Features and Columns · Movies

Farce and Fiction: What Makes a Great Movie Within a Movie

Why aren’t we calling movies within movies “cinemaception” though?
Tropic Thunder film within a film
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on April 28th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay celebrating the best meta-movies within movies.


You gotta admit, it’s always a treat when there’s a movie within a movie. After all, who doesn’t love a fake trailer?

Meta-movies tend to act as bite-sized Hollywood satire, a quick way to take potshots at genre conventions, aesthetics, and marketing techniques. A one-off gag is all well and good. But at their best, meta-movies can tell us a fair amount about the fictional world that they’re a part of.

To give an example: the fake teasers that precede 2008’s Tropic Thunder lampoon everything from awards-hopeful Oscar bait (“Satan’s Alley“) to overwrought action franchises (“Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown“), clearly establishing the satirical gait of the actual film to follow. These fake trailers also introduce us to our key players, a gaggle of actors whose in-universe film choices tell us what we need to know about their Hollywood status.

As the video essay below emphasizes, the best meta-movies are the ones that transcend mere throwaway genre satire and wriggle their way into the narrative itself. The essay makes a distinction between “fictional movies within movies” and “movies predominately about the making of fictional movies.” So don’t expect to see any appearances from Living in Oblivion‘s low-budget indie film or The Player‘s “Habeas Corpus” or the titular movie in Hail, Caesar!. Instead, you’ll find a thorough and delightfully celebratory breakdown of meta-movies that add a little spice to the films that they’re a part of. 

Watch “The Best Movies Within Movies“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by the New York-based Patrick (H) Willems. Willems has been making content on YouTube for the better part of a decade. You can find Willems’ own directorial efforts and their video essays on their channel here. You can also find Willems on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).