tragic outcome— actually is being presented as exhibit A in a murder trial for Familicide
- Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
- The short film Badly Drawn Roy is about Ireland's first cartoon baby being interviewed for the first time for a documentary. Incidentally, his family is live-action. It's got more genuine drama in it than the premise would suggest.
- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is about a group of documentary filmmakers following a wannabe slasher killer who wishes to be the next Jason or Freddy. Most of the movie is done in this style, showing his preparations for his coming killing spree, before turning into a conventional slasher flick in the last fifteen minutes.
- Las Hurdes by Luis Buñuel falls halfway between this trope and Documentary Of Lies. He did actually go to poor areas of Spain to shoot and was addressing real social issues, but some events appear to have been staged or restaged and at least a few of the statements made by the Unreliable Narrator are Blatant Lies. How much is true and how much isn't is just part of a surrealist package.
- Kenny is 2006 Australian mockumentary following the life of a plumber who works for a corporate bathroom rental company.
- The 2011 film, The Tunnel is done in this style, interviewing the survivors of a group of reporters who entered into a set of abandoned subway tunnels in search of a government conspiracy. Footage filmed by the crew is interspersed with voiceovers from the survivors.
- Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story is a Mockumentary about a paintball star who was ousted for cheating and is trying to make a comeback.
- Incident at Loch Ness, about Werner Herzog trying to make a documentary about the Loch Ness monster.
- The german 1970 film Die Delegation is a fake necrology to a reporter, who grew into UFO conspiracies, by showing his late footages.
- Fraktus: Das letzte Kapitel der Musikgeschichte tells the story of the long-forgotten German experimental electro band (and supposed inventors of Techno) Fraktus and their not-so-voluntary reunion after 25 years. Fraktus themselves are actually the comedy trio Studio Braun.
- The Execution Of Gary Glitter: The TV-Film was presented in this format as it explains what would happened if the United Kingdom brought back the death sentence and said person is given that punishment.
- The Conspiracy (2012), about a pair of filmmakers infiltrating an ancient secret society.
- Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, Belle Poitrine (as told to Patrick Dennis)
- The Complete World Knowledge series, by John Hodgman, are mockumentaries in book form.
- The book Shock Festival is like Spinal Tap meets Grindhouse, a detailed look at the histories and making of grindhouse films that never really existed.
- The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, a 92-page biology in-joke describing a fictitious order of mammals that walk, climb, dig and/or catch insects with their noses.
- War Day by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, which is written as the account of the two authors traveling around the United States in the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange.
- The Dorset Disaster, by Alexander Sidar, is the fictional account of the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Connecticut. It was written several years before Chernobyl, though it actually has a slight similarity, in that both the real and fictional disaster were both caused by oversights during a test.
- Jean d'Ormesson's The Glory of the Empire is a deadpan "history" of the eponymous Empire, discussing numerous critical and artistic works derived from it, and with footnotes to a host of nonexistent references (including a self-referential footnote).
- The three main series Dinotopia books were mostly written in the format of the journals of Arthur Denison as found by James Gurney.
- Raptor Red reads like a fictionalized documentary about dinosaurs that allows insight into their thoughts.
- The Fox and the Hound is essentially a fictionalized documentary about the lives of American red foxes and those who hunt them. The last chapter is even explicitly based on a historical fox hunt.
- The Ology Series is a series of books on various topics (vampires, spies, ancient egypt, etc.) presented asthe work of fictional researchers. Some even have Apocalyptic Logs scrawled in the margins.
- Simply Weird: The (fake) History of Weird Comics Incorporated, A (fake) Comic Book Company is the fake history of a fake comic book company.
- Entire show examples:
- People Like Us, a 1999-2001 British production that skewers the traditional BBC documentary style. It also has sparked an interest on the mockumentary format, seen as a high-brow alternative to Studio Audience/ LaughTrack-based sitcoms in America.
- The Games was a fictional comedy series about the (real) Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) as it prepared for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
- The Office (UK) the one which spread the format to the world, with a flood of imitators, including an equally-successful (and influential) American adaptation and Stromberg, its German counterpart.
