The film premiered at the Denver Film Festival on October 14, 2004, and was released theatrically in the United States the following day on October 15, 2004 by Paramount Pictures. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and grossed over $52.1 million worldwide against its $32 million budget.
Team America, a paramilitary antiterrorism force, eliminates a gang of terrorists in Paris, destroying the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre in the process. The team comprises Lisa, a young psychologist; Carson, her love interest; Sarah, a psychic; Joe, a jock who is in love with Sarah; and Chris, a martial arts expert who harbors a deep hatred of actors. Carson proposes to Lisa, but a surviving terrorist shoots him dead.
Team America leader Spottswoode brings Broadway actor Gary Johnston to Team America's base in Mount Rushmore and asks him to use his acting skills to infiltrate a terrorist cell. Unbeknownst to the team, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is supplying international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Gary infiltrates a terrorist group in Cairo, Egypt, and the team kills the terrorists. However, the city is left in ruins, drawing criticism from the Film Actors Guild, a union of liberal Hollywood actors led by Alec Baldwin.
At the base, Gary tells Lisa that, as a child, his acting talent caused his brother to be killed by gorillas. While the two grow close and have sex, terrorists blow up the Panama Canal as retaliation for Cairo, which the Film Actors Guild blames on Team America. Gary, feeling his acting talents have again resulted in tragedy, leaves Team America. The remaining members depart for the Middle East, but are captured by North Korean forces. In North Korea, Kim invites the Film Actors Guild and world leaders to a peace ceremony, planning to detonate a series of bombs while they are distracted.
Succumbing to depression, Gary is reminded of his responsibility by a speech from a drunken drifter. Returning to the team's base, he finds Spottswoode has survived a suicide bomb attack by Michael Moore. After regaining Spottswoode's trust by giving him a blowjob and undergoing one-day training, Gary goes to North Korea, where he uses his acting skills to infiltrate the base and free the team. They engage in a fight with the Film Actors Guild in which most of the actors are killed.
After Gary uses his acting skills to save Chris's life, Chris confesses to Gary that he hates actors because when he was 19 years old, he was raped by the cast of the musical Cats. Gary goes on stage and convinces the world's leaders to unite using the drifter's speech. Kim kills Baldwin and is kicked over a balcony by Lisa. He is impaled on a Pickelhaube and is revealed to be an alien cockroach, which flees in a spaceship, promising to return. As Gary and Lisa begin a relationship, the team reunites, preparing to combat the world's terrorists.Trey Parker as Gary Johnston / Joe Smith / Carson / Kim Jong-il / Hans Blix / Matt Damon / Tim Robbins / Sean Penn / Michael Moore / Helen Hunt / Susan Sarandon / Drunk in Bar / Additional voices
Matt Stone as Chris Roth / George Clooney / Danny Glover / Ethan Hawke / Additional voices
Kristen Miller as Lisa Jones
Masasa Moyo as Sarah Wong
Daran Norris as Spottswoode
Phil Hendrie as I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. / Chechen terrorist
Maurice LaMarche as Alec Baldwin
Chelsea Marguerite as French mother
Jeremy Shada as Jean Francois
Fred Tatasciore as Samuel L. Jackson
Scott Land, Tony Urbano, and Greg Ballora as Lead puppeteers
The film also features a man dressed as a giant statue of Kim Il-sung, two live cats, two nurse sharks, and a cockroach, with the difference in size with the marionettes played for humorous effect. A poster of The Barbi Twins was featured on the billboard in Times Square, making the Twins the only non-marionettes in the film.
