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Obscure Pop Culture References From 'Rick and Morty,' Explained

Updated July 21, 2020 13.1k votes 1.9k voters 116.4k views15 items

List RulesVote up the pop culture references that made you go, "shum-shum-schlippety-dop!"

Rick and Morty is a show that wears its pop culture references on its stained, lab coat sleeve. After all, every single episode title is a play on a film, book, or movie title, and the show's very premise comes from a Back To The Future spoof that co-creator Justin Roiland previously worked on. Some of these references are outright mentioned in the show - like in "Look Who's Purging Now" - but the greatest reward for eagle-eyed and sharp-eared fans comes from the most obscure Rick and Morty references.

Whether they're allusions to other characters, paraphrases of memorable lines, visual spoofs, or little cameos lurking in the background, every episode is rich with references that probably went over your head. Do the writers do it to make you feel stupid? Well, this is a show with Rick Sanchez in it, so... yes, probably *cue belch noise*. To make you feel a little smarter than the average Morty, here's a handy explainer to the show's deepest cuts.   

  • 1

    One Of The Candidates In 'Tales from the Citadel' Parodies A Political Meme

    One Of The Candidates In 'Tale is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Obscure Pop Culture References From 'Rick and Morty,' Explained
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
    • Reference: Rick Guilt Rick's appearance
    • Season: 3
    • Episode: 7

    The black suit and distinctive gray facial hair of political candidate Rick Guilt Rick mirrors that of eccentric and real-life political candidate Jimmy McMillan. McMillan ran for state gubernatorial election in New York in November 2010 under the slogan, "The Rent Is Too Damn High," which was also the name of the political party he founded. He quickly become a meme.

    Did you catch this reference?
  • 2

    Jemaine Clement Uses His 'Flight of the Conchords' Bowie Impression In 'Mortynight Run'

    • Reference: The "Goodbye Moonmen" song
    • Season: 2
    • Episode: 2

    In "Mortynight Run," the psychedelic space cloud dubbed, "Fart" sings a very Bowie-esque song composed and performed by Flight of the Conchords's Jemaine Clement. The song is pretty much the same Bowie impression the actor does for FOTC's "Bowies In Space," which is likely why he voices the character.

    Did you catch this reference?
  • 3

    The 'Needful Things' Shop Pays Homage To A Lesser-Known Stephen King Novel

    • Reference: A mysterious shopkeeper who runs a "Needful Things" shop that sells odd items for an odd price
    • Season: 1
    • Episode: 9 

    The shop's name in this Rick and Morty episode makes this an obvious catch but, being a fairly forgotten Stephen King tale, most would be forgiven for not thinking there was anything to catch in the first place. King's novel Needful Things centers around a shopkeeper who sells their wares in exchange for deeds carried out by the buyers. In Rick and Morty's version, the shopkeeper is the Devil, and Rick attempts to run him out of business.

    Did you catch this reference?
  • 4

    'The Rickshank Redemption' Paraphrases A Famous Line From Cult Movie 'Dune'

    • Reference: "He who controls the pants controls the galaxy!"
    • Season: 3
    • Episode: 1

    This line - shouted by a off-screen character in the first episode of Season 3 - is a clear spoof of this one from David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of surreal sci-fi epic, Dune: "He who controls the spice, controls the universe."

    Did you catch this reference?
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