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Show Within A Show / Live-Action Films

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Examples of Show Within a Show in live-action films.

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    Characters involved in production 
  • Cabaret is set almost completely at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy cabaret in Berlin. All the songs are performances at the Kit Kat Club except "Tomorrow Belongs To Me", which is a performance at a restaurant two of the characters go to.
  • Carnival Night revolves around the planning of a New Year's Eve party and variety show in 1950s Moscow.
  • The Last Command: Sergius, a former general of Russian Empire, is now an extra in a movie about the Revolution.
  • Souls for Sale is a rather unique instance of this trope. 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 of 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.
  • Stormy Weather: Since this movie is about a dancer and a singer, there are various shows that they are involved in.
  • During ¡Three Amigos!, characters watch one of the title character actors' silent films.
  • Kiss Me, Kate
  • Rehearsal: Turner (Bruce Greenwood) is directing The Seagull.
  • 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.
  • Phffft!!: Judy Holliday is the head writer of Serena, Medical Wife, NBC's hit show.
  • The fictional Galaxy Quest TV show in the real movie Galaxy Quest. 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.
  • 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).
  • 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, and which crops up several times throughout the sequels as part of the film's satire and commentary on the horror genre.
  • 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 (2004) 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 Dr. 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 woolly goings-on onstage entwining themselves with the offstage relationships between Wilde and two of the actors (one of whom is Lord Alfred Douglas — if one knows about Wilde's life they know that's not a great omen — who's playing John the Baptist in the show).
  • 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.
  • Enemy: Where There's A Will, There's A Way.
  • In Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the protagonist attempts to stage a theatrical version of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” that he’s adapting, directing, and starring in himself. It is not going as well as he’d hoped.
  • Day for Night (French: La Nuit Américaine) depicts the Troubled Production of the fictional movie Meet Pamela.
  • Brüno (2009) has the titular character has the host of "Funkyzeit mit Bruno" before being fired.
  • Follow the Fleet (1936) has as its Eleven O'Clock Number a benefit show to raise money for the renovation of a ship belonging to one of the main characters. What we see of it is one of the most famous numbers by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, "Let's Face the Music and Dance."
  • In Code Unknown, several scenes show Anna being busy shooting a movie called The Collector. We see on set, and in post-production doing dubbing work.
  • The Hunger Games: The Hunger Games themselves.
  • Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead revolves around the production of the eponymous off-Broadway play, which is eventually revealed to actually be the life story of its writer, the real Horatio, who is in truth a master vampire who had been fighting a vampirized Hamlet over the Holy Grail for centuries, and the play, along with Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by W.S. Gilbert, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, were all written containing secret messages designed to draw Hamlet out for a final confrontation.
  • The Dresser is about a Shakespearean acting troupe putting on a performance of King Lear. Thematically appropriate because "Sir", the leader of the troupe who has to play Lear, is facing similar issues regarding aging, infirmity, and death.
  • Found Footage film Grave Encounters follows a crew filming an episode of a reality show based around exploring supposedly haunted locations. The show is also called Grave Encounters, and at one point a deliberately cheesy title sequence for the show-within-a-movie appears.
  • Howling III: The Marsupials: There are two. Donny is acting in a horror film called The Shapershifters Part 8. He wants Jerboa to join the cast, but she's never seen a horror film before, so he takes her to a B-movie called It Came from Uranus.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The film opens with Roger Rabbit trying to shoot a new Roger & Baby Herman cartoon, "Somethin's Cookin'". Posters for past Roger Rabbit cartoons can be seen hanging in R.K. Maroon's office, including "The Little Injun That Could" and "Herman's Shermans".
  • The Man Who Killed Don Quixote: The name of the movie comes from an old black-and-white silent student film the main character Toby directed, starring Javier, a local cobbler who starts believing that he really is Don Quixote. We see a few sequences of the student film as well as some of its production in flashback.
  • The incredible meta indie film Killer Flick is about four indie filmmakers creating a schlock exploitation film called Killer Flick. They reside within the film world they're creating, so we see them shooting scenes as they happen and writing plot points that come to pass.
  • I Am Alone: The main characters are the host Jacob Fitts, the cameraman Mason Riley, and the producer Adam Levine, of a wilderness survival show called "I Am Alone".
  • The ABCs of Death: The "Q" and "W" segments are about the real life crew members trying to figure out what to do for the "Q" and "W" segments for this very film.
  • Shortcut to Happiness opens with an extract from Jabez Stone's novel, alternating between his typing and the secene being acted out. (It's possible the title of the novel may be ''Shortcut to Happiness'', but this is never conclusively established.)
  • One Cut of the Dead: The first act has a film production crew making a zombie movie get attacked by actual zombies while the realism-obsessed director tries to film it all. The whole thing is shot in one continuous take. Then it turns out that this whole act was itself a film recorded and transmitted live as a television stunt. The rest of the film flashes back to show how the film was conceived and shot, revealing that many of its stranger elements were the results of improvisations due to various unexpected calamities.
  • Snuff Movie has Premature Burial, Boris Arkadin's classic horror film that was supposedly the inspiration for the murder of Mary Arkadin.
  • White Hunter, Black Heart is nominally about the shooting of a film called The African Trader (a lightly fictionalized version of The African Queen) in Africa in the early 1950s. Viewers familiar with The African Queen will recognise some equivalent scenes being shot in this film.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: When Thor arrives in Asgard, he stumbles upon the performance of a play about Loki's death in Thor: The Dark World, called The Tragedy of Loki of Asgard, which Loki (disguised as Odin) wrote to make himself look like a hero.
  • Apparitional: The main characters work on a ghost hunting show called "Ghost Sightings".
  • Stay Tuned is ripe with these, seeing as it sends the two main characters, Roy and Helen Knable, through Hell in the shape of a satellite TV broadcaster with 666 channels. Not only are trailers shown for films such as Driving Over Miss Daisy or Three Men and Rosemary's Baby, but the characters themselves end up in a string of TV and movie parodies, sometimes in genre like the Chuck Jones-made cartoon, sometimes spoofing specific productions such as Duane's Underworld which is Wayne's World WITH TWO SATANIST ZOMBIES AS THE HOSTS!
  • David from The King of Marvin Gardens is the host of a late-night radio talk show called Etcetera, which seems to consist mostly of made-up stories about his past.
  • Eternals: There's an extended dance sequence on the set of a Bollywood movie Kingo is producing and starring in, Shandar Dastan-e-Ikaris (Legend of Ikaris). It is the third of a trilogy of movies and one of dozens of films Kingo has appeared in while pretending to be a whole family of actors.
  • Bostock's Cup is largely made up of footage from an in-universe documentary which followed fictional football team Bostock Stanley's unlikely FA Cup victory in 1974, with the film going back and forth between the documentary footage and a reunion dinner involving the documentary's host and the Bostock players and coaching staff in 1999.

