With audiences eating up Ant-Man for the second weekend in a row, we thought it time to look back at some other great movie and TV shared universes we love…and that might be a little less famous than the ones offered by Marvel Studios and Warner Bros.
10. Ghostbusters and Casper
The Ghostbusters have gone up against specters, gods, a 17th century tyrant, and a giant marshmallow man…and won! So, you’d think a haunted house would be child’s play to them. When a rich snob inherits a house that she finds out is haunted by Casper’s three jerky uncles, who’s she gonna call? Well, at least one Ghostbuster. Dan Aykroyd shows up for a cameo as his bustin’ counterpart Ray Stantz (complete with Ghostbusters jumpsuit and proton pack) to rid the house of the annoying ghouls. Unfortunately, they’re too much for even him to handle when he comes running out of the house and tells the woman, “Who you gonna call? Someone else.”
It’s cute, damn it!
It’s not that big of a deal to think Ghostbusters and Casper are in the same universe. The most important thing to take from this is that the Ghostbusters are still working! Even if they did small bits like this in movies every now and then, we wouldn’t need a Ghostbusters 3… especially not after the awful Ghostbusters II.
9. Scrubs in Cougar Town
Created by Bill Lawrence and produced by the Doozer production company & ABC Studios, Scrubs ran for nine seasons with 181 episodes. With the same companies’ backing, Bill Lawrence created another sitcom titled Cougar Town, starring Courteney Cox. Cougar Town ran for three seasons on ABC but never quite developed the substantial cult following that Scrubs had over the years. Hence the need for cable network TBS picked up Cougar Town for two seasons (the show returns for season five in 2014).
There have been about 10 or so of the same stars from Scrubs to show up in one way or another on Cougar Town, but this clip ends with a great set of references when Ted from Scrubs (who is visiting the Cougar Town group that he met in Hawaii) freaks out thinking there is something familiar about everyone around him. After all of the little hints and references, it’s a smartly done scene to expose the truth about how the twoworlds co-exist.
8. The Dukes are Back
In Trading Places, millionaire Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) and his brother Mortimer (Don Ameche) make a bet (their “usual amount” for a bet is one dollar, because of course) to see if they can turn a wealthy man played by Dan Aykroyd into a pauper and turn a Eddie Murphy’s small time crook into a high-class citizen. Unfortunately, I have to spoil the end for those who haven’t seen it to tell you that in the end the Dukes lose their vast fortune.
In Coming to America, which is also directed by Trading Place‘s John Landis, wealthy Prince Akeem (again…Eddie Murphy) comes to this country to try to find a wife for himself. While taking a walk with a woman he’s falling for, he comes across a homeless man resting in a pile of garbage. Akeem feels bad for the man, gives him a rolled-up bag, and he and the woman walk off. When asked by the woman, Akeem tells her he gave the homeless man some “pocket change.” Cut back to the homeless man, who turns out to be Don Ameche, as he opens the bag to find it loaded with money. He calls, “Randolph!” and awakens the man lying next to him, who rolls over…and it’s Ralph Bellamy. Randolph’s eyes widen, he smiles and says, “Mortimer, we’re back.”
Cut to Akeem and the female having dinner by a window when the Dukes knock on the glass, happily thanking the stranger for the money.
So in this universe, rich jerks who lose everything can trade places again. Thanks, Prince Akeem for probably making humbled men turn back into terrible human beings.
7. NBC’s Must See Thursday Universe
This probably came about from some executive at NBC thinking these show should be linked just because they were considered “Must-See TV” as there’s no real reason for any of it. Okay, so in Friends you have Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Kudrow. In the episode “The One Where Chandler Can’t Cry” (S6 Ep.14), someone recognizes Phoebe from a porno titled Buffay: The Vampire Layer, starring Phoebe Buffay. It turns out Phoebe did not star in that movie, but her twin sister Ursula (also played by Kudrow) did. Ursula was rarely ever around on Friends since she regularly works in another part of NYC as a waitress at Riff’s Restaurant. Meanwhile, Riff’s is the favorite restaurant of Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) on Mad About You.
Ursula showed up in numerous Mad About You episodes, so we don’t really need to single out any of her appearances. Jamie once even went to Central Perk in a Friends episode and thought Phoebe was Ursula. Then in the Mad About You episode “The Apartment” (S1 Ep.8), we find out that even though Paul and Jamie are married, Paul kept his old apartment but sublets it to someone.
