Zoolander is a 2001 American action comedy film directed by Ben Stiller and starring Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor and Will Ferrell. 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 a dimwitted, narcissistic male model named Derek Zoolander, played by Stiller. The film involves Zoolander becoming the pawn of corrupt fashion executives who are plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. 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.
A satire on the fashion industry, the film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, but was a box office success. A sequel, Zoolander 2, was released in February 2016, to negative reviews. An animated series, Zoolander: Supermodel, was released on Netflix UK in August 2016 and on CBS All Access in May 2020.
Derek Zoolander has been the dominant male model in the industry for three years thanks to his patented "look," Blue Steel. On the night of the VH1 Fashion Awards, what should be his fourth trophy goes to an upstart model named Hansel. Adding to the insult, a story in Time magazine brands him an idiot. Derek decides to retire and seek out his roots. Meanwhile, the new prime minister of Malaysia has upset a secret coalition of fashion designers by promising to raise the minimum wage, effectively ending their supply of cheap labour in sweatshops. Sensing disaster, the covert group charges Mugatu, the current king of haute couture, to find a mindless male model to brainwash into assassinating the new world leader. Derek, rejected by his family, stumbles predictably into Mugatu's hands and the only ones who can save him are the reporter who took away his good name, his rival Hansel, and a mysterious model from the past who sheds light on the whole conspiracy. They have to work against time and Derek's ineptitude to stop him from killing on the night Mugatu reveals his newest clothing line with the Malaysian minister as his "honoured guest".
In New York City, the self-absorbed and dim-witted but good-natured Derek Zoolander is ousted as the top male fashion model by the rising star Hansel, and his reputation is further tarnished by a critical article from journalist Matilda Jeffries. After his three roommates and colleagues are killed in a "freak gasoline-fight accident", Derek announces his retirement from modeling. He goes to his native southern New Jersey to attempt to reconnect with his working class father Larry and brothers Luke and Scrappy by helping them in the coal mines. Derek's delicate methods make him an impractical miner, and his family rejects 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, allowing them to retain cheap child labor in the country. Though Mugatu has previously refused to work with Derek for any show, Derek returns to New York City and accepts Mugatu's offer to star in the next runway show.
Mugatu takes Derek to his headquarters, masked as a day spa, where Derek is conditioned to attempt the assassination when the song "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is played. Matilda, feeling partially responsible for Derek's retirement, becomes suspicious of Mugatu's offer and, tipped off by an anonymous caller, tries to enter the spa, but is thrown out. Matilda tells her concerns to Derek once he leaves, but he ignores her.
Matilda follows Derek to a pre-runway party where, upon being challenged by Hansel, Derek loses to Hansel in a "walk-off" judged by David Bowie. Matilda receives another anonymous call to meet at a nearby cemetery. Matilda along with Derek find the anonymous caller is hand model J.P. Prewett, who explains 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. Katinka Ingabogovinanana, Mugatu's tough henchwoman, and her aides 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. Matilda admits the reason she hates models is because she was bullied as a child for being overweight and developed bulimia, and that she believes models hurt people's self-esteem. Derek and Hansel resolve their differences while partaking of Hansel's collection of narcotics and participating in group sex with Matilda and others. While recovering, Derek also finds that he is falling in love with Matilda. Derek and Hansel break into Maury's office to find evidence of the assassination plot, but they cannot operate his computer to find them. Taking Matilda's words literally, that the "files are in the computer," Hansel physically takes the computer while Derek leaves for the show.
Matilda tries to intercept Derek before the show, but Katinka thwarts her. As Derek takes the runway, Mugatu's disc jockey starts playing "Relax", activating Derek's mental programming. Before Derek can kill the Prime Minister, Hansel breaks into the DJ booth and shuts off the turntable. Expecting to reveal the hidden files, Hansel attempts to expose the assassination plot by smashing Maury's computer on the floor, thereby destroying the evidence.
