Originally scheduled for release on April 23, 2010, the film was instead released on May 21, 2010, grossing $9.3 million worldwide against a $10 million budget. The film has since been labeled a cult classic.
In eastern Siberia's Dzhugdzhur Mountains, Dieter Von Cunth and his men take control of the X-5 missile, which has a nuclear warhead. In Ecuador, Col. Jim Faith and Lt. Dixon Piper are searching for former Green Beret, Navy SEAL and Army Ranger MacGruber. The two men find him meditating in a chapel, and try to convince him to retrieve the warhead. MacGruber refuses; later that night, MacGruber explodes into a fit of rage after a flashback where Cunth killed his fiancée, Casey Fitzpatrick, at their wedding; he then accepts the offer.
After having a heated conversation with Faith and Piper at The Pentagon, MacGruber forms his own team to pursue Cunth. MacGruber recruits all but his long-time friend Vicki St. Elmo and Brick Hughes. MacGruber meets Faith and Piper on a tarmac, while his team is in a van with his homemade C-4 explosives. The van explodes, killing the team and MacGruber is removed from the case. MacGruber convinces Piper to form a new team, now including Vicki.
The group travels to Cunth's nightclub in Las Vegas. MacGruber gets on stage and announces who he is, his intentions, and where he will be the next day. The team sets up a sting operation with Vicki portraying MacGruber. Hoss Bender, one of Cunth's henchmen, attacks the van MacGruber and Piper are in, but MacGruber runs down Bender. With Vicki disguised as Bender and Piper disguised as MacGruber, the team breaks into a warehouse to stop Cunth from getting the passwords to operate the rocket. MacGruber distracts the guards and Piper kills most of the men, but is unable to stop the transfer of the pass codes. The team goes to a charity event Cunth is holding and Cunth's guards throw MacGruber out.
MacGruber returns to the Pentagon where Faith reprimands him and takes him off of the case. Soldiers attack and MacGruber uses Piper as a human shield to survive; Vicki and MacGruber escape. Piper survives since he was wearing a bulletproof vest, but leaves since MacGruber used him as protection. Vicki and MacGruber return to Vicki's house where the two have sex. MacGruber goes to his wife's grave in shame, but her ghost gives her blessing. MacGruber then has sex with the ghost of his wife on her tombstone.
Upon returning to Vicki's house, MacGruber discovers that Cunth has kidnapped her and what Cunth's plan is: to bomb the State of the Union address. Cunth calls MacGruber to gloat, but MacGruber traces the call. MacGruber and Piper make their way into Cunth's compound. Soldiers capture MacGruber and Piper and bring them to Vicki and the missile. The group overpowers Cunth and his men and MacGruber handcuffs Cunth to a handrail. MacGruber removes the nuclear component and guidance system before his team escapes as the missile explodes.
Six months later, MacGruber and Vicki are getting married. Also present at the wedding as ghosts are his dead team members. MacGruber spots a disfigured Cunth with an RPG. MacGruber saves Vicki, and battles Cunth before throwing him off a cliff behind the altar, shooting him with a machine gun and launching a grenade as he falls, incinerating the corpse, and finally urinating on it at the foot of the cliff.
MacGruber is based on a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live, a parody of the television series MacGyver. It was created by writer Jorma Taccone, who pitched the idea to cast member/writer Will Forte over a period of several weeks. Forte was initially reluctant to commit to the sketch, deeming it too dumb, but accepted after persuasion from Taccone. The first sketch aired in January 2007, and led to multiple more segments in the following years. In 2009, the sketches were spun off into a series of commercials sponsored by Pepsi premiering during Super Bowl XLIII that featured the actor behind MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson, as MacGruber's father. The advertisements led the character and sketches to receive a wider level of popularity.
Following the success of the advertisements, creator Lorne Michaels approached Forte, Taccone, and writer John Solomon with the idea to produce a MacGruber film, and they were at first skeptical. They began pitching ideas for a potential feature-length adaption, deciding first and foremost it would not be the sketch repeated for its entire runtime. The film's central conceit was to produce a real action film, with MacGruber as comic relief. It was inspired by their love of 1980s–90s action films, such as Lethal Weapon, Rambo, and Die Hard. To this end, it is considerably more deadpan in its parody, with most characters outside MacGruber designed "as serious as possible." The most difficult part of the writing process was to portray MacGruber—an "insanely flawed [and] narcissistic" individual—as a likable lead character.
The film was written while simultaneously producing a weekly episode of SNL, and the show's production process left the trio fully deprived of sleep. This led to sequences deemed "crazier," such as a scene involving celery. There was concern the film might receive an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, which could lead to certain commercial disappointment. The script was written in five weeks by Taccone and Forte, with a first draft coming in at 177 pages and lacking a third act. It was subsequently re-written under budgetary concerns, which mostly involved deleting scenes containing special effects. Forte praised the level of creative freedom afforded to the filmmakers, noting that even the more outrageous jokes were allowed to remain in the final film.