- Twenty Twelve, a 2011-12 successor to People Like Us and something of a Spiritual Successor to The Games, as Twenty Twelve is about the 2012 London Olympic Games while The Games is about the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Modern Family
- Reno 911!, a specific parody of the COPS style reality-documentary.
- Both series done by Chris Lilley, We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, as well as many other Australian series including The Games, Frontline, The Hollowmen, and, to a lesser extent, Kath and Kim.
- Operation Good Guys, a supposed fly on the wall documentary about an incompetent police unit.
- Dorm Life is a web-original comedy mockumentary about dorm life, of course.
- The Time Trumpet was a British program that aired 18th August 2006, covering weighty topics, such as the Tesco vs. Denmark war.
- Coming in a few months before This Is Spinal Tap, The Comic Strip Presents ... episode "Bad News Tour" (and the sequel several years later, "More Bad News") follows a group of heavy metal wannabes and willneverbees. There are a couple of scenes where the 'musicians' (actually comedians, though that didn't stop them touring) interact with the documentary makers.
- The War Game (1965) — Britain before, during and after a nuclear attack. Not actually shown in the UK until 1985 because the Home Office claimed it would affect the 'mentally unstable'. Others claimed it was because it exposed the government's post-attack plans as ineffective. Scary as all hell.
- Alternative 3 (1978) — The final episode of ITV's documentary program Science Report was a mockumentary which, in the course of investigating the problem of leading British scientists moving abroad, reported, among other things, that they were actually being shuttled to Mars to avoid imminent environmental catastrophe. A video clip of the secret first Martian landing (in 1962) shows the astronauts under attack by a monstrous being as the camera is destroyed. Depite all the clues about its true nature, a number of people still believe in the "documentary". On YouTube, the Mars landing scene has the label "Reconstructed or real document?" Meaning either based on fact, or real footage.
- The Canadian Conspiracy (1985) — An HBO/CBC co-production, this comedy featured an "exposé" of the secret Canadian plan to overthrow the US through infiltration of the entertainment industry. All the people named as infiltrators who were "interviewed" or "ambushed" played themselves, from Eugene Levy, the defector revealing the conspiracy, to Lorne Greene, the godfather of the operation. Worked because, at least for the American audience, most probably weren't aware of how many Canadians there actually were (and are) working in Los Angeles and New York.
- Curse of The Blair Witch (1999) — A Sci-Fi channel broadcast produced as a tie-in with The Blair Witch Project, itself a mockumentary of sorts. The program investigated the film as though it were an actual document of real events, investigates the history of the Blair Witch and other disappearances, and features faux "experts" and townspeople reporting their experiences. Caused much public confusion over whether the story was true or not, and to this day visitors to Burkittsville, MD ask to see fictional landmarks such as the "Witch's Rock".
- A similar faux-historical retrospective was released directly to DVD, to accompany Stephen King's two-part TV movie Rose Red.
- Smallpox Britain (2002) — A terrorist unleashes smallpox in Britain.
- The Day Britain Stopped (2003) — lots of traffic problems cause gridlock.
- Supervolcano (2005) — What is likely to happen when Yellowstone erupts.
- If...? — an entire series of the genre which the BBC ran for a while.
- Trailer Park Boys — Canadian runaway success started out as a low-key mockumentary/comedy, but turned into more of a straight comedy when the actors stopped breaking the fourth wall and stopped acknowledging the camera. Earlier on the main characters regularly talked to and even on occasion assaulted the camera/sound-people.
- The Lost World — The Arthur Conan Doyle one, not the Michael Crichton one. The entire frame is a news reporter writing letters back to his newspaper, with the climax being an article written by one of his colleagues (since he's in the debriefing conference).
- When Cars Attack — Richard Belzer presents information and theories on alleged unprovoked assaults on humans by cars acting of their own accord. Quite hilarious.
