In this day and age of meticulous analysis of every single trailer and new images, it can be tricky for movies to surprise us anymore. Luckily, for decades, filmmakers have been working hard to sneak in clever little nods and references into their movies to reward the keen-eyed viewer, without ruining the movie for anyone not in on the joke. The very fact that they can come in any form - from a throwaway piece of dialogue to some well-placed set dressing - makes it all the more pleasing when they’re spotted. And to celebrate those little touches that filmmakers give us, here’s our list of some of cinema’s most smartest and enjoyable Easter eggs to date. Oh, and it contains recent movies like Deadpool and Zootropolis, so there could be potential spoilers.
30. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
When Will Ferrell is escorting Shannon Elizabeth out of the cinema at the end of the movie, a poster for a movie called Busing appears on the wall. Despite being laid out in a similar design to the Clerks poster, Busing was actually the name of a movie script written by Smith in the wake of his first film. Following the mundane lives of restaurant busboys, it was set to tread similar ground to Clerks, but fell by the wayside when Smith failed to secure any studio interest.
29. Maverick (1994)
When Mel Gibson finds himself caught in the middle of a bank robbery, there’s a prolonged double take when the robber is revealed to be Danny Glover, Gibson’s Lethal Weapon co-star. Okay, this one is probably too obvious to be considered “clever” per se, but we’re still including it as it’s a brilliantly affectionate bit of in-jokery. Glover even says “I’m too old for this shit" for crying out loud!
28. King Kong (2005)
As the ship approaches Skull Island, a message is received in morse code, supposedly announcing a warrant for Jack Black’s arrest. However, this isn’t actually what the code translates to - what it actually says is, “Show me the monkey!” Nice. Very nice indeed.
27. The Mist (2007)
The painting Thomas Jane is working on at the beginning of the movie is quite clearly a picture of Roland Deschain, hero of another Stephen King property, The Dark Tower. King’s books are full of continuity crossovers and it’s nice to see that cross over into the movie adaptations as well. A signpost to Castle Rock, the setting for many of King’s yarns, can also be spotted at one point.
26. Return of the Jedi (1983)
Three of the aliens working on Jabba’s sail barge are named Klaatu, Barada and Nikto, a reference to the robot-foiling codewords in The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s a nicely underplayed nod to a science fiction classic, although we prefer the less subtle tribute paid by Army Of Darkness!
25. Anchorman (2004)
In the scene directly before Ron Burgundy gets the boot from KVWN, Veronica Corningstone is shown eating in a Mexican restaurant called Escupimos en su Alimento, which is Spanish for “we spit in your food”. Hur-hur-hur…
24. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Eagle-eyed viewers might recognise one of the bearded chaps waiting to be healed by pseudo-Messiah Brian… It’s none other than The Beatles' George Harrison! Harrison, a confirmed Python fan, personally founded Handmade Films in order to get the project made, at a cost of around £3 million. Or as Eric Idle would later describe it, “The world’s most expensive cinema ticket”.
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Whilst flicking through TV channels towards the beginning of the film, Bruce Banner flicks past an episode of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father - a ‘70s TV show featuring Bill Bixby, the man who played Bruce Banner opposite Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk.
22. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
When Ash bursts into the tool-shed, his girlfriend’s head busily gnawing at his hand, Freddy Krueger’s glove can be spotted mounted above the frame of the door. It’s a throwaway moment, but a nice nod to an iconic villain. Or is it…? Supposedly, Wes Craven included a poster of Jaws in The Hills Have Eyes to suggest that his film was scarier. In response to this, Sam Raimi placed a Hills Have Eyes poster on the wall of the cabin basement in the original Evil Dead. In turn, a torn Evil Dead poster can be spotted in A Nightmare On Elm Street. Now-now boys, play nicely.
21. Jurassic World (2015)
Whatever you think of Jurassic World, it’s clear that director Colin Trevorrow approached it with a definite love of the original. There’s nods everywhere you look and the most pleasing came in the form of a book. Jeff Goldblum might not have reprised his role as Ian Malcolm, but his spirit is there with God Creates Dinosaurs, written by none-other than everyone’s favourite ‘Chaos Theory’ mathematician. It appears twice: on the desks of Jurassic Park geek Lowery (Jake Johnson) and in the hands of Zara (Katie McGrath). We hope she finished it before her unfortunate encounter with the Mosasaurus.
