We’ve all had that moment when we’re watching a movie and we recognize something that we’ve seen before. Something that reminds us of something else. We call them reminders. Sometimes it’s blatant robbery. Sometimes it’s a tribute. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. But there are moments, like the scenes on this list, where the scene is clearly a tribute, a small little tip of the cap that only fans of both films recognize. Whether it’s one director’s way of saying “hey there!” to another, or “thanks for being awesome,” or just a director looking back at their own films (totally self-promoting themselves), these little tributes are great. They make us smile and feel a little bit better about wasting our entire weekend of sunshine inside the house crushing movie after movie.
Most of the references are subtle. You can’t just give throw-around references all willy nilly. You want to make your audiences work to connect the dots, give them a feeling of accomplishment for putting it all together. In many of the examples here, one director is paying back another for giving them a plug in their movie. A little, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Whatever the reasons, these references are just part of what makes the movie world so amazing. We speak and understand coded references based on our movie-watching experience. The more we watch the more we understand. It’s like a prize with absolutely no monetary value attached to it. In some cases, the entire scene can signify in a unique way because of these intertextual links.
There are so many examples, but these are the best of the best. After this list you’ll know more than most people do, at least in terms of movie tributes. You’ll understand the movies better, and you’ll be able to help others understand the movie better. Here are the greatest 15 movies with hidden tributes for another movie.
15. Star Trek Sees Someone From Star Wars
JJ Abrams loves Star Wars, we know this. Originally, Abrams turned down the opportunity to direct Star Wars 7 because he was done with sequels. Then he took the job. But before that, he agreed to do Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he decided to throw some Star Wars love into Star Trek (2009). While the crew of the Enterprise investigate the remains of a destroyed star fleet, one piece of debris is not like the others. Nope. That’s because it’s friggin R2D2, just floatin’ about in space. That’s not all. Abrams went and put R2D2 in space once more in Star Trek into Darkness a few years later. What a nerd, right?
14. The Social Network Looks Up Fight Club
When Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) uses Facebook to cheat on his exam in The Social Network, rookie mistake, pay close attention to the person that he looks up. In the top left-hand corner of the profile, we can see the name Tyler Durden. Sound familiar? It should. It’s Brad Pitt‘s character’s name in Fight Club, another movie directed by David Fincher. Tyler Durden is essentially a terrorist. Zuckerberg is looking up a terrorist’s Facebook profile. I haven’t had enough time to work it all out, but I think this means that Mark Zuckerberg is a terrorist? It’s kind of a neat tribute because it happens so quickly and Tyler Durden himself was known for placing subliminal messages in films. That means it’s a double tribute. Or maybe not, I don’t know.
13. Kick-Ass Likes Scott Pilgrim vs The World Like Kick-Ass
When Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) is telling Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) what types of comic books she likes, she says that she doesn’t like superhero stuff that much. She likes the stuff like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s rumored that in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a character in the background can be overheard talking about Kick-Ass. Unless these references were completely accidental, they must have been planned in advance, though, because the films came out the same year. Who knows such things? It behooves both films to promote the others—a rise in the tide lifts all boats kind of thing.
12. Back to the Future Looks Back At The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
In the scene that has Marty McFly crashing through the farm and into the barn in Back to the Future, we see the family come out and freak out when Marty exits the DeLorean in a “space suit.” Well the credits inform us that the man is Mr. Peabody and his son is Sherman. This is a direct reference to The Rocky and Bullwinkle show (I know I know, not a movie) and it’s a good one. One of the features on that cartoon was “Peabody’s Improbable History,” a story about a genius time-traveling dog, Peabody, and his son, Sherman. Neat. You know who else is a genius time-traveling dog? Doc Brown’s dog, Einstein. How about that?
11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Flashes Back To The Nightmare Before Christmas
When Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) flashes back to his childhood in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he remembers one particular Halloween night. In that flashback, there are three kids who run past wearing amazing costumes of Lock, Shock and Barrel, the three little rugrats from The Nightmare before Christmas—created and written by Tim Burton. It’s tough to see in real time, but I believe in you. They run right to left from the bottom of the screen. In another, more difficult to catch tribute to Burton’s past, Willy takes the kids down a crazy chocolate river ride. When this happens, start looking close at names on the doors. Right after the “Jelly Beans” room, you can just barely make out the next one, and it reads “Beetle Juicing.” Get it? It’s from the movie Beetlejuice. Both gross and awesome.
10. Swingers Steals From Reservoir Dogs
In a conversation between the gang in Swingers, when comparing Mean Streets to Reservoir Dogs, Jon Favreau says that you can’t compare the two films because Quentin Tarantino steals everything from Martin Scorsese. Ron Livingston says that everyone steals from everyone, so it’s not a big deal, and then the gang leaves. But they don’t just walk away normally. No, not this time. Instead, they walk away against a red brick wall in slow motion, almost an identical shot to the opening sequence in Reservoir Dogs. Even if you missed the reference, you probably still laughed. But you probably only laughed because you were reacting to what other people were doing; you really didn’t know why you were laughing. It’s embarrassing but I’ll forgive you.
9. Toy Story Meets The Shining
Pixar loves putting in as many movie references into their movies as they can possibly fit, so it’s no surprise that Toy Story has a million. It is interesting, however, that there are so many different little tributes to Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining in the Toy Story franchise. Take a look at Sid’s carpet, for instance, it is the same pattern (slightly smaller) as the carpet in the Overlook Hotel. The connections continue into Toy Story 3 as there are about three separate nods to the number 237—referencing the evil room in the hotel with the creepy old lady in it. There’s one on a camera, one on a license plate and one on a username. Looks like these Pixar guys loved them some Kubrick.
8. Jurassic Park Watching Jaws
I guess it makes sense that a director would plug another one of their movies. It’s free advertising. Why not? If I was Steven Spielberg, I’d only reference my own movies. My own movies are amazing. There’s the off chance that someone watching Jurassic Park will see Jaws playing on Dennis’ (Wayne Knight) computer and think, “dang, I got a hankerin’ to watch Jaws all of a sudden.” While it’s possible that subliminal messaging wasn’t part of the plan for Stevie, it would sound a lot cooler if it were. Sure, it’s probably just a little egg for fans to find and talk about, but whatever. It’s possible that Newman was really watching Jaws. That’s basically the equivalent of a receptionist playing Solitaire.
7. Rango Remembers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
As Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) is being thrown around from car to car on the desert highway in Rango, he happens to land on a familiar windshield. In the animated Johnny Depp tribute, the poor Chameleon lands smack on the windshield of the same car driven by Johnny Depp (as Hunter S. Thompson) in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The animated version of Depp is also voiced by him, exclaiming, “huh, another one. I knew it,” a nod to the bat scene, justifying his drug-induced paranoia from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Rango was kind of boring, wasn’t it? This scene was cool though. It’ll make you chuckle.
6. Maverick Gets Lethal Weapon Déjà Vu
In Maverick, when gunslingers break in to rob the bank that Mel Gibson is in, Gibson recognizes something about one of the masked bandits. After thinking about it for some time, Gibson pulls down the bandana covering the robber’s face, revealing that it is Danny Glover, the same Glover who played Gibson’s partner in the Lethal Weapon franchise. What a coincidence. The two men give each other a few glances, thinking, “wait a second, isn’t that…?” The two men eventually split when the bank safe is set to blow. After the explosion, a frazzled Glover leaves the bank saying, “I’m getting too old for this sh!+,” a play on his classic line from the Lethal Weapon series. Oh, Richard Donner also directed both Maverick and Lethal Weapon, so there you have it.
5. Star Wars in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and E.T. in Star Wars
Everyone loves Star Wars but when you’re Steven Spielberg and one of your pals is George Lucas, you have to prove you love Star Wars by showing it in your movies. Well, that’s just what Spielberg did in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial by having Yoda show up during the trick or treating scene. Lucas loved this bit so much that he paid his long-time friend back by having a bunch of E.T.’s homeboys show up in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Legend has it that Lucas promised to give E.T. a cameo in the next Stars Wars flick after he saw Yoda pop up in E.T. Unfortunately, Lucas never promised that E.T. would get a cameo in the next good Star Wars movie, so he got The Phantom Menace instead. Spielberg also put R2D2 and C-3PO in hieroglyphs in Indiana Jones, which makes it seem like James Cameron isn’t keeping up his end of the friendships. Spielberg’s really carrying the load here.
4. Watchmen Erases Batman
During the credits of Watchmen, there is a scene which has the original Nite Owl punching out a masked robber. But look closer. On the wall, we see Batman posters, triggering his story in our minds. Now look to the left, could that be Bruce Wayne’s father, mother and Alfred? You still have doubts? The woman is wearing pearls just like Martha Wayne wore, they are definitely rich, they’re coming out of the Gotham Opera House and on the wall it reads “Die Fledermaus,” Johann Strauss II’s opera that translates to “The Bat.” So what does this scene mean? Well, check out Thomas Wayne’s face. It looks like he’s been punched and Nite Owl has saved them. They never got robbed or killed. Bruce needs no revenge. Batman never exists. Hmm, is this maybe not a tribute? Is thems fightin’ words?
3. Pulp Fiction Runs Into Psycho
In Pulp Fiction, when Butch (Bruce Willis) pulls up to a red light and sees Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), movie watchers with a good memory might remember seeing this same shot before. In fact, it’s almost a shot-for-shot remake of the scene that has Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) see her boss at a stop light. Now, Quentin Tarantino adds a little Tarantino flair to the scene by having Butch run over Marcellus, while Crane just let her boss walk away all confused. But it was a nice little tip o’ the chapeau to Alfred Hitchcock and one of the best movies ever made. Quentin puts a ton of tributes in his movies, but this one is the only one I wanted to talk about. I’m shy.
2. Evil Dead II Pays Back A Nightmare on Elm Street
There is a neat little connection of homages between Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), a little ping pong game of tributes if you like. Try it, you might. First, Craven puts a Jaws poster in his film The Hills Have Eyes, which Raimi pays tribute to in Evil Dead with a poster of The Hills Have Eyes. Craven saw this tribute and paid Raimi back by having his main character, Nancy, watching Evil Dead in A Nightmare on Elm Street. To pay the tribute back later in Evil Dead II, Raimi hung Freddy Krueger’s gloves/blades in the tool shed. When you think of it, this is a pretty awkward game of one-upmanship. I mean, it’s great but still. I do wonder if Raimi is still waiting on Craven to say thanks back to him.
1. Piranha 3D Nods Its Cap To Jaws
There are few things as beautiful as an actor reliving a character from their past. Alright, a tad understated. It’s the most beautiful thing there is. In Piranha 3D, there’s an amazing moment when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) is fishing—yes, he’s playing the same character he did in Jaws 35 years ago. He’s also singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” the song he, Quint and Brody sing when they’re plastered. It’s all really perfect until a beer bottle falls to the bottom of the lake, cracking open a connection to an ancient lake underneath, which starts a whirlpool that ultimately dumps Hooper into the water where piranhas eat him up. Before that point though, everything was perfect. The original Piranha was a little coy about owning its relationship to Jaws. It tried to ride the wave that Jaws made, but it never really acknowledged it… until Piranha 3D at least.