- Jimmy Macdonald's Canada
- In the British series Prehistoric Park, the main character uses a time portal to bring dinosaurs to a modern nature preserve. In spite of the Jurassic Park—like premise, the show is filmed in the style of a realistic Nature Documentary. Further blurring the line between fact and fantasy, star Nigel Marven is an ornithologist and documentary host in Real Life. Egregious tagline: "Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever".
- This series follows from Walking with Dinosaurs and its sequels Walking with Beasts and Walking with Cavemen, as well as its prequel, Walking with Monsters. All of these were filmed like National Geographic-esque nature documentaries, complete with Camera Abuse, except that they rotated around prehistoric life portrayed using a variety of special effects. Also in the series — and far more mockumentary in tone — was Chased by Dinosaurs, starring Nigel Marven again, which was basically Walking with Dinosaurs meets The Crocodile Hunter; and Sea Monsters, which also starred Nigel and featured a countdown of the seven deadliest prehistoric oceans and their top predators. Nigel even went shark-cage diving with a Megalodon, and John Barrowman wasn't invited.
- Babylon 5 did this in the episode "And Now For A Word". They used it to subtly establish the nature and biases of the in-universe mainstream media, before they became plot-important.
- The Mash episode "The Interview" was presented as a TV documentary in black & white.
- Also from The Comic Strip Presents, the episode "Eddie Monsoon, A Life" is a mockumentary about an insane, failed TV host.
- Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, follows the discovery of the body of a real dragon, and shows the science that would justify the evolution of such a creature.
- T-Rex: A Dinosaur in Hollywood follows the artistic career of Mr. T-rex from his discovery to becoming one of the greatest stars in the world. Follows the Real Life story of how he became a cultural icon.
- The LOST season 4 DVDs contain a mockumentary which exposes the lies of the Oceanic 6. It's essentially one big Lampshade Hanging on common fan nitpicks, such as the 6 not losing any weight and Jack being clean-shaven.
- Kayfabe: Work Your Gimmick (2008) — follows the last days of Northeastern/Canadian indy-wrestling fed and the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits running it.
- Life Beyond The Box was a series of two BBC mockumentaries looking at the lives of 1970s sitcom characters Norman Stanley Fletcher and Margot Leadbetter. The former reunited the cast of the original; the latter didn't, with even Margot herself being Other Darrined.
- A British news show in the '50s played an April Fool on its audience, doing a segment about how spaghetti grows on trees. Pasta not being a common foodstuff there at the time, a lot of British viewers had no clue it was fake, and phoned the BBC to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.
- Operation Repo is a series on TruTV that is about repomen and it is filmed like Cops, but it is also scripted.
- One of the earlier examples: The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, mocking documentaries of The Beatles, and one of Rob Reiner's inspirations for Spinal Tap.
- Lost Tapes plays at being the tapes of people who encountered cryptozoological monsters—few of whom to survive the encounters.
- The Animal Planet movie Werewolves: Dark Survivors is a mockumentary about werewolves in the format of a Crime Drama.
- William Karel's 2002 TV "film" The Dark Side of the Moon purported to be about how NASA and Hollywood had conspired to fake the Apollo moon landings, complete with heavyweight guest stars, including Buzz Aldrin and Stanley Kubrick's widow. In spite of the blooper reel featured over the end credits (not to mention an on-screen acknowledgement that it was all made up) some people still believe that it provides evidence for the Apollo landings being a hoax!
- The documentary segments of The Comedians of Comedy Tour were just as likely to be staged as genuine. Sometimes it was impossible to tell the difference.
- Harry Enfield starred in Norbert Smith: A Life, about a fictional actor (with plenty of clips from horribly plausible bad British films) and Norman Ormal: A Very Political Turtle, about a fictional Conservative cabinet minister.
- Many, if not all of the Top Gear Challenges. Crossing a dessert in Africa or reaching the North Pole in a car appear as very genuine documentaries about cars in extreme environments. But then you have others that include things like Jeremy hilariously rolling over a car in the background of a live news broadcast or the Stig falling with a car from the deck of an aircraft carrier and dying. Or the one in which they tried to test cars for their usefulness as getaway cars and robbed a bank in Albania and got in a chase with the police during which James died by jumping of a cliff, only to be back the next episode.
