Blink and you may miss 'em, but cinema is stuffed with sneaky, self-referential moments aimed at those in the know only.
Some are trivial. Some are funny. Some are self indulgent. Get in on the in-jokes with our indispensible guide...
Alien Series (1979 –)
Discounting the Fincher film, the Alien movies stick to their own set of rules.
If Sigourney gets cornered there’s always a nearby airlock, meal times end in tears, and... the series’ androids obey a logical alphabetical cycle.
So in Alien there’s Ash, in Aliens there’s Bishop, and in Resurrection there’s Call.
For the forthcoming prequel, we’re taking bets on the android being named Dopey.
Scripted by John Sayles, Lewis Teague’s croc-in-the-bog creature feature is stacked with sly asides to B-movie lore.
It also boasts a sneaky wink to, of all things, The Third Man .
Come the man-on-lizard climax in the sewer, flash your eyes to the graffiti on the underground walls, bearing the legend “Harry Lime Lives.”
Name sound familiar? That’s Orson Welles’ shady dealer, who’s administered some poetic justice when he’s shot dead in a Viennese sewer.
Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)
Less in-joke, more an open confession to shoplifting ideas.
John Carpenter might might have made it very much his own, but Precinct is Rio Bravo writ urban.
Hence the end credits, which attribute the editing to a certain 'John T Chance'.
Not just a brawny pseudonym for John Carpenter himself – also the name of John Wayne’s gunslinger in Rio Bravo .
Next: Back To The Future, Bill & Ted, Close Encounters... [page-break]
Back To The Future Part II (1989)
With its fizzing TV walls and effort-saving hoverboards, Robert Zemeckis’ vision of 2015 looks like a couch-potato utopia.
But do your grandchildren really deserve another Jaws sequel?
After the snores of part four, the horror is probably too much to contemplate, but there it is: Jaws 19 , advertised hologram-style on the local movie theatre’s billboard.
Cleverly, Future’s exec producer, a Mr Spielberg, has trowelled the blame onto someone else: the director of this masterpiss is credited as Max Spielberg, real-life son of The Beard.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Yeah, yeah. The Playing Battleships With Death skit was a direct lift from Ingmar Bergman’s portentous The Seventh Seal .
But the more anally retentive among you might rub a collective chin over the fact that when California’s premium arse-wits arrive in Heaven, director Peter Hewitt has slipped in statues of Michael Powell and David Niven.
The two, of course, embarked on God’s escalator in A Matter of Life and Death , whose parched white set Journey slavishly apes.
Charlie’s Angels (2000)
A largely irrelevant but fun in-joke from a largely irrelevant but fun movie.
When Drew Barrymore’s Angel tumbles from the baddie HQ wrapped in a bed sheet, the house she rolls into has two kids OD-ing on videogames.
The room has clearly been designed to copy the lounge featured in ET , as a nod to Drew’s debut.
As if to hammer the point home, there’s also an ET poster hanging above the telly.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
Desperate to stuff the mothership design with as much detail as possible, the FX fellas plundered the studio vaults.
Some pedants have even claimed to see the shark from Jaws dangling from the hull.
But R2-D2 definitely makes an appearance, welded to the UFO’s rump when it passes over Jillian as she crouches in the rocks like a sunburnt lady-tramp.
Next: Coming To America, Darkman, Die Hard... [page-break]
Coming to America ( 1988)
And lo, the mighty not only fell, but landed on their arses. On a pointy stick.
Remember those mercenary old fruits from Trading Places played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy?
Well, director John Landis invited them back for a quick cameo in Coming to America – now relegated from stockbrokers to crusty old tramps.
So, what keeps breaking down, expels noxious gases, looks like it should be in the knackers yard and appears in nearly every Sam Raimi movie?
No, not Bruce Campbell - it's a battered, yellow old banger.
First appearing in The Evil Dead , Raimi’s rustbucket (a 1973 Delta '88 Oldsmobile Classic) is a vehicular Hitchcock.
Cameos include Darkman , as the car Liam Neeson smacks into while dangling from a helicopter, The Gift , with a door hanging off the hinges and, yes, Spider-Man , as Uncle Ben’s motor that gets nicked by a robber.
