For most people, Easter Eggs are sweet treats that roll around once a year to satisfy your gluttonous cravings. But for those deeply ingrained in film culture, Easter Eggs are something entirely different. Hidden in plain sight, these tidbits of information and references to films gone by are the ultimate reward for the eagle-eyed viewer. Not sure what we’re talking about? Chances are you’ve stumbled across a goldmine without even realising.
What are Movie Easter Eggs?
Put simply, movie Easter Eggs are hidden references, inside jokes or clues to the plot’s development that are subtly incorporated into the on-screen action. We often see these elements crafted in a way so that even the keenest of eyes won’t pick up on them, meaning you have to watch a scene over and over to truly grasp the concept. And these aren’t a new thing.
Easter Eggs have been appearing in media since the early days of film. From subtle digs at political regimes or references to the filmmakers’ major influences, these hidden details can play a number of roles. For example, in the Spielberg classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly inadvertently knocks down a pine tree in the past right at the site of the future Twin Pines mall. When he returns to the present, the local mall is no longer referred to as Twin Pines, but rather Lone Pines. It’s a subtle joke that often goes unnoticed, but it’s an interesting pickup for those paying attention.
Why are They Called Easter Eggs?
There are two lines of thinking when it comes to why hidden details in movies and games are referred to as Easter Eggs, and they both emerge in the late 1970s. The first involves the iconic stage-to-screen flick Rocky Horror Picture Show, where legend suggests the cast had an egg hunt on set before filming started. Unfortunately, those hiding the eggs were a little too crafty, and not all were found before the cameras started rolling. As a result, there are three known Easter Eggs to have made the final cut, hidden in plain sight.
Paste Magazine, however, suggests the phrase was adopted by Steve Wright, the then director of software development in the Atari Consumer Division, to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game Adventure. The legend goes designer Warren Robinett to offence to his lack of acknowledgment on the game and instead secretly programmed the message “Created by Warren Robinett” that would appear only when a player moved their avatar over a specific pixel (dubbed the Gray Dot) during a certain part of the game. This would then lead them to enter a previously “forbidden” part of the map where the message could be found. By the time the Gray Dot was found, Robinett had already left Atari and Wright made the decision to keep the secret message, likening it to an Easter Egg Hunt for players.
Since then, various video games and filmmakers have added Easter Eggs to their art, becoming a fun and interactive way to engage with super fans. In fact, for filmmakers like David Fincher, Easter Eggs are somewhat of a trademark stylistic choice.
Best Movie Easter Eggs
This easter we’re celebrating the Easter Eggs you can indulge in time and time again. Here is a list of the best movie Easter Eggs in film history.
1. The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock
English film director, producer and screenwriter Alfred Hitchcock is among the most influential filmmakers of all time. It’s no surprise that his long filmography stands up as a beacon of progression in the fields of drama and horror, but what you might not know is how often he was in front of the camera. Out of the 52 films that Hitchcock made over his career, he managed to appear in a total of 39 of them, an act that Marvel legend Stan Lee and director Quentin Tarantino have also employed. Perhaps Hitchcock’s most famous cameo came in his 1963 film The Birds, where he can be seen exiting a pet store with two small dogs. Interestingly enough, those were Hitchcock’s actual dogs in real life.
Easter Egg: Alfred Hitchcock himself
References: The director’s love for appearing in his works
Initial release: 28 March 1963 (USA)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Story by: Daphne du Maurier
Screenplay: Ed McBain
Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best New Star of the Year – Actress
2. Fight Club – Starbucks
At its core, Fight Club is a film about consumerism. David Fincher’s take on the Chuck Palahniuk literary classic delves into capitalism and corporate culture as a condition of human existence, one major point being how unaware of our behaviour we often are. To emphasise the point, Fincher made the drastic decision to highlight it in every scene, picking multi-national conglomerate Starbucks as his symbol. Believe it or not, there is a Starbucks coffee cup in every single scene of Fight Club, hidden on desks, in character’s hands or sprawled out on the floor.
“When I first moved to LA in 1984, you could not get a good cup of coffee in Los Angeles to save your life. Then Starbucks came out, and it was such a great idea: good coffee,” he told The Telegraph back in 2015. “And when it became successful there were like two or three on every block. It’s too much of a good thing. But read the script, they knew what we were doing, and they were kind of ready to poke a little fun at themselves. I mean, they wouldn’t let us use their name on the coffee shop that gets destroyed by the piece of tragic corporate art, but they were willing to give us the rest of their stuff.
“We had a lot of fun using that — there are Starbucks cups everywhere, in every shot. I don’t have anything personal against Starbucks. I think they’re trying to do a good thing. They’re just too successful.”