- The Animal Planet documentary Mermaids The Body Found, about the fictional discovery of a mermaid-like body and the supposed science behind it.
- Likewise, the Discovery Channel's Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, broadcast for Shark Week 2013. The Discovery Channel took a lot of flak for not making it sufficiently clear that the show was fake, but they got great ratings.
- For Shark Week 2014 they followed the trend with Shark of Darkness Wrath of Submarine and Megalodon: The New Evidence.
- Alien Contact, was, as the name suggests, humanity finding evidence of extraterrestrial life in the form of a transmission from Gilese 518.
- After Lately does this for the E! channel.
- Nineteen Eighty Five (1970) described an ecological catastrophe, with bulletins given by real-life newsmen of the day.
- The Great Martian War 1913-1917 had The History Channel jumping on the bandwagon.
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace is a mockumentary about a fictitious 1980s medical/action drama.
- Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV had a regular feature of documentaries presented by Duncan Preston as Corrin Huntley. There was also a making-of documentary about Acorn Antiques. (This got a follow-up in Victoria Wood's Midlife Christmas, with a mockumentary following Bo Beaumont, the Small Name, Big Ego actress who had played Mrs Overall.)
- The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash was Eric Idle and Neil Innes' mockumentary of Beatles spoof band The Rutles. It even featured George Harrison as a reporter.
- This Campus Movie Fest best comedy winner uses the Mockumentary approach, detailing the careers of a fictional comedy duo from the early twentieth century — the first comedic film duo, as it happens. The doc is presented without irony, but the content of it is so absurd and it turns Inherently Funny Words up so high that you can't help but laugh.
- The "Trope Of The Week" series Echo Chamber is a Show Within a Show - the characters are creating a vlog for TV Tropes, and Echo Chamber details the process the characters go through in order to make that vlog happen. It doesn't.
- The amazing Harry Potter fanfilm The Battle of Hogwarts, a fictional documentary, set in the present, that chronicles "the lives and stories of those who survived the fateful battle 20 years ago".
- Hearts of Dorkness, which has a Web Original page in progress, is a mockumentary akin to Tropic Thunder's "Rain of Madness", a satire of Hearts of Darkness, in this case being a teenager-produced shoestring-budget short that chronicles four geeks and their catastrophic efforts to create a 200 million dollar Skyrim film... on a budget of their pocket change.
- The Professionals, a comedy series about a tech support company that kills people.
- Talking Classics is presented as a documentary about a video game nerd named Keith Apicary.
- Becoming YouTube is a mix between this and a real documentary.
- Cracked gives us "Marvels of the Science", based on the premise of "What if nature documentaries used Rule of Funny?"
- The Follower poses as a Slender Man documentary. It does fairly well up until Slendy hijacks the behind-the-scenes... which is fairly early and in no small part thanks to the fact the Behind the Scenes guy and his girlfriend actually went looking for him.
- Surf's Up — a rare animated example. Your basic sports story done in documentary fashion... with penguins!
- Which obviously owes something to the Eighties-era animated sports mockumentary Animalympics. With the major difference being that Animalympics had no central character, no unifying narrative, and was loaded to the brim with celebrity and pop culture references of the day. In contrast, Surfs Up follows a limited cast of characters on a definite story arc, with cultural references being narrowed to the archetypes often seen in sportsdocs.
- The Simpsons: The "documentary" episode Behind the Laughter from the 11th season.
- Also, much of the episode "Springfield Up".
- South Park gave us "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow".
- The Powerpuff Girls had season five's "The Powerpuff Girls: A Documentary." Also, part of "Meet The Beat-Alls" took the form of a documentary on how Mojo Jojo, Him, Fuzzy Lumpkins and Princess Morbucks attained success as the Beat-Alls (paralleling that of The Beatles).