Die Hard (1988)
Picture the scene. A squad of cops are staring up at an obliterated skyscraper. They know something’s up.
They also know that the mystery vigilante in a wife-beater vest is attempting to save the day.
“Could be a cop,” says one. “Could be a fucking bartender for all we know,” barks another.
Both actually. Before baldie stardom beckoned, star Bruce Willis’ previous job was as a lowly pint-puller in a nightclub.
Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995)
Good one, this.
Sam Jackson asks Willis what he’s up to. Willis shrugs: “I was just getting used to my day job, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.”
Course, Jackson and Willis previously co-starred in Pulp Fiction and Willis uttered the exact same Kangaroo spiel before crunching into Marcellus Wallace’s car.
Or rather, sang. It’s a lyric from The Statler Brother’s annoyingly chirpy 1968 hit Flowers on the Wall.
Next: ET, Evil Dead, Gremlins... [page-break]
In the shot where we glimpse Papa ET’s collection of exotic botanical curiosities, some wag from the prop department has managed to slip in a miniature Triffid from, surprisingly, 1962’s The Day Of The Triffids .
Evil Dead II (1987)
In A Nightmare on Elm Street , Wes Craven keeps Nancy awake by having her watch The Evil Dead on telly.
Director Sam Raimi was so flattered by Craven’s gesture that, when Ash enters the cellar for his demon-granny smackdown, one of Freddy Krueger’s gloves can clearly be seen nailed to a wall.
Joe Dante is notorious for stuffing his films with director cameos, but the Inventors Convention scene is one huge nod to sci-fi cinema.
Not only does an amusingly hated Robby the Robot shuffle in and use the phone, the contraption from The Time Machine powers up before the camera cuts away and cuts back to reveal a wispy fog of panto-smoke.
And the bloke with the beard on the bicycle? Gremlins producer Steve-o Spielberg.
Next: ET, Evil Dead, Gremlins... [page-break]
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Thought the Gremlins ’ slurpy egg-pods were a blatant rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers ? That’s you and director Joe Dante, then.
Pre-empting any plagiarist finger-pointing, the director waves the white flag by sending in Christopher Lee’s mad scientist, lugging around a veiny, latex Body Snatchers pod.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Stupid name, Archie Leach. Which is probably why Cary Grant’s agent elbowed him down the nearest Deed Poll office, ASAP.
That said, Grant does slip in a reference to his past moniker during Howard Hawks’ screwballer. “The last man who spoke to me like that was Archie Leach, a week before he cut his throat,” gasses Grant.
It would be great to claim that Grant hammered the final nail into his nom de birth in Arsenic And Old Lace , where he supposedly sits on a tombstone baring the legend “Archie Leach RIP” but, having scoured the scene til our eyes bled, it simply isn’t there.
Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992)
This Totzilla sequel takes some serious liberties in a variety of top secrets being kept from the American public.
Check out the scene in the government warehouse. Among the artifacts piled up, you’ll spot the Arc Of The Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rosebud from Citizen Kane .
Although quite why the US government would want to keep the lid on a crusty old kid’s sledge is anybody’s guess.
Next: The Howling, The Hunt For Red October, Indecent Proposal... [page-break]
The Howling (1980)
More name games and John Sayles / Joe Dante again.
A lore-twisting lycanthrope movie with its tongue constantly lolling in its cheek, all of The Howling ’s main characters are named after directors who have directed werewolf movies.
Notables include one “Terry” Fisher ( The Curse of the Werewolf ), “Fred” Francis ( The Legend of the Werewolf ), and “Dr” George Waggner ( The Wolf Man ).
The Hunt For Red October (1990)
Directors' visual signatures, then. Spielberg’s got his lights. Woo has the doves. Cronenberg goes for body parts... John McTiernan? Teddy bears...
Sad but true.
The last shot of McTiernan’s cold-war sub thriller shows Alec Baldwin snoozing on a jet with a stuffed bear next to him.
McTiernan’s Die Hard starts with Bruce Willis carrying the same bear through customs.
Sadder still, but equally true; the toy gets a credit: “Stanley (as himself)”.
