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16 Movies That Slyly Reference Their Stars' Iconic Roles

August 14, 2020 1.8k votes 450 voters 79.6k views16 items

List RulesVote up the most clever self-referential movie star moments.

Hollywood loves to remind its audience about the past - and not just by making throwback films about the glory days of the industry (although that's also a thing). Filmmakers can't resist poking the audience's brain with references and nods to other films. Dropping an allusion to an actor's previous role is one popular method - for example, if someone like Ryan Reynolds quotes from one of his own movies or just straight-up name-drops a character he (or his costar) has played elsewhere.

Movie references in other movies aren't a new thing. They've been popping up for decades, and they're so commonplace that as soon as you read about them, you'll be shocked you didn’t recognize them sooner. 

Modern audiences are more prepared for films to be referential, with comic book adaptations requiring that viewers retain knowledge about a library of films, but actors and filmmakers have been winking about their previous projects since before movies were called talkies.

  • If you're not up to speed on Deadpool, then you probably don't know he knows he's in a movie and lets everyone know about it. The Deadpool films are full of references for comic book fans, and they aren't all related to the films owned by 20th Century Fox (not that that matters anymore).

    In Deadpool 2, Josh Brolin plays Cable, Wade Wilson's frenemy from the future who's trying to stop a global calamity by offing a teenage boy. He and Wade butt heads, which gives the Merc with a Mouth a litany of opportunities to unleash dunks on the musclebound mutant. In one particularly memorable moment, he refers to Brolin's character as Thanos

    The line is quick, but it's a huge reward for fans who raised an eyebrow over Brolin playing two vastly different characters, in two separate Marvel Comics series, distributed by two different companies.

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  • Samuel L. Jackson is a major part of the MCU and QCU (Quentin Tarantino Cinematic Universe) and while those two major cinematic worlds haven't crossed over in any meaningful way, there has been at least one connection between the actor's most famous current role and the one that made him a star. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury fakes his demise in order to trick Hydra; for most of the movie, the audience thinks he's done for.

    The final scene in the film takes place in front of Fury's headstone which reads: "'The path of the righteous man...' / Ezekiel 25:17." This is a direct reference to the monologue Jackson, as Jules Winnfield, delivers in Pulp Fiction while recouping his employer's briefcase from a couple of punks who flew a bit too close to the sun. Director Joe Russo explained that he and his brother just thought the reference would be fun:

    You know, we're always because we're geeks and we love that kind of stuff, when we make movies, we're always trying to put it in the movies, our movies for other people, our TV shows. So it's better to put something in there that is a wink and a smile and excites people than just something bland.

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  • In ‘Parabellum,’ John Wick Rep is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 16 Movies That Slyly Reference Their Stars' Iconic Roles
    Photo: Lionsgate

    If nothing else, Keanu Reeves is the master of nailing a deadpan line reading of an absolutely absurd piece of dialogue. If you're a novice to the work of Mr. Reeves, please see: Point Break, The Devil's Advocate, or Knock Knock for examples.

    One of his most famous low-energy line readings comes from The Matrix, when he tells Nebuchadnezzar operator Tank that in order to save their buddy Morpheus, he'll need: "Guns - lots of guns." The line is repeated with nearly the exact tone and timbre in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum leading up to the all-out, third-act beatdown at the Continental Hotel.

    This isn't the only time the John Wick franchise has referenced The Matrix. The inclusion of Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King is a nod to the Wachowskis' trilogy - and more specifically, the scene in which Fishburne gets dressed and reaches for a red and blue container, is a not-so-subtle nod to the red and blue pills Morpheus offers Neo in The Matrix.

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  • Richard Donner's big-screen adaptation of Maverick has one of the most brazen references to a star's iconic role this side of the Mississippi. In the film, Mel Gibson plays Brett Maverick, a fast-talking con artist who wants to play in a high stakes game of poker.

    Early on in the film, Gibson tries to collect some debts at a bank when it's robbed by a group of masked men led by Danny Glover - Gibson's costar in the Lethal Weapon films (also directed by Donner). Gibson and Glover eye one another as if they've met before, and they even do the "naaaaah" head shake thing as the Lethal Weapon score plays. It's wild.

    That's not even the most meta part of the scene. After Glover blows up a bank safe and leaves through a cloud of smoke he says, "I'm getting to old for this sh*t," Murtaugh's famous Lethal Weapon catchphrase.

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