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Movie poster zoolander.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBen Stiller
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Drake Sather
  • Ben Stiller
Produced by
CinematographyBarry Peterson
Edited byGreg Hayden
Music byDavid Arnold
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 28, 2001 (2001-09-28)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$28 million[2][3]
Box office$60.8 million[2]

Zoolander is a 2001 American comedy film directed by Ben Stiller. The film contains elements from a pair of short films directed by Russell Bates and written by Drake Sather and Stiller for the VH1 Fashion Awards television specials in 1996 and 1997. The earlier short films and this film feature Derek Zoolander (Stiller), a dimwitted supermodel.

In the film, top people in the fashion industry, Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and Derek's agent Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller), are hired by other executives to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia (Woodrow Asai), who will pass progressive laws that would harm their businesses. Mugatu and Ballstein plan to brainwash Zoolander into killing him. Meanwhile, Zoolander has several personal and career issues, including declining popularity, disappointment in his career choice from his family, and trying to find his true purpose which he suspects is not being a model. Through much research, journalist Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) becomes aware of the planned assassination and informs Derek about it. After Derek reconciles with the competing male model Hansel (Owen Wilson), the three try to stop the Prime Minister's assassination from happening.

A satire on the fashion industry, the film received mixed reviews from critics, and was a box office success. A sequel, Zoolander 2, was released in February 2016,[4] to negative reviews. An animated series, Zoolander: Super Model, was released on Netflix UK in August 2016.[5]


In New York City, male model Derek Zoolander is at a low point; he is ousted as the top male fashion model by the rising star Hansel, his roommates and colleagues are killed in a "freak gasoline-fight accident", and an attempt to reconnect with his southern New Jersey working class relatives ends with the family rejecting him. Meanwhile, fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu and Derek's agent Maury Ballstein are charged by the fashion industry with finding a model who can be brainwashed into assassinating the new progressive-leaning Prime Minister of Malaysia, whose policies will prohibit them from retaining cheap child labor in the country. Mugatu hires Derek, whom he normally doesn't work with, to star in the next runway show for his brainwashing plan. It involves Derek being conditioned to attempt the assassination when the song "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is played.

Matilda Jeffries, feeling responsible for Derek's downfall as she wrote a critical Time article about him, becomes suspicious of Mugatu's offer. She tells her concerns to Derek, but he ignores her. After receiving info through calls from former hand model J.P. Prewett, Matilda and Derek meet him in a cemetery. Prewett reveals that the fashion industry has been behind several of history's political assassinations, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy and the brainwashed models are soon killed after they have completed their task. Mugatu's cronies attack the group, forcing Derek and Matilda to flee. They go to Hansel's home, the last place they believe Mugatu will think to look. Derek, Hansel, and Matilda bond, the two male models resolving their differences while partaking of Hansel's collection of narcotics and participating in group sex with Matilda and others. Derek and Hansel break into Maury's office to find evidence of the assassination plot, but they cannot operate his computer to find them.

Derek goes to the runway, and Mugatu's disc jockey plays a remix version of "Relax". This activates Derek's mental programming, only for it to stop after Hansel breaks into the DJ booth and shuts off the turntable. Despite Hansel bringing the computer with him and smashing the computer on the floor (which he does out of taking Matilda's words of the files being in the computer literally), Maury admits to the conspiracy. Mugatu then attempts to kill the Prime Minister himself by throwing a shuriken, but Derek stops it by unleashing his ultimate model look, "Magnum". In Derek's rural hometown, his father Larry watches the event on television, and proudly acknowledges Derek as his son. A few years later, Derek, Hansel, and Maury start "The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too". Derek and Matilda have a son named Derek Zoolander Jr., who has already developed his first modeling look.


Credits are from Screen World.[6]

David Bowie and Billy Zane made prominent cameos as themselves, with Bowie acting as judge for a "walk-off", and Zane appearing as a friend of Derek. Comedian Godfrey and Taj Crown appear as janitor disguises for Derek and Hansel respectively. Also making cameos were Lance Bass, Tyson Beckford, Victoria Beckham, Emma Bunton, Stephen Dorff, Shavo Odadjian, Fred Durst, Fabio, Tom Ford, Cuba Gooding Jr., Theo Kogan, Lukas Haas, Tommy Hilfiger, Paris Hilton, Carmen Kass, Heidi Klum, Lenny Kravitz, Karl Lagerfeld, Lil' Kim, Anne Meara, Natalie Portman, Frankie Rayder, Mark Ronson, Gavin Rossdale, Winona Ryder, Garry Shandling, Christian Slater, Gwen Stefani, Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Donatella Versace, Veronica Webb and James Marsden.

