The objective: rescue Sgt. Four Leaf Tayback from a heavily guarded NVA Prison Camp.
The mission was considered to be near suicide.
Of the ten men sent, four returned.
Of those four, three wrote books about what happened.
Of those three books, two got published.
Of those two, just one got a movie deal.
This is the story of the people who attempted to make that movie."
Movie producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) is in need of an award-winning movie and decides to make the best and most expensive Vietnam War movie ever. He hires rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and five very different actors, who cause quite a stir in the press due to their very different backgrounds:
- The action star: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), whose attempts at serious acting (most notoriously, the Oscar Bait film Simple Jack) have been disastrous so far, nearly ruining his career.
- The award-winning Australian actor: Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who is known for his violent tabloid antics and for taking Method Acting Up to Eleven — most recently, going through cosmetic surgery to play an African-American.
- The comedian: Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), who specializes in disgusting and vulgar comedy and playing multiple roles in one movie. He's also addicted to "jelly beans."
- The popular rapper turned actor: Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who markets an energy drink called "Booty Sweat" and doesn't take kindly to Kirk's portrayal of a black man.
- And the unknown actor: Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), also the only one who had to audition for his role and the only one (aside from Lazarus, and it can be argued his preparedness only makes things worse) who actually prepared for it.
Naturally, nothing goes as planned, much to Cockburn's frustration. In a matter of days, the movie is way over budget and the actors won't cooperate. Having finally become fed up with the actors, and following the suggestions of the film's subject and consultant John "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte), he decides to drop the actors in the jungle and simulate realistic warfare, hoping to get real emotions from them. This plan drives production even further off the rails when the cast runs afoul of a Laotian drug ring known as Flaming Dragon, and the actors end up having to become the soldiers they're playing, despite not knowing how to use their weapons or navigate through the jungle.
A critical and financial success, this rude, crude, and very funny film mocks the way Hollywood works and, to that end, it showcases filmmaking tropes like a peacock displaying his feathers, and the extremely Genre Savvy characters poke fun at them.
A spinoff focusing on the Les Grossman character has been announced in 2010, but little else has come out of it since.
"First, take a big step back and literally TROPE YOUR OWN FACE!"
- Accidental Misnaming: Sandusky, whose name is mispronounced until the very end.
- Acting for Two: The Fatties: Fart 2, an in-universe parody of The Nutty Professor, starring Jeff Portnoy, Jeff Portnoy, Jeff Portnoy, and Jeff Portnoy as America's favorite obese family.
- Actor Allusion:
- In the fake trailers at the beginning of the movie, Tony Stark and Peter Parker as gay monks! Could also be an Actor Allusion to the relationship that Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey Maguire's characters had in Wonder Boys.
- "Dear Mr. Joe Quesada,note boy do I have an idea for you..."
- Danny McBride, once again, plays an overzealous pyrotechnics expert who mishears his cue and sets off the explosions a bit too early.
- Affably Evil: One of Tugg's captors offers him tea. Tugg, still in character, rudely kicks it away. The captor is visibly hurt, and stutters that he was trying to be polite.
- Affectionate Parody: Tropic Thunder is a very mean-spirited parody of movie production in general, but it also shows that there are people in the industry who are very passionate about it.
- All-Star Cast: In-universe, the movie being filmed contains a comedy star, a high-profile rapper, an Academy Award winner and a former action hero.
- All There in the Manual: The DVD bonus disc contains several in-universe documentaries about the movie which explain some of the plot threads that were left hanging, such as why Cockburn wasn't mentioned more.
- Apologetic Attacker: When ordered to punch Cockburn by Grossman, the keygrip mutters a quick "Sorry" before striking Cockburn across the mouth.
- And Starring: "Introducing Brandon Soo Hoo / With Matthew McConaughey / And Tom Cruise as Les Grossman." Promotional material gave the "and" credit to Nick Nolte, since Cruise's involvement was meant to be a surprise.
- Armored Closet Gay: Alpa Chino has shades of this when you look at his career as a supposed sex-maniac. Granted, if you listen to the song, "I Love The Pussy", it sounds like a guy who's obsessed with keeping himself in there.
- Armor-Piercing Question: "Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is, and claims to know what dude he is, by playing other dudes?" Basically, Speedman is pointing out that Kirk method acts so hard that he loses his true self. During their conversation Kirk stays in character because he can't remember who he is any more and breaks down crying saying that he's a no body.
- Artistic License Awards: At the end of the film, Kirk presents the Academy Award for Best Actor to Tugg. However, the award for Best Actor is generally presented by the winner of Best Actress from the previous year; if the winner is unavailable, it's still someone of the opposite gender. Possibly subverted, as it's All There in the Manual that Kirk actually has won an Oscar for Best Actress. Of course, that he was ever nominated for Best Actress at all comes back around to artistic license.
- A-Team Firing: The actors' guns are all armed with blanks.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The TiVo.Rick Peck: You don't need to explain to me why you need TiVo... or clean water. Clean sheets. Food. Shelter.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Les Grossman uses some wicked threats to intimidate people. Boy, does he ever.
- Badass and Baby: A key part of Tugg Speedman's big franchise.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: Spoofed. We're told at the start this is a record of a true story. We find out halfway through that Four Leaf, "The Vietnam War veteran" who wrote the book the film-within-the-film is based on (and is on the crew, suggesting the Enforced Method Acting concept), is a total liar who never served overseas and is only pretending to be handicapped.
- Bears Are Bad News: The panda bear that Tugg Speedman fights and kills.