Easter Egg: Starbucks in every scene
References: Consumer culture
Release date: 11 November 1999 (Australia)
Director: David Fincher
Story by: Chuck Palahniuk
Screenplay: Jim Uhls
3. Kill Bill – Fox Force 5
One of many films to reference Pulp Fiction, director Quentin Tarantino came through on a promise a decade in the making. The characters in Kill Bill mirror the exact personalities outlined by Mia in her Fox Force 5 television pilot. ‘There was a blonde one, she was the leader. The Japanese fox was a kung fu master. The black girl was a demolition expert. The French fox’s speciality was sex. The character I played was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife.”
Easter Egg: The Fox Force 5 team
References: Pulp Fiction
Release date: 16 October 2003 (Australia)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino
Producers: Katsuji Morishita, Lawrence Bender
4. The Godfather – Oranges
Perhaps the most iconic Easter Egg in film history, The Godfather‘s use of oranges is legendary. Similar to Scorsese’s The Departed, director Francis Ford Coppola used imagery to foreshadow death, this time with a physical object. Through the three-film series, oranges are used to indicate a character who is soon to die. Look closely and you’ll start to notice just how many oranges are visible on-screen.
Easter Egg: Oranges
References: An upcoming death
Adaptations: Godfather (2007)
Characters: Vito Corleone, Michael Corleone, Sonny Corleone
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Production companies: Paramount Pictures, American Zoetrope, Alfran Productions
5. The Departed – X Marks the Spot
It’s no secret that Martin Scorses is a genius filmmaker but in the 2006 classic The Departed, he added a few subtle foreshadowing details. Every single death in the film is preceded by the letter ‘X’ appearing somewhere on-screen, and they aren’t always easy to spot. From the crossing of beams in an X to the X-shaped design on the carpet, every X indicates death is coming. To further emphasise the point, Mark Wahlberg’s character Sgt. Dignam is the only major character to never share the screen with an X, and as such, he is the only one to make it out alive.
Easter Egg: The letter X
References: An upcoming death
Initial release: 26 September 2006 (New York)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Featured song: I’m Shipping Up to Boston
6. Tron – Pac-man
An icon of 1980s sci-fi cinema, Tron jumped on the gaming bandwagon hard. The film tells the story of Kevin, a software programmer that is dragged into a virtual world and pitted against a malevolent software. In the spirit of gaming and adventure, Tron has a sneaky Easter Egg that bears a familiar face. In one scene where the characters are looking at the grid of the game, a tiny Pac-man symbol is visible on screen.
Easter Egg: Pac-man hidden on screen
Release date: 3 December 1982 (Australia)
Director: Steven Lisberger
Film series: Tron Series
Budget: 17 million USD
Box office: 50 million USD
7. Toy Story – The Shining
Disney is famous for referencing previous works throughout its animated films, however, one you may have missed comes in the 1995 hit Toy Story. When the toys are captured by antagonist Sid and held captive, his room bears an uncanny resemblance to another inescapable dwelling, the Overlook Hotel. If you look closely, the carpet in Sid’s room is identical to the carpet in the hotel of the horror classic The Shining. Further still, the number 237 appears throughout the film, a reference to Jack’s doomed room in the haunted hotel.
Easter Egg: The design of Sid’s room
References: The Shining
Release date: 7 December 1995 (Australia)
Director: John Lasseter
Box office: 373 million USD
Budget: 30 million USD
Cast: Wallace Shawn, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger
8. John Wick – Different Movie Same Day
While the films themselves were released years apart, in the John Wick universe, film one and film two take place just four days apart. For continuity’s sake, all the cars outside the Continental Hotel are exactly the same in a remarkable demonstration of attention to detail.
Easter Egg: Continuity
References: John Wick 1
Release date: 18 May 2017 (Australia)
Director: Chad Stahelski
Budget: 40 million USD
Box office: 171.5 million USD
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee
9. Captain America: Winter Soldier – The Richetous Path
Spoiler alert, but Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic Marvel character Nick Fury dies in this one…sort of. While his passing is one of the more sombre notes in the Marvel cinematic universe, it does open itself up to perhaps the best movie easter egg in film history. At the end of the movie when Fury is standing in front of his grave, the headstone reads “The path of the righteous man… Ezekiel 25:17”. This is a direct reference to Jules Winnfield, the character Jackson played in Pulp Fiction and his trademark speech.