Production notes[edit]


Ben Stiller first created the character for a skit at the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards.[7] The name "Derek Zoolander" was invented by Bates while he was editing the first short film, and was inspired by the names of two male models who both worked for Calvin Klein: the Dutchman Mark Vanderloo and the American Johnny Zander.[8][9]


Owen Wilson was Stiller's first choice for the role of Hansel but it was uncertain if he would be available and auditions were held. Jake Gyllenhaal auditioned for the role. Andy Dick was going to play Mugatu, but was unavailable due to a previous commitment to the tv show "Go Fish".[7][10]


"Derelicte" is the name given to the fashion line designed by Mugatu and is a parody of a real fashion line created by John Galliano in 2000.[11] It is described by Mugatu in the film as "a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique." The fashion line in the film consists of clothing made from everyday objects that could be found on the streets of New York. Galliano used clothing worn by the destitute as an inspiration for a real-life fashion line in 2000.


Zoolander was never shown in Malaysia, as the film depicts an attempted assassination of the Malaysian prime minister. Malaysia's censorship board deemed it "definitely unsuitable".[12][13] The film was also banned in neighboring Singapore[14] due to bilateral sensitivities and the movie's depiction of using the drug peyote.[citation needed] It was subsequently made available in Singapore in 2006,[15] with an NC-16 rating. In the United States, the film was originally rated R for its sexual content, profanity, and drug references, but was later re-rated PG-13 on appeal.[citation needed]

In the Asian release, all references to the country of Malaysia were changed to Micronesia, the subregion which Hansel mistook for Malaysia at one point in the western version.[16]

In the United States, since the film was released on September 28, 2001 (about two weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center), Stiller made the executive decision to digitally remove any backgrounds that originally contained the Twin Towers in the background skyline. Stiller defended his decision to erase images of New York's World Trade Center Towers from the film, saying he did what he thought was appropriate at the time. The towers were being reinserted in the 2016 Blu-ray release.[17]

Accusations of plagiarism[edit]

Glamorama, a 1998 satirical novel by Bret Easton Ellis, tells the story of a vacuous male model who becomes involved in a plot concocted by international terrorists who recruit from within the fashion industry.[18] In 2005, Ellis stated that he was aware of the similarities between Zoolander and Glamorama and said that he attempted to take legal action.[19] Ellis was later asked about the similarities in a 2009 BBC interview but said that he is unable to discuss the topic due to an out-of-court settlement.[20]


Box office[edit]

Zoolander grossed $45.2 million in the U.S. and Canada and $15.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $60.8 million against a budget of $28 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 64% based on 140 reviews, with an average rating of 5.90/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A wacky satire on the fashion industry, Zoolander is one of those deliberately dumb comedies that can deliver genuine laughs."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100 based on reviews from 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[22] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[23]

Reviews appreciated Zoolander as an escapist, upbeat satire on New York fashion.[24][25]

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt felt the film mostly achieved the difficult goal of being "silly and smart" as the same time.[25] However, its humor was found hit-and-miss,[24] Honeycutt writing it had both predictable "low-grade gags" and "weirdly hip and even witty ones."[25]

Some reviews criticized the incorporation of child labor law themes;[25] Roger Ebert criticized the portrayal as insensitive.[26] McCarthy, while finding the assassin subplot clever, also found it too serious for the comical vibe.[24]

McCarthy praised the performances and highlighted its many cameos.[24] He called Stiller's performance "constantly amusing" if overplaying his "look" a little, but stated "the character's intentional superficiality wears a little thin at feature length".[24] The journalist exclaimed Wilson "gets far more comic mileage than one could have imagined possible overlaying ruthless careerism with an affably vacant grunge/Eastern veneer".[24]

Although praising the production design, costumes, and choice of pop songs, McCarthy felt the film did not have "truly confident visual stylization" to make comic book-esque villains like Mugatu enjoyable, and that long conversations were not fluidly written and edited.[24] He also went after the removal of the Twin Towers as "disruptive" and offending the audience's intelligence.[24]

Roger Ebert added that "to some degree, Zoolander is a victim of bad timing", referencing the film's release two weeks after September 11, 2001 and the presidential assassination plot point which he found to be in bad taste. He found some parts of the film funny and gave it a rating of 1 out of 4.[26] According to Stiller, years later in private, Ebert admitted that he had changed his mind and now thought that the film was funny, and apologized to him for going "overboard".[27]

The film received votes from two critics at the Sight & Sound's Poll of the greatest films of all time.[28]


Fashion journalist Hadley Freeman categorized Zoolander as unique to other mainstream fashion films such as Designing Woman (1957), Funny Face (1957), and The Devil Wears Prada (2006); whereas they usually employ the same critiques of unintelligent models, silly clothing, and insipid business practices, Zoolander is much more surreal in how it puts these cliches together, as shown in its premise of male models being hypnotized to kill a prime minister.[29]