- Beauty Inversion: Tom Cruise as Grossman.
- Becoming the Mask: Kirk Lazarus will get so involved in his characters that he promises he won't break character 'til he's done the DVD Commentary. True to his word, Robert Downey Jr. does the film's DVD commentary in character as Kirk Lazarus. Even better: He does the commentary as Kirk Lazarus in character as Lincoln Osiris. He's "a dude playin' a dude, disguised as another dude!" He gets so into his character he has to be reminded at one point that he is Kirk Lazarus.
- Berserk Button:
- Box Office Bomb: In-universe, Simple Jack is described as a 'box office disaster' which critics consider one of the worst films of all time. And this is just one of the many films that Tugg Speedman has starred in that has bombed miserably, and the catalyst on why he joins the titular biopic.
- Brick Joke:
- Tobey Maguire's role in Satan's Alley gets him nominated for an Oscar.
- And Kevin and Alpa end up with (respectively) Jennifer Love Hewitt and Lance Bass.
- Also a meta-example: Kirk Lazarus, while in his Sgt. Osiris mode, mentions that he "won't break character until the DVD release." Sure enough, when Tropic Thunder was release on DVD, Robert Downey Jr. does the commentary in-character to Kirk Lazarus, himself acting in-character to Sgt. Osiris.
- Yet another example is when Speedman is on the phone with Rick after walking off into the jungle by himself. They discuss the TiVo set that Speedman was given as part of a contract, noting that the company had yet to hook it up for him. Rick promises to get the TiVo situation squared away but it isnt really discussed afterwards. However, during the films climax, the crew is trying to escape the jungle via helicopter when Rick emerges from the jungle to proudly announce that he got Speedman the TiVo. He then throws it into the path of an oncoming missile that had been fired at the chopper, saving everyone on board before running back to civilization.
- Brief Accent Imitation:
- Tugg mocking Cockburn, still under the impression that Cockburn isn't decapitated.
- Alpa throws on an Australian accent to mock Lazarus.
- Broken Pedestal: Four-Leaf Tayback becomes this to Cody when it is revealed that not only did Tayback lie through his teeth about fighting in the Vietnam War, but has never even been outside the United States until production for the movie began and the only Military service he has ever done was working in the sanitation department in the coast guard.
- Campfire Character Exploration: The actors discuss relationships around a campfire, which eventually leads to Alpa Chino coming out of the closet.
- Career Resurrection: In-universe, after suffering a string of box office flops (most notably Simple Jack, a failed Oscar Bait film, Tugg Speedman signs up for the titular biopic in a bid to save his career from sinking even further.
- Celebrity Paradox:
- Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman)'s wife Christine Taylor co-starred with Tugg Speedman on Simple Jack.
- Kirk Lazarus and Tobey Maguire both co-starred in Satan's Alley. Maguire and Robert Downey Jr. co-starred in Wonder Boys in real life.
- Celebrity Survivor: A variation; instead of a post-apocalyptic world, it's the cartel-run jungles of Southeast Asia where a bunch of prima-donna actors are dumped by their pissed-off director.
- Chased by Angry Natives: Tugg has to Outrun the Fireball when the bridge is blown trying to stop the Angry Natives. Now that's Troperiffic.
- A Child Shall Lead Them: The Flaming Dragon cartel is led by a prepubescent boy.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Les Grossman, especially when Flaming Dragon call with a ransom demand after they capture Tugg. Gratefully transcribed from the DVD:Grossman: This is Les Grossman. Who is this?
Flaming Dragon Mook: This is Flaming Dragon!
Grossman: Oh. Okay. Flaming Dragon. Fuckface. First, take a step back, and literally FUCK YOUR OWN FACE!! [Beat] Now, I don't know what kind of Pan-Pacific bullshit power play you're trying to pull on me, but Asia, Jack, is my territory. So whatever you're thinking, you better think again! Otherwise I'm gonna have to head down there and I will rain down an ungodly fucking firestorm upon you! You're gonna have to call the fucking United Nations and get a fucking binding resolution to keep me from fucking destroying you. I'm talking about scorched Earth, motherfucker! I will massacre you! I WILL FUCK YOU UP!!!
- Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Jeff Portnoy is not in good shape when he finds out they're stumbling upon an opium farm.
- Comically Missing the Point:
- During the TV broadcast, we cut to footage of Tugg Speedman on Tyra Banks' talk show:Tyra Banks: Someone close to you said "One more flop and it's over."
Speedman: Somebody said they were close to me?
- In a later conversation between Tugg and his agent:Speedman: I killed one, Rick. The thing I love the most in the world!
Peck: [beat] A hooker. Alright, you killed a hooker. Calm down, here's what you're gonna do...
- During the TV broadcast, we cut to footage of Tugg Speedman on Tyra Banks' talk show:
- Conversational Troping: Everywhere as this is a movie that spoofs all of the worst and best of Hollywood tropes
- Contrived Coincidence: Right as Tugg throws a dud grenade at armed Flaming Dragon guards, Tayback and Cody, concerned about the scene while elsewhere, detonate C4 to make the grenade believable.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Les Grossman again, played by Tom Cruise. Crosses the line when he decides to leave Tugg to be killed by the Flaming Dragons because he isn't profitable any more.
- Creator Breakdown: In-universe — nearly everyone.
- Critical Research Failure: In-Universe, Tugg confuses the Teen Choice Awards with the Kids Choice Awards by saying that Kevin would be slimed. Given how Tugg is, this is to be expected.
- Dance Party Ending: Tom Cruise performing a one-man Dance Party Ending over the credits.