20. Godzilla (1998)
During the taxi-chase through New York, Matthew Broderick chucks the driver’s identification plate out of the window in order to get the attention of a nearby military man. The name on said ID card is “Armin Tamzarian”, the real name of The Simpsons’ Principal Skinner. Talk about obscure! Although there is a bit of a Simpsons theme running through the film, with Harry Shearer (who voices Skinner) playing a news reporter and Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) as his secretary.
19. X-Men 2 (2003)
When Mystique is waiting to seduce Magneto’s prison guard at a dingy flyblown bar, a current affairs programme is airing on the TV. Giving his take on the mutant issue is one Hank McCoy, perhaps better known as Beast. It’s a gloriously knowing way of referencing one of the X-Men Bryan Singer couldn’t find room for in his movie. Another similar treat can be found when Mystique is trawling through the mutant database in Lady Deathstrike’s office and the birth names of Gambit, Silver Samurai and many more are clearly visible.
18. Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
When McClane is asked what he’s been doing since the last film, he answers, “Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo”. The same lyric from Flowers On The Wall is sung by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, right before he sees Marsellus crossing the road. Given that Pulp Fiction was released in between Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With A Vengeance, the continuity works quite nicely. Not that we’re suggesting McClane and Coolidge are the same person. Don’t get too excited!
17. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
It had been rumoured for months, but it likely still took cinemagoers two viewings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to spot a certain 007. Yes, Daniel Craig swapped a sharp tuxedo for stormtrooper armour, appearing in a fairly key scene with Daisy Ridley’s Rey. It’s on Craig’s unwitting stormtrooper that Rey first uses a Jedi mind trick, getting him to remove her restraints and leave the cell open. Blofeld is already practising.
16. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
As Lilo looks out of her bedroom window, a Dumbo toy can be seen peeking out from her easel. Mickey always hogs the limelight when it comes to Disney easter eggs. But whilst the viewer might be looking out for those big round ears, the presence of another aurally-gifted character comes as a bit of a nice surprise.
15. Batman (1989)
When Alexander Knox walks into his office at the beginning of the movie, a sketch of The Batman is handed to him. The signature at the bottom is that of Bob Kane, the character’s original creator. It’s a really cool sketch on its own merits, but the signature is a nice tip of the hat from director Tim Burton. Unsurprisingly, Kane’s name is nowhere near the Joel Schumacher movies…
14. Zootropolis (2016)
With everything from baby elephants dressed up as Frozen’s Anna and Elsa, to bootleg Disney DVDs, Zootropolis is the animation giant as its most meta, and the subtlest nod comes in the form of minor character Duke Weaselton. The crooked weasel is voiced by Alan Tudyk, who just happened to voice the Duke of Weselton in Frozen. A character who constantly got irritated by people’s pronunciation of “Weselton” as “Weasel Town”.
13. Watchmen (2009)
The first scene in the superlative opening montage is crammed to the brim with Batman references. First of all, there are the old-school Batman posters on the wall. Then on the top-left of the theatre’s notice board, the word Gotham is clearly legible. Finally, the production showing at the theatre is shown to be Die Fledermaus. Translation? “The Bat.” It actually goes deeper than that. Supposedly, the goon that Night Owl is punching out is none other than Joe Chill. That startled-looking couple on the left are Mr. and Mrs. Wayne.
12. Deadpool (2016)
In a movie positively brimming with references, easter eggs and meta-gags, a scene involving Deadpool’s old colleague Bob is possibly the cheekiest. The two come face-to-face during the climax and is a reference to Deadpool comic book character Bob, Agent of HYDRA. The only problem? Marvel Studios owns the rights to HYDRA so he’s just a guy called Bob in the movie. But he’s definitely HYDRA Bob. Well, unless Marvel asks about him.
11. Wall-E (2008)
Hamm from Toy Story makes the briefest of appearances, but you can clearly see him within Wall-E’s truck, just to the left of Eve’s head in the picture above. Pixar movies are always riddled with in-references (Rex crops up in Monsters Inc., for example) but John Ratzenberger (who voices Hamm) is a particularly lucky mascot, having been given a voice part in every one of the studio’s films to date.