Easter Egg: Nick Fury’s headstone
References: Pulp Fiction
Release date: 3 April 2014 (Australia)
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Film series: Captain America
Box office: 714.4 million USD
Budget: 170 million USD
10. Star Wars – THX 1138
THX 1138 was Geroge Lucas’ directorial debut way back in 1971. The film was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and follows a dystopian world where the human population is controlled by a police force of robots and forced to take drugs that subdue emotions. In almost all Star Wars films, Lucas adds a mention to THX 1138 in some way. Most notably, THX 1138 is the name of the stormtrooper that loses his armour to Luke Skywalker after being knocked out on the Millennium Falcon. Luke claims he is a prisoner transfer from cell block 1138.
Release date: 27 October 1977 (Australia)
Director: George Lucas
Box office: 775.8 million USD
Music composed by: John Williams
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness
11. Scream – Linda Blair
Wes Craven is the king of 90s horror and for his 1997 flick Scream, he pulled an old favourite back from the dead. Eagle-eyed fans were able to point out a hidden cameo from Linda Blair, the woman best known for her work in the iconic Exorcist film. Blair appears as a reporter that ambushes Sydney outside of school in a clever homage the great scream queens of old.
Easter Egg: Linda Blair appearance
References: The Exorcist
Release date: 13 February 1997 (Australia)
Director: Wes Craven
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
Box office: 173 million USD
Producers: Cathy Konrad, Stuart M. Besser, Cary Woods
12. From Dusk til Dawn – Big Kahuna Burger
The Tarantino universe is a real thing. The director himself confirmed that all his films exist in a parallel universe and are interconnected in some way, meaning there’s a proverbial treasure trove of great movie Easter Eggs to found. One of the best comes by way of the Tarantino-penned, Robert Rodriguez-director film From Duck Til Dawn. In the vampire movie, the characters stop at a popular Hawaiian burger joint called Big Kahuna Burger to fuel up. Pulp Fiction fans might notice this as the fictional fast-food outlet that Brad and Marvin score burgers from right before copping a visit from Jules and Vincent.
Easter Egg: The Big Kahuna Burger
References: Pulp Fiction
Release date: 18 April 1996 (Australia)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Featured song: Dark Night
Film series: From Dusk till Dawn
13. Toy Story 3 – Sid
We always love to see a character return. In Toy Story 3, there’s a brief shot as the toys encounter the garbage man, a young character that bears a striking resemblance to an old adversary. Wearing the same skull shirt as Sid from the original film, the character is a nod to the ongoing development of the franchise and how much time has passed.
Easter Egg: Sid from the first Toy Story returns in a brief cameo
References: Previous Toy Story films
Release date: 24 June 2010 (Australia)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Box office: 1.067 billion USD (2018)
Budget: 200 million USD
Featured songs: We Belong Together, You’ve Got a Friend in Me
14. Indiana Jones – Star Wars
The collaboration between Star Wars‘ George Lucas and Indiana Jones‘ Steven Spielberg has for long been one of Hollywood’s most fruitful, but the crossover actually started way back in the 1980s. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones lifts up the Ark of the Covenant out of its crate to reveal a section covered in hieroglyphs. It’s a quick scene, however, some fans have quick to point out that iconic Star Wars characters C3PO and R2-D2 appear in the imagery on the pillar.
Additionally, if you watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series closely, there’s a scene where droids can be seen loading a crate that looks eerily like the Ark of the Covenant onto a space ship.
Easter Egg: Hidden R2D2 and C3PO
References: Star Wars
Release date: 14 August 1981 (Australia)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Music composed by: John Williams
Box office: 389.9 million USD
Budget: 20 million USD
15. Rocky Horror Picture Show – Actual Easter Eggs
The movie that allegedly started it all. Rocky Horror Picture Show is responsible for bringing literal Easter Eggs on screen. As mentioned above, the cast and crew reportedly held an Easter Egg hunt before filming started, however, three eggs were left unfound, popping up in the final cut of the film. If you look closely, you can see one under Frank’s throne, one in the main room, and one in the elevator.
Easter Egg: An actual Easter Egg hidden throughout the film
References: A monster pre-filming party
Release date: 18 December 1975 (Australia)
Director: Jim Sharman
Story by: Richard O’Brien
Screenplay: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman
What is meant by Easter eggs in movies?
An Easter Egg is a term used to describe a hidden detail left in a movie by the filmmaker. This element could be a message, foreshadowing or call-back to another medium, designed to give the audience members sharp enough to catch, a thrill.
What movies have Easter eggs?
When it comes to finding Easter eggs in popular movies, you’re better off focusing on the director rather than the films themselves. Iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was famous for filling his movies with hidden details, same with Quentin Tarantino.
Who came up with the phrase Easter egg?
Easter egg was coined around 1979 by Steve Wright, the then Director of Software Development in the Atari Consumer Division, to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game Adventure, in reference to an Easter egg hunt.