Dan Harmon’s Community was famed for its subversive takes on classic genre motifs. There was the paintball spaghetti-Western; the Christmas claymation; the dice-based take on chaos theory. The same is the case with another of Dan Harmon’s creations, Rick and Morty.
As season 4 premieres on Adult Swim in the US, we remember the most OTT sci-fi references in the cartoon comedy, and we can expect to see many more as Rick & Morty season 4 continues. Here’s the best of the bunch so far…
1. S01E02 – ‘Lawnmower Dog’
References: Inception, Animal Farm, Planet of the Apes, Nightmare on Elm Street
This episode has Rick and Morty involved in an Inception storyline, where they travel further and further into dreams until they’re Inception-ing Scary Terry, the Freddy Krueger knockoff at the bottom of the dream pool.
Meanwhile, Morty’s dad Jerry has received a device from Rick to make his dog more intelligent; it becomes a genius and, together with its dog buddies, takes over the world, in a parody of The Lawnmower Man and Animal Farm.
At the end of the episode, the now intelligent dogs travel to another dimension to live in their own world – a reference to Dog World, a failed pitch made by Rick and Morty‘s co-creator, Justin Roiland. Rick (who’s voiced by Roiland) says: “I think it will be great, Morty. You know it could be developed in-into a very satisfying project for people of all ages. I mean, I’d watch it, Morty, for at least 11 minutes a pop. You know, may-maybe they’ll do it board-driven.”
2. S01E03 – ‘Anatomy Park’
References: Jurassic Park, Fantastic Voyage
In this mash-up of Jurassic Park and Fantastic Voyage, Morty enters Rick’s experimental theme park – inside the body of a homeless man – to help fix his STI-ridden insides. Predictably, things go wrong.
3. S01E04 – ‘M. Night Shaym-Aliens!’
References: M Night Shyamalan’s many twists.
M. Night Shyamalan is responsible for twist-ridden films like The Sixth Sense, The Village and Split. In an homage to him, this episode is stuffed with unexpected turns of events.
4. S01E05 – ‘Meeseeks and Destroy’
One of the most memorable scenes in this episode finds Rick and Morty climbing Jack’s beanstalk to kill the giant – but then we witness the giant’s ignoble death, and it’s horrible to watch. Then his giant’s wife and child to come out and grieve for him, and rather than escaping blamelessly with a bag of gold, Rick and Morty get sent to giant jail.
There isn’t a clip of that scene on YouTube, so here’s an extremely troubling one from the same fairytale episode: Mr Jelly Bean, the king of a fairytale village, meets Morty in the bathroom and tries to molest him. It’s pretty horrifying.
5. S01E06 – ‘Rick Potion #9’
References: Love Potion No. 9, David Cronenberg films
In this episode, whose title references the Sandra Bullock romcom Love Potion No. 9, Rick makes a love potion that by chance combines with a flu virus and causes everyone to fall in love with Morty. Rick then makes two serums to try and counteract the effects, but these eventually turn everyone into body-horror creations straight out of David Cronenberg’s films (The Fly and Naked Lunch).
6. S01 E07 – ‘Raising Gazorpazorp’
References: Zardoz, Raising Arizona
Plot-wise, the intensely weird 1974 Sean Connery sci-fi vehicle Zardoz is the primary inspiration for this episode. ‘Raising Gazorpazorp’ sees mysterious giant heads descend on earth and demand one entertainment act from all of humanity to take part in a sort of intergalactic X Factor competition. In another related storyline, Morty is raising a son he accidentally created via a mysterious sex robot, with the title of the episode referencing the Coen brothers’ 1987 Raising Arizona. It’s all very mysterious, really.
7. S01E8 – ‘Rixty Minutes’
References: Game of Thrones, Letterman, Cloud Atlas, SNL, Garfield, Die Hard
In this episode, Rick turns his TV inter-dimensional, allowing him and Morty to watch all kinds of weird stuff on TV – and a lot of it parodies ours. In one dimension’s Game of Thrones, for example, Tyrion is a giant, and Cloud Atlas stars Morty’s dad, Jerry.
8. S01E09 – ‘Something Ricked This Way Comes’
References: The Devil Comes to Town, Needful Things, The Twilight Zone
In this reinterpretation of several Faustian tales, the devil comes to town disguised as a new merchant called Mr Needful. The objects he sells to the townspeople are classic cursed blessings, but Rick opens a shop to undo their negative effects, putting the Devil out of business with science – and ultimately destroying his business of karmic retribution. “I haven’t learned a thing!” exclaims Morty’s maths teacher in the clip below.
9. S02E02 – ‘Mortynight Run’
References: Bioshock, David Bowie
This episode doesn’t really parody any specific film, but it recalls the twist-filled video game Bioshock via the phrase “would you kindly” – and it also features Flight of the Conchords‘ Jermaine Clement doing a brilliant David Bowie impression as a psychedelic celestial cloud called ‘Fart’.
10. S02E03 – ‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’
References: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Community
In this episode, Rick’s old flame pops up – it’s a terrifying hive-mind figure called Unity. It’s basically a retelling of the Cold War-era anti-Communism film Invasion of the Body Snatchers – only here, Rick’s twisted ego unravels the hivemind’s perfectly ordered society. Community fans should look out for a reference to Dan Harmon’s old creation when Rick is watching TV – during which he gives a potted history of that show’s development, cancellation, revival and ultimate death.
11. S02E09 – ‘Look Who’s Purging Now’
References: The Purge, Look Who’s Talking Now
The title of this one is a shout-out to the 1993 romcom Look Who’s Talking Now, which features talking animals. Here, Rick and Morty land on a seeming utopia filled with talking animals – but the twist is, they’re about to engage in their annual Purge night, where all crimes are legal for one night only, in the vein of 2013’s The Purge. It’s pretty bloody.
12. S03E02 – ‘Rickmancing The Stone’
References: Mad Max, Romancing The Stone
The most obvious reference point in this episode is Mad Max, whose post-apocalyptic wasteland and gasoline-guzzling car culture are homaged throughout via the society of the Deathstalkers. This is the surreal playground where Morty and Summer’s violent reactions to their parents’ divorce take place. The title, meanwhile, is a nod to the 1984 action/romance film Romancing The Stone.
Bonus round: Back to the Future
Rick and Morty was originally an even more obscene web series called Doc and Mharti. It was made by Rick and Morty‘s co-creator Justin Roiland, who was protesting the cease and desist letters he was getting from Universal over his House of Cosbys series by taking off another Universal property, Back to the Future. As with Rick and Morty, it features an old scientist and a young impressionable boy. Only here, Mharti has to lick Doc’s balls to get the ‘time-car’ to work. It’s entirely NSFW, obviously.