- Death as Comedy: Damien finishes giving a Rousing Speech and then gets blown up by a landmine.
- Do Well, but Not Perfect: According to Lazarus, the key for an Oscar-worthy Inspirationally Disadvantaged performance is to not go "Full Retard", i.e. to play the role in a way that gains audience sympathy but avoid going too hard to avoid making the role uncomfortable for the general audience.
- Dramatic Gun Cock:Kirk: Yeah! And we's trained actors motherfucker!
- Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe; Chino's joke to Lazarus about a dingo eating his baby, which almost causes him to break character.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Implied why Portnoy joined the movie.Sandusky: You are not a screwup; you make so many people laugh!Portnoy: They only laugh at my farts!
- Dyeing for Your Art:
- The cast was supposed to attend a boot camp prior to production but most skipped it. Only Kevin was serious enough to go through the training and even read the book in preparation.
- The Caucasian Kirk Lazarus is so intent on inhabiting the role of the African-American Lincoln Osiris that he undergoes a medical procedure to dye his skin.
- Dysfunction Junction: Everyone involved in the production has a serious problem.
- Earth-Shattering Poster: Scorcher posters.
- Enfante Terrible:
- Tran, a little boy who leads the drug cartel.
- An even younger boy whom Tugg tries to adopt turns out to be one too.
- Enforced Method Acting: An In-Universe example; Damien really takes this to the extreme when he drops his actors in the middle of a real war zone. It still doesn't work, except on Speedman — who insists everything is a trick even after Cockburn explodes into giblets.
- Everyone Is Bi: Referenced at one point ("Everyone's gay once in a while!", after Alpa Chino accidentally outs himself), and hinted to be completely true in-story.
- Fake Action Prologue: Two sets — the opening of the movie is fake trailers for films the lead characters are in that show even before the title logos appear; then we get to the big Vietnam fight scene....which is just a movie they're shooting.
- Failed a Spot Check: Peck tries to ask the Four Eyes, Zero Soul Grossman if he needs glasses when he demands to know if Grossman even read Tugg Speedman's contract.
- The Film of the Book: The movie being shot.Sandusky: You guys... did read the book, right?
Lazarus: I don't read the script, the script reads me!
Sandusky: What does that even mean!?
- Five-Man Band:
- The Fool: Our main leads, ladies and gents - actors totally out of their depth, either totally lost in drugs, their own ego, delusions, or their constructed characters. Funny enough, the main exception is Kevin Sandusky, a no-name actor who's treated as a Naïve Newcomer by everyone else when it's clear he's got a better grip on reality than everyone around him.
- Foreshadowing: A few leading up to The Reveal that Four-Leaf Tayback is a fraud:
- During the aftermath of the disastrous botched scene that gets Cockburn punched in the face, he doesn't bother correcting or riposting against Grossman suddenly screaming at him. A man like that wouldn't take shit from anyone, unless he wasn't really a man like that.
- His Ice-Cream Koan of "Beds give me nightmares". That's a bit like saying "running makes me out of breath".
- His obsession on putting the actors through "the shit" by shoving them in a jungle and letting them do whatever has zero backup plan.
- He's not familiar with what his own service pistol is, brushing it off by saying he doesn't know what it's called - just the sound it makes when it takes a man's life. He hasn't heard THAT, either.
- When the explosives expert realizes Cockburn and the Actors are missing and they'll have to go into the jungle, he has an absolute look of horror on his face. It's not PTSD - it's the fact he's NEVER been outside of the states.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Les Grossman is a downplayed example, he may not be a diabolical madman bent on world domination, but he is perfectly willing to let Tugg die in a jungle on the other side of the globe just to make a buck.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you look at the other best actor nominees, in addition to Tugg and Jon Voight you will see: Dustin Hoffman playing a blind man, Tom Hanks playing someone in a wheelchair and Tobey Maguire from the Satan's Alley fake trailer at the beginning of the film.
- Gasshole: Jeff, in-character for The Fatties, Fart 2. He later cries about this, stating that people only laugh at him for his farts, and becomes a Brick Joke when some Flaming Dragon goons make the mistake of laughing at his farts at the wrong moment.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In Universe: The drug dealers are big fans of Simple Jack. To the point that when Tugg Speedman happens to fall into their laps, they make him reenact the movie 24 hours a day...and he actually enjoys it.
- Glacial Apocalypse: There's a trailer for Tugg Speedman's latest action film Scorcher VI: Global Melt Down that has his character save the world from an ice age while protecting two babies.
- Guns Akimbo: Lazarus revealing his guns on the drug compound guards after his cover his blown attempting to sneak in. "I'M A LEAD FARMER, MOTHERFUCKA!"
- Hand Signals: Tugg goes through several in a row during the trek through the jungle. As he's just throwing them up at random, the other actors are left thoroughly confused.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Alpa Chino is a rapper who's mostly famous for writing a song where he sings about "wet pussies". The song is used to advertise an energy drink. He's actually gay.
- Heroic Blue Screen of Death:
- Tugg loses it after he kills a panda, an animal he loves more than anything else in the world.
- Kirk has a breakdown after Tugg convinces him that he's having an identity crisis while Kirk is trying to get Tugg to snap out of the role he's immersed in.
- High-Pressure Blood: The tendency for "realistic" Vietnam War movies to engage in this is parodied here; the scene we see from the film within a film has characters shooting jets of blood from their heads and spewing more intestines than would fit inside their bodies, all while the hero is shot a preposterous number of times to little effect.
