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Show Within A Show: Live-Action Films

Examples of type 1 (characters involved in production)

  • Souls For Sale is a rather unique instance of this trope. It is a straight type 1, as the heroine is an actress who gets a big part in a movie about a circus. However, additionally to this, the heroine visits the sets of several real films that were in production at the same time Souls for Sale was. Among the sets she visits are A Woman in Paris (where she's an extra directed by Charlie Chaplin himself) and Greed (where she fails to get a part in Erich von Stroheim's production).
  • The plot of The Callback Queen (2013) is set in London's film industry and hinges on a film adapatation of a fictional fantasy novel, 'Prince of Chaos', with which the characters are involved.
  • Matinee (1993) which counts in all four categories due to being structured around the premiere of the atomic monster movie MANT! in Key West — during the Cuban Missile Crisis!
  • The film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has the players acting out Hamlet for the title characters, while acting out The Murder of Gonzago with puppets who are themselves acting out the play-within-a-play with finger puppets. A show within a show within a show within a show.
  • During ¡Three Amigos!, characters watch one of the title character actors' silent films.
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Noises Off probably has the highest ratio of Show Within A Show to, well, show in the history of film.
  • The Running Man TV show is the setting of most of The Running Man film.
  • Moulin Rouge! is a musical movie depicting a stage performance of a movie about a man singing about a man writing the story of his involvement in a musical about a man whose involvement in a musical mirrors the writer's. Honestly.
  • In the 1998 film Lucia, the protagonists simultaneously prepare to perform the opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, while reliving the roles of their characters.
  • The film version of Bewitched is about a remake of the original TV series and the people in it — one of whom is an actual witch.
  • The fictional Galaxy Quest TV show in the real movie Galaxy Quest falls under each type of this trope, including Type 1; the film centers on the washed up cast members of the show.
  • Done in Ararat, a movie about someone making a movie about the Armenian genocide. Most critics and viewers agreed that it represents a rare case of the "movie within a movie" actually being better than the rest of the movie.
  • In the Adam Sandler movie Funny People, Jason Schwartzman's character acts in a TV comedy series called Yo Teach.
  • In Finding Neverland, the main character and several secondary characters are working on Finding Neverland. Also a Type 3 (see below).
  • V for Vendetta has both Lewis Prothero's and Gordon Deitrich's shows, the former being the Voice of London, a part of the facist regime controlling the city, and the latter being a comedy Sketch Show.
  • Porn movie Fly Girls is about the guerilla shooting of a porn film on a plane. The actors and actresses all play parodies of themselves. It's actually really funny.
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen begins with a play about the eponymous Baron, performing his tall tales in a burned out city; when the real Baron von Munchausen shows up to "correct" their portayal of him and his erstwhile companions, to whom the actors bear a striking resemblance.
  • The Tall Guy features Jeff Goldblum as a struggling actor who quits his job as sidekick to popular, and abusive offstage, comedian Ron Anderson (Rowan Atkinson in a hilarious self-parody). He auditions unsuccessfully for parts in several plays, and finally lands the lead role in a musical version of The Elephant Man entitled, according to his agent, "'Elephant', I think; with an exclamation point, presumably".
  • RoboCop (1987) has three:
    • One an action show about a lawman, T.J. Lazer, which is the favorite show of Murphy's son.
    • It's Not My Problem, is a comedy of sorts.
    "I'd buy that for a dollar!"
    • Media Break, which also appears in the sequels.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Sarah is the star of Crime Scene - Scene of the Crime. Jason Segel's character also writes music for the show.
  • The Holiday features a movie trailer for a fictional film called "Deception" starring James Franco and Lindsay Lohan
  • Friends with Benefits features a romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones.
  • Inland Empire centers(?) around the production of the movie On High In Blue Tomorrows, an alleged romance that starts to mess with the main character's mind. possibly due to a curse Certain sections of the film deal with Rabbits, another project by David Lynch. As you'd expect from the man, it isn't cute. The absolutely deranged plot of both the show, the fake movie and the Film as a whole ensures you're not sure what level of reality they're on, and makes it hard to distinguish as types 1,3 or 4.
  • In Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the main character is watching tv in a bar and asks the owner to change the channel. The owner does so, and the movie playing next is Halloween II (1981).
  • Blazing Saddles has itself as the show-in-a-show: at the end of the film, Sheriff Bart, the Waco Kid and Hedy "that's Hedley!" Lamarr go to a cinema to see how their own film ends.
  • Tropic Thunder begins with a series of trailers for fictional movies starring the film's main characters.
  • The Scream series has the Stab series, which act as Scream's analogue to itself in terms of their influence. The first Stab, featured in the second movie, is based on the events of the first film (albeit with some artistic embellishment and extra titillation), is directed by Robert Rodrigueznote , and stars Tori Spelling as Sidney, Luke Wilson as Billy, David Schwimmer as Dewey, and Heather Graham as Casey. The third film, meanwhile, revolves around the production of Stab 3, which the masked killer is trying to sabotage. By the events of Scream 4, the Stab series has become a Franchise Zombie with seven films, having abandoned all pretense of being Based on a True Story after the third (Sidney sued to prevent any further use of the original characters) and gone into straight-out fantasy by the fifth (which included a Time Travel plot). Scream 4 begins with 2 characters watching Stab 7, which begins with the characters watching Stab 6, just to add to the Mind Screw. This also means that for Stab 3, there would have been new actors playing the actors who were in Scream 3, new actors playing Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, and would have been about them trying to make the failed Stab 3. It would have been a show within a show within a show, and couldn't have made much sense.
  • Topsy Turvy is about the writing and production of The Mikado.
  • The Truman Show is about the production of a TV show about the life of a man who doesn't realise he's on TV. Whilst he doesn't know, the rest of the "cast" do.
  • Bad Education is about two old friends/lovers, Ignacio and Enrique, who work together to film a script one of them wrote called "The Visit". "The Visit" chronicles the story of a transvestite named Ignacio/Zahara who attempts to blackmail a Pedophile Priest who molested him/her. The script also includes an account of Ignacio's and Enrique's boyhood love.
  • Contempt (original French title: Le Mépris) involves the troubles in making a film version of Homer's "Odyssey".
  • Living in Oblivion depicts the making of a low-budget independent film in the middle of New York City.
  • In Mulholland Drive they audition for a movie called The Sylvia North Story.
  • The Player depicts "Habeas Corpus" being pitched by writers to a producer, a detailed pitch almost as long as the film clip the audience ultimately sees.
  • In Super8, the protagonists are making an amateur zombie film called "The Case". The finished film, in all its B-Movie glory, is played in the background of the credits.
  • The kids in Son of Rambow are remaking First Blood.
  • Seven Psychopaths is the name of the screenplay Marty's writing in Seven Psychopaths.
  • Salome's Last Dance presents the bulk of Oscar Wilde's play Salome as a production mounted for Wilde himself by the staff of a London brothel, with the wild and wooly goings-on onstage entwining themselves with the offstage relationships between Wilde and two of the actors. Also a Type 3.
  • The 1989 Meta-B-Movie Lobster Man From Mars is about an aspiring writer/director/producer's attempts to sell his homemade B-Movie, "Lobster Man From Mars", to a studio. This is a rare example where the Movie Within a Movie takes up the majority of the movie.
  • The title character in Dickie Roberts Former Child Star became famous on the show The Glimmer Gang and wants to star in Rob Reiner's upcoming movie Mr. Blake's Backyard.


