“Did you ever think that maybe there’s more to life than being really, really… really ridiculously good looking?” asks Derek Zoolander, before pulling his signature pout. It’s barely the first ten minutes of Zoolander (2001) – the fourth film directed by Ben Stiller – yet already both Stiller the director, Stiller the writer, Stiller the producer, and Stiller the performer have introduced the movie’s most seminal line and one that would echo so loudly for over 15 years that eventually a sequel had to get made. Following the exploits of a vacuous male model and his fellow vacuous male model rival – Hansel, played by Owen Wilson – who become embroiled in an international fashion conspiracy that involves assassination plots and brainwashing through the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit Relax.
The concept was originally an expansion of themes and characters first explored in two short films directed by Russell Bates for the VH1 Fashion Awards television broadcast in 1996 and 1997. Written by Stiller and his frequent collaborator, the late comedian Drake Sather, the pair also wrote the feature adaptation which went on to be a moderate financial success – $60.8m on a $28m budget – a critical flop, but a colossal pop cultural touchstone. Everyone had a version of Derek Zoolander’s famous pose – blue steel – and would imitate it as the film went on to bloom in the home entertainment market. The dialogue bloomed too and the more ridiculous, the better. “What is this? A centre for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?” Phrases like “Orange Mocha Frappuccino time!” and “Hansel, so hot right now!” became shorthand for people who loved and appreciated the film, whether they understood the satire of Zoolander’s message or not.
“Really, really … really ridiculously good looking,” was the shining jewel in the crown of the film’s most quotable dialogue, partially because it was so outlandish but also partially because it was paired with such an outlandish physical performance from Stiller. So much so that it became an unofficial tagline for the film, a phrase that could be uttered and immediately evoke Zoolander without the ‘Z’ word ever having to be mentioned. “Really, really … really ridiculously good looking” became the “Bond, James Bond” of a franchise that weirdly featured just as much espionage as the British spy series … but with much more prominent cheekbones.
– Maria Lewis