- Hot-Blooded: Les Grossman, the producer, flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. He will vacillate between roaring inventive profanity at the top of his lungs and calmly taking care of business.
- I Choose to Stay: Near the end of the movie, Tugg tells the rest of the crew that he is staying with the Flaming Dragon, as they appreciate his performances and he feels he has something akin to a family there in the shape of a young child who enjoys his performances. The moment he walks out of sight, gunshots are heard and he comes running back with the child on his back, stabbing him repeatedly, and the rest of the cartel chasing him while he shouts that he was mistaken.
- Ice-Cream Koan:
- Kirk Lazarus tries to explain why he doesn't read scripts:Lazarus: I don't read script. Script reads me.
Sandusky: What the hell does that even mean?
- Subverted with Speedman telling Kirk, "Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is, and claims to know what dude he is, by playing other dudes?" which to the other actors sounds like gibberish, but describes Kirk so well that he breaks down into tears.
- Kirk Lazarus tries to explain why he doesn't read scripts:
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Sure, the heroes use blanks, but thankfully, the bad guys can't shoot straight either. Aside from Tran and his RPG.
- Improbable Age: Tran is the head of a massive drug compound despite being ten years old. Bizarrely, this is an example of Truth in Television, since he is based (cigars and all) on a pair of twin guerilla leaders who first took command when they were nine.
- Improbable Infant Survival: Despite being very close to an explosion, none of the children in the movie die. One of them even gets crushed through several floors by Jack Black and survives.
- I'm Cold... So Cold...: Parodied in the movie within the movie, when Four-Leaf loses his hands trying to deflect a stick grenade from detonating near the evac chopper. Parodied for "real" when Tugg claims to not be able to feel his legs while they're trying to escape from the drug compound. Turns out it's just that he's sitting in a pool of cold, muddy water.
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Parodied with Simple Jack and (along with being lampshaded) Lazarus' "Full Retard" speech.Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks, cheat at cards. Autistic, sure. Not retarded. You know, Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump? Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, Being There Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, i am sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed...
- Introdump: It is literally the second scene in the film.
- Ironic Echo:
- "I can't feel my legs." First as part of the film within a film, and then said during the final escape sequence. Except that Tugg's able to cry and can't feel his legs because he's sitting on a cold puddle.
- "I don't know what it's called. I just know the sound it makes when it takes a man's life."
- Jerkass: The EXTREMELY foul-mouthed Les Grossman.
- Karma Houdini: Les Grossman basically attempts to murder Speedman, but suffers zero consequences as a result. Hell, he gets to be the focus of the sequel!
- Kayfabe Music: Alpa Chino is a rapper who is overly heterosexual in his music and videos, but is secretly gay.
- Killer Rabbit:
- Half Squat, Tugg's adopted son.
- Don't forget the cute... cuddly... vicious panda.
- Land Mine Goes "Click!": ...and director goes boom.Cockburn: Oh!
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- Is it Kirk Lazarus playing the dude disguised as another dude (Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris as lead-farming Indochinese infiltrator) or Robert Downey Jr. (as all of the above)?
- "I think I know a prop head when I see one!" says Tugg as he hefts an obvious prop head, seeing as Cockburn's actor is still alive...
- He also tastes the blood, which is also fake (for that same reason) and says "It's corn syrup guys. Corn syrup and latex. Warm...blood-flavored corn syrup," those two elements and food coloring being a key element to fake blood.
- Well, if you want to go there, "Osiris' rifles are full of blanks, Tran's aren't." Obviously, all the guns are full of blanks. In the same vein, the bridge demolition took a lot more work than one guy with dynamite sticks and det-cord stringing stuff to a single clacker. Indeed, the making of the movie about making a movie that never got made must have been epic.
- Lost in Character: Kirk Lazarus has this as a recurring problem for his roles. Eventually, Tugg gets traumatized into this.
- Mad Bomber: Cody, who even Four Leaf thinks is insane. He nearly blinded Jamie Lee Curtis on Freaky Friday.
- Magic Plastic Surgery: Kirk's transformation from white to black in itself is not that impressive. What's really impressive is that it "wears off" over time. Not that unrealistic; the book Black Like Me is a real-life account of a white man masquerading as black for a social experiment, and has him having to recharge his "blackness" several times over six weeks. The surgery in his case, however, was very different from what Kirk is shown to have done.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Tugg Speedman despite playing action heroes. He donates to charity to save pandas, co-wrote a children's book and is close with his agent.
- Meaningful Name: Les Grossman sure has a gross temper.
- Meta Casting: All over the place, you can almost see the actors as themselves in a less meta movie. All of the actors have elements of themselves, with only marginal changes (usually combining elements of other famous actors):
- Jeff Portnoy's personality is the same as most of the characters Jack Black plays, but stars in movies of the style popularized by Adam Sandler and Seltzer and Friedberg, and plays multiple characters like Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy. Arguably, Portnoy is a parody of what Black could end up becoming if he doesn't watch where he's cast.
- Robert Downey Jr. is critically acclaimed and gets too into his job, just like Kirk Lazarus, but Lazarus also has some shades of Russell Crowe (an Academy Award-winning Australian actor known for having a temper) and Heath Ledger (an Australian actor known for his Method Acting that starred in a movie centered on a gay relationship).
- Jay Baruchel plays that guy in the movie who no one remembers because he wasn't played by an A-lister — not even mentioned on the posters.
