Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Judge|
|Story by||Mike Judge|
|Music by||Theodore Shapiro|
|Edited by||David Rennie|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Budget||$2–4 million|
Idiocracy is a 2006 American science fiction comedy film directed by Mike Judge, who co-wrote it with Etan Cohen. Starring Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph and Dax Shepard, it tells the story of Joe Bauers (Wilson), an American soldier who takes part in a classified military human hibernation experiment, only to accidentally awaken 500 years later in a dystopian society, in which commercialism has run rampant, and mankind has embraced anti-intellectualism and is devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights.
The film was not screened for critics, and distributor 20th Century Fox was accused of abandoning the film. Despite its lack of a major theatrical release, which resulted in a mere $495,000 gross at the box office, the film received positive reviews from critics and has become a cult film.
In 2005, Corporal Joe Bauers, a United States Army librarian, is selected for a suspended animation experiment on grounds of average appearance, intelligence, behavior, etc. Lacking a suitable female candidate within the armed forces, they hire Rita, a prostitute whose pimp "Upgrayedd" has been bribed to allow her to take part. The experiment is forgotten when the officer in charge is arrested for having started his own prostitution ring under Upgrayedd's tutelage. Over the next five centuries, the expectations of 21st-century society lead to the most intelligent humans choosing not to have children, while the least intelligent reproduce prolifically, which creates generations that collectively become increasingly dumber and more virile with each passing century. In 2505, Joe and Rita's suspension chambers are unearthed by the collapse of a mountain-sized garbage pile, and Joe's suspension chamber crashes into the apartment of Frito Pendejo, who releases him.
The former Washington, D.C. has lost most of its infrastructure, with people living in plastic huts called "domistiles". The human population has become morbidly stupid, speaks only low registers of English competently, and is profoundly anti-intellectual, with individuals being named after corporate products. Suspecting hallucination, Joe enters a hospital, where he is incompetently diagnosed, and comes to realize what has happened to him and to society. He is arrested for not having a bar code tattoo to pay for his doctor's appointment, and after being assigned the grossly incompetent Frito as his lawyer, he is sent to prison. Rita returns to her former profession.
Joe is renamed "Not Sure" by a "stupid" speech-recognition tattooing machine. He takes an IQ test and is assessed as the smartest person alive. He then tricks the entrance guard by telling him that he was in the wrong line and he should be in the getting-out line. He escapes by simply walking out the door while the guard is checking his prisoner exit records. Once free, Joe asks Frito whether a time machine exists to return him to 2005, and bribes him with promises of riches through compound interest on a bank account Joe will open in the 21st century. Frito claims he knows of one, and leads him with Rita to a gigantic Costco store, where a tattoo scanner identifies Joe. He is apprehended but is surprised to be taken to the White House, where he is appointed Secretary of the Interior, on the grounds that his IQ test identified him as the most intelligent person alive.
In a speech, President Camacho gives Joe the impossible job of fixing the nation's food shortages, Dust Bowls, and crippled economy within a week. Joe discovers that the nation's crops are irrigated with a sports drink named "Brawndo", whose parent corporation had purchased the FDA, FCC, and USDA. When Joe has the drink replaced with water, Brawndo's stock drops to zero, and half of the population lose their jobs, causing mass riots. Joe is sentenced to die in a monster truck demolition derby featuring undefeated "Rehabilitation Officer" Beef Supreme. However, Beef Supreme's derby vehicle is too large to enter the arena.
Frito and Rita discover that Joe's reintroduction of water to the soil has prompted vegetation to grow in the fields. During the televised event, they arrange for the sprouting crops to be shown on the stadium's display screen, and Camacho gives Joe a full pardon. Joe and Rita decide to stay in the future, afterwards finding the "time masheen" Frito had mentioned is merely an amusement ride which is history-themed (but, of course, inaccurate). Following Camacho's term, Joe is elected President. Joe and Rita marry and conceive the world's three smartest children, while Vice President Frito takes eight wives and fathers 32 of the world's stupidest children. Meanwhile, Upgrayedd travels to the future in search of Rita, as Rita had insisted to Joe he would be able to.
- Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers
- Maya Rudolph as Rita
- Dax Shepard as Frito Pendejo
- Terry Crews as President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho
- David Herman as Secretary of State
- Justin Long as Doctor Lexus
- Andrew Wilson as Beef Supreme
- Randal Reeder as Secret Service Thug
- Brad "Scarface" Jordan as Upgrayedd
- Thomas Haden Church as Brawndo CEO
- Sara Rue (uncredited) as Attorney General
The idea of a dystopian society based on dysgenics is not new. H. G. Wells' The Time Machine postulates a devolved society of humans, as does the short story "The Marching Morons" by Cyril M. Kornbluth, akin to the "Epsilon-minus Semi-Morons" of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Early working titles included The United States of Uhh-merica and 3001. Filming took place in 2004 on several stages at Austin Studios and in the cities of Austin, San Marcos, Pflugerville, and Round Rock, Texas.
Test screenings around March 2005 produced unofficial reports of poor audience reactions. After some re-shooting in the summer of 2005, a UK test screening in August produced a report of a positive impression.
Idiocracy's original release date was August 5, 2005, according to Mike Judge. In April 2006, a release date was set for September 1, 2006. In August, numerous articles revealed that release was to be put on hold indefinitely. Idiocracy was released as scheduled but only in seven cities (Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Mike Judge's hometown, Austin, Texas), and expanded to only 130 theaters, not the usual wide release of 600 or more theaters. According to the Austin American-Statesman, 20th Century Fox, the film's distributor, was entirely absent in promoting the feature; while posters were released to theaters, "no movie trailers, no ads, and only two stills", and no press kits were released.
