The Kentucky Fried Movie is a 1977 independently made American anthology comedy film, produced by Kim Jorgensen, Larry Kostroff, and Robert K. Weiss and directed by John Landis. Among the numerous star cameos are George Lazenby, Bill Bixby, Henry Gibson, Barry Dennen, Donald Sutherland, Tony Dow, Stephen Bishop, and the voice of Shadoe Stevens. According to David Zucker on the DVD commentary track, David Letterman auditioned for the role of the newscaster but was not selected. The film also features many former members of The Groundlings and The Second City. The "feature presentation" portion of the film stars Evan C. Kim and hapkido Grand Master Bong Soo Han. The Kentucky Fried Movie marked the first film appearances of a number of actors who later became famous, as well as being the vehicle that launched the careers of the Zucker brothers, Abrahams, and Landis.
Landis' work on the film was responsible for his being recommended to direct National Lampoon's Animal House in 1978.
The film's writers were the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, who subsequently wrote and directed Airplane!, Top Secret!, and the Police Squad! television series and its film spin-offs, The Naked Gun films.
The Kentucky Fried Movie contains largely unconnected sketches that parody various film genres, including exploitation films. The film's longest segment spoofs early kung-fu films, specifically Enter the Dragon; its title, A Fistful of Yen, refers to A Fistful of Dollars. Parodies of disaster films (That's Armageddon), blaxploitation films (Cleopatra Schwartz) and softcore porn/women-in-prison films (Catholic High School Girls in Trouble) are presented as "Coming Attraction" trailers. The fictional films are said to have been produced by "Samuel L. Bronkowitz" (a conflation of Samuel Bronston and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, but also a spoof of B-movie producer and American International Pictures co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff). The sketch See You Next Wednesday mocks theater-based gimmicks like Sensurround by depicting a dramatic film presented in "Feel-a-Round", which involves an usher physically accosting a theater patron. Other sketches spoof TV commercials and programs, news broadcasts, and classroom educational films. The city of Detroit and its high crime rate are a running gag portraying the city as Hell on Earth; in "A Fistful of Yen", the evil drug lord orders a captured CIA agent to be sent to Detroit, and the agent screams and begs to be killed instead.
The film is number 87 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies," and is considered, along with The Groove Tube, to be one of the groundbreaking films of the entire spoof and mockumentary genres of film making.
The film's credits listed the sketches incorrectly, as the writers changed the show order after the credits had been written. On second cut, they corrected this error. The following list is in the running order used in the film:
David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams made the rounds of the Hollywood studios with the concept for Kentucky Fried Movie and were rejected by all of them, being told that "audiences didn't like movies composed of sketches." Since the three believed in their material, which they had honed in front of the audiences with their improvisational troupe "Kentucky Fried Theater", they decided to make the movie on their own.
A wealthy real estate investor offered to finance the film if they would write a script. After completion of the screenplay, the investor had second thoughts and decided he did not want to finance the film alone. He said he would try to attract other investors if the three filmmakers would produce a ten-minute excerpt of the film, which he would finance. When the trio presented a budget of the short film to the investor, he backed out.
The prospect of shooting the short film so excited the trio that they decided to pay for it themselves. The ten-minute film cost $35,000, and with it they again approached the Hollywood studios. This time they attached young director John Landis to the project. However, once again, the studios turned them down.
Curious as to how audiences would react to their film, they persuaded exhibitor Kim Jorgenson to show it before one of his regularly scheduled films. When Jorgenson saw the short, he "fell out of his seat laughing." He was so impressed that he offered to raise the money needed to make the full-length version. By having his fellow exhibitors screen the film before audiences in their theaters, he convinced them to put up the $650,000 budget. When released, Kentucky Fried Movie was a box-office success, returning domestic American rentals of $7.1 million.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the DVD in the U.S. in 2000. This release is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio and full-frame (1.33:1). It includes commentary by John Landis; writers Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams; and producer Robert K. Weiss.
On July 4, 2011, Arrow Video in the United Kingdom released a two-disc special edition DVD with the following special features:Feature presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and full-frame 1.33:1
Original mono audio
The audio recollections of director John Landis; writers Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams; and producer Robert K. Weiss
A conversation with David and Jerry Zucker: A feature length interview with the co-creators of The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and The Naked Gun about their lives and career, from growing up and starting out in show business to their comedy influences and spoofing Midnight Cowboy
Jerry Zucker's on-set home video shot during the making of the movie
Behind-the-scenes photo gallery
Four-panel reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
Collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on director John Landis by critic and author Calum Waddell
On July 2, 2013, Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 aspect widescreen transfer. This version includes the original theatrical trailer and the Arrow DVD release filmmaker commentary and Zucker brothers interview.
The film received favorable reviews. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 80% based on 30 reviews.
At the time, Variety described the film as having "excellent production values and some genuine wit" but also noted that film was juvenile and tasteless.
Writing three decades later in 2008, Ian Nathan of Empire Magazine calls the film "occasionally funny" ... "in a scattershot and puerile way", and he concludes the film is "smart and satirical but very dated". J.C. Maçek III of PopMatters wrote "The Kentucky Fried Movie is, however, profane, experimental, violent, silly, hilarious and occasionally quite sexually explicit (all of which surely helped its success over the years)."