- The main exception (and something often commented upon) is that Ben Stiller mostly plays comedic roles, not Action Heroes. Tom Cruise's cameo Playing Against Type was part of the joke, but has probably never played a character this... in-your-face. With the possible exception of Magnolia...
- Method Acting: In-universe, Kirk Lazarus undergoes surgery for a better racial resemblance and doesn't drop from character until he's done with the DVD commentaries.
- The Millstone: Jeff manages to fuck up the rescue plan (as fucked as it already was) by going straight for the drugs and allowing an open enough distraction for the more genre-savvy guards to reach for their guns.
- Mind Screw: Kirk trying to get Speedmann out of his Heroic BSoD promptly backfires.Tugg: Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is, and claims to know what dude he is, by playing other dudes?
- Misplaced Wildlife: Ain't no pandas in Indochina.
- Mistaken for Badass: The Flaming Dragon gang are stunned by what they think is a heavily-armed American military team. One of them steps on a landmine? The others make fun of him while using his disembodied head as a prop for their amusement. Under heavy fire? They stand up, chests squared, and spray the forest with assault fire. The gangsters planning to ambush them are visibly shocked by how fearless the actors appear by sheer virtue of not actually knowing what's going on.
- Mondegreen: "Alpa Chino" is clearly meant to sound exactly like "Al Pacino". See Named After Somebody Famous below.
- More Dakka: Cody, the special effects demolitionist played by Danny McBride, runs on this trope.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Played with when Lazarus engages in Chinese with Tran to distract the drug workers from the group's rescue of Tugg; while capable of producing coherent sentences ("I find this pale eel scavenging like a catfish inside of my rice paddy"), he's just as prone to make complete nonsense ("I have shrimp for your daughter").
- Named After Somebody Famous: Alpa Chino. As in Al Pacino. This is an in-universe example, given the rap industry's obsession with Scarface (1983). Played off in a hilarious scene in the Director's Cut when a drug dealer realizes Alpa is using blanks:Drug Dealer: [crawling towards real gun] Like him in Carlito's Way? Devil's Advocate, Dog Day Afternoon. Real Al Pacino!
Alpa: No, that's a totally different dude — oh shit!!
- Nemean Skinning: The panda.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: This movie is practically the Bible of this trope.
- Jeff Portnoy is a fairly transparent parody of Eddie Murphy (particularly in films like The Nutty Professor and Norbit), with generous helpings of Chris Farley's fatness and drug problems, and washed-up comedy actors in general.
- Kirk Lazarus is a similarly transparent parody of Heath Ledger (his appearance in Satan's Alley all but confirms this), mixed with Daniel Day-Lewis' method acting, the tabloid and anger antics of Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Colin Farrell, and Christian Bale's combination of the two (Kirk Lazarus was originally supposed to be Irish/British).
- Tugg Speedman is a spoof of a young Sylvester Stallone that has a small frustrated parallel with Tom Hanks, who entered in Forrest Gump (Simple Jack) and Saving Private Ryan (Tropic Thunder).
- Alpa Chino is another not-so-subtle parody of the trend of rappers who are increasingly showing up in films as actors, and his Booty Sweat was a direct parody of the various brands of soft drinks pimped out by various mainstream rappers, mostly Nelly's Pimp Juice. A direct reference to R. Kelly's peeing scandal pops up in the Director's Cut: "Hell naw I didn't pee on that girl..."
- Les Grossman is based on Stuart Cornfeld, the producer of The Fly (1986), Zoolander and, yes, Tropic Thunder.
- Damien Cockburn was based on Richard Stanley and his experience of directing The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996).
- No Matter How Much I Beg: One scene has Jeff Portnoy going through withdrawal, and asks to be tied to a tree until he "gets it out of his system." He tells the others not to untie him, no matter how much he begs. Predictably, he does, even going as far as to promise recently outed Alpa Chino a blowjob.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Mocked at the end, with multiple characters reappearing and getting spotted by someone already in the chopper who runs back to help them just as they were about to take off.
- Noodle Incident:
- N-Word Privileges:Kirk: For four hundred years, that word has kept us down.
Alpa: [utterly bewildered] What the fuck?
- Obfuscating Disability:Lazarus: You've got hands?
Lazarus: FUCK, YOU'VE GOT HANDS?!
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Les Grossman threatening Flaming Dragon. "Scorched earth" is a means for a firm to prevent a takeover, while the United Nations comment is meant to be hyperbole. Flaming Dragon can only take the comments at face value, painting a pretty nasty prospect for them.
- One-Scene Wonder: In-universe. Les Grossman, although just having three scenes in the entire movie, has become one of the most memorable characters. He's even getting his own film.
- One-Woman Wail: Constantly parodied throughout the soundtrack.
- Only Sane Man:
- Compared to the others, Kevin is a perfectly normal individual. A bit of a geek, maybe, but we, of all people, have no room to criticize.Kevin: WOW. The insecurity level on you guys is ridiculous!
- Before his Armored Closet Gay reveal, Alpa was also something of a straight.man, pardon the pun. The Director's Cut adds a few more scenes of unprofessionalism on his part though.
- Compared to the others, Kevin is a perfectly normal individual. A bit of a geek, maybe, but we, of all people, have no room to criticize.
- Oscar Bait:
- Kirk's specialty. Tugg tried this with Simple Jack, playing a mentally challenged man, and it didn't go so well. At one point, Kirk explains why to him, citing many of the performances of that sort of role listed at the trope entry. And of course, the film the characters are making is an example of this.
- Incidentally, of all the crazy things in the movie, the key controversy about this film was its supposed treatment of the mentally challenged — which may be considered a case of Completely Missing the Point. That would explain the downright surreal "Special Message From Dreamworks" PSA on the DVD.
