References in films aren’t always obvious after the first watch. However, once they are understood, it can make the movie all the more enjoyable.
- Hidden references in movies can enhance the viewing experience, providing nods to other films or events that may go over viewers’ heads but create connections.
- References in movies can serve as conversation starters among audiences, with dedicated fans often noticing them first and appreciating the deeper layers they add to the film.
- From X symbolism of death in “The Departed” to a Mexican standoff in “Reservoir Dogs,” references can pay homage to genres or specific films, showcasing the director’s influences and creating moments for film enthusiasts to discuss.
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Plenty of movies include references and nods to other movies or real-world events that often go over viewers’ heads, but make the movie that much better when it clicks. Hidden references are common in comic book movies, as there’s a wide-ranging history to choose from, but they can be found in every genre. References are typically included for a variety of reasons. For example, directors replicate a framing choice from a movie that inspires their filmmaking, or details are included within the dialogue to refer back to earlier material.
Whatever the reason might be, references can also serve as conversation starters among audiences. For dedicated fans of these movies, the references might have been the first thing that was noticed. For average moviegoers, however, they’re likely to be missed, but once it’s noticed, it makes the viewing experience all the better.
10 The Departed (2006)
X Symbolism of Death
Release Date October 6, 2006 Director Martin Scorsese Cast Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio Genres Thriller, Drama, Crime Rating R
In Scorsese’s The Departed, images depicting an “X” can be found within the frame placed next to a character. In one scene, Matt Damon’s character Colin Sullivan is entering his apartment and the carpet of the building is patterned with “x” images. Shortly after entering his apartment, he is killed. This symbol indicates death for the character in the frame. Scorsese was inspired by old gangster films such as Howard Hawks’ Scarface. Similar symbolism is used throughout the film, and it’s even shown on the protagonist Tony Camonte’s face in the form of a scar.
Related: The Top Ten Gangster Movies
9 Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Release Date May 5, 2023 Director James Gunn Cast Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Pratt2 Genres Adventure, Sci-Fi, Action Rating PG-13
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 introduces MCU audiences to the High Evolutionary, a scientist with the goal of creating a perfect society. Part of this society includes a species of animal-human hybrids known in the comics as Ani-Men. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, audiences learn of Rocket’s backstory, including the experiments done on him and the reasons why he is important to the High Evolutionary. While in the movie these creatures are, as their name implies, a combination of humans and animals, their looks evolved throughout the comics and their first appearance was as a team of four individuals dressed in animal-themed costumes.
8 Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Standoff
Release Date October 9, 1992 Director Quentin Tarantino Cast Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn Genres Crime, Thriller Rating R
Fans of Quentin Tarantino are likely aware of Tarantino’s admiration of the Western film genre. As expected as the Western influences might be within his own work, it’s not always obvious which ones he’s paying homage to. In his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, the standoff in which characters partake mirrors that of a classic Western film. This popular formation, known as a Mexican standoff, doesn’t allow anyone to have the upper hand over another, and while it may appear to the average moviegoer as something expected from an action-crime movie, a famous example of it can be seen in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
7 Blue Beetle (2023)
El Chapulín Colorado
Release Date August 18, 2023 Director Angel Manuel Soto Cast Xolo Mariduena, Susan Sarandon, Raoul Max Trujillo, Harvey Guillen, George Lopez, Elpidia Carrillo, Bruna Marquezine Genres Adventure, Sci-Fi, Action Rating PG-13
El Chapulín Colorado, a Mexican comedy series, makes an appearance in Ángel Manuel Soto’s Blue Beetle. While hacking into the security system of Kord Industries, a cartoon version of El Chapulín Colorado overrides the system. The protagonist and titular hero, played by Xolo Maridueña, is a Latino superhero, and Soto, drawing from his experiences growing up, made sure to incorporate Latinx pop culture and music references at any chance he could. The reference to El Chapulín Colorado can appear to be a silly prank and nothing more to most audience members, but it brings a sense of familiarity and cultural identity to those who grew up with the humorous hero.
6 Scream (1996)
Linda Blair from The Exorcist
Release Date December 20, 1996 Director Wes Craven Cast Jamie Kennedy, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Roger Jackson, Courteney Cox, matthew lillard Genres Horror, Mystery Rating R
In 1996’s Scream, actress Linda Blair makes a cameo. Blair takes on the role of a reporter and for moviegoers not aware of horror film history, nothing is made of her casting. However, fans of classic horror films might have recognized her as the girl who played Regan in 1973’s The Exorcist. Blair’s cameo is just one of many references to classic horror films made in Scream, the more recognizable one being the beginning of the film, which is inspired by When A Stranger Calls. Paying homage to classic horror films is a way to show the development of the genre while also providing moments for well-versed horror fans to talk about.
5 Girls Trip (2017)
Set It Off Starring Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah
Girls Trip is a 2017 comedy following four girls as they travel and spend time together. Upon entering a club in one scene, one of them says to the rest, “Let’s set it off!” As Tiffany Haddish and Regina Hall’s characters step onto the dance floor, the characters played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah stay behind for a few seconds and nod their heads. This suggests it’s a reference to the film in which Latifah and Pinkett Smith starred, 1996’s Set It Off. It also stars a group of four girls, but instead, the action-crime film follows as they rob banks and all that ensues as a result.
4 Barbie (2023)
Invisible Horses From Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Release Date July 21, 2023 Director Greta Gerwig Cast Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, Ariana Greenblatt, Helen Mirren, Nicola Coughlan, John Cena, Will Ferrell, Ritu Arya, Michael Cera, America Ferrera, Alexandra Shipp, Kate McKinnon Genres Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy Rating PG-13
Barbie is full of references to pop culture, in the dialogue, set design, and actions made by its characters. A somewhat obscure reference is made when the Kens ride their imaginary horses to confront the Barbies. As they’re pulling up to Barbie’s Dreamhouse, they gallop with their hands in position as though they are holding onto the horse’s reins. To most, this scene is another comical moment from the Kens after being easily tricked by the Barbies to fight one another. However, fans of 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail will note the same joke of the knights riding imaginary horses while others behind them imitate the sound of hooves.
Related: 12 Barbie Movie Easter Eggs & Toy References
3 High Fidelity (2000)
Fight Scene From A Clockwork Orange
Release Date March 31, 2000 Director Stephen Frears Cast Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack Genres Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance Rating R
John Cusack’s character Rob imagines himself attacking Ian, played by Tim Robbins, the man dating his ex-girlfriend. Rob and his friends attack Ian similarly to Alex and the Droogs, in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. While the High Fidelity fight scene is only something Rob imagines himself doing, it’s still likely this is a reference to the film as Barry, played by Jack Black, can be seen wearing a t-shirt with the film on it. The friend group in High Fidelity frequently lists references, so for audience members with a similar relationship to pop culture, this scene is an exciting nod to the work of a prominent film director.
2 Bottoms (2023)
But I’m A Cheerleader In The Diner Scene
Release Date August 25, 2023 Director Emma Seligman Cast Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Dagmara Dominczyk, Marshawn Lynch Genres Comedy Rating R
In Bottoms, Josie and Isabel meet up at a diner called “But I’m A Diner.” While the exterior of the diner is shown, it’s at a wide angle and therefore not obvious upon first viewing, but the name is a reference to the 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader. If the name of the diner wasn’t enough of an indicator of a reference, the waitress who hands Isabel and Josie their milkshakes is named Natasha, a nod to the lead of But I’m a Cheerleader, Natasha Lyonne. The reference is made better when fans of each film can note the shared components and themes of sexuality and cheerleading.
1 Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Release Date June 2, 2023 Director Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson Cast Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Jake Johnson, Issa Rae, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jorma Taccone, Jason Schwartzman Genres Action, Adventure, Animation, Superhero Rating PG
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is when Miles Morales learns about the canon events that’ll take place in every Spider-Verse, as explained by Miguel O’Hara. A canon event referenced in the film is known as ASM-90. The mention of ASM-90 is exciting for those familiar with the comics because it stands for the 90th issue of Amazing Spider-Man. In this issue and when this event is discussed in the film, the inevitable death of Captain Stacy is shown. The scene includes stills from the comics as well as the scene from the 2012 film, The Amazing Spider-Man.