“If a million people see my movie, I hope they see a million different movies.” – Quentin Tarantino
There’s an argument to be made that you can never truly make something original. Something, someone, or somewhere will have inspired you to come up with your idea. And if a film, a piece of music, or a novel inspires your writing then is it really original? It’s a question long-explored but also one naturally accepted, anything you make will be in some way inspired by something else.
This is both consciously and subconsciously accepted by filmmakers across the world, with filmmakers such as the Safdie Brothers inspired by the style and motifs of Martin Scorsese. While a director like Quentin Tarantino will explicitly borrow a permanent creative license from Japanese cinema of old, for example.
In whatever capacity, to pay homage throughout the years, across genre, theme, and age-rating to some of cinema’s greatest moments is an act of self-gratification and creative congratulation. It’s a celebration of cinema in and of itself, in all its fantasy pleasures and inspiring power, so let’s take a look at some of the weirdest and wonderful cinema tributes.
10 films that pay tribute to cinema history:
Reservoir Dogs (1992) in Swingers (1996)
To start this list is a film that in itself explicitly references the act of film tributes, 1996 effort Swingers, tracking the loveable Vince Vaughn and John Favreau across Las Vegas in Doug Liman’s indie breakthrough.
Gathered around a round table, Vaughn, Favreau and their rag-tag group of friends briefly discuss Tarantino’s cinematic career, suggesting that he takes everything from Scorsese before Ron Livingston’s ‘Rob’ interjects, saying “everybody steals from everybody that’s movies”. Proceed to the next scene and an obvious callback to Quentin Tarantino’s classic Reservoir Dogs, as the gang make their way to their cars in perfect uniformity and slow-motion style.
Battleship Potemkin (1926) in The Untouchables (1987)
One of cinema’s most visually-referenced scenes, the Odessa steps sequence from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, is satirised in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult to hilarious effect, though more aptly dramatised in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.
Upon trying to seize Al Capone’s head bookkeeper Walter Payne, Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness, and his team of officers engage in a bloody shootout in which a mother and her baby are caught in the crossfire in the middle of Chicago’s Union Train Station. The scene makes a direct reference to the later scenes of Battleship Potemkin in which a group of Russian civilians are massacred by soldiers, leaving a mother dead and her baby’s carriage rolling helplessly away. Thankfully, in The Untouchables, their fate is less grim.
Taxi Driver (1976) in La Haine (1995)
A classic of modern French cinema, Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine is a truly international piece of work that takes inspiration from experimental, surrealist cinema as well as some of Hollywood’s greatest works.
In one particular scene, Vincent Cassel’s Vinz stares intensely into his bathroom mirror making the shape of a gun with his hand as he brandishes his weapon toward the camera. It’s a scene that not only foreshadows the use of his own gun later in the film but also the character’s own weakness and shortcomings. Aggressively shouting ‘are you talkin to me?’ into the mirror, this is of course a reference to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. However, where Travis Bickle is genuinely authentic, Vinz is not. In this scene particularly it is clearly a poor, desperate imitation.
The Dam Busters (1955) in Star Wars (1977)
Influenced in-part by nearly every corner of the cinematic world, Star Wars has grown from a coming-of-age, western war-movie, to a major multi-media franchise, borrowing from multiple sources along the way.
In one particular scene in the final attack on the Death Star at the end of the film, several small visual cues, verbal similarities, and straight-up transcripts can be made from 1955’s war film The Dam Busters. It’s a charming reference to the classic film from Michael Anderson and was clearly admired by George Lucas, as everything from the apparatus to the cinematography within the cockpits of the X-Wing starfighter is copied.
Psycho (1960) in Pulp Fiction (1994)
It was only a matter of time before a Tarantino film appeared on the list, and his 1994 masterpiece, Pulp Fiction is packed full of visual and audial tributes to the history of cinema.
When Bruce Willis’ Butch double-crosses Ving Rhames’ Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction and tries to escape with the money he has tricked off him, he later spots him in his car, locking eyes in panicked realisation. This is a direct callback to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic Psycho when Marion Crane escapes from work with stolen money, only to see her boss crossing the street as she’s trying to drive out of the city. Whilst Crane’s boss escapes unharmed in Hitchcock’s film, Marsellus Wallace doesn’t get off quite as lucky as he’s run over by Butch.
