Mockbusters

From Victor Steinbok, a pointer to yesterday’s NPR piece “The Straight-To-DVD World Of ‘Mockbusters’” by Mandalit del Barco. Mockbuster is a portmanteau of mock and blockbuster; these films are also known as knockbusters (knock-off / knockoff + blockbuster). From Wikipedia:

A mockbuster … is a film created with the apparent intention of piggy-backing on the publicity of a major film with a similar title or theme and is often made with a low budget. Often these films are created to be released direct-to-video at the same time as the mainstream film reaches theaters or video outlets.

More from Wikipedia:

Though it is possible to use properties of this sort to intentionally deceive consumers into mistakenly purchasing the derivative title (e.g., customer thinks he or she is buying Transformers, but is actually getting Transmorphers), another possible intention is to provide legitimate add-on buying opportunity in the marketplace (e.g., customer enjoyed Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost and wants more in the same sub-genre, and buys/rents C. Thomas Howell’s The Land That Time Forgot)…

Sound-alike titling: Often, but not always, a mockbuster will use a title with a similar-sounding name to the mainstream feature it intends to piggy-back upon. For instance, the 2006 mockbuster Snakes on a Train, written by Eric Forsberg, traded on the publicity surrounding the theatrically released Snakes on a Plane. The Asylum, a Hollywood, California based film studio known for creating several mockbusters, created Snakes on a Train, as well as Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, The Da Vinci Treasure, and most recently the Syfy-premiered film Battle of Los Angeles

History: Mockbusters have a long history in Hollywood and elsewhere. For example, the 1959 Vanwick film The Monster of Piedras Blancas was a clear derivative of Creature from the Black Lagoon, complete with a creature suit by the same designer, Jack Kevan. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman spawned Village of the Giants; The Blob generated The Green Slime; …

While mockbusters have a long history, there’s a question about when and in what circumstances the label mockbuster was coined. Here’s a 2007 use (in the NYT, “The New B Movie”, by Rolf Potts) with the word in quotation marks, suggesting that the writer supposed that many readers wouldn’t be familiar with the term:

… “Transmorphers” had its own kind of success, earning back its meager production costs in less than three months. Created by a company called the Asylum, “Transmorphers” was only the latest in a string of cheaply made straight-to-DVD “mockbusters.” In 2006, the Asylum released “The Da Vinci Treasure” and “Snakes on a Train” on DVD just as “The Da Vinci Code” and “Snakes on a Plane” were hitting theaters. Those films, Asylum says, turned a profit, too. At a time when digital cameras, computer editing and online video enable D.I.Y. auteurs to compete with B-movie studios, the Asylum has nonetheless become a self-sustaining success story.

There are surely earlier uses, but probably not as far back as the similar portmanteau mockumentary, which (unlike mockbuster) has made it into the OED. From Wikipedia:

A mockumentary (a portmanteau of the words mock and documentary), is a type of film or television show in which fictitious events are presented in documentary format. These productions are often used to analyze or comment on current events and issues by using a fictitious setting, or to parody the documentary form itself. They may be either comedic or dramatic in form, although comedic mockumentaries are more common. A dramatic mockumentary (sometimes referred to as docufiction) should not be confused with docudrama, a fictional genre in which dramatic techniques are combined with documentary elements to depict real events.

… The term “mockumentary” is thought to have been popularized in the mid-1980s when This Is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner used it in interviews to describe that film. It is not known with certainty when the term “mock-documentary” was first used, but the Oxford English Dictionary notes appearances of “mockumentary” from 1965.

(Note, once again, that the first use of an item and the uses that spread the item — make it popular — are two different things.)

You can find lists of the “best” and “lamest” mockbusters — the genre varies enormously in quality — on several sites, including here for nominations for the best and here for the lamest.

The Wikipedia entry on mockbusters notes that a great many of these films are produced for a foreign market, in languages other than English. And that porn films commonly have titles that pun on the titles of mainstream movies (and sometimes even reproduce aspects of the settings or plots of these movies); for some examples from gay porn, see my “Porn titles” posting, with links to earlier postings (here, here, and here).

 

3 Responses to “Mockbusters”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    An entertaining addendum: the 1995 (straight) porn flick Cockbuster Video Store, in Hungarian.

  2. Paul Bales Says:

    Arnold, I enjoyed your post. I am one of the principals at The Asylum and we like to give credit where it’s due (despite our business model): We believe that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post first coined the term “mockbuster” in a (less than flattering) feature about our films (July 26, 2006). Regardless, we have embraced the epithet. Thanks, Paul Bales, Partner, The Asylum (Home of the Mockbusters)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thanks for the lead. It turns out that Paul McFedries’s WordSpy site gives Lumenick’s piece as the earliest citation for the word:

      Where “Snakes on a Plane” stars Samuel L. Jackson as a U.S. marshal coping with venom at 20,000 feet, “Snakes on a Train” features the much lower-profile Alby Castro (who?) in a yarn about snakes unleashed by a “Mayan curse” aboard a Los Angeles-bound train from Mexico.
      “Snakes on a Train” is the seventh in a series of low-budget, direct-to-video “mockbusters” over the past year designed to ride the coattails of big-budget studio releases like “The War of the Worlds,” “King Kong” and “The Da Vinci Code.”
— Lou Lumenick, “Mockbusters,” The New York Post, July 26, 2006

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