After the "hassle" of producing their first film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Parker and Stone vowed never to create another movie. The film's earliest origins involve Parker and Stone watching Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds on television while bored. When the duo saw the series, they recalled seeing it on television but were not fans. Parker found that the series was unable to hold his interest as a child because "the dialogue was so expository and slow, and it took itself really seriously." The duo inquired about the rights to the series and found Universal Studios was doing a Thunderbirds film directed by Jonathan Frakes. "We said, 'What? Jonathan Frakes is directing puppets?' and then we found out it was a live-action version, and we were disappointed," said Parker. The two then read that The Day After Tomorrow had been sold to Fox due to a one-line pitch regarding global warming, which Parker and Stone found hilarious and "insane." Parker recalled Stone running up to him during work at South Park holding the paper, who sat down and read the synopsis regarding "sudden global warming attacking the earth." The two were in tears from laughing. The two got a copy of the script, and soon realized that The Day After Tomorrow was the "greatest puppet script ever written". Originally intending to do a shot-for-shot puppet parody of The Day After Tomorrow, Parker and Stone were advised by their lawyers that there could be possible legal repercussions. The spoof would have been called The Day After the Day After Tomorrow, and been released a day later than The Day After Tomorrow. News broke of the duo signing on to create the film on October 17, 2002, with Stone revealing that it would be a homage to Anderson. The news was confirmed in June 2003, with Variety quoting Stone as saying "What we wanted was to do a send-up of these super important huge action movies that Jerry Bruckheimer makes."
When the duo pitched Team America to Paramount Pictures, the studio believed the film would not be a financial success. The two pitched the film to their producer Scott Rudin first, who immediately "got" and understood the project, and eventually convinced Paramount to give the project the green light. Studio executives were initially unenthusiastic about the project, but were won over when they saw the dailies being shown. The studio was in favor of the film's lack of political correctness, but were confused by the use of puppets. The executives explained that they could not make profit from an R-rated puppet feature, and Parker countered that they had said the same thing regarding an R-rated animated musical (in reference to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut). Parker, Stone, and longtime writing partner Pam Brady spent nearly two years perfecting the Team America script. For influences, they studied scores of popular action and disaster films, such as Alien, Top Gun, and S.W.A.T. The duo watched Pearl Harbor to get the nuances of the puppets just right when they were staring at each other, and also used Ben Affleck as a model. To help shape the film's archetypal heroes (from the true believer to the reluctant hero to the guy who sells out his friends for greater glory), they read the books of Joseph Campbell. "On one level, it's a big send-up," Brady said. "But on another, it's about foreign policy." The first draft of the script was turned in well before the Iraq War. The film takes aim at various celebrities, many of whom came out in opposition to the Iraq War in 2003. Brady explained that the film's treatment of celebrities was derived from her annoyance at the screen time given to celebrities in the beginning of the Iraq War, in lieu of foreign policy experts.
The film's central concept was easier to conceive than to execute. Team America was produced using a crew of about 200 people, which sometimes required four people at a time to manipulate a marionette. The duo were forced to constantly rewrite the film during production due to the limited nature of the puppets. The 270 puppet characters were created by the Chiodo Brothers, who previously designed puppets for films such as Elf and Dinosaur. The costumers of the crew were responsible for making sure the over 1,000 costumes remained in cohesive order and were realistic.
Production began on May 23, 2004. The project was interrupted multiple times early on in production. As soon as filming began, Parker and Stone labored to find the right comic tone; the original script for the film contained many more jokes. After shooting the very first scene, the two realized the jokes were not working, and that the humor instead came from the marionettes. "Puppets doing jokes is not funny," Stone found. "But when you see puppets doing melodrama, spitting up blood and talking about how they were raped as children, that's funny." Filming was done by three units shooting different parts at the same time. Occasionally, the producers had up to five cameras set up to capture the scene. The film was mainly based on the 1982 cult classic action film Megaforce, of which Parker and Stone had been fans. Many ideas had been copied such as the flying motorcycle sequence.
The film was painstakingly made realistic, which led to various shots being re-done throughout the process due to Parker and Stone's obsession with detail and craftsmanship. For example, a tiny Uzi cost $1,000 to construct, and Kim Jong-il's eyeglasses were made with hand-ground prescription lenses. Although the filmmakers hired three dozen marionette operators, simple performances from the marionettes were nearly impossible; a simple shot such as a character drinking might take a half-day to complete successfully. Parker and Stone agreed during production of Team America that it was "the hardest thing [they'd] ever done."
Rather than rely on computer-generated special effects added in post-production, the filmmakers vied to capture every stunt live on film. Parker likened each shot to a complicated math problem. The late September 2004 deadline for the film's completion took a toll on both filmmakers, as did various difficulties in working with puppets, with Stone, who described the film as "the worst time of [my] life," resorting to coffee to work 20-hour days, and sleeping pills to go to bed. The film was barely completed in time for its October 15 release date. At a press junket in Los Angeles on October 5, journalists were only shown a 20-minute reel of highlights because there was no finished print. Many of the film's producers had not seen the entire film with the sound mix until the premiere.
