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Super-Specific Topical Jokes In Movies That You Might Completely Miss Now

Updated September 29, 2020 2.3k votes 539 voters 129.0k views16 items

List RulesVote up the topical jokes from bygone eras that require explanation now.

It's common for movies to include topical references -- jokes about specific big news stories or cultural trends or current commercials can get a big laugh from a contemporary crowd and create a nice, winking in-joke. But sometimes, when years go by, those cultural trends fade from the mainstream, but the movies continue to air on TV and streaming. This creates a unique dynamic where some movies have very specific lines that just make no sense to a contemporary audience, who either don't get the jokes or might not even realize that a joke is being made at all.

Here’s a list of some super-specific topical jokes that a lot of people may not have ever fully 'gotten.'

  • In Captain America: Civil War, Anthony Mackie's Falcon character is captured and interrogated by Tony Stark, but refuses to reveal Captain America's whereabouts. Falcon tells Tony that if he wants information, he'd "have to go Mark Fuhrman on my a** to get information out of me."

    Children of the 2000s probably didn't get this reference to Detective Mark Fuhrman, one of the notorious figures to come out of the O.J. Simpson trial. Fuhrman, an L.A.P.D. detective who found one of the bloody gloves at the Simpson crime scene, became a focal point of the trial after tapes emerged of him using a series of racial slurs, on top of a number of allegations he used excessive interrogation techniques against Black and Hispanic suspects. Essentially, Falcon's telling Iron Man he's gonna have to do something extremely legally-questionable to extort any useful information out of him.

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  • Mel Brooks sure knows how to sneak those references in. This irreverent moment from Spaceballs features a countdown on the ship. It’s also a bit of a deep cut - unless you're a limnologist.

    In the teleportation scene, engineer Snotty is trying to fix the "interlocking system." When counting down the locks - "Lock One, Lock Two..." - he concludes with "Loch Lomond," which is the name of a lake in Central Scotland, as well as a traditional Scottish song about the lake. He's also wearing a Scottish tam o' shanter cap and a kilt, and is a not-so-subtle nod to Star Trek's not-so-subtly-named Scottish engineer, Scotty.

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  • Blazing Saddles has a ton of jokes, some of which are pointed critiques of race or Western tropes, and others which are just plain silly. This joke, which seems like a goofy throwaway line, is actually a specific reference many viewers now probably wouldn't get. When the villain Mongo arrives in town, and everyone calls out his name, one local Latino man exclaims, “Mongo, Santa Maria!”

    This has two meanings. On the one hand, he’s exclaiming, “Mongo, Oh Mary!” in Spanish. But also, Mongo Santamaria was a widely popular Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist who was a favorite of director Mel Brooks. This would have been a nod to non-Spanish speakers and a bilingual joke. 

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  • Scrooged, released in 1988, still feels relevant in a lot of ways. This modern retelling of A Christmas Carol stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a greedy TV producer with poor management skills and a ton of trauma, who gets visited by three ghosts. The story, adapted from the original 19th-century tale, is timeless, but this seemingly random line is deeply topical. 

    In the scene, Frank hallucinates that a waiter is on fire. He throws water on him, only to discover that the waiter is fine. Frank then deflects the tension by laughing and saying "I thought you were Richard Pryor!"

    Frank is referencing an incident that occurred in 1980, when Pryor allegedly doused himself in rum and set himself on fire. It’s since been claimed that the comedian was attempting to take his own life. At the time, however, this was just a strange news story of a famous person behaving badly.

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