Let’s face it, film fans – the first rule is that you still haven’t properly got to grips with Fight Club. How could you, without being fully aware of every last detail hidden in that monstrously clever movie’s production? However, David Fincher’s 1999 black comedy is far from being the only flick to feature fast visual clues, subtle hints and barely veiled secrets.
In fact, there have been many movies down the years that reward repeated viewings in order to catch every nuance of sight and sound intelligently inserted into them by their creators. The following 20 snippets of cinematic splendor will almost definitely have passed you by on first viewing, for instance. Please be warned, though, that there are spoilers ahead…
20. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
It’s not uncommon for superhero movies to make subtle references to previous successes and failures in their own storied pasts. Sly references to characters from other films are considerably rarer, however, and that’s where Spider-Man: Homecoming sets itself apart. In the 2017 blockbuster, there is a very brief nod to none other than the Incredible Hulk himself – Mr. Bruce Banner. You can spy a portrait of Banner in Peter Parker’s science class among real-life scientific geniuses such as Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton. Certainly not bad company for Ol’ Green Eyes to find himself in.
19. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Reloaded may not be the best movie in the mind-bending action trilogy, but nonetheless the 2003 sequel does feature a rather clever Easter egg. Specifically, if you look closely at the license plates on the film’s vehicles, you may notice that a number of them actually hold secret references to verses from the Bible. For example, the “IS5416” on the car driven by Hugo Weaving’s character, Agent Smith, seems to nod to Isaiah 54:16. Eerily, that verse reads, “Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy.”
18. Cloverfield (2008)
Subliminal audio is not an uncommon phenomenon in the music industry, but rarely does it surface in the movie business. Well, Cloverfield changed all that upon its 2008 release thanks to an ingenious aural secret buried away at the very finish of the film. Director Matt Reeves’ mammoth monster movie features a grand finale that sees an airstrike hit New York City. But is the creature killed in the attack? For those audience members familiar with backmasking, the answer is likely an emphatic “no.” Why? Well, after the end credits to the film have rolled, an incoherent sound clip can be heard. And if played backwards, the message suddenly becomes, “It’s still alive.” Spooky!
17. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is so uproariously funny that it’s a good idea to watch it twice in order to catch all the amusing lines. As such, Adam McKay’s 2004 comedy can probably afford to pepper subtle jokes throughout that are likely lost on many viewers during their first views of the movie. One example is specifically set up for eagle-eyed Spanish speakers, and it can be seen during a moment set in a Mexican restaurant. That’s because the name of the food joint is “Escupimos en su Alimento” – which, in English, means, “We spit in your food.”
16. I Am Legend (2007)
Believe it or not, but there’s actually a very early reference to a Batman-versus-Superman movie in 2007’s I Am Legend. Indeed, almost the exact same logo that would later be seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is pictured on a billboard in the post-apocalyptic thriller. I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence shed some light on the subject in an interview with Collider in 2014. Lawrence recalled, “The reason that [the logo] was there is that the producer and writer of I Am Legend, Akiva Goldsman, actually wrote an early, early [draft of Batman v Superman].” Shame the final product was not so legendary when it eventually did arrive…
15. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Okay, so The Usual Suspects is a total mind-messer of a movie from start to finish, but did you know that the big reveal at the end of director Bryan Singer’s flick is actually hinted at much earlier? Those who have already seen the 1995 thriller – and if you haven’t, cover your eyes now – will know that Verbal, played by Kevin Spacey, is revealed to be master criminal Keyser Soze. But how could we know this before it played out? Because Verbal states that Soze is Turkish, and “sözel” in that language just happens to mean “verbal.” Coincidence? No way!
14. Aladdin (1992)
Surely Disney’s animated fantasy Aladdin is all innocence, right? Well, for the most part you would be correct in thinking that about the 1992 children’s favorite. However, there is that one bazaar scene in which a darker story is hinted at. Jasmine is caught red-handed attempting to pocket some apples at a market. Then, after being confronted by the stall owner for her fruit-filching crime, Jasmine comes close to losing her hand. However, while our heroine is lucky to come away intact, a very subtle sequence reveals that not all were as fortunate as she. When the camera cuts to the chopping block, we can see some pretty gnarly gouges in the wood – presumably from previous shoplifting reprisals. The moral of the story, then, is to not steal.
13. Fargo (1996)
Most of us have had the misfortune of sitting through movies that make us wonder, “How much longer can they spin this one out for?” Well, in the 1996 drama Fargo, the Coen Brothers address that question directly through the mouth of Steve Buscemi. In fact, the actor relays the information to his co-star William H. Macy – but you would be forgiven for missing it on first viewing. When Buscemi’s character is speaking to Macy’s over the phone, he says, “30 minutes, and we’ll wrap this up.” Potentially, he may just be referring to the deal the protagonists had planned, but a glance at the timer reveals that it also just happens to be the remaining length of the film itself. Cute!
12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Don’t you just love it when one movie series references another? And that situation is arguably even more satisfying when those two franchises happen to be Indiana Jones and Star Wars. George Lucas famously created both and manages a nod to his earlier work in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, if you look carefully during the scene where Indy reveals the location of the Ark, you may just about spot otherwise unexplained R2-D2 and C-3PO hieroglyphics on the pillar behind him.