    Characters are fans 
  • Destroyer (1988): Ivan Moser is a fan of Wheels * Deals, a Wheel of Fortune Expy, as he wishes to watch it even after having been strapped into the electric chair.
  • 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.
  • Detention has the franchise Cinderhella, a Saw Expy focused on a woman torturing teenagers on prom night. Ione, Clapton, Riley and Taylor are shown to like the movie, but then a killer appears murdering students using a Cinderhella mask.
    • The trope is then exaggerated and played for laughs halfway through the movie, when the characters are all stuck in Detention, they realize that by watching Cinderhella 3, they might be one step ahead of the killer, so they download it and watch it, the movie has the students stuck in detention having the same idea: by watching Slashing Beauty 4, they can get ahead of Cinderhella, and then again, there is a group of students stuck on detention, which also parodies Dawson Casting, who decides to watch Beauty Beast 5, who turns out to be a poorly done porno. We then have a Show within a Show within a Show within a Show.
  • Home Alone has the gangster movies Angels with Filthy Souls and Angels with Even Filthier Souls. (While the titles parody Angels with Dirty Faces, the scenes that Kevin watches does not.)
    • Amusingly, Angels with Filthy Souls was actually reused for another film, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, years later, making it a show within a show for two films in completely different universes.
  • 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. (Not to be confused with The Starcrossed, a nominally SF satirical novel by Ben Bova about the making of The Starcrossed, a stand-in for the notorious series The Starlost.)
  • In Hairspray, Tracy and Penny are huge fans of the Corny Collins Show, a regional American Bandstand-type show. 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
  • C.S.A.: 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.
  • A major subplot in The Gamers: Hands of Fate is Gary coming to terms with the cancellation of his favorite show, Ninja Dragon Riders.
  • Both sequels to The Human Centipede treat the preceding movie this way. The second film's Villain Protagonist is obsessed with the first movie, to the point where he kidnaps people to make his own Human Centipede. The third film's own Villain Protagonist, a prison warden, was initially disgusted by the first two movies, but when his assistant gets an idea inspired by them, he realizes that turning the inmates of his prison into a Human Centipede as a deterrent isn't a bad idea. He even gets permission from Tom Six himself to bring the Centipede to life.
  • Cee from Prospect is fan of "The Streamer Girl" novel. She lost her copy of the book but had read it so many times that she was able to write the storyline into her own journal.

