When Samuel L. Jackson popped up in an end-credit stinger at the close of Iron Man, it pretty much ended the traditional sequel formula and ushered in our current obsession with shared movie universes filled with interconnected characters and intersecting plots. But the idea isn’t entirely Marvel’s — a lot of films tie together in ways you might not have realized, through crossover characters, references, and other Easter eggs. Here are 10 prime examples of surprisingly interconnected worlds…
10. THE JOHN HUGHESNIVERSE
The man singlehandedly responsible for any of us knowing who Simple Minds are set almost all of his films as writer and director in the fictitious Chicago suburb of Shermer, Illinois. This means that, yes, the Shermer High School gym class being taught by Lisa at the end of Weird Science is in the same building where the Breakfast Club spent its detention Saturday (which means there are multiple Anthony Michael Halls roaming its…um, halls). Hughes himself admitted this all in a 1999 Premiere magazine article: “When I started making movies, I thought I would just invent a town where everything happened. Everybody, in all of my movies, is from Shermer, Illinois. Del Griffith from Planes, Trains & Automobiles lives two doors down from John Bender. Ferris Bueller knew Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles. For 15 years I’ve written my Shermer stories in prose, collecting its history.”
Long before Marvel joined the Disney Empire, Pixar was quietly building its own complex movie universe where talking bugs exist in the same world as talking toys. Although Pixar internally denies that this is intentional (although they do cop to throwing jokes and references to previous and even upcoming Pixar movies into their films), a site called The Pixar Theory breaks it all down in crazy, conspiracy theory detail. Essentially, the Will o’ the Wisp’s magic from Brave leads to superheroes (The Incredibles), sentient objects (Toy Story, Cars), the eradication of humans (Wall-E) and eventually the rise of a new dominant species on earth (Monsters Inc.). And, somehow, there’s a Pizza Planet truck involved in it all.
8. HORROR ICONS
The idea of an interconnected world of horror icons goes back further than Freddy vs Jason. How about this: Evil Dead, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and the Child’s Play movies all exist in the same world. Freddy’s iconic glove is not only seen hanging in the toolshed in Evil Dead 2, it’s also in an evidence locker in Bride of Chucky (alongside Michael Myers’ white mask, Jason’s hockey mask, and Leatherface’s chainsaw). The Evil Dead’s Necronomicon book can be seen in the Vorhees house in Jason Goes to Hell — and the movie ends with Freddy’s hand grabbing Jason’s mask. Oh, and 16 years before Freddy vs. Jason, there was a plan for a 1986 Freddy/Jason crossover movie where it would have been revealed that Freddy was a former Camp Crystal Lake counselor who had molested a young Jason. You can see why it was rethought.
7. THE MULTI-BURTS
It’s subtle, but we want to believe. In the beginning of The Cannonball Run, J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) is trying to come up with a way to camouflage his Cannonball entry so he can blow by cops without them constantly pulling him over. After nixing the idea of a limousine with diplomatic plates, a blood mobile, and an ice cream truck, McClure goes, “We could get a black Trans Am. Naw, that’s been done” — indeed, by Burt Reynolds in Smokey & the Bandit. It’s not much, but we are willing to go on faith that two Burt Reynolds-alikes are tearing up our nation’s highways.
6. QUENTIN’S PLAYGROUND
While Quentin Tarantino plants some pretty big clues as to the interconnectedness of his movie world — the same made-up fast food chain Big Kahuna Burger keeps popping up, as does the same made-up cigarette brand Red Apple — it goes even deeper than that. John Travolta’s Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction is the brother of Michael Madsen’s “Toothpick” Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs, while Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White from Dogs reminisces about working with a woman named “Alabama,” the same name as Patricia Arquette’s True Romance character. Michael Parks’ Sheriff Earl McGraw pops up in From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill, AND Tarantino’s Grindhouse entry, Death Proof. It goes on and on, but Quentin’s not content to just stay in his own playground — he admitted that Kerry Washington’s character in Django Unchained is Broomhilda von Shaft, making her and Django the great, great, great grandparents of Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft.
5. CASPER MEETS RAY STANTZ
As if the concept of Casper the Friendly Ghost weren’t upsetting enough — girl becomes besties with the spirit of a dead child — the suggestion that Casper exists on the same ethereal plane as Gozer the Gozerian and Viggo the Butch is just too much to wrap your head around. But, yes, when Cathy Moriarty’s Carrigan Crittenden tries to exorcise her stately manor, she hires veteran Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd).
4. THE VIEW ASKEWNIVERSE
Kevin Smith’s mini-universe goes beyond just Jay and Silent Bob appearances to include things like the ongoing saga of Julie Dwyer (we hear how she died in Mallrats, see Dante and Randall attend her funeral in Clerks, then see exactly what they did to her body in Clerks: The Animated Series), the ever-expanding Hicks clan (there’s Dante in Clerks, his cousin Gil who is dating game show contestant in Mallrats, his other cousin Jim who is an executive in Chasing Amy, and Grant, a newsman in Dogma — all played by Brian O’Halloran). And, of course, there’s the Tarantino-like fake fast food chain Mooby’s that pops up In Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Clerks II.
3. THE DUKE BROTHERS
Is it possible that Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places hustler Billy Ray Valentine exists in the same universe as his Coming to America African prince Akeem? The secret is in the appearance by Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). Obviously coming after the events of Trading Places (which saw the rich Dukes broken and humiliated by Valentine and Dan Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III), Coming to America has a scene where Akeem hands a bag of money to a homeless man…who is revealed to be Ameche. He then calls out “Randolph” and Bellamy appears.
2. THE WEYLAND-YUTANI CONNECTION
As you know, the Weyland-Yutani corporation is the sinister institution so determined to weaponize xenomorphs that they’re willing to embed Paul Reiser with a platoon of space marines in Aliens. But their reach is much, much bigger than that. A bizarre extra on the Blu-ray for the Alien prequel Prometheus suggests strongly that Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland (founder of the company) was mentored by and is in competition with a man who sounds suspiciously like Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the replicants in Blade Runner. What’s more, when Nathan Fillion’s Mal Reynolds takes control of a gun turret during the Battle of Serenity Valley (which kicks off the TV series Firefly), there’s a distinct Weyland-Yutani logo on its target screen. Not impressed that Alien, Blade Runner, and Firefly co-exist in the same world? How about this: As he prepares to take the former Mrs. Alan Stanwyk with him to Rio, Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase) dons a baseball cap featuring the logo of the USCSS Nostromo — the ship that carried the original crew in Alien (and the same cap worn by Harry Dean Stanton’s Nostromo crewmember). So, yes, Alien, Blade Runner, Firefly, AND Fletch all exist in a shared universe.
1. A LONG TIME AGO…
While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have always dropped references to each other’s work in their movies, it wasn’t until Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that it coalesced into the idea that not only do Han Solo and Indiana Jones exist in the same universe, but Spielberg’s E.T. does as well. An io9 commenter named plaidboy lays out the specifics, but the short version is that little things like the R2-D2 and C-3PO hieroglyphics in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Club Obi-Wan in Temple of Doom, the E.T. senators in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and a Halloween costume-clad E.T. chasing after a boy dressed as Yoda going, “Home, home…” suggest that the crystal aliens brought with them to Earth the tale of a war that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…