Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to imagine a Marvel movie, or Pixar animated feature without an Easter Egg of some kind. Technically speaking, an Easter Egg should be an object, because the term originated from the custom of hiding Easter Eggs for children to find.
However, the idea has evolved, and Easter Eggs now not only include hidden objects, but cameos, and even lines of dialogue. Throughout the centuries, artists have been paying homage to one another by referencing each other’s work, and movie Easter Eggs are exactly that – the art of paying homage.
When done in a smart way, they can be really enjoyable; they can even help advance the story or clarify a plot point. Let’s take a look at the Top 15 Easter Eggs in movies.
15. The slave owner (Django Unchained)
Quentin Tarantino is the ultimate cinema nerd, and his knowledge of films is almost unmatched, which is why he simply had to include Franco Nero in this scene in Django Unchained. Franco Nero is a well-known figure in international cinema with a career spanning five decades.
He played many iconic characters, including the famous Django in the eponymous 1966 movie (he’s the original Django). Now, when he asks Jamie Fox about his name, Fox replies “Django. The D is silent”, to which Nero replies “I know”. This is a clear throwback to Nero’s iconic character from his hay day and a great homage paid by Tarantino to his movie hero.
Young viewers may not have gotten the joke, but older fans familiar with Spaghetti westerns definitely smiled in approval. Some may argue that the whole thing wasn’t moving the plot forward, but without these homages and Easter eggs, Tarantino’s universe just wouldn’t be the same.
14. The Stone Trolls (The Fellowship of the Ring)
The scope of Tolkien’s world is so big that it was literally impossible to include all the bits and pieces that make the story unique and unsurpassed. However, whenever he could, Peter Jackson managed to sneak in details that made Tolkien fans happy. One of these tidbits is the scene with Aragorn and the hobbits, where you can clearly see three petrified trolls in the background.
They aren’t talked about; the action doesn’t revolve around them; they are simply there. This is taken directly from the books. Since the LOTR films came out more than a decade before the Hobbit films, this scene is a great tie-in for the two trilogies, and it served as a sort of teaser for what’s to come.
13. Gyro Captain’s skull (Mad Max: Fury Road)
One of the best supporting characters in the original Mad Max trilogy is the Gyro Captain, played by Bruce Spence, who later also appeared in Lord of the Rings as the Mouth of Sauron. The Gyro Captain is funny, scary, weird – basically, everything you’d want in a supporting character.
In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), we can see a skull on Nux’s car, with goggles and a cap resembling those of the Gyro Captain from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Spence’s performance in this film was so good that it’s now considered as one of the best supporting roles, given the modest screen time and lines of dialogue.
Now, whether it is the same character or not is up to you to decide, but the great thing about this Easter Egg is that it’s subtle and it leaves room for speculation, which is something fans enjoy. Since the Gyro Captain was set up and a wastelander i.e. scavenger, it wouldn’t be surprising that he eventually got killed in the hellish world he lived in.
On the other hand, maybe it was just the director George Miller having fun. Whatever you choose to go with, one thing is clear – this is a great Easter Egg.
12. Club Obi Wan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
At the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, we see Indiana Jones trying to escape Chinese mobsters who are after his life, as he leaves the club Obi Wan. Now, to those of you who don’t get the reference, it’s just an aptly named Chinese establishment. In reality, it’s a friendly homage to George Lucas.
In Star Wars, Obi Wan is the name of a major character played by Sir Alec Guinness. But the name does have a Chinese twang, doesn’t it? Anyway, the reference fit perfectly into the movie, winking back at Star Wars fans, as well as giving a nod to Lucas, with whom Spielberg revolutionized the movie industry in the mid 70s.
11. Yoda (E.T.)
In the movie E.T., it’s Halloween and the kids are walking with their alien friend in disguise, when they meet a kid wearing a Yoda costume from Star Wars. As the Yoda kid passes by, E.T. immediately starts walking towards him repeating the word ‘’Home!”
This is supposed to signify that Yoda and E.T. share the same galaxy, which means that the tagline “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” may easily be true. This cameo-form Easter egg not only deepens the story, but it also reinstates the mythos of Star Wars. This is Spielberg’s unique way of honoring his friend George Lucas.