It’s not one of Tarantino’s most overt tributes, but it’s one of his best.
Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) in The Incredibles (2004)
It’s not often that children’s animation gets involved with homage’s to classic cinema, but for Pixar, this is simply a nod towards their terrific skill and attention to detail as one of the leading animation studios.
In arguably Pixar’s greatest film, The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible and accomplice Frozone – played by Samuel L.Jackson – are caught red-handed by a slightly terrified-looking police officer and his trembling gun. A quick-thinking Frozone calmly gets himself some water whilst the officer fidgets in fear, and he is quickly disarmed by a cool jet of ice. It’s a brilliant scene that is itself inspired by 1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance when Samuel L.Jackson is caught with his hands up at a train station by a police officer who looks remarkably like the Pixar doppelganger. He similarly asks to use the phone despite the policeman’s request and gets what he wants through a calm determination.
It’s a brilliantly fitting tribute that serves keen-eyed cinephiles as well as the story’s central plot.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) in Rango (2011)
Perhaps even stranger than a Die Hard reference in a children’s film is a Hunter S. Thompson tribute in a children’s film. Yes, the literary genius fueled by acid, alcohol, and cocaine.
Voiced by Johnny Depp, when Rango, a chameleon who accidentally becomes sheriff of a lawless outpost, attempts to cross the perilous roads of Las Vegas, he is battered, bruised and thrown into the path of a familiar red Chevy Caprice. “It’s another one, I knew it” mutters the driver, modelled exactly on Johnny Depp’s character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a reference itself to Depp’s character Raoul Duke and his hallucination of a group of lizards having an orgy.
It’s probably the last reference we’d think of in a children’s film, but a welcome one nonetheless.
Yojimbo (1961) in A Fistful of dollars (1964)
Less of a tribute and more of a copy, so much so that it led to a successful lawsuit, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western A Fistful of dollars has inextricable links to Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, Yojimbo.
This lawsuit is, in itself, worthy of a whole discussion as it fascinatingly leads Sergio Leone to say that “I was really taking the story back home again” as he believed Yojimbo was inspired by the novel Red Harvest. An ‘unofficial remake’ of Kurosawa’s film, many of the same story beats exist in A Fistful of Dollars, following ‘the man with no name’ as he pits two rival families against each other in order to free the town.
It later came out that journalist Adriano Bolzoni had the idea of making Yojimbo into a Western, and bought it to producer Franco Palaggi, who sent the journalist back to take precise notes on the film. Case closed.
Perfect Blue (1997) in Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Anime doesn’t always get the credit it deserves in Western filmmaking, particularly when it has such an influential hand in many Hollywood films.
One place it received a rightful tribute was in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, a trip inside the psychology of four drug addicts in Coney Island. The particular scene in question occurs when Jennifer Connelly’s Marion submerges herself underwater in the bathtub, a shot-for-shot tribute to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue in which a famous singer slowly loses her mind and identity.
The tribute itself is fitting as the themes of both films neatly cross over, the body in the bathtub tight and contorted, imploding as it searches within for a sense of self.
Fred: The Movie (2010) in Gummo (1997)
To show that films, TV, YouTube, and popular culture inter-mingle as one creative milieu, there is no better illustration than the inclusion of a Gummo reference in 2010’s Fred: The Movie.
From Pulp Fiction to Yojimbo, many classics have been referenced on this list, Fred: The Movie is not one of them. A film born from the mind of Youtuber ‘Fred Figglehorn’, the sub-90-minute hell-storm is an extension of his puerile online content, with a particular, peculiar reference that was only recently uncovered by a band of Reddit and Twitter users. Sat in the bath with a foam hat atop his head, taped to the wall of Fred Figglehorn’s bathroom is a slice of bacon, itself a reference to the repulsive bath scene in Harmony Korine’s underground cult sensation Gummo.
Do film tributes get any more obscure?