Indecent Proposal (1993)
One movie, two books, two in-jokes.
First up, the in-joke as studio plug, with Demi Moore flicking through John Grisham’s "The Firm" – Paramount’s next big pic.
Joke book two… the secretary in Moore’s office is reading "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women", in which director Adrian Lyne takes some some serious stick.
Rather than get riled, Lyne took the piss, hired the most vacuous-looking bimbo he could find and plonked her on set bovinely gazing into the pages.
Next: Body Snatchers, King Kong, Last Action Hero... [page-break]
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
A surprisingly decent remake this, bigger on the chills and pretty respectful of it’s paranoid cinematic daddy. But not too respectful...
Hinting that this ain’t the first time the alien pods have landed, original star Kevin McCarthy flings himself in front of Donald Sutherland’s car, still yelling and soul-shrieking uncontrollably about the aliens coming.
Look out too for a cameo by original director Don Siegel as a frazzled taxi driver.
King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson’s lovingly rendered re-make contains several nods to the 1933 original.
Most fans will have caught the references to Fay Wray and RKO pictures in a conversation between Jack Black’s movie producer Carl Denham and personal assistant Preston, played by Colin Hanks.
A lesser know tidbit concerns the climactic finale, where director Frank Darabont, legendary effects master Rick Baker, and Jackson himself, can be seen piloting the biplanes that attack Kong.
More? Okay, aboard the Venture, Adrien Brody’s Jack Driscoll can be seen passing a crate bearing “Sumatran Rat Monkey — Beware The Bite!”
This is a reference to the creature who causes mayhem in Peter Jackson's splatter-horror Braindead (1992).
Aaaaand in that film, the Sumatran rat monkey is described as only being found on Skull Island – the same place Kong calls home.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Dead -series director George A. Romero was so impressed with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's 2004 zombie-com Shaun Of The Dead , he offered Pegg and Wright cameos.
The duo eagerly agreed, and pop up as photo-booth zombies in the bar-room sequence.
A better riff for Romero fans is the appearance of Tom Savini.
The special effects guru, actor and director whose biker character was killed in Dawn Of The Dead (1978), can be seen as his zombie-biker version.
The Last Action Hero (1993)
No surprises to see a strobe of movie winks during this postmodern actioner, since the whole thing plays like one bloated in-joke anyhow.
Here’s the one that falls fascinatingly flat. Escaping a mob pow-wow, Arnie drops into an LA tar pit populated by shonky-looking model dinosaurs.
Funny because Jurassic Park was Last Action Hero ’s main box office rival. Funnier because Last Action Hero was crushed to a pulp by it.
Next: The Matrix, Meet The Feebles, Men In Black... [page-break]
The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowskis whisper their martial arts nous in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mini-gag.
As Tank loads up Neo’s training, the interface whizzes through various chopsocky styles. First up? Drunken Boxing...
Matrix ruck choreographer Yuen Woo-ping also did the fights for hectic Jackie Chan flick Zui Quan , where he learns kung fu style Zui Chuan.
Trans-explan-ation? The movie is Drunken Master , the technique is drunken boxing.
Meet The Feebles (1989)
One movie in, and Peter Jackson was already cannibalising his own content.
Feebles is an acquired taste (you either hate it a bit or hate it a lot), but while the gags are cheap, they’ve got nothing on the budget.
Which is why, for The Feebles Variety Hour, Jackson pads out the mostly-cardboard-cut-out audience with one of the arse-faced aliens from his debut, Bad Taste .
Men In Black (1997)
When the pack of spindly aliens are getting ready to escape this about-to-be-toasted planet, they’re all singing a bizarre tune.
A sneaky homage to the TV version of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy as it turns out - the very same doomy madrigal sung by Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox in a similarly perilous fix.
If you must know, the song’s called the ‘Betelguese Death Anthem’...
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Going against the brain-spannering complexities of the movie’s labyrinthine plot, Brian De Palma’s convoluted spy movie actually boasts one of the stupidest in-jokes of the lot.
When Tom Cruise taps into his laptop, his internet provider isn’t Usenet but, duh, Crusenet.