10. Predator 2 (1990)
When Danny Glover discovers the Predator’s trophy room, one of the skulls on display has clearly been taken from a Xenomorph. So begins the cross-franchise tinkering that would run both Predator and Alien into the ground (for a while, anyway). It’s a fairly obvious one in that you won’t need freeze-frame to spot it, but it’s a nice tip of the hat from one sci-fi beastie to another. If only they had left it there…
9. Back to the Future (1985)
When Marty crashes into the 1950s, he ploughs into a family farmhouse. The irate farmer refers to his son as Sherman, before the mailbox he shoots reveals his name to be Peabody. Sherman and Peabody are a cartoon double-act with access to a time machine. It’s a knowing salute to a pair of fellow time travellers. A little more subtle than simply naming the dog “Einstein”.
8. Aladdin (1992)
As is the case in many Disney animations, Mickey Mouse makes a number of covert appearances in Aladdin. One such incident occurs when Jafar’s spell is broken and Aladdin’s enchanted pals are returned to normal. A quick bit of freeze-framing through that transformation reveals a pair of very Mickey-like ears on Rajah the tiger. Disney’s in-jokes always come across as fun rather than smug, particularly their hidden Mickeys. It’s like a bonus game of Where’s Wally thrown in free of charge!
7. Iron Man (2008)
As Tony Stark is removing his suit after his encounter with the F-22s, you’ll notice a workbench in the left-hand side of the frame upon which lies what appears to be a prototype version of Captain America’s shield! We always enjoy a bit of Marvel cross-referencing, particularly given that all the various threads eventually came together for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie.
6. Tron (1982)
Look carefully at the schematics diagram on the bridge of Sark’s battlecruiser. On the right hand side you’ll find Pac-Man munching his way through a string of yellow dots. Not only is it wilfully silly, but it fits in with the general theme of the film. Given that Flynn is a video-game nut, why wouldn’t he work Pac-Man into one of his programmes?
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Possibly the hardest easter egg on this rundown to spot without prior knowledge comes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ scene on board the Eravana freighter. After Rey accidentally opens the wrong door, Han Solo and Chewbacca are forced to run away from a rathtar which is rolling down a hallway towards them. So what better musical cue to put in than the boulder roll sound from the iconic Raiders of the Lost Ark scene? Now there’s forever a lovely link between two of cinema’s greatest franchises. Well played.
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
You might think that we only learn The Bride’s real name in Kill Bill Vol. 2, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually displayed on the plane ticket she buys to Okinawa, revealing the moniker “Beatrix Kiddo” to anyone sad enough to have paused it at exactly the right moment. It isn’t the only time QT wafts the Bride’s real identity under his audience’s nose. Bill calls her “Kiddo” in one of the movie’s first scenes, but the obvious assumption is that this is just a term of endearment. Albeit rather an odd one, given that he’s just shot her!
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Hidden amongst the hieroglyphics of the well of souls, are a pair of familiar characters. Have a look at the picture above and see if you can spot them. Yes, it’s R2-D2 and C-3P0 of course. Those two get around, don’t they? Ancient chambers, far away galaxies, bargain-basement adverts for electrical retailers…
2. I Am Legend (2007)
Amongst the ruins of NYC, a movie poster can be spotted featuring the Superman logo within the bat symbol. Whilst the poster sent fanboys everywhere into a state of frenzy, it turned out not to be a canny piece of viral marketing but rather a throwaway gag from producer Akiva Goldsman, who was at one time involved with a Superman/Batman crossover film. Imagine a world where the only piece of marketing for Batman v Superman was a poster...
1. Iron Man 2 (2010)
In the post-credits scene with Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury, a SHIELD map is clearly visible, with several locations specifically circled. Each one refers to a different character from the Marvel universe, including New Mexico (landing point of Mjolnir’s hammer), New York (home to The Hulk), Antarctica (where a frozen Captain America is discovered), and Southwest Africa, home to the Black Panther. With one little scene, Marvel whipped their fans into a mouth-foaming frenzy, whilst promoting their upcoming releases at the same time. Very smart.