10. E.T. envoys (The Phantom Menace)
In Star Wars Episode I – Phantom Menace, a small delegation of alien beings — identical to E.T. from the eponymous movie — appear. Along with them, there are tons of intergalactic races in the large gathering, and if you look closely, there’s no doubt about it – they belong to E.T.’s alien species.
This is a brilliant bit by George Lucas because by incorporating it, he took Spielberg’s suggestion and made it part of Star Wars expanded universe. It wasn’t an in-joke anymore. The circle was complete. E.T. does come from a galaxy far, far away… We can only hope that his species was on the side of the Rebels and not the evil Intergalactic Empire.
9. The bank robber (Maverick)
In this 1994 western comedy, when a bank robber starts threatening everyone, Mel Gibson (who plays the eponymous character) somehow stays calm and collected, maintaining the expression of a guy experiencing déjà vu. When he removes the bank robber’s scarf, and it’s the actor Danny Glover.
The two seem a bit confused staring at each other, trying to remember where they had previously met. They cannot shake off the feeling that they’ve already done this… Of course, this is a nice little reference to Glover’s and Gibson’s on-screen companionship in the Lethal Weapon, which is one of the best buddy cop franchises of all time.
The meta joke here is that Danny Glover actually plays a criminal, instead of a cop. He even manages to set off a bomb, which is a direct throwback to Lethal Weapon 2, where Glover’s character is literally sitting on a bomb hidden beneath his toilet.
When the bank robber leaves the scene quipping his famous Lethal Weapon tagline – I’m getting too old for this sh*t! – it all hits home.
8. The janitor (Scream)
Probably few people noticed the janitor guy in Scream—the iconic horror film of the 90s directed by Wes Craven. Craven was a master of the horror genre with films such as: The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street which established Freddy Krueger as one of the best horror villains of all time.
In Scream, the janitor is actually played by the director himself – yes, that’s Wes Craven right there. What is even better is that he is dressed like Freddy Krueger, in his exact sweater and hat.
This Easter egg may serve two purposes: first – to suggest that Freddy Krueger is still alive and kicking, stalking the innocent high school students while preparing to enter their dreams. And second – to show that the days of Freddy Krueger are gone, and the only thing that he can do is sweep the floors, half-forgotten and bitter.
7. Nick Fury’s epitaph (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
This entry is a nice tie-in between the expanded universes of Quentin Tarantino and Marvel comics, although it doesn’t try to wink back at you forcefully. It’s done with style, as would suit a character played by the master-of-cool, Samuel L. Jackson.
In Captain America: Winter Soldier, on Nick Fury’s tombstone the epitaph reads “The path of the righteous man…” Nick Fury is played by Samuel L. Jackson, and this is a nod to another one of his fantastic performances in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where Jackson often quotes the Ezekiel passage.
This passage has since become one of the most quotable pop culture lines and is simply known as The Path of the Righteous Man. By including it in Winter Soldier, the creators of the movie honored Samuel L. Jackson and added additional flavor to the character of Nick Fury.
6. Fox Force Five (Pulp Fiction)
In the famous restaurant scene in Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (played by Uma Thurman) tells John Travolta’s character about the time she had a TV show pilot that didn’t go so well and got cancelled. That pilot was allegedly called Fox Force Five, about five women who make their living as secret agents.
Almost a decade later, in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 we have the exact same story, about five girls who are all experts in what they do. Of course, the whole premise of Kill Bill is about Uma Thurman’s vengeance, but the original idea was kept.
Whether Tarantino planned this all the way back in the early 90s, or it was something he figured out along the way doesn’t really matter. The fact that this Easter egg ties in with Kill Bill perfectly, adds extra flavor to the rich cinematic universe of Quentin Tarantino.
5. The newspaper ad (Lifeboat)
Apparently, the late great Alfred Hitchcock was not only the master of suspense, but of cameos as well. He managed to sneak in at least for one shot in most of his pictures. The entire story of Lifeboat takes place at sea where the characters struggle to stay alive, until help reaches them. So, it wasn’t possible to make a cameo in a setting such as this one. Well, not exactly.
