Exploring Edgar Wright Movie References

Every director claims to be a movie geek. But there’s movie geeks, and then there’s Edgar Wright. The director, who casually drops lists of his 1000 favorite films when he’s not working, seems to view movie references as a bit of a sport. If you’re not spotting at least a dozen influences or outright homages in his movies, you probably need to rewind – and if you’re watching his earlier films like Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, just give up trying to count.

While Wright has increasingly been moving away from overt name-checks in his movies, he still manages to bury familiar score snippets, costume choices, and plot threads in all of his work. Here are just a few.

shaun of the dead

References in Shaun of the Dead

The Films of George A. Romero

Wright’s beloved zombie spoof is bursting with references to other films in the undead canon, but it’s clear the director has a particular affection for George A. Romero. That creepy music playing over the opening of Shaun of the Dead? It’s original music from Dawn of the Dead. Ken Foree, the star of Dawn of the Dead, also gets name-dropped by Shaun’s workplace: Foree Electric. Wright doesn’t forget Bub, the zombie from Day of the Dead, either. The pizzeria that Shaun passes on the way to the convenience store for his soda and Cornetto ice cream is named Bub’s Pizzas.

Wright’s most explicit nod to Romero’s Living Dead series arrives as Shaun (Simon Pegg) places a frantic call to his mother Barbara. After he tells her to sit tight, Ed (Nick Frost) yells, “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

This is an almost verbatim line from Night of the Living Dead. In the opening graveyard scene, Johnny teases his sister by repeating, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” He knows she’s spooked by graveyards, so he’s just trying to scare her. Ironically, he doesn’t realize real zombies are approaching until it’s too late.

Wright spins the sinister line into a more optimistic promise of rescue in Shaun of the Dead, and apparently this tweak made the reference fly right over one notable fan’s head. According to the DVD commentary, Simon Pegg asked Romero what he thought of the Barbara line after the director called to congratulate him on the movie. Romero had no idea what he was talking about.

The Deer Hunter

Michael Cimino’s haunting war drama might seem like a strange choice for a silly zombie spoof, but Wright’s nod here makes a lot of sense. As the Shaun of the Dead survivors start to argue and go a little crazy locked inside The Winchester pub, Shaun ties a distinctive red bandana around his head. His bandana looks an awful lot like the one Nick wears in The Deer Hunter after he’s lost his mind to PTSD. Wright is not suggesting that Shaun is suffering Nick’s exact mental trauma, but he is suggesting that our hero is not doing well – a suggestion that’s confirmed a few scenes later when Shaun and Liz consider shooting one another to escape the oncoming horde of zombies.

Every Which Way But Loose

Ed pulls out his apparently famous monkey impression to cheer up a freshly dumped Shaun early in the movie. He’s not aping any old monkey, either. It’s specifically Clyde, the wily orangutan who loves to flip the bird in Every Which Way But Loose.

Shaun tries to get Ed to do the impression again later, asking his motley gang of survivors if they’ve all seen Every Which Way But Loose. This time, Ed insists he’s not “a performing monkey.” But considering Ed’s ultimate fate, maybe the hilarious pet analogy wasn’t totally off.

Hot Fuzz

References in Hot Fuzz

Point Break

Wright sets up homages to two action classics when Danny (Nick Frost) asks his new coworker Nicholas (Simon Pegg) a simple question: “Point Break or Bad Boys II?” He’s not asking which one he’d prefer; he’s asking which one to watch first. Danny treats both these movies as gospel, a blueprint for what his life as a cop should look like. So when the plot starts to ramp up, Wright gives him just that. Point Break gets the lengthier sequence, as Wright recreates the chase scene that ends with Johnny Utah firing his gun in the air and screaming, unable to stop his criminal friend from getting away.

(Slight spoilers ahead.) In Hot Fuzz, Danny is conflicted about stopping his own father, who he’s recently learned is aiding a cult in their hometown. It’s an interesting twist on the dynamic between Johnny Utah and Bodhi, and it points to the true hero of Hot Fuzz. Although the story starts and ends with Sergeant Nicholas Angel, the efficient city cop turned country officer, Danny is the character with the real emotional arc. It’s his family tragedy the drives the mystery plaguing the town, and he’s the one who learns and grows the most. So if all the movie’s emotional highs are spurred by Danny, then he has to be the one to point his gun in the air and say, “Aaaaah!”

Bad Boys II

Danny’s other favorite movie still gets its due. Wright cleverly cuts Danny and Nicholas’s late-night movie marathon so that they’re waking up right as the famous “This shit just got real” scene from Bad Boys II plays. The smash cut that follows shows the charred remains of George Merchant, proving that shit has also gotten real for the Sanford police squad.

Nicholas repeats the line later on the phone to his boss with much less cool than Martin Lawrence, after an assassin tries to murder him in his hotel room.

The Omen

This 1976 horror film features heavily in Hot Fuzz. The most obvious nod is the casting of Billie Whitelaw as Joyce Cooper, the (seemingly) sweet old lady who runs the hotel in town with her husband. She also played Damien’s nanny Mrs. Baylock in The Omen. This could be a mere coincidence, if it weren’t for an extra gruesome death scene right in the middle of Hot Fuzz.

(Slight spoilers ahead.) Wright clearly drew inspiration from Father Brennan’s death in The Omen when he dispatched local reporter Tim Messenger in Hot Fuzz. Father Brennan is killed after frantically running through the stormy outdoors, seeking shelter under the church steeple. A lightning rod snaps and impales him. Messenger also sees the church as a safe haven where he can discuss sensitive information with his police confidant. He’s proven wrong when a cloaked figure pushes part of the steeple off the church roof. Messenger’s death is much messier than Brennan’s – since he’s felled by a large piece of stone, the entire upper half of his body basically explodes. The over-the-top gore lends some humor to the scene, and makes Messenger’s death all the more fitting. Isn’t it appropriate that a typo-prone reporter should go out under such a uniquely distastrous “accident”?

The scene is mirrored a second time in an even sillier way towards the end of the film. So it’s obvious that Wright “truly lovesThe Omen, but just in case you doubted him, he’s still referencing it in 2017.

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