Rick and Morty is filled with movie references; there are 22 movie references in episode titles alone. Now in season 4, the Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland created animated series has developed a substantial following. The creativity displayed in each episode is what drew many to the series in the first place, but pop culture references is another reason Rick and Morty has resonated with audiences.
The show has plenty of references across various forms of media, but movies remain Rick and Morty’s bread and butter. The whole series began as a Back to the Future parody, and it is directly influenced by a variety of other sci-fi films. In most instances, this provides episodes of the show with memorable set-ups or Easter eggs. While viewers may get caught up in these, what many may overlook are the references made by the individual episode titles.
With over 30 episodes released, and just under 70 more Rick and Morty episodes on the way, the animated series has treated viewers to nearly two dozen (and counting) movie references in its episode titles. Some of these references are obvious, while others are more obscure; all of them riff on a particular movie or creator in a humorous way.
The second episode ever of Rick and Morty, „Lawnmower Dog,“ saw the Smith family dog, Snuffles, become a brilliant being through advanced technology. This title appears to be a reference to the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, which is based on the Stephen King short story of the same name. The movie sees a man gain increased intelligence and power through experimentation and kill those who mistreated him in the past, similarly to Snuffles‘ treatment of humans.
Episode 3 of season 1 is another clear homage to a famous movie, with „Anatomy Park“ being a reference to Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park. Instead of an island filled with scientifically created dinosaurs though, the animated series has a theme park inside the body of a homeless person that explores the wonders of the body. The reference to Jurassic Park goes beyond just the title of the episode too, as the sign for Anatomy Park copies the design of Jurassic Park’s logo.
Episode 4 of season 1, „M Night Shaym-Aliens!,“ doesn’t reference any particular movie title but rather director M. Night Shyamalan. The mystery-filled episode is filled with twists just like one of Shyamalan’s famous films, as Rick and Morty are trapped in an alternate reality by aliens. With aliens and secret living arrangements featured, the episode pays tribute to Shyamalan movies like Signs and The Village.
Season 1, episode 5, „Rick Potion #9,“ appears to be a reference to a small Sandra Bullock sci-fi movie Love Potion No. 9 (both titles also reference the 1959 song by the same name, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller). Released in 1992, the movie follows two scientists, Bullock’s Diane and Paul (Tate Donovan), who have had difficulty with relationships. They invent a substance that makes them irresistible to anyone of the opposite sex who hears them speak. This is right in line with the plot of „Rick Potion #9,“ which sees Morty ask Rick to create a potion that will make Jessica fall in love with him. Unfortunately, it spreads and makes everyone besides family members infatuated with Morty.
Episode 6 of season 1, „Raising Gazorpazorp,“ might be a reference to the Coen Brothers‘ Raising Arizona. The 1987 movie follows Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter as they steal a child, and their lives become much more complicated as a result. This is somewhat similar to the events of „Raising Gazorpazorp,“ in which Morty accidentally fathered an alien baby after using a sex robot, and struggled to parent his alien child.
Season 1, episode 9,“Something Ricked This Way Comes,“ is clearly a reference to Something Wicked This Way Comes. Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury, the 1983 fantasy-horror film by Jack Clayton is about two boys who try to stop an evil carnival from taking over their town. The Rick and Morty episode doesn’t deal with an evil carnival though, but rather a thrift store run by Mr. Needful that sells cursed items to unsuspecting humans — items that can make them dumb, blind, or dead.
Episode 10 of season 1, „Close Rick-counters of the Third Kind,“ once again shows Rick and Morty’s fondness for Steven Spielberg. The episode title is an obvious reference to his 1977 alien invasion film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While the movie tells the story of a man who discovers the presence of aliens on Earth, Rick and Morty’s episode follows Morty as he first travels to the Council of Ricks. Rick is framed by Evil Morty for the murder of 27 other Ricks and capture of their Mortys, but no one believes he is innocent, much like how no one believed Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) about what he saw.
The season 1 finale, „Ricksy Business,“ pays tribute to the classic Tom Cruise coming of age comedy Risky Business. Released in 1983, the movie follows Cruise’s Joel, who is left alone at home by his parents, and throws a party that gets out of control. This is incredibly close to the plot of „Ricksy Business“ too. The episode sees Summer and Rick throw a house party when Beth and Jerry leave. The combination of their parties results in it becoming too rowdy, so Rick has to freeze time in order for them and Morty to clean up before Beth and Jerry get back.
The season 2 premiere, „A Rickle In Time,“ is a clear reference to Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel, which was recently turned into a movie by Disney, A Wrinkle In Time. Since the episode premiered in 2015, it does predates the release of Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation. The novel was previously adapted for a Disney as a made-for-television movie in 2003. The time fracturing episode has little in common with the novel and films it shares a name with, other than the fact that they all deal with time travel.
Episode 2 of season 2, „Mortynight Run,“ is Rick and Morty referencing Robert De Niro’s Midnight Run. Released in 1988, the film follows Jack Walsh, played by De Niro, as he is chased by several different groups after jumping bail. Similarly, the episode saw Morty on the run with a fugitive alien. Not only does the episode title serve as a reference to the film, but it is also the movie that Jerry watched in Jerryborre. So, Rick and Morty went to greater lengths than usual to pay tribute to the classic film.
Episode 4 of season 2, „Total Rickall,“ uses its title and premise to honor the sci-fi classic Total Recall. Released in 1990, the Arnold Schwarzenegger led film features implanted fake memories used as entertainment. The film was remade in 2012 with Colin Farrell in the lead. Rick and Morty’s episode similarly plays with the idea of implanted memories. These fake memories come from a parasite that is able to multiply with each new memory. Both this episode and Total Recall grapple with whether or not the characters can trust what they are experiencing, questioning if it is real or not.
