They say to write what you know, so it is no great shock that countless films depict the act of filmmaking within them. Films such as Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ or Oliver Assayas’ Irma Vep are examples of meta cinema – they depict filmmakers and actors working on a movie, challenging the type of cinema that encourages the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
When it comes to watching these meta-movies, we know that the fictional film being made in front of us is not real, yet by the end of the picture, we often wish it was since we’ve been so involved in watching the creative process. It is a real challenge to watch a film such as Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night and not want to watch the finished film the characters set out to make, after all, we sit through multiple takes as they perfect their desired shots.
Directors often pay homage to genres that they don’t typically work within by placing short clips of fictional films within theirs. Often exaggerated and humorous, they regularly become a kind of an inside joke between the film and its fans, such as Home Alone‘s Angels With Filthy Souls spawning the catchphrase “ya filthy animal!”.
Compiled here are a list of films within films that we think could make great feature-length movies, some ridiculous, and some with the genuine potential to become box office hits.
10 movies within movies that deserve a full feature:
Meet Pamela – Day for Night (Francois Truffaut, 1973)
It is no surprise that one of the French New Wave’s most renowned directors, Francois Truffaut, made a whole film about the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Jean-Pierre Leaud. The film focuses on the creation of a fictional film called Meet Pamala, with Truffaut himself playing the director, Ferrand.
During the making of the melodrama, Ferrand encounters many problems, such as cast and crew affairs, break-ups, and even an on-set tragedy. Despite Meet Pamela appearing as a cliché melodrama, with an uneasy cast of characters, who could turn down a mindless romance featuring some of the 1970’s biggest stars?
The 14 Fists of McCluskey – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)
Quentin Tarantino’s star-studded comedy-drama Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading actor, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they face a changing industry, along with the threat of the Manson family looming over California. The characters intersect with the likes of Sharon Tate and Bruce Lee, making the film a glorious love letter to the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Rick Dalton stars in many films and television shows throughout, however, we would love to see a full feature of the ridiculous The 14 Fists of McCluskey, which is described as a World War Two action-adventure inspired by Roger Corman’s 1964 film The Secret Invasion. The film depicts Rick Dalton as a flame-throwing Nazi-hunter, who shouts “Did anyone order fried sauerkraut?!” as he sets them ablaze.
The Fiancés of Macdonald Bridge – Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962)
In the middle of Agnes Varda’s masterpiece Cleo from 5 to 7, protagonist Cleo visits her friend’s lover, a projectionist, who shows them both a silent film. The film is a silent short starring none other than Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina as we’ve never seen them before. Godard looks rather like a Buster Keaton type, and Karina sports a blonde wig and doll-like attire.
The Fiancés of Macdonald Bridge is a humorous short, despite portraying the death of Karina’s character, which alludes to the themes of Cleo from 5 to 7. However, Varda, a woman of many talents, demonstrates that she is more than capable of making a fun silent-era inspired flick. We would love to have seen Varda make a full-length silent film like this, simply because she could undoubtedly make something incredibly thought-provoking and potent under the guise of slapstick fun.
Brock Landers: Angels Live in my Town – Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film, Boogie Nights, launched the director into mainstream success, which depicted the Golden Age of Porn set in his beloved San Fernando Valley. Starring Mark Wahlberg as a dishwasher-turned-porn star Dirk Diggler, the film portrays the rise and fall of the adult entertainment star. Throughout the film, Diggler stars in countless productions, but one of the most intriguing is Brock Landers: Angels Live in My Town.
Boogie Nights shows us clips of Diggler and co-star Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) attempting rather poor martial arts and wielding guns, to a sleazy disco soundtrack. Directed by Burt Reynold’s Jack Horner, and William H. Macy’s Little Bill Thompson, the Brock Landers film series achieved its aim of becoming a pornographic film that kept viewers watching for the plot, even after they’d ejaculated. A full feature would be both outrageously stupid but also incredibly fun.
Les vampires – Irma Vep (Oliver Assayas, 1996)
Oliver Assayas employs Maggie Cheung to play herself in his film about filmmaking, Irma Vep. The title, an anagram of the word ‘vampire’ is also the name of Cheung’s character in the film that director Rene Vidal (played by the excellent Jean-Pierre Leaud) is determined to make – a remake of Louis Feuillade’s silent film serial Les Vampires.
Cheung wears a black latex catsuit as she carries out stunts such as jumping out of a window and performing in the pouring rain. Sonic Youth’s ‘Tunic (Song for Karen)’ soundtracks the latex-clad Cheung, creating a grungy dark atmosphere as the filming of Les Vampires is interrupted by obsession, theft, and a nervous breakdown. Although Rene’s finished reimagining of Les vampires is a total mess, the concept of a modern imaging of a silent classic with Maggie Cheung in the lead is something we’d love to see in a full feature format.
The Sylvia North Story – Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
David Lynch’s neo-noir surrealist masterpiece Mulholland Drive, starring Naomi Watts as Betty and Laura Harring as Rita, is all about the film industry. Betty, an aspiring actress, helps amnesiac Rita to discover her identity whilst auditioning in Hollywood. She delivers an astounding performance at her audition, which leaves everyone speechless. She is then taken to a soundstage where she sees director Adam Kesher auditioning different women for his film The Sylvia North Story.
We see performances of Linda Scott’s song ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ by an actress called Camilla Rhodes, as well as Connie Steven’s ‘Sixteen Reasons’. Both the set design and costumes are a gorgeous early 1960s style, all pastel and pink. A full feature containing these candy-coloured musical numbers would be a joy to watch, and perhaps easier to understand than the complex Mulholland Drive, which is infamously hard to understand, even after multiple viewings.
Action Doctor – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
Edgar Wright’s slacker action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World starring Michael Cera as the title character was based on a graphic novel series of the same name. However, Wright managed to make the story inexplicably his, using his trademark quick editing cuts and humour, which has led to the film gaining a cult following since its release in 2010. Wright showcases incredible attention to detail in every scene, and one of these is a short sequence in which we see a film playing on the TV.
This film, Action Doctor, stars Marvel star Chris Evans as a pro skateboarder and actor Lucas Lee. Not much is shown of the film, however, Wright manages to squeeze effortless humour in a very short shot of the film, which shows Evans in a phone box, dialling a number with the end of his gun. With hilarious intensity, Evans says “You listen close and you listen hard bucko!”.
The Dancing Cavalier – Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952)
One of the best-known films about the world of movies is none other than Singin’ in the Rain, the classic musical that documents three performers as they transition to the ‘talkies’ from silent film in the late 1920s. Since its release, the film has frequently been labelled the greatest musical film ever made. During the film, a studio executive R.F Simpson (Millard Mitchell) decides that their film The Dueling Cavalier must be a ‘talkie’ after the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the first-ever talking picture, released by Warner Bros.
Originally a disaster due to the actor’s inability to act with their voices, and poor microphone set up, the decision is made to turn the film into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier. The film is a huge success, despite events that reveal that Lina is not the real singer, but Kathy. Despite the disastrous preview of The Dueling Cavalier, a full version, without the technical difficulties, looks like an enjoyable period piece.
Stab – Scream franchise (Wes Craven, 1996)
Horror genius Wes Craven created one of the genre’s greatest franchises – Scream – back in 1996. The satirical slashers poke fun at the horror genre whilst also being genuinely really good, well – at least the first two. Scream follows student Sydney Prescott who receives calls from the mysterious Ghostface. A spree of murders wrecks havoc on the town of Woodsboro, resulting in an intense unmasking at the end of the film. However, the beginning of Scream 2 takes place in a movie theatre where a screening of Stab, based on the events of the first film, becomes the location of yet another Ghostface killing.
Scream 3 sees Ghostface killing the cast of Stab 3, and even 2022’s Scream is a commentary on cult-like movie fanbases, using the Stab franchise as an example. Although you could argue that if you’ve seen Scream, then you’ve seen Stab, the Stab franchise offers even cheesier fun, and features the likes of Heather Graham as Drew Barrymore’s character Casey Becker, and David Schwimmer as Dewey, which would be a fascinating watch, to say the least.
Angels with Filthy Souls – Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
Christmas classic Home Alone, written by the ’80s most well-known coming of age director John Hughes, will probably always remain one of the world’s most beloved festive flicks. The comedy follows child star Macauley Culkin as Kevin, who must fight off a duo of burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) after his family mistakenly leave him home alone whilst they go on a Christmas vacation to Paris. The film is memorable for a number of reasons, including the comical booby traps that Kevin fashions to deter the thieves.
However, a famous quote that spawned from the movie “ya filthy animal!” comes from the film within the film Angels with Filthy Souls that Kevin uses to trick the pizza boy and burglars. In the sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin finds a copy of Angels with Even Filthier Souls and uses that to escape his hotel room, mouthing along with the gangster “Merry Christmas ya filthy animal!” The film is a noir-era gangster film with extremely quotable dialogue, so it would no doubt find a huge audience.