11. King Kong (2005)
Speaking of R2-D2, there’s a Morse code reference in the 2005 remake of King Kong that even the adept droid would have been left puzzled by. In Peter Jackson’s version of the classic tale, as the approach to Skull Island nears, some coded audio comes through to the captain of the ship. And while the audience is led to believe that the burst of Morse is pivotal to the plot, the reality is wholly different. In fact, the message reads, “Show me the monkey.” It’s nice to hear the filmmakers sneak a prime piece of primate humor in there – even if the hidden pun has sailed over most people’s heads.
10. Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Toy Story trilogy has to be one of the greatest and most loved animation series of all time. But did you know that there are some sinister undertones to the third installment of the franchise? That’s because the hotel room number from The Shining pops up a handful of times in Toy Story 3. The digits “237” appear on the number plate of a garbage truck, for instance, as well as in the online username for one of the internet-savvy toys.
9. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Did we really need a live-action remake of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast in 2017? Regardless, the flesh-and-blood flick did feature a welcome and clever little Easter egg that you probably missed on first viewing. The character of Cogsworth, played by the impervious Ian McKellan, spends an age under an enchantment. And, bizarrely, you can see this referenced by looking at the state of the actor’s mustache. McKellan’s top lip adornment is wildly uneven and pointing in different directions – much as the hands on a clock often do. It’s a supremely sly reference by director Bill Condon to the cruel passing of time.
8. IT (2017)
Need another reason to be absolutely terrified by Andy Muschietti’s 2017 version of Stephen King’s IT? Then you’re looking in the right place. During the library scene, when Ben is scouring through the archives, he comes across an old photo that depicts a bunch of kids from the local area. Nothing strange there, right? Well, not if the heavily distorted glimpse of Pennywise lurking behind the unwitting children passes you by. The killer clown’s blurred visage can just be made out on the left-hand side of the photo; the image is so subtle, however, that you would be forgiven for missing “it.”
7. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed features a rather odd device that conveniently pops up whenever someone is about to die. Basically, whenever you see an “X” on the screen, the overwhelming chances are that the character nearest to the letter is about to meet their demise. Furthermore, the symbol is so prevalent in the Oscar-winning film that several deaths are all signposted by the ominous mark. Now that’s what we call an x-treme attention to detail.
6. The Social Network (2010)
In The Social Network, director David Fincher didn’t miss the opportunity to make a winking reference to one of his most enduring characters. During a scene in the Facebook-featuring drama, Mark Zuckerberg can be seen typing away on his computer. However, if you look very closely, you’ll notice that the link at the top of his screen reads, “Tyler Durden’s Photos.” Of course, Durden is the crazed lead character in Fincher’s Fight Club – an excellent example of two completely separate projects converging.
5. Fight Club (1999)
Speaking of Mr. Durden, the film featuring the character is certainly up there with the best when it comes to missed clues. Yes, Fight Club’s elaborately woven plot features an insane number of hints alluding to its big twist at the denouement – not least whenever The Narrator is in the telephone booth. A notice on the phone itself informs us that the unit cannot take incoming calls; however, Durden manages to get through soon after. This is a very subtle and clever clue that Durden is actually just a figment of The Narrator’s imagination. Mind well and truly blown.
4. Fight Club (1999) – again
The canny Narrator hint is far from the only Easter egg in Fight Club, however. Indeed, the 1999 film also includes such tiny references that even hardcore fans have probably missed them altogether. A case in point is the priest, who can be seen early in the movie as one of the participants in the initial homework assignment. But did you catch a glimpse of him later on? Chances are that you didn’t, but it appears that the man of the cloth actually joined the fighting fraternity in the end. Watch it again, and see the father in the throng for the scene in which The Narrator pummels his hapless opponent. The priest has plenty to confess, then, it would seem…
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
We learn from watching Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that the fictional breeding of female dinosaurs is something that is bound to come to an end at some point. However, the solution to this plotting problem can be found near the start of the 1993 blockbuster. Just before he arrives on the doomed island, Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a very illuminating struggle with his seat belt. In particular, Grant has a problem connecting the belt together because both ends are “female.” This prompts the impatient doctor to tie them together instead; in other words, Grant finds a way, just as Mother Nature does in the film.
2. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan’s Memento is an incredible piece of work in terms of how intricately plotted it is. And, of course, we find out at the end of the film that Leonard is actually Sammy – and it was the former who killed his wife, not the latter. But it is possible that the audience may have spotted this fact earlier than the reveal. During the scene where Leonard talks about Sammy’s time in the insane asylum, Sammy – played by Stephen Tobolowsky – can be seen sitting down. However, just after one of the nurses passes by – and for the merest of milliseconds on screen – Guy Pearce’s Leonard can be seen sitting in for Sammy. Long before the twist transpires, then, the fact that Leonard is actually Sammy is there for all to see.
1. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs is recognized as one of the very best mob movies of all time, but the 1992 film is also a massive informant. Indeed, Quentin Tarantino litters his feature-length debut with all sorts of ingenious hints and clues. For example, the rat in the pack is plain to see if you pay very, very close attention. Yes, the orange balloon that follows Nice Guy Eddie’s car, the stacks of orange bottles on the table in another scene and the exposé of the tell-tale nature of Mr. Orange early on all point prematurely to the fact that Tim Roth’s character is the snitch.