Mugatu attempts to cover up the incident, but Maury offers to turn over the evidence of the assassination plot after years of guilt for his complicity in the conspiracy. Mugatu attempts to kill the Prime Minister himself by throwing a shuriken, but Derek stops him by unleashing his ultimate model look, "Magnum", that stuns everyone and causes the shuriken to freeze in the air in front of Derek's face and fall harmlessly to the floor. Mugatu is arrested, and Derek is thanked by the Prime Minister. In Derek's rural hometown, Larry is watching the event on television, and proudly acknowledges Derek as his son.
A few years later Derek, Hansel, and Maury are shown as having left the fashion industry to 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 now have a son named Derek Zoolander Jr., who has already developed his first modeling look.
- Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander
- Owen Wilson as Hansel McDonald
- Christine Taylor as Matilda Jeffries
- Will Ferrell as Jacobim Mugatu
- Milla Jovovich as Katinka Ingabogovinanana
- Jerry Stiller as Maury Ballstein
- David Duchovny as J.P. Prewett
- Jon Voight as Larry Zoolander
- Vince Vaughn as Luke Zoolander
- Judah Friedlander as Scrappy Zoolander
- Alexander Skarsgård as Meekus
- Nathan Lee Graham as Todd
- Justin Theroux as Evil DJ
- Andrew Wilson as Hansel's Corner Guy
- John Vargas as Italian Designer
- Jennifer Coolidge as American Designer
- Tony Kanal as French Designer
- Patton Oswalt as Monkey Photographer
- Mason Webb as Derek Zoolander Jr.*
- David Bowie
- Billy Zane
- Derek's repetition of the line "But why male models?" for the second time, in the cemetery scene, was an ad-lib by the actors; Ben Stiller forgot his line and simply repeated the earlier line again, and David Duchovny ran with it and gave him a straight answer.
- Ben Stiller wrote the part of Hansel specifically for Owen Wilson, and said that no one else was even considered for the role.
- Ben Stiller had several family members in this film: his wife, Christine Taylor (Matilda), his father, Jerry Stiller (Maury Ballstein), his mother Anne Meara (protestor who hits Mugatu with an egg), his sister Amy Stiller (one of Hansel's friends in his loft), and his brother-in-law, Mitch Winston (director of the infomercial).
- Derek Zoolander's "Blue Steel" look evolved from Christine Taylor ribbing her husband, Ben Stiller, about the way he combs his hair in front of a mirror in real life.
- Ben Stiller wrote David Bowie's scene as judge of the walk-off into the script without knowing for sure whether he would agree to it.
- The film has been banned in Malaysia because of the use of fictional Malaysian Prime Minister as the subject of assassination. It was originally also banned in neighboring Singapore, but the ban has since been lifted.
- Bret Easton Ellis, author of the 1998 novel "Glamorama", about a dimwitted male model who finds himself embroiled in a terrorist ring with roots in the fashion industry, sued Ben Stiller following the release of this film, citing copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court.
- This is the first American movie in which Alexander Skarsgård appeared.
- Images of the World Trade Center towers were removed before the movie's September 28, 2001 release, only seventeen days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where the towers were brought down. They were edited out of one shot, and obscured in another.
- Milla Jovovich (Katinka Ingabogovinanana) based her performance on her mother, Galina Jovovich.
- The part of Mugatu was originally written for Andy Dick, who couldn't play it due to commitments to Go Fish(2001). Instead, Dick was cast in the smaller role of Olga the masseuse.
- Hansel said, "Who you tryin' to get crazy with 'ese? Don't you know I'm loco?" These are the opening lines to the Cypress Hill song "Insane in the Brain".
- The club scene depicts Winona Ryder giving Derek Zoolander advice to "lay low" in order to rebuild his modeling career. This scene "foreshadowed" Ryder's real-life experience with a shipwrecked career. Three months after the release of this movie, Ryder was arrested for shoplifting clothes. Later, she self-imposed a six-year career exile to rebuild her reputation as a serious actress.