- Robert Downey Jr. gets nominated for an Oscar for the role of Lazarus. While parodying the late Heath Ledger who won that same Oscar.
- Outrun the Fireball: Subverted. Tugg does this near the end, when the bridge to his helicopter's landing spot is rigged with explosives. He isn't quick enough, but he's alright afterwards.
- Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Parodied at the beginning, where a soldier suffers a headshot through his helmet and proceeds to spout a three foot high fountain of blood into the faces of his comrades, probably about three gallons in total.
- Painting the Medium: The fake spots for the characters' fake movies (and energy drink) air right after the real trailers do.
- Panda-ing to the Audience: In-Universe, Tugg does conservation work for pandas, so when he is attacked by one in the middle of the night and kills it in self defense (not knowing what it is), he is horrified when he makes his discovery.
- Prima Donna Director: Damien Cockburn gets this rap amongst people, but it's really only because his actors and his producer are the real prima donnas constantly breathing down his neck.
- Product Placement: There's less in the movie being made than the one we're watching.
- Pun: Grossman calling Pecker a "big dick playa".
- Punny Name: "Alpa Chino". Say it out loud.
- Real Award, Fictional Character: Kirk Lazarus is a multiple-Oscar-winning actor. The film-about-the-making-of-the-film-within-the-film itself picks up a number of Oscars and Lazarus gets another one.
- Real Trailer, Fake Movie: The movie opens with three very-realistically-designed fake trailers and a commercial to introduce the main characters, and what they usually do:
- Scorcher VI: (Ben Stiller) Universal Pictures presents this parody of the typical cash-grabbing action summer blockbuster sequel:Trailer Announcer: In 2013, when the Earth's rotation came to a halt, the world called on the one man who could make a difference. When it happened again, the world called on him once more. And no one saw it coming. THREE. MORE. TIMES. Now, the one man who made a difference five times before, is about to make a difference again. Only this time, it's different.
[Speedman is shown standing on an iceberg, and everything in the background is frozen. He has a set of twins on him and he's holding two rifles]
Tugg Speedman: Who left the fridge open?
Trailer Announcer: [voice over] Tugg Speedman. Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown.
Tugg Speedman: Here We Go Again!. Again.
- The Fatties Fart 2: (Jack Black) New Line Cinema presents this parody of The Nutty Professor:Trailer Announcer: This summer, America's favorite obese family is back!
[Jeff Portnoy is shown as different obese characters, all of whom start ripping giant farts in a French restaurant]
Trailer Announcer: Jeff Portnoy... Jeff Portnoy... Jeff Portnoy... and Jeff Portnoy are The Fatties: Fart Two...
Jeff Portnoy!!Biker: In some countries... [another Portnoy character lets out a giant fart]... it's considered a compliment.
Trailer Announcer: ...Letting loose this summer.
- Satan's Alley: (Robert Downey Jr.) A Brokeback Mountain spoof presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures about a homosexual priest who falls in love with a younger monk (played by Tobey Maguire):Trailer Announcer: In a time where to be different was to be condemned... [Lazarus and Tobey Maguire, both dressed as monks, look longingly at each other]... and to be condemned was to die, one man chose to question his God.
[Lazarus screams "GOD!". Cut to shots of Lazarus and Maguire grabbing each other's rosaries and twitching to the song "Sadeness (Part 1)" by Enigma]
Trailer Announcer: From Fox Searchlight, five-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus...and MTV Movie Award Best Kiss winner Tobey Maguire; winner of the Beijing Film Festival's coveted Crying Monkey Award, Satan's Alley.
Kirk Lazarus as Father O'Mallie: [whispers] I've been a bad, bad boy, Father....
- Even before the fake trailers, you have a... suggestive ad for the products Alpa Chino pushes throughout the movie. As it happens, Booty Sweat is a real energy drink sold online. It had been temporarily available at theatres, too.
- Scorcher VI: (Ben Stiller) Universal Pictures presents this parody of the typical cash-grabbing action summer blockbuster sequel:
- Refuge in Audacity: The whole movie — a clear case where toning it down would have actually made it much more offensive than it is. Among the tropes spoofed/subverted in this way:
- Children Are Innocent — The leader of the drug cartel is a preteen, and the tot Tugg "adopts" at one point turns out to be quite vicious as well.
- Gory Discretion Shot — None of that here.
- Family-Unfriendly Violence — Tons. Kevin's character's evisceration in the prologue is a highlight.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute? — Tugg kills a snarling animal in the dark — then is horrified to learn it was a panda, as he's done adorable ads with pandas for a wildlife conservation group. Doesn't stop there, as he skins the panda and wears its head as a Going Native ensemble he creates for himself.
- Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris. A black guy acting stereotypically black? Not funny. A white guy acting stereotypically black? Really not funny. A white guy who's dedicated enough to convince himself that he actually is a black guy, to the point that he lectures an actual black guy who uses the n word? So ridiculous it can't be taken seriously.
- Retirony: The usual "girl back home" discussion promptly spins out into a reiteration of how messed-up the main characters are. None of the leads even have a girl... though one of them has a guy he never talked to... In the end, since none of them have someone waiting for them, nothing comes of it.