    Show is a 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.
    • Nation's Pride is also included as Bonus Material on the DVD, directed by Eli Roth, one of the actors in the movie.
  • 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).
  • German director Sönke Wortmann exaggerated this 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.
  • In Enchanted, Edward and Nathaniel channel surf and briefly watch a soap opera. Some of the female lead's lines cause Nathaniel to realize the woman he's pining for doesn't care about him and is just using him.
  • In the horror film found., Headless is a slasher film that Steve is obsessed with and serves as a partial inspiration for his killings. In a bit of defictionalization, Headless was later made into a real film.
  • The Kid & I is centered around the production of "Two Spies," a billionaire's Spiritual Sequel to True Lies.
  • Goosebumps (2015) is based on the real life book series of the same name. However, in the movie, the books are fictional, despite the fact that they predated the movie, making for a rather odd variant of this trope.
  • The Thai horror film Coming Soon had a film-within-a-film called "Evil Spirit" as a major plot point. "Evil Spirit" is about a village woman named Shomba who gets hung after she's discovered to have been kidnapping children. Coming Soon's main character, Chen, discovers that "Evil Spirit" is a cursed film when his friend Peoll mysteriously disappears after trying to record the film in the theater.
  • The 1988 horror film Remote Control is about the fictional 1950s sci-fi B-movie of the same name that brainwashes everyone who watches it into becoming murderers. Interestingly, the B-movie itself features a futuristic pseudo-tape called "Remote Control" that has the same effect on people, though we don't get to see that one. And in the actual film we discover that the "Remote Control" tape itself was actually made by aliens, so the whole film is a sort of homage to the sci-fi films of old. It's all very meta.
  • Shredder Orpheus has Hades and Persephone run a TV broadcasting network in the Underworld, with the most popular show being Praise The Ray. The plot kicks off when Hades' goons murder Eurydice to get fresh talent for the network, and Orpheus's attempts to retrieve her are done as special programming segments in-universe.

    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.
  • The finale of Monte Carlo features a Catch the Conscience opera performance of Monsieur Beaucaire, where the events onstage parallel the heroine's life a little too closely for her comfort: just like the main character of the opera, she's a noblewoman who's fallen in love with her hairdresser.
  • 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.
  • Logan involves actual real-life X-Men Comics, based on the "real" X-Men in the X-Men movie series. The comics themselves inspired a location to be built by other characters in the movie.
  • Ultraman Gaia: The Battle In Hyperspace detracts from the more conventional storylines featured more typically in the Ultra Series, being a Real World Episode set in our reality instead of the fictional world where Ultramen exists. Gamu Takayama, the human host of Ultraman Gaia, ends up in our world through a wish-granting alien artifact, and is surprised to learn that the show he stars in is actually made-up after seeing a toy shop selling merchandise of himself.
  • Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! opens with an ice skater and her coach being attacked by zombies in what looks like the start of the movie, but actually turns out to be a zombie film Jenna is watching before Chris sends her to bed.

  • Monster! (1999) is an interesting example that fits multiple of the above "categories". The "Monster Films" are an in-universe series of B Movies about a man-eating alien that terrorizes a small American town, which were written by New Purgatory resident (and secondary protagonist) Lloyd Reeves, who also played the heroic protagonist in each film. The films are popular enough that New Purgatory hosts a film festival dedicated to them every three years... and when it does so, the Monster from those films appears in reality and goes on the rampage. This rampage plays out almost identically to one of the Monster films, as the Monster is a Reality Warper whose presence enforces the rules of B-Movies on New Purgatory and its residents. Only Lloyd and his grandson Travis, who as Town Heroes are exempt from this mental influence, are able to fight the Monster and keep it from destroying the town, which requires them to deliberately recall facts and elements established in the in-universe films.
  • Nope: The in-universe sitcom Gordy's Home fits both the "characters are involved in production" category and the "show is a plot point" category. The show itself is about chimp that lives with an astronaut and her suburban family, and Former Child Star Ricky "Jupe" Park was an actor in it. However, Gordy ended up going on a rampage after being agitated, killing two of the actors and horrifically maiming another, before getting shot in front of Ricky's eyes. In the present day, Ricky ends up repeating the same mistakes by assuming he can easily tame the alien Jean Jacket and use it as part of a live show — an assumption that gets him, his family, and a lot of other people killed.
  • Prospect: Cee is a big fan of "The Streamer Girl" young adult novel. She lost her copy of the book but had read it so many times that she was able to write the storyline into her own journal.