Next: Mummy Returns, Muppets, Nothing Hill... [page-break]
The Mummy Returns (2001)
You could argue that Stephen Sommers’ derivative sequel is an entire movie made out of other movies.
The set-piece smash-and-grab has a bit of Jurassic Park here, a lot of Indiana Jones there, a dash of King Kong , a splat of Hammer and, what the hell, let’s throw in some Kubrick too...
Granted, it’s way over the heads of the target kiddie audience but, when those yapping pygmies meet their diminutive doom on the river, one of the mini monsters grips onto a trunk and rides into the chasm, yee-hawing defiantly - exactly like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr Strangelove .
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
While Kermit The Frog’s birth name was probably Machine Wash Only or Made in Portugal, Michael Caine manages to smack in a bludgeoningly obvious pointer to his former identity in this seasonal Henson adap.
See that shop called Mickelwhite’s? Named, in a roundabout way, after Caine, who entered this world as Maurice Mickelwhite.
Notting Hill (1999)
During the gloopy rom-com's final minutes, Hugh Grant can be seen sitting on a bench flicking through Captain Corelli’s Mandolin .
Director Roger Michell slipped it in as a hint that his next film would be an adaptation of that very book.
One hitch: Michell suffered a heart attack weeks before the shoot, John Madden stole his director's chair and the in-joke sank faster than a concrete canoe.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
A great example of the movie in-joke as continuity link.
With non-entity George Lazenby taking over Connery’s role, producers wanted it made clear that this was the exact 007 audiences had seen in previous operations.
So when Bond hands in his resignation and clears his desk, the camera winks at several mission souvenirs.
Namely, Honey Ryder’s knife from Dr. No , Red Grant’s garotte-watch from From Russia With Love and the mini aqualung from Thunderball , all accompanied by dainty musical signatures.
Next: Predator 2, Princess Bride, Raiders Of The Lost Arc... [page-break]
Predator 2 (1990)
While the original Predator was satisfied with the premise of a fanny-faced alien hunting us earth dwellers for meat, a glimpse shot during the sequel’s climax suggest the alien rasta also enjoys a rangier quarry.
The eagle-eyed among you will spot a xenomorph trophy skull, making the association between the two alien species long before the abominable AvP did.
The Princess Bride (1987)
So, ever wondered about the prominence of the baseball cap hanging behind little Fred Savage’s bed?
Probably not, but splat your nose against the screen and you’ll notice it’s actually the same headgear worn by Spinal Tap hack Marti DiBergi (aka Bride director Rob Reiner).
Relevance? None. It’s only there because 'Tap fan Mark Knopfler said he’d only score the movie if DiBergi’s cap had a cameo.
Knopfler’s soundtrack was, of course, recorded in Dobly.
Raiders of the Lost Ark ( 1981)
By the time Temple of Doom came out, Lucas’ nods to his own Star Wars series were, for the sake of a shit pun, a bit “forced” (the theatre at the beginning is called – hur hur – "Club Obi Wan").
But in the first movie, the references are more veiled.
That bit at the beginning when Indie is legging it from the natives? The airplane he escapes in has the registration number OB-3PO.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Famously, the Brothers Coen have a back catalogue of yet-to-be-shot scripts, so it’s no surprise to see details from later movies pop up in earlier works.
So, seven years before they shot The Hudsucker Proxy , Nic Cage and his fellow factory workers can be seen blundering around in uniforms bearing the legend “Hudsucker Industries”, the name of the bullying corporation in Proxy .
Next: Reservoir Dogs, Return Of The Jedi, The Rock... [page-break]
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Ever since his debut, Quentin Tarantino has built up a host of signature brands that keep cropping up in his scripts.
Pulp Fiction , True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn all sneak in his regular smokes (Red Apple) and eats (Kahuna Burgers).
That said, in this case the in-joke’s on Tim Roth. The woman he shoots is actually Suzanne Celeste, Roth’s dialogue coach.
Hacked off with her tiresome 'How To Speak American' lessons, Roth insisted he administer some justice for all the pain she put his gob through.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Lucas had been referencing his first feature in his films for years ( American Graffiti and Star Wars both have partial nods), but it took him until Jedi to finally put the whole thing in.