The filmmakers fought with the Motion Picture Association of America, who returned the film over nine times with an NC-17 rating. The film was recut by a few seconds and rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets.
Even before the scene's submission to the Motion Picture Association of America, Parker planned to "have fun" pushing the limits by throwing in the graphic sex scene. The duo knew the racy film would be met with some opposition, but were outraged when the film came back with their harshest rating, NC-17. The original cut's minute and a half sex scene with Gary and Lisa was cut down to 50 seconds. The original scene also featured the two puppets urinating and defecating on one another. The scene was based on what children do humorously with dolls such as Ken and Barbie. At least nine edits of the puppet love scene were shown to the MPAA before the board accepted that it had been toned down enough to qualify for an R rating. Parker contrasted the MPAA's reluctance for the sex scene to their acceptance of the violence: "Meanwhile, we're taking other puppets and, you know, blowing their heads off, they're covered with blood and stuff, and the MPAA didn't have a word to say about that." In addition to the sex scene, the MPAA were also upset with a puppet being eaten alive by sharks. The pair had faced a similar conflict with their previous film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, in 1999.
The film’s score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. The soundtrack also contains “Magic Carpet Ride” performed by Steppenwolf, “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” performed by Tomoyasu Hotei, “Forbidden Bitter-Melon Dance” performed by Jeff Faustman, “Bu Dunyada Askindan Olmek” performed by Kubat and songs by Trey Parker including “Everyone Has AIDS”, “Freedom Isn't Free”, “America, Fuck Yeah”, “America, Fuck Yeah (Bummer Remix)”, “Derka Derk (Terrorist Theme)”, “Only a Woman”, “I'm So Ronery”, “The End of an Act”, “Montage” and “North Korean Melody”.
Famous people depicted as puppets, and lampooned, in the film include Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Helen Hunt, George Clooney, Liv Tyler, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Janeane Garofalo, Matt Damon, Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover, Ethan Hawke, Kim Jong-il, Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II, Peter Jennings and Hans Blix. With the exception of Jennings, Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth (and Sheen, whose death is not shown despite being involved in the F.A.G. vs. Team America battle), all are killed in dramatic and extremely violent ways.
Reactions from those parodied were mixed; Baldwin found the project "so funny", and expressed interest in lending his voice to his character. In a 2008 video interview with Time, Baldwin related how his daughter's classmates would recite Kim Jong-il's line to him, "You are useress to me, Arec Bardwin. [sic]" Sean Penn, who is portrayed making outlandish claims about how happy and utopian Iraq was before Team America showed up, sent Parker and Stone an angry letter inviting them to tour Iraq with him, ending with the words "fuck you". Both George Clooney and Matt Damon are said to be friends with Stone and Parker, and Clooney has stated that he would have been insulted had he not been included in the film. More recently, Matt Damon expressed confusion about the depiction, "I was always bewildered by that, and I never talked to Trey and Matt about that. And Incidentally, I believe those two are geniuses, and I don't use that word lightly. I think they are absolute geniuses, and what they've done is awesome and I'm a big fan of theirs, but I never quite understood that one."
Kim Jong-il, a noted film buff, never commented publicly about his depiction in Team America: World Police, although shortly after its release North Korea asked the Czech Republic to ban the film; the country refused saying that North Koreans had been rebuffed in their effort to undermine the Czech Republic's post-Communist-era freedom. The filmmakers acknowledged this in a DVD extra and jokingly suggested he sing "I'm So Ronery". Moore is depicted as a fat, hot dog-eating glutton who partakes in suicide bombing and is referred to as a "giant socialist weasel" by I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. Stone explained the reason for this portrayal in an MSNBC interview:
We have a very specific beef with Michael Moore. . . . I did an interview, and he didn't mischaracterize me or anything I said in Bowling for Columbine. But what he did do was put this cartoon [titled A Brief History of the United States of America, written by Moore, animated and directed by Harold Moss] right after me that made it look like we did that cartoon.
A deleted scene also shows Meryl Streep and Ben Affleck (who is portrayed with a real-life hand replacing his head).
The world premiere of Team America: World Police took place on October 11, 2004 in Hollywood, California. The United States premiere was on October 14, 2004 at the Denver Film Festival. Paramount Pictures released the film in the United States on October 15, 2004.
