10 Subtle Film References You Might Not Have Noticed in Famous Movies

6. The Limey – Poor Cow


On its surface, The Limey is a bare bone revenge story. However, at its heart, Steven Soderbergh’s film is an experimentation which plays with time and space in film, something Memento would accomplish a little over a year later to greater recognition. Terence Stamp plays Wilson, a hardened convict just released from prison. He investigates the suspicious death of his daughter and sets out to find the man responsible.

The true beauty of The Limey shines through with its use of flashbacks. There are several scenes which feature a young man who looks a lot like a younger Terence Stamp, and that’s because it is.

To create Wilson’s backstory, Soderbergh uses footage from one of Stamp’s earlier films, a 1967 drama called Poor Cow. In Poor Cow, Terence Stamp also plays a man who is incarcerated for a lengthy amount of time. It’s a unique, atypical film reference but it is spellbinding to watch to mending of the two films.


7. Mission: Impossible II – Notorious


The Mission: Impossible franchise is one of the most lucrative franchises in the world, though it almost came to a screeching halt in 2000 with Mission: Impossible II. The John Woo helmed sequel is the most lukewarm entry in the series. This isn’t just disappointing because there’s some fantastic action in the film; it’s also because it’s inspired by an excellent, early American period Alfred Hitchcock film called Notorious.

Mission: Impossible II resembles Notorious’ plot of an American agent coursing an asset into infiltrating a criminal organization. Both movies also mirror each other as the agent falls in love with their assets. These two films intersect at their respective scenes taking place at a horse racing track. Both scenes play on the suspense of the main characters meeting in a public place to discuss important information while the bad guy surveys the scene.

In Mission: Impossible II, the scene of Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton is tense, with her passing off information on the story’s MacGuffin. The scene in Notorious is more drawn out, showcasing Hitchcock’s mastery of reveals with Ingrid Bergman’s tear falling after dropping her binoculars, helping draw sympathy for her character’s situation.


8. Black Swan – Repulsion


Darren Aronofsky has a gift for creating discomfort and tension. He shares this trait with Roman Polanski; the two are often compared to each other. Aronofsky channels the Polanski’s earlier work with Black Swan. Black Swan draws from a number of sources but it shares a lot in common with Polanski’s horror classic, Repulsion. Both films showcase a young, beautiful protagonist’s slow descent into insanity. The use of mirrors is noteworthy.

In Repulsion, Carol stands in front of a mirror. She walks toward her closet door, which has a mirror on it, and opens it. When she closes the door, for a brief moment, she sees a man standing behind her. She turns around, stunned and terrified.

Black Swan ramps up this dread with a similar scene playing out in a fitting room full of reflections. Nina observes multiple images of herself; one of the images scratches her back. Nina whips her head around in disbelief. A similar music motif even plays out in both scenes. Both scenes leave the audience questioning their own logic and sanity.


9. The Dark Knight – The Man Who Laughs

the man who laughs

Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight is one of the most iconic performances in recent film history. From Sid Vicious to Johnny Rotten, there are a number of different inspirations for his diabolical, anarchist take on the clown prince of crime. The Joker’s most famous and distinguishable physical feature is his Glasgow smile. The scar is a radical interpretation of the characters original inspiration.

The Man Who Laughs is a 1928 silent film. The film’s protagonist, Gwynplaine, has a Glasgow smile carved into his face as punishment for his father’s transgressions. Gwynplaine visual design is The Joker’s doppelganger in his earliest appearances in comic books.

The most powerful examples in both films show Gwynplaine allowing his beloved Dea to touch his face. It’s a touching and innocent moment. The first reveal of The Joker’s face in The Dark Knight has a more repulsive effect. Gwynplaine wants to hide his face, The Joker has no problem with his deformity. The Joker doesn’t mind always having a smile on his face.


10. The Room – Rebel Without a Cause


Though beloved, The Room is one of the worst movies of all-time. Its ineptitude is legendary. There aren’t too many scenes in the film that are not cringe worthy. This painful point is hammered home with Tommy Wiseau’s animalistic cry, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” It’s hammy and hilarious. According to Greg Sestero, he of “Oh, Hi Mark” fame, this was not even the original line from the script.

Tommy Wiseau’s original line was worst, “You’re taking me apart, Lisa!” Wiseau’s delivery of his signature line is a poor imitation of James Dean’s signature line from Rebel Without a Cause. Dean’s ad-lib registers emotional resonance with almost every teenager who has ever existed. Wiseau delivery registers the humor most parents feel when listening to their teenager.

This list could go on and on. It’s always fun to make connections from films of cinema past to the present. Cinema is the gift that keeps giving.

Author Bio: Donte’ Slocum is a just your normal, everyday writer attempting to feed his family of one while making a living as a writer. Or die trying.