Screenshot: National Lampoon’s Animal House

Whenever you’re likely to come across a parade in film or television, you’re just as likely to come across a parade gone terribly, horribly wrong. These aren’t your garden variety float malfunctions, nor are they Ferris Bueller improving the Von Steuben Day Parade with a little Wayne Newton and The Beatles. These are the parades where things collapse, blow up, or catch on fire—for the purposes of comedy, drama, terror, or some combination of all three. They’ll make you question the intelligence level of the average marching band, and they’ll guarantee that you never trust a clown with a balloon again.


1. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

Anarchic to its final frame, Animal House sets the standard for cinematic parade disasters. Float collisions, a misdirected marching band, pancaked Kevin Bacon—the chaos of the campus comedy’s grand finale takes the cake, then wraps that cake around a tricked-out Lincoln Continental. The “Deathmobile” records no on-screen fatalities, but Faber College’s homecoming festivities are thoroughly disrupted and corrupted, as the recently expelled slobs of Delta Tau Chi spite the snobs who would keep them from throwing toga parties and murdering horses. The sequence was a major feat of traffic management for a still-wet-behind-the-ears John Landis, who captures the big-picture mayhem while making room for the Deltas’ individual tales of retribution and retaliation. In this cartoon come to life, revenge is a dish best served with 10,000 marbles. [Erik Adams]

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2. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Drop Dead Gorgeous is notable for a number of reasons, only one of which is some politically incorrect humor about developmental disability that has aged very poorly. This mockumentary (emphasis on mocking) about a small-town Minnesota beauty pageant gets bonus points for stocking its cast with a cavalcade of talent. Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley, Amy Adams, and a host of great character actors all turn in seriously committed performances in a movie with a bonkers spirit and relentlessly mean-spirited tone. One of the film’s darkest jokes comes from the parade celebrating newly crowned pageant queen Becky Ann Leeman (Denise Richards). Her mother (Alley) lights the sparklers meant to add that extra layer of pizzazz to her float, but ends up igniting the whole thing, sending Becky to the hereafter in a giant fireball. The charred remains of this parade’s showpiece really put the black in black humor. [Alex McCown]

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3. Batman (1989)

In Tim Burton’s first Batman film, Gotham City is preparing for its bicentennial, even as rumors abound of a giant bat menacing criminals and a deranged clown poisoning the city’s pharmaceuticals. So the long-suffering people of Gotham are understandably delighted when floats and giant Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-style balloons appear, accompanied by a brand-new Prince song. A crowd gathers, and don’t seem the least bit worried that at the head of the parade is… the deranged clown who poisoned the city’s pharmaceuticals. Any doubts paradegoers may have had are quickly erased by the Joker and his henchmen throwing fistfuls of cash into the crowd—and then just as quickly justified when the balloons turn out to be filled with poison gas. The whole thing ends up being a mere prelude to Batman’s climactic showdown with his archenemy, but it also serves as Burton’s take on the Batman mythos in a nutshell: equal parts silly and thrilling, and never quite what the people in the audience are expecting. [Mike Vago]

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4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Large, ceremonial gatherings during a Joker rampage are always a terrible idea—especially at the point in The Dark Knight when Joker has declared war on Gotham’s law-enforcement community. With one judge and one police commissioner dead, holding a police parade to Commissioner Loeb’s memorial service is just encouraging the clown prince of crime to wreak more havoc. But stalwart Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) decides, in the way of all foolish Gotham mayors, that his city needs a show of strength—and things go unsurprisingly to pieces when the Joker and some henchmen infiltrate the honor guard and use the 21-gun salute as cover for an assassination attempt. Luckily, Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon takes the bullet for the mayor (he gets better), and at least some of the Joker’s plan is thwarted. Or is it? Heath Ledger’s Joker scowls briefly in annoyance before disappearing into the panicked crowd, but he has some twisted contingency plans. And while it’s unclear whether his plot was destined to fail, it’s very clear that the Joker thrills to the chaos. [Dennis Perkins]

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5. Treme, “Shame, Shame, Shame” (2010)

Two steps forward and one step back is the order of the day in David Simon’s Treme, where the city of New Orleans is trying to pull itself back together after Hurricane Katrina. That degree of difficulty was underlined to a violent degree in the fifth episode of the series, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” A second line parade—inspired by the 2006 All-Star Second Line Parade—saw many of the characters uniting in hope that the city they loved was coming back, a recreation of New Orleans’ unique culture of music and community. But the dark side of that rebuilding effort quickly shatters the impression as gunshots ring out, leaving multiple bystanders physically wounded and sending characters like Creighton (John Goodman) and Davis (Steve Zahn) off to lick their metaphorical wounds. The tragedy of the scene is how its positive vibe is temporary at best: a few moments of joy amidst the mire, with an ugly reminder of just how much mire there still is to overcome. [Les Chappell]

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6. Enlisted, “Parade Duty” (2014)

Fox’s Enlisted always had a streak (or stripe, if you will) of Ivan Reitman-style humor running through it, so it didn’t come as a shock when an episode built on ceremony ended with a grand demonstration of chaos. And on top of that, it’s chaos that everyone spent the bulk of “Parade Duty” trying to prevent. Seacord’s annual parade has a history of mishaps, so Sergeant Major Cody (Keith David) and Sergeant Jill Perez (Angelique Cabral) opt to bribe the troublemaking Shifflet brothers with a centerpiece float for their family barbecue joint. Unfortunately, all this does is stir up their rivalry with another restaurant, and before long, slow-cooked resentment catches fire. Sandwiches go flying, the giant pig float catches fire with an audible squeal, and a vat of barbecue sauce winds up on Junior Miss Seacord in a hickory-smoked take on Carrie. By the end, the only bright side is that the state senator who was supposed to be appearing in the parade wasn’t there to witness the mess—if only because he smoked crack and wound up on stage with a Chuck E. Cheese band. “Florida, what’re you gonna do?” indeed. [Les Chappell]