The film was released on DVD and VHS in the United States on May 17, 2005 by Paramount Home Entertainment, available in both R-rated and unrated versions. The film was released on Blu-ray on October 13, 2015 in the United States.
Team America: World Police has received mostly positive reviews from critics. Based on 194 reviews, the film received a 77% approval rating at review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus states, "Team America will either offend you or leave you in stitches. It'll probably do both." The film also holds a rating of 64 out of 100 at Metacritic based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson was supposed to have met Parker before production, but they cancelled the meeting, acknowledging he would not like the film's expletives. Anderson saw the completed film and felt "there are good, fun parts [in the film] but the language wasn't to my liking." National Review Online has named the film #24 in its list of "The Best Conservative Movies". Brian C. Anderson wrote, "the film's utter disgust with air-headed, left-wing celebrity activism remains unmatched in popular culture." However, political and social commentator Andrew Sullivan considers the film brilliant in its skewering of both the left and right's approach on terrorism. Sullivan (a fan of Stone and Parker's other work, as well) popularized the term "South Park Republican" to describe himself and other like-minded fiscal conservatives/social libertarians. Parker himself is a registered Libertarian. In August, Internet news aggregator Matt Drudge blasted Paramount and the filmmakers for trying to "mock the terror war." A week later, the conservative group Move America Forward criticized the film, saying it was "inconceivable" that filmmakers would have spoofed the Nazis during World War II. In reality, many films mocking the Nazis were produced during the war, including Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which was nominated for five Academy Awards. Before Team America was released, statements were released by a "senior Bush administration official" condemning the film. Upon receiving the news, the duo called and found it was instead a "junior staffer," causing Stone to quip "What is it – junior or senior? What are we talking about here? Who knows? It might have been the janitor." The two eventually decided it was free publicity, with which they were fine. Some media outlets interpreted the film's release on October 15 to be in theaters before the November elections. In reality, the release date had nothing to do with the elections; in fact, the film was intended to be released earlier, but production fell behind. Director Quentin Tarantino counted Team America: World Police in his list of top 20 films released since 1992, when his career as a filmmaker began.
Team America earned $12,120,358 in its opening U.S. weekend, ranking number three behind Shark Tale and Friday Night Lights. The film eventually grossed a total of $52,107,422, with $32,886,074 in U.S. domestic receipts and $18,221,348 in international proceeds.
In an interview with Matt Stone following the film's release, Anwar Brett of the BBC asked the following question. "For all the targets you choose to take pot-shots at," he asked, "George W. Bush isn't one of them. How come?" Matt Stone replied, "If you want to see Bush-bashing in America you only have to walk about 10 feet to find it. Trey and I are always attracted to what other people aren't doing. Frankly that wasn't the movie we wanted to make." In another interview, Parker and Stone further clarified the end of the film which seems to justify the role of the United States as the "World Police."
Because that's the thing that we realized when we were making the movie. It was always the hardest thing. We wanted to deal with this emotion of being hated as an American. That was the thing that was intriguing to us, and having Gary the main character deal with that emotion. And so, him becoming ashamed to be a part of Team America and being ashamed of himself, he comes to realize that, just as he got his brother killed by gorillas — he didn't kill his brother; he wasn't a dick, he wasn't an asshole — so too does America have this role in the world as a dick. Cops are dicks, you fucking hate cops, but you need 'em.
The film's soundtrack was released on October 19, 2004 and on CD on January 10, 2005 by Atlantic Records.
In the aftermath of the December 2014 terrorism threats by Guardians of Peace on showings of the film The Interview, which resulted in Sony Pictures pulling the film from release, several theatres, including Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, protested the loss by scheduling free showings of Team America: World Police. However, Paramount pulled distribution of Team America from theaters, including those in Cleveland, Atlanta, and New Orleans. This action was seen by President Barack Obama as an attack on freedom of speech by Hollywood studios, and others as an act of pure cowardice. In the aftermath, sales of the film on Amazon skyrocketed until copies were sold out in December 2014. Snippets of the film mocking Kim Jong-il are reportedly set to be included, alongside copies of The Interview, in helium-filled balloons launched by North Korean defectors into their home country in an effort to inspire education on the Western world's views on it.