Hitchcock was the master of cinema and he actually found a way to put himself in the movie. How? Here’s movie magic at its best. In the scene where one of the characters is reading a newspaper, you can see an ad about a fat-loss product called Reduco; the person in the ad is none other than Hitchcock himself.
His name is even in the left-hand corner to remove any doubt. Now, once you find out that throughout most of his life Alfred Hitchcock had a weight problem (to put it gently), the whole idea becomes even funnier because it shows us that the brilliant director had a great sense of humor.
4. James Cameron’s voice (Terminator)
After Craven’s and Hitchcock’s cameos, here’s another one. This time, it’s the legendary Hollywood director James Cameron, making an audio appearance in the form of the voice from Sara Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) answering machine.
The guy on the phone tells her how he cannot go on a date with her. The fact that Hamilton and Cameron were married years later (and are now divorced) makes this Easter egg even sweeter. Sure, many will argue that it doesn’t fit the exact Easter-egg category, but it’s moments such as this one where you see the true brilliance of a director.
It’s fairly easy to put something in plain insight, but to actually hide it and make it more difficult for the audience to get it, is the real deal. Even in these things, James Cameron is on top of his game. Kudos to Mr. Cameron.
3. Hunter S. Thompson and Dr.Gonzo (Rango)
This one is a real treat. In the scene where the main character of the movie, the lizard Rango, hits the windshield of a convertible, we can clearly see two men riding in the car. This scene almost directly parallels the one from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Thompson and Gonzo experience drug-induced hallucinations.
No doubt about it, it’s Hunter S. Thompson and his lawyer/buddy Dr. Gonzo right there. Why is this such a good Easter egg? Well, for two reasons. First, Hunter Thompson was great friends with Johnny Depp, who voiced the character of Rango, so it’s a way of getting the two of them together.
The second reason is even better. Given the drug-related background of both Thompson and Gonzo, the whole Rango episode might easily be just another bad trip from doing way too many drugs. Who knows? After all, it’s not every day that you see lizards wearing Hawaiian shirts on your windshield, right?
2. Alien skull (Predator 2)
Most Easter eggs don’t serve a special purpose, although they can. Most are there just for fun, or an occasional tie-in. But this one is probably the one which ushered in a whole new epoch of paying homage because after this one nothing was the same.
When Danny Glover enters the Predators’ spacecraft he comes across skulls that belonged to their victims. In the trophy section, one of those skulls is clearly from the Xenomorph in the Alien franchise. Once you see the skull as a hunting trophy, it all hits home right away.
The fact that Predator and Alien shared the same universe and that an Alien was actually killed by a Predator, led to an outburst of joy from the fans of both franchises. Everyone saw what was coming; the audience couldn’t wait for a crossover and it finally happened in 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, and six years later with AVP: Requiem.
The critical response to these crossovers wasn’t very good, but many fans loved the fact that it finally happened, just like the Freddie vs. Jason film. This Easter egg completely deserves its place on the list just because of the sheer screen power it generated.
1. The red Volkswagen Beetle (The Shining)
When it comes to the art of cinema, not many directors can match the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick. Not many people are aware of this Easter egg in 1980’s film The Shining, but it is nothing short of amazing, just like everything Kubrick touched.
In the car crash scene, we can clearly see a smashed red Beetle under a big truck. For those who didn’t read Stephen King’s novel, this probably seems unimportant. But with Kubrick, nothing is unimportant – everything is there for a reason.
In King’s novel, the character of Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) drives a red Beetle, but in Kubrick’s film he drives a yellow one. Coincidence? Most probably not. By changing the color of Torrance’s vehicle, and crashing the red Beetle, Stanley Kubrick covertly dismissed Stephen King’s story in favor of his own adaptation.
Some might think that this is just another “film conspiracy theory,” but after comparing the novel and the film, you will see that the two are completely different, and that Stephen King’s story was really run over by Stanley Kubrick’s unique vision, just as the red Beetle got smashed by that big truck. This really is cinema’s most brilliant Easter egg ever.