On the June 1, 2009 episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Forte announced that MacGruber had been greenlit and production was to begin on August 9, with Jimmy Fallon adding on the July 29 episode that it would be filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cameos by WWE wrestlers Chris Jericho, The Big Show, Mark Henry, Kane, MVP and The Great Khali and actor Derek Mears, were later confirmed.
Following a short six-week period of preparation, the film was shot between August 10 and September 13, 2009 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The film shoot employed a crew composed of local workers as a part of a tax credit. The quick film schedule of 28 days led to the filmmakers adjusting scenes to complete them on time, as the presence of automatic weapons on set would slow down the process. Keeping in line with their sources for parody, the filmmakers opted for cinematography emulating the style of blockbuster action films. This involved most prominently using smoke machines for interior areas, as they noticed similar scenes in Lethal Weapon inexplicably contain prominent smoke.
Prior to the film's release, MacGruber stirred controversy with Lee David Zlotoff, creator of the TV series MacGyver, whose contract stipulates he retains the right to a film version of the TV series. In 2010, his lawyer sent several cease-and-desist letters and met with litigators to determine a course of action. No suit was brought.
Pictures were leaked on the Internet on January 6, 2010. A two-minute red band trailer was released on January 19, 2010, and the next day, January 20, a green band trailer was released.
On April 19, 2010, Forte, Wiig, and Phillippe hosted WWE Raw from the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey in character to promote the film.
Phillippe guest hosted Saturday Night Live on April 17, 2010 and made reference to the film in his opening monologue.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 47% based on 132 reviews, with an average score of 5.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It too often mistakes shock value for real humor, but MacGruber is better than many SNL films – and better than it probably should be." On Metacritic, the film was given a score of 43 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter felt it was "utterly disposable but diverting." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the "unabashed affection" of Taccone's directorial style while commending Forte's performance as "contagious." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr deemed it "a lot better than it should be," while criticizing its "smugness" and abundance of toilet humor. In contrast, Andrew Schenker of Slate Magazine felt that "MacGruber's at its best when it's most vulgar, when its foul-mouthed and essentially insane hero is free to indulge in his signature bits of raunchy whimsy."
A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it "a film that poses a philosophical question fundamental to our inquiry here, namely: 'Why does this exist?'" Andrew Pulver of The Guardian was similarly negative, commenting, "Only the merest hint of amusement is to be found in this uninspired latest effusion from the conveyor belt that is Saturday Night Live." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum called it a "naughty throwaway in all senses of the word throwaway-90 minutes of talented performers doing and saying dumb, crude stuff in pursuit of an elusive laugh."
Chris Tilly of IGN UK gave it 3 out of 5 stars saying "When the film is funny, it's very funny." Jon Peters of KillerFilm gave it 3 out of 5 stars saying "It's consistently funny and it didn't need gray tape to do it. It's funny in the old Airplane! humor, mixed with a little Mel Brooks, type of way [...] But none of this would work, if it wasn't for Will Forte's brilliant blend of witless charm and dumb ass heroics."
The film has since been deemed a cult classic. "MacGruber is destined to become quoted in college dorms and midnight showings for years to come," wrote Elliott Smith of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shortly after its release. In reference to its relation to other SNL films, Scott Tobias wrote that MacGruber and the film Hot Rod "may be just as poorly received, but their rhythms are unpredictable and exciting, shocked to life by moments of anti-comedy and wacky deconstruction. Hardcore comedy devotees pick up on them like a dog whistle." Matt Singer, in a retrospective review for The Dissolve, deemed it a "cult favorite in the making," remarking, "MacGruber stands out by defying every rational commercial impulse. [...] Whatever your personal opinion of it, it’s hard to dispute that Taccone’s direction, Forte’s performance, a wildly unpredictable script, and a general go-for-broke attitude all make MacGruber unique."
The film grossed $1,569,025 on its opening day, and $4,043,945 for its opening weekend. The film earned a total of $8,460,995 by the end of its third weekend, against its $10 million production cost.
In July 2010, Parade listed the film #2 on its list of "Biggest Box Office Flops of 2010."
MacGruber realized a third-week drop of showings of 94%, from 2,546 to 177 theaters. The film was removed from theaters after the third week.
After an off-hand mention by Taccone in an interview in 2012, Forte dismissed rumors of a sequel, commenting, "We jokingly talk about the sequel all the time. But I don't think anybody in their right mind would give us any money for it." The following year, he told Entertainment Weekly that Taccone had mentioned creating a Kickstarter to financially support a sequel, saying, "We are going to make MacGruber 2 for sure. Whether we have to do it with a video camera in our backyards – there will be some form of MacGruber 2.” The film's writing team at one point convened to produce a loosely completed outline, but the trio have since been too busy to complete a script. In 2015, Forte said the team has a "realistic shot" at producing the film, and it is his second priority behind his sitcom, The Last Man on Earth.