- Premiere Magazine voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.
- The coal mining scenes were filmed at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. It was formerly a zinc mine. Despite what the film suggests, there are no coal mines in New Jersey.
- While trying to be farcical, the film is actually quite accurate regarding the modelling industry. Even the quick scene of the two sets of bunk beds at Derek's apartment is factual. Cindy Crawford and Jules Asner shared a similar bunkroom during the early days of their modelling careers.
- The yo-yo scenes, as shown by Hansel, were performed by professional yo-yo performer and Duncan Yo-Yo Company employee Steve Brown.
- According to an interview with Ben Stiller, this movie started out as a character sketch for VH1 Fashion Awards. After several written scripts and over several years, the studio finally agreed to film it. The movie's release immediately followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and has been cited as a reason for its "failure" at the box office. (It didn't fail, it just performed below expectations, and yielded a small profit.)
- When Derek and Hansel are trying to turn on the computer, the whole scene is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (They are acting like monkeys, the same music plays, and Hansel grabs a bone just like in Stanley Kubrick's movie.
- Filmed during the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards in 2000 at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
- One of Terrence Malick's favorite films.
- Cameos as themselves include: Victoria Beckham, Sandra Bernhard, Malan Breton, Emma Bunton, Stephen Dorff, Ethan Higbee, Karl Lagerfeld, Gavin Rossdale, Winona Ryder, Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Donatella Versace, and Billy Zane.
- Despite numerous instances suggesting that Derek has extremely low intelligence, he is somehow able to speak Malay, although he still makes malapropisms.
- This film marks an unusual historical footnote: the only fiction film to featuring a man and woman in non-archival footage who did not make a prior living as actors go on to become President and First Lady of the United States.
- The original DVD and a 2014 Blu-ray (with the same green and white artwork) that was very briefly available but pulled from shelves use the original plain end credits sequence with names in flying blue text and no other visuals, transitioning to the crawl a few moments before the music changes. The 2016 Blu-ray (with new extras) changes those credits to the alternate ones (previously available as an extra feature), with Mugatu dancing around clips of the movie illustrating each actor; it then abruptly changes music when the crawl starts (and leaves the last portion of the crawl silent), giving an overall sloppy feel. The original version of the credits does not appear to be available on this edition. The framing of the movie overall seems a little iffy on the 2016 edition as well.
- Additional scenes on DVD include:
- Additional celebrity interviews outside the VH1 Fashion Awards of Donatella Versace and Moby
- Extended walk-off footage of Derek and Hansel doing Elvis Presley moves, and then Derek doing Bob Fosse moves
- Extended coal mine sequence starts with the Zoolander men sitting in the mine shaft elevator turning on their helmets; later Derek talks to a miner who can't breathe down in the mine
- Extended sequence of Derek walk home from the Fashion Awards: the car that splashes him in the face a limo full of supermodels who invite Derek to a sex party--he declines; he goes to a nightclub where he fights his way past six bouncers through increasingly-smaller VIP rooms to tell off Hansel--who's talking with a sycophantic Winona Ryder about how bogus awards shows are and that he didn't feel any ill will about Derek trying to take the award from him--in the smallest one, and Derek is physically ejected from the place--explaining the limp he has when he gets home
- Extended scene of Matilda interviewing Derek: his support crew give her a look when she suggests that his "Ferrari," "Blue Steel," and "Le Tigre" looks are all identical, then he rolls his eyes when she says she works for Time magazine.
- Alternate hypnosis sequence at Mugatu's spa leaves out the justification of child labor
- Extended Zoolander Center commercial footage: a sufficiently cleaned-up J.P. Prewitt teaches history there, saying that the pyramids were built by male models; his left hand has also shriveled up
- On the DVD, as an extra, there is an alternate version of the end credits, which features various clips from the movie, and Will Ferrell dancing.
- Additional scenes on DVD include: