We all love satirical films. If you look at your top 10 favorite films of all time, one of them is bound to be a satire. Satire is used in many films to show the outrageous elements in humans such as organizations or beliefs through the use of sarcasm, ridicule, and irony. 

Satire is so beloved by storytellers and audiences alike because of its ability to challenge viewpoints and raise people’s awareness about the current state of events through humor. While humor can make stories seem over-the-top and impossible, satire helps people confront the unpleasantness of reality. 

There are a few different forms satire can take in film. Oregon State University breaks down the three types of satire—Horatian, Juvenalian, and Menippean—and how they are used in modern media.

Check out the full video below: 

What is satire? 

While humor is a major part of satirical work, there is only one thing that is necessary: a target.

Author Phillip Roth defines satire as “...moral outrage transformed into comic art.” Satirical work mocks ridiculous social institutions, cultural norms, or belief systems. As long as there have been power structures, there have been literature, plays, and films critiquing them through humor. 

Satire started back in Ancient Rome and Greece. Most scholars point to the origins of satire in a collection of plays written by the Greek playwright, Aristophanes. His work used real people and situations of the era as the subjects of his plays and playfully mocked them through clever dialogue and action. From Aristophanes, many more writers adapted the literary element and popularized its use over time to critique without being so serious. 

Horatian satire

The most recognizable form of satire is Horatian. Named after the writer Horace, a writer famous for his humorous ribbing of Roman society, Horatian satire is overtly comedic, light in tone, and milder in how it critiques its target. 

Whether the story targets American imperialism through puppets like Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police or the fashion industry's exploitation of underpaid Malaysian labor in Zoolander, Horatian satire films can make audiences laugh while they think about the severity of the subject matter. 

A fantastic example of Horatian satire is Stanley Kubrick’sDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film tackles the dominant political issue of the era while lacing irony through the dialogue and set design. The men in the massive and extravagant War Room are oblivious to the power they have as they exaggeratedly discuss possible nuclear warfare. Dr. Strangelove is a gut-wrenching dark comedy that recognizes that “no fighting in the War Room,” is the punchline in the face of nuclear warfare. 

Satire_in_dr'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'Credit: Columbia Pictures


Instead of making the audience laugh, Juvenalian satire aims to make the audience angry. Named after Latin satirist Juvenal, a writer known for his abrasive and vicious rhetorical attacks on the Roman elites and power structure, Juvenalian is Horatian’s darker and more cynical brother. It can be funny, but Juvenalian is rooted in drama.

Fight Clubis a perfect example of Juvenalian satire as it critiques consumer culture and toxic masculinity. District 9and Elysiumboth deal with racial and economic inequalities. In District 9, a temporary holding zone for the aliens becomes militarized which then turns the holding zone into slums. It’s a common issue that happens in the real world but is a subject that is hard for everyday people to face. 

One of the most celebrated Juvernalian films as of recent is Bong Joon-Ho’sParasite. The film has jokes and puts the characters into funny and awkward moments, but the real satire of Parasite is the straight face depiction of the major gap between the rich and poor. There are moments of heavy irony like the ramen scene when Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) boils instant noodles and tops it off with expensive beef. The scene is a symbol of the collision of the rich and the poor in the film. Symbols like the ramen scene are repeated throughout the film to showcase how the elite family will never allow the Kim family to “fit into” their social class. It is the heart of Parasite, and it is why the film is heartbreaking and deeply troubling. 

Satire_in_parasite_'Parasite'Credit: CJ Entertainment


Little is known about the Greek writer, Menippus. All of his work has been lost to history. While we know little about the man, Menippean satire can range in various tones, but its line of attack is direct to a belief or moral attitude. That attitude can be racism, greed, sexism, or anything the filmmaker deems to be morally repugnant. 

Jojo Rabbit’s target is pretty clear from the start as a German cover of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” plays over Nazi propaganda films. Writer-director Taika Waititi adapted Jojo Rabbit from the novel Caging Skies, which is much darker and serious in tone than the film. Waititi added his own comic sensibilities to create a satirical world that is both tragic and hilarious. Waititi heightens the absurdity of fascism through his presentation of Hitler as a cartoon-like imaginary friend to young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis).

The irony is on full display at all times in Jojo Rabbit, and the unexpected color palette marks a less serious tone while the delusion of propaganda and violence grounds the film back into a dark reality. The wide range of tones in Jojo Rabbit brilliantly displays the range of Menippean satire. It is slapstick mixed with tragedy as it aims to show the dangers of a specific belief or moral attitude. 

Satire_in_jojo_rabbitJojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his imaginary friend, Hitler (Taika Waititi) in 'Jojo Rabbit'Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Satire can take any form it needs to to be effective. If you are planning to write a satirical screenplay, ask yourself what system or widely held belief needs changing. Once you’ve got that nailed down, what type of satire will help you achieve the goal of warning the audience that this belief or system needs to be changed? The dialogue, set designs, and costumes can be exaggerated so they become a symbol to the larger idea at play in your script. 

In the end, all that matters is that the moral message is told with clarity and a sprinkle of irony. If your screenplay has a clear target and strategy, then the final product will be all the better for it in the end. 

Now that you know the three different types of satire, what are some of your favorite satirical films? Share them with us in the comments below!