The soundtrack to Zoolander was released on September 25, 2001.[30]

1."Relax"Frankie Goes to Hollywood3:57
2."Relax"Powerman 5000 feat. DannyBoy3:06
3."Call Me"Nikka Costa4:08
4."Love to Love You Baby"No Doubt4:22
5."Start the Commotion"The Wiseguys feat. Greg Nice2:35
6."Now Is The Time"The Crystal Method5:37
7."I Started a Joke"The Wallflowers3:09
8."Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"Wham!3:51
9."Rockit"Herbie Hancock5:26
10."Beat It (Moby's Sub Mix)"Michael Jackson6:13
12."Ruffneck"Freestylers feat. Navigator5:43
13."Madskillz-Mic Chekka (Remix)"BT5:50
14."He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"Rufus Wainwright4:38
Total length:63:01

The Kruder & Dorfmeister remix of David Holmes' song "Gone" is in the movie when Zoolander is in the day spa, shortly before his brainwashing.


In December 2008, Stiller said he intended to make a sequel to Zoolander,[31] and by January 2011 a script had been completed.[32] Filming commenced at Cinecittà studios in Rome in early 2015,[33] and on March 10 Stiller and Wilson appeared at the Paris Fashion Week in character as Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald. Zoolander 2 was released on February 12, 2016 to negative reviews.[4]

An animated series, Zoolander: Super Model was released on Netflix UK in August 2016.[5]


  1. ^ "ZOOLANDER (12)". British Board of Film Classification. October 5, 2001. Retrieved December 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Zoolander (2001) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  3. ^ a b "Zoolander". Box office Mojo. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "'Zoolander 2' Coming February 2016". SlashFilm. March 10, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Watch the Trailer for the 'Zoolander' Cartoon Movie". Exclaim. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  6. ^ Willis, John; Lynch, Tom (2002). "Zoolander". Screen World 2002. Applause Theatre & Cinema Book Publishers. p. 107. ISBN 9781557835994. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  7. ^ a b Kaplan, Ilana (September 28, 2021). "'Zoolander' at 20: How a Post-9/11 Flop Became the Comedy Everyone's Still Quoting". Esquire.
  8. ^ Bronte Lord; Logan Whiteside & Alison Kosik. "Meet the model who inspired 'Zoolander'". money.cnn.com. CNNMoney.
  9. ^ Foreman, Katya (February 12, 2016). "The male model: How did we get to Zoolander?". BBC Culture.
  10. ^ Andrew Buss (September 30, 2021). ""But Why Male Models?": An Oral History of Zoolander". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on September 30, 2021.
  11. ^ "Political Threads". On the Media. February 1, 2008. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved February 9, 2008.
  12. ^ "Zoolander faces Malaysian censorship controversy". TheGuardian.com. September 28, 2001.
  13. ^ "Malaysia shuns Stiller's 'Zoolander'". Associated Press. September 27, 2001. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  14. ^ "Singapore bans US comedy film". BBC News. February 8, 2002.
  15. ^ "Release dates for Zoolander (2001)". IMDb.
  16. ^ "15 things you (probably) didn't know about Zoolander". ShortList. November 14, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  17. ^ "Twin Towers Removed From Zoolander Film". Sun Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Retrieved October 30, 2001.
  18. ^ Hanson, Eric (January 30, 1999). "Ellis dissects the glitterati in 'Glamorama'". Star Tribune. Retrieved December 22, 2011.
  19. ^ "Information Leafblower". Information Leafblower. Archived from the original on February 10, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2009.
  20. ^ "collective — bret easton ellis interview". BBC. Retrieved July 21, 2009.[dead link]
  21. ^ "Zoolander". September 28, 2001. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  22. ^ "Zoolander". September 28, 2001. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  23. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h McCarthy, Todd (September 27, 2001). "Zoolander". Variety. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  25. ^ a b c d "'Zoolander': THR's 2001 Review". The Hollywood Reporter. September 28, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  26. ^ a b Roger Ebert (September 28, 2001). "Zoolander". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
  27. ^ Christopher Rosen (April 22, 2013). "Roger Ebert 'Zoolander' Review: Ben Stiller Says Late Film Critic Apologized For Scathing Notice". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  28. ^ "Votes for Zoolander (2001) | BFI".
  29. ^ Freeman, Hadley (May 2, 2007). "Zoolander is the finest film about fashion ever". The Guardian. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  30. ^ "Zoolander 2001 Soundtrack". TheOST.com. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  31. ^ "Stiller Confirms Zoolander Sequel". IMDb. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  32. ^ "Ben Stiller Talks Submarine". Empire. Retrieved August 31, 2011.[dead link]
  33. ^ "Comingsoon.net - Zoolander 2 to Shoot in Rome This Spring!". February 9, 2015.

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