- The Rule of First Adopters: A Discussed Trope by Kevin about how Blu-Ray overpowered HD-DVD:Kevin: Now, if you recall that whole hullabaloo where Hollywood was split into schisms, some studios backing Blu-ray disc, others backing HD DVD. People thought it would come down to pixel rate or refresh rate, and they're pretty much the same. What it came down to was a combination between gamers and porn. Now, whichever format porno backs is usually the one that becomes the uh most successful. But, you know, Sony, every PlayStation 3 has a Blu-ray in it.
Kirk: ...You talkin' to me this whole time?
Kevin: I was talking to whoever was listening.
- Running Gag: People keep asking Four Leaf "You've got hands?!" after it's revealed he never lost them.
- Saw "Star Wars" 27 Times: Alpa Chino says he's seen Tugg Speedman's first Scorcher movie twenty-four times when he was in 8th Grade.
- Scary Black Man: Kirk tries to be this, as he "gets into the role". Method acting at its finest, people. Take notes.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Alpa Chino, when Tugg kicks Cockburn's disembodied head over him, lets out a very high-pitched shriek.
- Sequelitis: Parodied In-Universe. Tugg Speedman's Scorcher series received no less than five sequels. The 6th one, Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown, turned the concept of the Earth, being a giant fireball in the previous movies, to a frozen wasteland because the previous films had exhausted the previously mentioned concept.Tugg: Here we go again. Again...
- Serious Business:
- Acting. The actors in the movie are all extremely passionate about their art, and Kirk and Tugg in particular take acting very seriously, as the former is an Academy Award winner famous for going to extreme lengths of Method Acting and the latter is a washed-up action star trying to gain recognition as a "serious" actor and win an Oscar.
- Tugg's manager is completely obsessed with ensuring he has TiVo, as his contract stipulates it, and he is very attached to the man. When things start going bad, he recognizes that the lack of TiVo can be used to show the contract has been broken, and near the end of the movie, he shows up at the last second to block a rocket-propelled grenade with a TiVo kit, having trekked through the jungle just to deliver it.
- Shapeshifter Swan Song: Near the end of the movie, Lazarus briefly cycles through some of his previous roles before finally breaking character and assuming his own identity.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Four Leaf Tayback, or so it seems. See "Beds give me nightmares" and "I don't know what it's called. I just know the sound it makes... when it takes a man's life."
- Shell-Shock Silence: After the explosion just before the bridge, near the end of the film.
- The computer used to identify "Flaming Dragon" is the same one Tony Stark used in Iron Man.
- Tugg dropping to his knees with his arms out in a crucifixion pose, similar to Willem Dafoe in Platoon. And then looking ridiculous as he overacts getting shot.
- In the intro scene where Tugg is trying to cry with Kirk holding his.. hands, you can hear a theme imitating Saving Private Ryan 's one, as when Pvt. Ryan talks to Cpt. Miller before he dies at the end.
- The party early in the film bears a resemblance to the out-of-control Playboy party in Apocalypse Now. Another Apocalypse Now reference is the scene when Kirk tells the others he was a saucier, like Chef does in Apocalypse Now.
- The production problems of the in-universe Tropic Thunder are based on the infamous production cycle of Apocalypse Now, which also went insanely over budget, over schedule and drove Francis Ford Coppola to mental breakdown and attempted suicide.
- When Tugg is outrunning the exploding bridge, Tugg is knocked in a similar way that Tom Cruise was knocked into a car in Mission: Impossible III. See also Outrun the Fireball.
- "That's the theme song for The Jeffersons!"
- When Kirk is trying to snap Speedman out of his trance and go home, the lighting and shadow on Speedman's face when he says, "I am home" mirror Marlon Brando's final moments as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. The horror!
- A really subtle one: The shot of Tugg removing his Simple Jack makeup in the camp is very similar to the shot of Chaplin removing his tramp makeup in the opening of 1992's biopic Chaplin. Bonus points for Chaplin being another Oscar Bait film, with Chaplin being played by...Robert Downey Jr. in his first Oscar nominated role.
- When Kirk enters the gang's camp in a wide straw hat and poncho, then opens fire, it is very similar to a Big Damn Heroes moment by Lee Van Cleef's character in the Spaghetti Western Death Rides a Horse.
- The shot of Jeff poised next to the pile of heroin (itself piled into a similar shape to the mountain out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is a pastiche of Indy about to pick up the statue in the intro of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Satan's Alley, the film that won the Beijing Film Festival's coveted Crying Monkey Award, is a spoof of Brokeback Mountain.
- Les Grossman's look appears to be based on Tom Cruise's fellow Brat Packers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen's facial hair and prosthetic balding heads from the 2000 film Rated X, where they played similarly foul-mouthed pornography moguls Jim and Artie Mitchell.
- Shouting Shooter: Parodied with Alpa, who, during the group's first encounter with Flaming Dragon, kicks a leg out and does a very Michael Jackson-esque yell.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Kevin. Alpa Chino, to a lesser extent, since you can see some of him.
- Sir Swearsalot: Les Grossman is the king of this trope.
- Skyward Scream: Tugg, after killing a panda in the jungle, combines it with a Big "NO!".
- Smug Snake: Grossman.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: Played for laughs, whenever Kirk chastises Alpa to the latter's annoyance and bemusement.
- Straight Gay: Alpa Chino.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Well, when one of the secondary characters is a pyrotechnician... He promptly wants to go back to catering after he witnesses a real explosion.Cody: BIG ASS TITTIES!
- Stunned Silence: of the stunned horror variety from the Flaming Dragon henchman on phone with Les Grossman after his "fuck your own face" tirade.
