They are the building blocks of the cinematic-verses, be they Marvel, Whedon or Pixar. Those sly little nods than can be both winks to the observant viewers, and (in more recent years) visual clues to what is coming in sequel two, three, four and beyond.
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That’s the secret of the cinematic Easter egg — the sly nod to another movie that you might not pick up on the first watch, but by the second, third or fourth, you’re asking, “What was that?” Here are 10 of our favorites:
10. A new planet?
Speaking of Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the TV show “Firefly” and movie “Serenity” are littered with various references added by writer-director Joss Whedon.
When the crew led by Reynolds explores a city near the end of the movie, they find a crashed spaceship with a weak beacon signal. Stenciled on the side is C57D — the serial number of the saucer ship in the 1956 sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet.”
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9. Actual Easter eggs
Legend has it that the cast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” actually had an Easter egg hunt while filming, and three of the eggs weren’t found until they were seen on-screen — which helped link the term “Easter egg” to movies.
There are allegedly three eggs: One under Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s throne, one that has replaced a light in the main room, and one as the group goes up in the elevator to the lab … to see what’s on the slab.
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8. Weight has nothing to do with it
In “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” Seth MacFarlane sees mysterious flashing lights coming from a nearby barn. Curiosity overcomes him and he opens the door …and standing within is greatness.
The one and only Dr. Emmett Brown from “Back to the Future,” placidly working on his time machine.
The only thing that would have improved it is if MacFarlane had closed the door and quietly asked himself, “What the hell is a gigawatt?”
Bonus: The flux capacitor from Back to the Future can be see in “The Polar Express.”
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7: Seeing the future?
In “I Am Legend,” a fairly forgettable Will Smith remake that came out in 2007, a scene in Times Square showed the huge billboards that line the building — including an unmistakable bat symbol with a scarlet S inside, which looks remarkably like the logo for “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” scheduled for 2016.
Hopefully the zombie apocalypse can wait until after we see the movie.
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6. Sex ed at Hogwarts
The “Harry Potter” movies (like the books) generally stay far away from the subject of sex, with only a few kisses for our heroes and heroines in the eight-movie series.
However, that doesn’t mean that some of the other teenagers weren’t doing teenagery-type things. In the closing credits for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” there are two pairs of footprints on the bottom left corner that might be construed to be making a whole different type of magic.
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5. One, two…Freddy’s coming for your boomstick?
For years, the idea of a Freddy Kruger/Jason Voorhees/Ash mash-up has been tantalizing horror movie fans, who have created dozens of mashups and self-directed shorts to combine the franchises. While it isn’t like to ever see the light of day now, there is some evidence that studios thought about it, including this clip from “Evil Dead 2” (warning: NSFW language at 11:37).
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4. It really WAS a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
Easter eggs really began to take flight with the trilogies that dominated the 1980s: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Piloted by close friends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the two franchises left significant marks on each other. That includes the hieroglyphics seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where a couple of familiar-looking droids are seen.
This might be the point where we look at George and Stephen and whisper, “We love you.”
They look at us and say, “I know.”
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3. Lost in space
The effects of “Star Wars” continue to make their way into virtually every franchise — including its brother-in-space epic, “Star Trek.” The two franchises have traded nods through the years, including recognizable ship shapes showing up at various points.
With the newest entries in the “Star Trek” franchise, the nods have continued, as a certain waist-high beeping robot is seen in both “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”
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“Star Trek: Into Darkness”
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We’ll have to wait until Christmas to see if J.J. Abrams nods back to his own “Star Trek” movie.
2. Pizza delivery!
Pixar could easily have a list of top 50 Easter eggs — each film is liberally sprinkled with references to other Pixar films, making it one of the strongest cinematic universes going. In this universe, pizza is an (almost) universal language. The Pizza Planet truck first seen in “Toy Story” shows up in every film except, oddly, “The Incredibles,” one of the few worlds where the lead characters might normally eat pizza.
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1. In the beginning …
While Pixar liberally sprinkles character appearances through their films, they rarely have any significance. (Although they are known to foreshadow upcoming movies with these appearances.) Marvel has taken Easter eggs to the next level, building the smallest appearances into complete storylines and in some cases, entire franchises.
That started with the first film from Marvel Studios, “Iron Man,” which quickly teased the existence of “Captain America.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
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