Examples of type 2 (characters are fans)

  • In Idiocracy, the idiotic populace of 2505 watches Ow, My Balls, which is one Groin Attack after another. We see the unfortunate star of the show twice during the movie (other than in his show), and on both occasions, he suffers very painful "tributes" from fans who attempt to emulate the show.
  • Home Alone has the gangster movies Angels with Filthy Souls and Angels with Even Filthier Souls.
  • Starcrossed is a spoof, No Fourth Wall-type Speculative Fiction series loosely based on Stargate, in the independent movie A Dog's Breakfast, written and directed by actor David Hewlett, who is better known for his role as Rodney McKay in Stargate Atlantis. Hewlett intends to turn Starcrossed into a real web series.
  • In Hairspray, Tracy and Penny are huge fans of the Corny Collins Show, a regional American Bandstand-type show. This overlaps with Type 1 when Tracy gets a part on the show and supports Corny's dreams of integrating the show(instead of only permitting black performers to appear on "Negro Day").
  • In the film version of Matilda, Matilda's family is a huge fan of Million Dollar Sticky, a game show hosted by (or whose host is played by) Jon Lovitz, where contestants are painted with honey and then invited to roll around in money. Whatever cash sticks to them they get to keep.
  • The plot of the film Galaxy Quest involves certain "fans" of the show, namely a race of aliens who erroneously believe the show is real and worship the characters as heroes. Incidentally, the actions of said aliens are also what cause the film to fall under the other three types of this trope.
    • The film also has a couple of traditional fanboy types. They later turn out to be Chekhov's Gunmen
  • CSA: The Confederate States of America has several. "Runaways" is a parody of Cops where police track down escaped slaves. "Leave it to Beulah" is a parody of old black-and-white sitcoms.