Season 2, episode 6, „The Ricks Must Be Crazy,“ is a reference to the 1980 comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy. The movie follows Xi, a man from Africa, as he encounters modern civilization for the first time. As for the Rick & Morty episode though, it is based around Rick and Morty going inside the microverse that powers Rick’s ship. Their presence eventually leads to the inhabitants of the microverse learning that Rick created their universe, similarly to Xi discovering there is more to the world than previously thought.
Episode 7 of season 2, „Big Trouble In Little Sanchez,“ is Rick and Morty’s blatant reference to Big Trouble In Little China. The 1986 action flick starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton follows the ordinary trucker as he is swept up in a supernatural fight underneath Chinatown. However, Rick and Morty’s similarities to the film stop with the title, as it instead is a clever pun for an episode that sees Rick put his consciousness in his teenage body to protect Summer. The body switch was intended to be brief, but trouble ensues when Rick decides to stay a teenager longer.
Episode 9 of season 2, „Look Who’s Purging Now,“ manages to reference two films at once with its title. The bulk of the episode focuses on Rick and Morty as they land on an alien planet the night that all crimes are legal. If that sounds familiar, that’s because this is roughly the same premise behind the popular The Purge franchise. The plot and including „purging“ in the title makes this reference even more clear. But, the rest of the title also appears to be a reference to Look Who’s Talking Now, the 1993 comedy sequel starring John Travolta where dogs talk to his family. Instead of talking dogs though, Rick and Morty has the alien race resemble talking cats.
The season 2 finale, „The Wedding Squanchers,“ uses it’s own wedding-themed episode title to reference Wedding Crashers. Released in 2005, the comedy starred Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as friends who frequently attend weddings they aren’t invited to in order to meet single women. For Rick and Morty, the episode sees Rick and the Smith family attend Birdperson’s wedding, only for things to go wrong. The Galactic Federation crashes the wedding, as Birdperson’s bride-to-be is actually one of their agents. Instead of a wedding being crashed to possibly find love, the animated show put a deadly spin on the concept.
The series changing season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty, „The Rickshank Redemption,“ uses its title to pay homage to The Shawshank Redemption. The Stephen King novel was adapted for the big screen in 1994 by director Frank Darabont and saw Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins star as two prisoners looking for freedom. This Rick and Morty episode deals with Rick being a prisoner of the Galactic Federation Prison and executing his escape plan.
Episode 2 of season 3, „Rickmancing the Stone,“ may be best known for it’s Max Max-like post-apocalyptic setting, but that is not the movie referenced in the title. Instead, the title is referencing the 1984 film Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. The Robert Zemeckis film follows the unlikely pair on a treasure hunt. Rick and Morty’s episode sees Rick, Summer, and Morty travel to the post-apocalyptic planet on a search of their own to find Isotope-322.
Episode 9 of season 3, „The ABC’s of Beth,“ is a reference to the 2012 comedic horror film The ABCs of Death. The movie is made up of 26 anthology stories by over two dozen directors that show various ways to die, with each story’s death tied to a different letter of the alphabet. In the Rick and Morty’s episode, the story follows Beth as she travels to Froopyland in an attempt to rescue her childhood friend Thomas Lipnip, who she left in Froopyland decades ago.
The final episode of season 3, „The Rickchurian Mortydate,“ is Rick and Morty referencing the film The Manchurian Candidate. Originally made in 1962 starring Frank Sinatra, the film was remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington in the lead. In the most recent iteration, The Manchurian Candidate follows a former member of the army as he begins to uncover the truth to what happened to him and his squad during the Gulf War. However, the episode features it’s own political intrigue as Rick and Morty work with the President.
The season 4 premiere, „Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,“ is an obvious shout out to 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow: Live Die Repeat. The action flick starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt brought the premise of Groundhog Day into a sci-fi film to great results, as Cruise attempted to save the world time and time again before he would die. Rick and Morty put its own spin on the possibilities of life in this episode by having Morty see how he will die, and how it changes depending on what he does. He is driven to die on the path that ends with Jessica saying she loves him. Meanwhile, Rick dies countless times and is reborn in an effort to stop him.
Episode 2 of season 4, „The Old Man and the Seat,“ is possibly a reference to the recently released The Old Man and the Gun. The film came out in 2018 and starred Robert Redford as an aged thief who calmly robbed a series of banks, which results in law enforcement constantly searching for him. In this tragic episode of Rick and Morty, Rick searches the universe for the person who trespassed and used his secret pooping place. The episode title may also be a reference to Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1954 novel The Old Man and the Sea, which was adapted for film in 1958. The novel tells the story of an old fisherman who struggles to reel in a massive marline: the biggest catch of his life. It’s a story about age, perseverance, strength, and loneliness — all themes also found in „The Old Man and the Seat.“
Episode 3 of season 4, „One Crew Over the Crewcoo’s Morty,“ has all the makings of a parody of the Ocean’s franchise, but its title is actually a reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Released in 1975, the movie starred Jack Nicholson as a criminal who pleads insanity. The story follows him as he tries to get other people in the mental institution to rebel against the system like he is doing. This episode of Rick and Morty, though, sees Rick and Morty in the midst of a heist-off that leads to Rick arguing with Heistotron, a robot programmed to plan the perfect heist. But, it was all part of Rick’s plan to not lose Morty to Netflix. Perhaps the episode’s title is a sly dig at the lack of logic (or sanity) in most heist films.
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