The film was not screened for critics. Lack of concrete information from Fox led to speculation that the distributor may have actively tried to keep the film from being seen by a large audience, while fulfilling a contractual obligation for theatrical release ahead of a DVD release, according to Ryan Pearson of the AP. That speculation was followed by open criticism of the studio's lack of support from Ain't It Cool News, Time, and Esquire. Time's Joel Stein wrote "the film's ads and trailers tested atrociously", but, "still, abandoning Idiocracy seems particularly unjust, since Judge has made a lot of money for Fox."
In The New York Times, Dan Mitchell argued that Fox might be shying away from the cautionary tale about low-intelligence dysgenics, because the company did not want to offend either its viewers or potential advertisers portrayed negatively in the film. This theory has been given extra weight by Terry Crews, who stars in the movie as President Camacho. In a 2018 Interview with GQ Magazine he talked of advertisers being unhappy at the way they were portrayed, which affected the studio's efforts to promote the movie. He said, "The rumor was, because we used real corporations in our comedy (I mean, Starbucks was giving hand jobs) these companies gave us their name thinking they were gonna get 'pumped up', and then we're like, 'Welcome to CostCo, we love you' [delivered in monotone]. All these real corporations were like, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute' [...] there were a lot of people trying to back out, but it was too late. And so Fox, who owned the movie, decided, 'We're going to release this in as few theaters as legally possible'. So it got a release in, probably, three theaters over one weekend and it was sucked out, into the vortex".
In 2017, Judge told The New York Times that the film's lack of marketing and wide release was the result of negative test screenings. He added that Fox subsequently decided to not give the film a strong marketing push because the distributor believed it would develop a cult following through word-of-mouth and recoup its budget through home video sales, as Judge's previous film Office Space had.
|Film||Release date||Box office revenue||Box office ranking||Budget||Reference|
|United States||United States||International||Worldwide||All time United States||All time worldwide|
|Idiocracy||September 1, 2006||$444,093||$51,210||$495,303||#6,914||Unknown||Unknown|||
Box office receipts totaled $444,093 in the U.S., with the widest release being 135 theaters.
Although it was not screened in advance for critics, Idiocracy received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 76% approval rating, based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 6.48/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Idiocracy delivers the hilarity and biting satire that could only come from Mike Judge". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 66 out of 100, based on reviews from 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Los Angeles Times reviewer Carina Chocano described it as "spot on" satire and a "pitch-black, bleakly hilarious vision of an American future", although the "plot, naturally, is silly and not exactly bound by logic. But it's Judge's gimlet-eyed knack for nightmarish extrapolation that makes Idiocracy a cathartic delight." In an Entertainment Weekly review only 87 words long, Joshua Rich gave the film an "EW Grade" of "D", stating that "Mike Judge implores us to reflect on a future in which Britney and K-Fed are like the new Adam and Eve." The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin found Luke Wilson "perfectly cast ... as a quintessential everyman"; and wrote of the film: "Like so much superior science fiction, Idiocracy uses a fantastical future to comment on a present. ... There's a good chance that Judge's smartly lowbrow Idiocracy will be mistaken for what it's satirizing."
The film was also well received in other countries. John Patterson, critic for UK newspaper The Guardian, wrote, "Idiocracy isn't a masterpiece—Fox seems to have stiffed Judge on money at every stage—but it's endlessly funny", and of the film's popularity, described seeing the film "in a half-empty house. Two days later, same place, same show—packed-out." Brazilian news magazine Veja called the film "politically incorrect", recommended that readers see the DVD, and wrote "the film went flying through [American] theaters and did not open in Brazil. Proof that the future contemplated by Judge is not that far away."
Critic Alexandre Koball of the Brazilian website CinePlayers.com, while giving the movie a score of 5/5 along with another staff reviewer, wrote, "Idiocracy is not exactly ... funny nor ... innovative but it's a movie to make you think, even if for five minutes. And for that it manages to stay one level above the terrible average of comedy movies released in the last years in the United States."
Idiocracy was released on DVD on January 9, 2007. It has earned $9 million on DVD rentals, over 20 times its gross domestic box office revenue of under $450,000.
During the 2016 presidential primaries, writer Etan Cohen and others expressed opinions that the film's predictions were converging on accuracy, which, during the general election, director Mike Judge also said. At the time, Judge also compared Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—who later won and became President of the United States—to the movie's dim-witted wrestler-turned-president, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. When asked about predicting the future, he remarked, "I'm no prophet, I was off by 490 years."
Comparisons have been made between the film and Trump's presidency. In an article for Salon.com, Trump was called a sufferer of the Dunning–Kruger effect, a phenomenon whereby unintelligent and incompetent people fail to recognize their incompetence. An article for Collider pointed out the ways in which Trump's positions echoed the poor political decisions of the characters in the film in areas such as science, business, entertainment, environment, healthcare, law enforcement, and politics. Internet memes have spawned comparing Trump to the film.
Salon writer Adam Johnson warned against using the film as a simplistic shorthand for the Trump administration, and accused the film of supporting eugenics, saying, "While the movie is savvy enough to avoid overt racism, it dives head first into gross classism."
In August 2012, Crews said he was in talks with director Judge and Fox over a possible Idiocracy spin-off featuring his President Camacho character, initially conceived as a web series. A week before the 2012 elections, he reprised the character in a series of shorts for website Funny or Die. In June 2016, before the presidential election in November, Rolling Stone published an article stating that Judge and Cohen would produce Idiocracy themed campaign advertisements opposing Donald Trump's presidential campaign if given permission from Fox to do so. In July 2016, Crews told Business Insider that the ads would not go forward as planned, but that they would have featured Camacho wrestling in a cage match against the various candidates.
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