Examples of type 3 (SWAS is plot point)

  • The movie Singin' in the Rain is all about actors learning to cope with 'talkies'. Quite possibly the first movie to ever feature a movie within a movie (1952).
  • In The View Askewniverse, there is Bluntman and Chronic, a fictionalized superhero comic book version of Jay and Silent Bob. The two went to Hollywood in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in order to prevent its leap to the big screen.
  • All of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries follow this trope: the musical Red, White, and Blaine in Waiting for Guffman, the dog show in Best in Show, the memorial concert in A Mighty Wind, and the Home for Purim movie in For Your Consideration.
  • Zebraman is a Japanese film that features a cancelled television series by the same name.
  • The very premise of the film Galaxy Quest revolves around the fictional show of the same name. The plot centers around the cast members of the eponymous show, who are abducted by a race of aliens erroneously believing the show is real and worshiping the cast members as heroes.
  • Nation's Pride, a pro-Nazi movie, is a plot point in Inglourious Basterds, as it serves as a draw to top Nazi officials including Hitler being in a certain movie theater in Nazi-occupied France... making them the perfect target for not one but two assassination plots.
    • Interestingly enough, Nation's Pride is also included as Bonus Material on the DVD, directed by Eli Roth, one of the actors in the movie. (Does it count as Type 1 if the actors are connected, but not the characters?)
  • In Finding Neverland, the production of Peter Pan ends up marking a turning point for the characters, both on opening night (for James and Peter) and as part of a later, special production (for Emma, Sylvia, and Sylvia's other sons). Also a Type 1 (see above).
  • German director Sönke Wortmann took this Up to Eleven with the movie he made at film school. It's about a film student who makes a movie about a film student who himself makes a movie at film school. Appropriately, it's called "Drei D" (Three D). The Movie within the movie is called "Zwei D" (Two D).
  • In Nurse Betty the main character witnesses a murder and experiences a fugue state, escaping into the comforting fantasy of a soap opera called "A Reason to Love". In her mind, she assumes the identity of one of the nurse characters in the daytime drama.
  • In Midnight Movie the main killer comes from out of the Show Within A Show.


Examples of type 4 (Plot Parallel)

  • The opening credits of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid feature a silent film of the Hole in the Wall gang's exploits.
  • The film Galaxy Quest is something of a literal inversion of this in that the characters find themselves in a real life situation eerily resembling the show they starred in. Though there doesn't appear to be any direct Plot Parallel.
  • Sherlock, Jr. (1924) stars Buster Keaton, who falls asleep and dreams while working as a theater projectionist — the movie plays a more upscale version of a real life theft he's wrongly accused of. He walks into the movie through the screen, and plays the brilliant detective he aspires to be.
  • Seven Psychopaths is a combination of this and the third category. The main character, Marty, is writing a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths. He and the other two mains spend most of the film discussing the screenplay (and in turn the film they're in), effectively deconstructing their own movie. The problems start when Marty's friend, Billy (one - in fact two - of the titular psychopaths), takes a little too much control of the plot.
  • Wu Luan puts on a play for the Empress's coronation in Legend Of The Black Scorpion, ala Hamlet, showing a dramatized version of the murder of his father. This doesn't just get the Emperor, the tension in the room implicates that everyone knows what he's on about.
  • Cabin By The Lake was about a movie writer who started killing girls to get inspiration for his work. Return to Cabin by the Lake features the production of a movie based on the same killer's exploits. He commandeers the production by impersonating an Assistant Director that he murdered to get creative control over his story and starts gradually killing off the crew.


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