- Stylistic Suck:
- The pre-movie faux Trailers. Beginning with a pretty bad rap video/ad for Alpa Chino's "Booty Sweat", and ending with Satan's Alley, which consists of St. Lazarus and Maguire grabbing each other's rosaries and twitching set to lame techno beats. Then you get to the Tropic Thunder intro...
- The "real" Tropic Thunder movie being made serves a parody of epic war films - out of universe, of course.
- Suddenly Always Knew That:
- Kirk Lazarus.Portnoy: How the hell do you know Chinese?
Lazarus: Land of Silk and Money with Gong Li. Second Globe, third Oscar. Prepped for that one by working in a Beijing textile factory for 8 months.
- ...Which turns into gibberish, much to the consternation of the guards.
- Kirk Lazarus.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: See "Cluster F-Bomb" above.
- Talkative Loon: Portnoy, as his "vitamins" and "jelly beans" wear off.
- Take a Third Option: Pecker, Tugg's agent, is offered the chance to try and save Tugg from terrorists, or to get a G5 Gulfstream jet and "Llllots of money." He takes the Jet and the money — and uses it to save Tugg.
- Take Our Word for It: Simple Jack is apparently "one of the worst movies ever made", but we only see a few scenes of it. It does look pretty bad though...Kirk: Well, to give the man credit, he has eased up on the retard a bit.
- Take That!: The film is intended to mock all of Ben Stiller's friends who, unlike him, did Vietnam War movies back in The '80s when they were all the rage and told him that the pre-production boot camp where they learned how to be plausible soldiers was a deeply spiritual experience.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome:
- Portnoy is attempting to do this because he is sick of people laughing at him.
- Speedman tried the same thing with Simple Jack, which turned out to be a disaster.
- Took a Level in Badass:
- After much idiocy, tears, sadness, and patheticness, all of the cast does this.
- Hats off to the much-beleagured Only Sane Man Kevin Sandusky in particular, though. He devises the plan to rescue Speedman, takes charge whilst Speedman, Lazarus, and Portnoy have their breakdowns, leads the escape from the heroin processing plant, survives being hit by an RPG whilst driving away in a truck.
- Troubled Production: A massive In-Universe example. The movie proper starts off with the crew of Tropic Thunder wasting $4 millions dollars worth of explosives after the explosives man mistakes Cockburn's ranting as the signal to set them off. As a whole, the film parodies the problems that plagued Apocalypse Now.
- Trouser Space: with Jack Black's pistol, implied to have been up his ass. Played with, as it takes him until the end of the gunfight he's standing in the midst of to actually retrieve it.
- True Art Is Angsty: In-universe: Jeff, Alpa, and especially Tugg (who had recently made a Sundance-style production that bombed) are each doing this film to get artistic credibility. And everybody's doing it for loads and loads of awards.
- Undying Loyalty: Pecker towards Tugg, being visibly repulsed by Grossman preferring to having him killed by his captors for publicity's sake.
- Unfortunate Implications: In-Universe: Lazarus acting as a black man irritates the Hell out of actually black Alpa Chino, who must deal with his antics of stereotypical blackness.
- Unnecessary Combat Roll: Parodied by having the actors play it completely straight. Tugg even flamboyantly fires away one handed with his ''assault rifle'' while coming out of the roll, after Cockburn gets it.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As stated above, it is basically a comedic, fictional portrayal of the making of Apocalypse Now, which had one of the most disastrous productions in all of film history. See its page for more.
- Vulgar Humor: Jeff's usual fare. At a premiere, he tries to deliver a Take That, Critics! with regards to this, but drug-addled as he is, it isn't effective.
- Wangst: In-universe: Kevin points this out to the actors themselves whenever they always breakdown.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- The director of the movie dies. Except for the Special Effects guy and Four Leaf panicking, and Lazarus attempting to tell everyone else he's really dead, he's not mentioned again, aside from confirmation that Cody didn't blow him up at the climax. It's All There in the Manual. The director of the in-universe making-of doc does care... he just thinks Cockburn's demise is far too horrific to share.
- Also, The original ending had Pecker captured by Flaming Dragon, but test audiences didn't like it, so he just gives Tugg a thumbs up and disappears into the jungle. He's later seen, during the closing credits, flying safely away aboard his brand-new jet.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Tugg is on the verge of becoming this according to Les, who actually uses the term "white dwarf".
- World of Ham: Just watch the attempted takes of the movie within the movie; even if they hadn't blown up most of the scenery, the actors would have eaten it.
- WTH, Casting Agency?:
- This is more in-universe for the movie within the movie. Having a blond haired blue eyed Australian playing a black man?
- The entire casting for the in-universe movie is a acknowledged disaster. The casting consists of a washed up action hero actor whose sole attempt at breaking out of typecasting was an unmitigated flop, a blond haired blue eyed Australian method actor playing a black man, a lowbrow comedy actor famous for his public drug problems, a hip hop star trying to break into acting and a completely unknown star. And they have to act in a serious war movie.
- Though it can wrap right back around again. Robert Downey Jr. playing a blond haired blue eyed Australian playing a black man? Granted he pulled it off but still.
- You Know I'm Black, Right?: Inverted. You know you're not black, right?Kirk: [to Tugg] What do you mean, you people?
Alpa: [to Kirk] What do you mean, you people?
Kirk: [still to Tugg] Huh!?
- Zany Scheme: Portnoy, having seen it done in a Zany 90s-era Sex Comedy he starred in, suggests a plan to infiltrate the camp using a giant catapult made from underwear. He gets stared at for five seconds before Kevin reaffirms a much saner plan, based on the book's own assault on a similar compound.