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7. Futurama, “Ghost In The Machines” (2011)

Back in the “dark times” of Professor Farnsworth’s boyhood New New York, there was a parade every day to accommodate the city’s innumerable pageant-conscious subgroups. As anyone who has been present for vomitastic annual rites like Santa Con or the St. Patrick’s Day Parade can attest, this is a completely unsustainable state of affairs. The solution was, according to Leela, to “combine them all into one big Parade Day parade and get it over with.” But after the “foggy” Jamaican Pride float crashes into the Doritos float, a flying chip dislodges a large globe on the Earthican Pride float and rolls toward a pair of unsuspecting nerds. Fry has the opportunity to save one of the pair, and chooses the human instead of the robot. Bender takes exception to Fry’s valuing human life above robot life, and storms off to the suicide booth where he is quickly murdered by his bitter ex-girlfriend, Lynn The Suicide Booth. The Robot Devil tells Bender the only way the bending unit can escape Limbo and return to life is to scare Fry… to death. As Bender says: “Hold on to your dookie. It’s about to get spooky.” [Drew Toal]

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8. The Vampire Diaries, “Founder’s Day” (2010)

Over the years, Mystic Falls has had more social functions than any other small town in history, real or fictional. No one loves their founders more than this town’s clueless residents, and in the season-one finale of The Vampire Diaries, Founder’s Day—not to be confused with the Founder’s Party and Heritage Display or the Founder’s Day Kick-Off Party—became the deadliest celebration of them all. The parade throws everyone into a funk, as Elena’s costume has Stefan and Damon thinking of Katherine, and Stefan also drops the bomb on Elena that John (played by David Anders, so you know he’s bad) is her bio-dad. But even as everyone is all smiles and CW hair on the parade floats, a battle brews. The tomb vamps use the parade as a distraction to plan out how they intend to kill all the founding families, while John and Mayor Lockwood use it as a distraction from their own counterattack plan. Then, as the parade comes to a close and the fireworks begin, John activates the Gilbert Device, incapacitating all vampires in a five-block radius and leading to the deaths of Anna, Mayor Lockwood, and pretty much all of the town’s vampires besides the Salvatore brothers. The people of Mystic Falls should know this by now, but this type of event never ends well. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

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9. Jingle All The Way (1996)

Lazily using the “workaholic family man on Christmas” trope, Jingle All The Way tasks Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) with finding a Turbo Man doll (pronounced “Tierbo Man” by Arnie), which puts him in the crosshairs of bootleggers, a lecherous neighbor, and a crazed Sinbad (as a postal worker who’s also trying to secure a Turbo Man). The film culminates in a holiday parade; Schwarzenegger, mistaken for the parade’s Turbo Man actor, is given a jet pack and a suit loaded with weapons. The jet pack blasts him seemingly thousands of feet in the air, then sends him careening wildly across the parade route. Meanwhile, Sinbad disguises himself as Turbo Man’s nemesis, Dementor, and chases Howard’s kid (Jake Lloyd) up a Christmas display, attempting to swipe the last Turbo Man in town. Throughout their struggle, the paradegoers are none the wiser, assuming this chaos, which probably would have cost millions, is all part of the show. That’s about the highest level of respect the writers and filmmakers give the audience. [Drew Fortune]

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10. God Told Me To (1976)

It’s perversely appropriate that one of the first acting gigs ever scored by Andy Kaufman, the anti-comedy comedian, required him to be anything but funny. Two years before he landed the role of Latka on Taxi, Kaufman made a one-scene appearance in God Told Me To, a supernatural police procedural from B-movie auteur Larry Cohen (It’s Alive). The scene is memorable: Investigating a series of seemingly unrelated murders by normal citizens who claim to be acting on holy imperative, our NYC detective hero (Tony Lo Bianco) becomes convinced that the next attack will occur during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. And sure enough, that’s where Kaufman’s character, an Irish cop, opens fire, blowing away pedestrians and fellow officers before he’s wrestled to the pavement. Cohen builds suspense by cutting around from ecstatic crowd shots to the detective rushing to the scene to Kaufman’s nervous, now-famous face as his marching patrolman waits for his moment. The future star has only line—the film’s signature mantra, delivered without a wink: “God told me to.” [A.A. Dowd]

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11. The Simpsons, “Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment” (1997)

In pop culture, there are few things more dangerous than a large gathering of Springfield residents—but unlike their counterparts in Gotham City or Mystic Falls, the characters of The Simpsons are more prone to parade-adjacent mayhem. (Hence the classic Springfield Shopper headline, “PARADE TO DISTRACT JOYLESS CITIZENRY.”) The Do What You Feel Festival is already in shambles when Bart and Homer flee from the scene on a float, and the Crichton-esque killbots of “Itchy & Scratchy Land” are off-duty when they form their parade formation of doom. Leave it to the real-life source of so much guilt and destruction, St. Patrick’s Day, to give The Simpsons the parade pandemonium it deserves, with drunken revelers climbing Kent Brockman’s broadcast tower and Kirk Van Houten being the lone respondent to Apu’s call for mass streaking. It all ends with young Bart Simpson getting more than enough of that wonderful Duff, with beer fired from a cannon and funneled down his throat by a vuvuzela. The incident leads to the gravest consequence of any parade explored here: the swift reinstitution of prohibition. [Erik Adams]

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