His penchant for subtlety continues on its steep trajectory towards a slap in the face here. Near the climax on planet Ewok, a Dark Side intercom barks the following announcement:
“Will the owner of the speeder with the licence number THX 1138 please move their vehicle, you are parked in a no hover zone”.
See what he did there?
The Rock (1996)
You’re Sean Connery, you’re on a movie set, the pressure’s on and you can’t remember your lines. What to do?
Easy. Dust down an old line of dialogue buried deep in your brain box and schtart schpeaking.
Blame Diamonds Are Forever : When Plenty O’Toole introduces herself, Connery replies ‘But of course you are’.
Since then, he’s turned it into a private in-joke. In Rising Sun , when a bodyguard barks he’s a black belt, Connery replies, “But of course you are”.
And in The Rock when Stanley Goodspeed reveals his name, Connery replies... “But of course you are”. The trickster...
Sixteen Candles (1984)
The car belonging to Jake bears a number plate reading 21850. Director John Hughes’ date of birth is (using American format) 2/18/50.
But add up 2+1+8+5+0 and what do you end up with…?
Next: Some Like It Hot, Star Trek, Terminator 2... [page-break]
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Scowling at a young hoodlum flipping a coin, George Raft grits his teeth and seethes, “Where did you get that cheap trick?”
Er, from George Raft, as it turns out.
The slick ex-prizefighter made his first Hollywood dent in Scarface , playing a wiseguy henchman whose trademark tic was tossing a coin.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Heading into the heart of the alien spaceship thing, Spock is confronted by a menagerie of intergalactic bobbins absorbed by the contraption.
“What sort of creature are we dealing with here?” drones Big Ears.
Judging by the image at the bottom-centre, right, that'll be Miss Piggy out of The Muppets...
Tango & Cash (1989)
Hollywood is always airing its dirty laundry in public, but sometimes the jibes end up on-screen.
After he and Kurt Russel escape from prison, Russell suggests they go for “a coffee and a Danish”.
To which Sly barks with acidic relish, “I HATE DANISH!”.
And he should know. Prior to shooting, Sly had barely survived a messy divorce from Danish ice-vixen Brigitte Nielson.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
When Arnie’s raging psychomecha chases Robert Patrick’s shape-shifter through a shopping mall, Mr Terminator administers justice by pulling out a feck off shotgun from a box of roses.
Guns, roses. Guns and roses.
Funnily enough, a little band called Guns ‘n’ Roses did the soundtrack.
Next: Toys, Toy Story, Vanilla Sky... [page-break]
A nod to classic sci-fi here as Michael Gambon’s deranged and tyrannical General barks the words “Klaatu Barada Nikto” as a desperate command to halt a tempestuous sea monstoid.
The phrase, as many of you will know, originates from The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). It's the command issued by peace-loving hippie alien Klaatu, in order to stop his rampaging robot body guard Gort.
The phrase is widely referenced throughout moviedom - in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness , Ash stutters and mispronounces it while trying to reclaim of The Book of The Dead.
In Return of The Jedi , George Lucas names Jabba The Hutt’s toadying henchmen Klaatu, Barada and Nikto respectively.
Klaatu is the one who tries to feed Luke to the Sarlaac. Just so you know.
Toy Story ( 1995)
Pixar are always referencing their own franchises ( Toy Story dolls in Monsters Inc. for one), but here’s a nod to another corporation.
The toolbox that Buzz Lightyear heaves off the milk crate is labeled Binford Tools...
...which is the name of the company that sponsors the Tool Time segment in Allen’s TV sitcom "Home Improvement".
Vanilla Sky (2001)
So The Cruiser was prepping work on his next film, Minority Report , while shooting this.
Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe gave Minority Report helmer Spielberg a cameo in the birthday party scene, complete with a ‘Pre Crime’ emblazoned baseball cap - a nod to the plot of the sci-fi extravaganza.
Always the gentleman, Spielberg returned the favour.
Crowe can be seen in Minority Report as a passenger on a train during a sequence where Cruise’s character is trying to evade capture.
There y'go. Consider yourself in on the joke. Any we neglected to mention? Let us know in the Comments.
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