When Jamie asks Paul to get rid of the apartment, Paul goes to visit the tenant to offer the lease to him. The tenant: Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) from Seinfeld. After a brief chat, Paul mentions that he never got along with the comedian who lived next door (Jerry Seinfeld). That’s it. Betcha didn’t see any of that coming, (or really even care to) but it’s true!
6. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
A movie where one of the greatest comedic duos in history goes up against three of, not only Hollywood’s scariest monsters, but literature’s most popular villains. With Abbott and Costello getting top billing, it sounds like it would be a farce, right? But here’s where it gets compelling: Dracula and the Wolf Man are played by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., the actors who made the characters famous for Universal.
So, we have a straight man and a comedian going up against some of the most famous Universal Monsters, and the main thing is that it’s done respectfully. Dracula doesn’t accidently throw a pie in the Wolf Man’s face, they don’t spray seltzer on each other, nor do they do any pratfalls. You can even say Dracula and Wolf Man are the straight men to the team of Abbott and Costello.
Yes, Frankenstein’s Monster is also in the film and is an integral part of the plot, but Lugosi and Chaney play it like it’s one of their own horror films, and that’s what makes this a fascinating world. The story isn’t complicated and there aren’t any twists or turns that I have to be careful to not spoil for those reading this. It’s just a great idea executed really well, and I recommend it if you’re into classic horror or classic comedies. And speaking of classic horror, the ending has a great cameo by not only a classic character, but a true horror legend!
5. Hunter S. Thompson And Talking Lizards In A Kids Movie
This one absolutely blows my mind. Watch the video clip first and then wrap your mind around the words that you are reading here: Hunter S. Thompson’s fantastic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was adapted into a film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp as Thompson/Raoul Duke. A decade later you have Johnny Depp voicing the title character in the animated feature Rango, which is about a talking lizard.
So not only do we have the Fear and Loathing “universe” mixing with a world of talking (and clothed) reptiles, we also have an animated movie for kids that references drug users who are used to seeing talking and clothed reptiles (of which there is a scene in Fear and Loathing), making this one of the most insanely nonsensical cameos and crossovers in movie history.
4. The Tarantino-verse
This would be a difficult one to sum up in a few words, so for now we’ll just get into the more obvious ones. If you’ve seen at least two of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, you’ve probably noticed something similar here or there: the Red Apple Cigarette brand or maybe a Big Kahuna Burger fast food restaurant bag. Mr. Tarantino neither confirms nor denies that everything he writes takes place in the same universe, though there are plenty of theories out there about the connections, and part of the fun of watching a Tarantino movie is trying to spot a reference to another one.
In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. White references a young girl named Alabama that he used to pull cons with; in True Romance (which Tarantino wrote but didn’t direct), the female lead is a girl named Alabama who has some loose morals. Coincidence? Well, here is one that Tarantino has admitted to: Mr. Blonde’s name in Reservoir Dogs is Vic Vega, and John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction is Vincent Vega, correct? Quentin admitted to a link there because he had a story he wanted to film titled The Vega Brothers, which would have been about Vic and Vincent’s earlier days (since Vincent, of course, doesn’t survive Pulp Fiction).
Another fun nod is that Eli Roth’s character in Inglourious Basterds, one Sgt. Donnie Donowitz, is the World War II era father of Saul Rubinek’s sleezy film producer Lee Donowitz in True Romance–Tarantino confirmed this himself in an interview in 2009.
3. Detective John Munch is EVERYWHERE
This one, though it may not be the most incredible, just might be the most vast and varied. Richard Belzer is an actor/comedian who currently plays Detective John Munch on the cop drama Law & Order: SVU. The character originally appeared on Homicide: Life On The Street, but after that show ended, Detective Munch was moved to this Law & Order spin-off.
One of the coolest aspects of the character of John Munch though is that he has now officially appeared on more television series than any other character in television history, and we’re not just talking cop dramas here. Some Detective Munch appearances include: The Wire (S5 Ep.7 “Took”), The X-Files (S5 Ep.3 “Usual Suspects”); in comedies like Arrested Development (S3 Ep.9 “S.O.B.s”, S3 Ep.12 “Exit Strategy”), and 30 Rock (S5 Ep.13 : “¡Qué Sorpresa!”, S7 Ep.13 “Last Lunch” as himself playing Munch); and even on musician Paul Shaffer’s album The World’s Most Dangerous Party.
He’s even been mentioned on the BBC show Luther as an American contact of the lead character. As of this writing, Detective Munch has been on television for 20 years and appeared in 449 television episodes. So by the shared universe theory, Cigarette Smoking Man and the vampire pizza delivery boy from The X-Files live in the same world as Tracy Jordan from 30 Rock. I love it. Detective John Munch is policing the coolest world.
2. Do Androids Dream Of Controlling The Universe?
Okay, if you take this one with a grain of salt, it’s pretty damned entertaining. David Peeples, who did some rewrites on the Blade Runner script, also wrote the Kurt Russell starring Soldier, and called it a side-quel to Blade Runner since it does take place in the same universe. In Soldier, we not only see a “Spinner” vehicle from Blade Runner, when Russell’s characters service record is shown, we see he fought in the battles of Tannhauser Gate and Shoulder of Orion, both of which are references to Blade Runner. His weapons training lists the M41A Pulse Rifle and USCM Smart Gun, which appear in Aliens.
Also, on the Prometheus home video release (which is, of course, a prequel of sorts to Alien), there is an easter egg of a message from Sir Peter Weyland (of Weyland-Yutani Corp from the Alien movies) that suggests he knew Eldon Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation (who was responsible for making replicants in Blade Runner).
Further, despite not having the rights to connect both at the time, director Ridley Scott has repeatedly said he considers the urban hellscape of Blade Runner to be the Earth that the crew of the Nostromo (Alien’s cast) were fighting to get back to for a drink. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Ian Holm’s Ash from Alien (or Michael Fassbender’s David in Prometheus) is a not-too-distant descendant of Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty from Blade Runner.
There is also a set of movies titled Alien Vs. Predator, which really don’t need explanation. So far, those are some good solid links. There’s more, though.
Joss Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection, the fourth film in the series. So from here we go to Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer spin-off, Angel, where the law firm of Wolfram & Hart have as a client….Weyland-Yutani! It’s referenced once (S5 Ep.9 “Harm’s Way”) but nothing really comes of it. It could have been done as a joke since Joss worked on Alien: Resurrection.
BUT, Whedon also created the TV series Firefly, and in the pilot episode, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) uses an anti-aircraft gun that has the Weyland-Yutani logo on the top of its screen. Though they all don’t take place in the same timeframe, if you want to buy into the references being canon, we have all of these in the same universe: Blade Runner, Soldier, the Alien franchise, the Predator franchise, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (and Angel), and Firefly. In other words, this universe has aliens that burst out of your chest, vampires, vampire slayers, androids, and replicants. “Game over, man! Game over!”
1. It’s Stephen King’s World, We Just Live In It
Stephen King isn’t just the “Master of Horror,” he’s the master of his own shared universe. For 40 years and dozens of books, King has kept us looking under our beds for the boogeyman before we go to sleep at night. Not only that, he can link the boogeyman to anything from any of his stories to make you even more frightened. There are so many ways to bridge the areas of Derry and Castle Rock, King’s two most popular settings, that it can’t all be outlined here, but let’s list some of the biggest ones.
First: Randall Flagg, who first appears in King’s The Stand and is probably the author’s most popular antagonist, appears in at least nine of his books looking to destroy civilizations. Second: Pennywise the Clown may have a major role in It, but in Dreamcatcher, someone has spraypainted “Pennywise Lives” on a statue, and in The Tommyknockers, a reference is made about a child who sees a clown in a sewer.
At the center of this universe is the Dark Tower series. The Dark Tower itself holds together all of time and space. Characters can enter or leave the Dark Tower and go to any place and/or time they want to…..even supposedly to our universe.
There is even a universe you can travel to where Doctor Doom-ish robots fight with lightsabers. Yeah, you read that right.
Randall Flagg has used the Tower to travel to different places. The villains from Hearts in Atlantis come from the Dark Tower, and the Buick in From A Buick 8 is a portal to the Tower. All of that just scratches the surface. Some people find difficulties connecting just a few stories. Stephen King just sits back, watches the pieces fall into place, and then takes notes.
This article originally ran in January of 2014.