7 Secret Jokes You Never Noticed In The Background Of Movies
Making movies and TV shows involves standing under hot lights for hours, carrying heavy equipment back and forth, and, like, yelling super loud. It's hard work all around. So, sometimes, the filmmakers need to do something to take the edge off. While most of us would cope with this stress by losing our cars in back-alley craps games, some creators instead cram goofy shit into every corner of the screen.
So, join us as we grab our remote control, place a finger over the pause button, and celebrate the work of these unsung heroes:
The Newspapers In The Harry Potter Movies Secretly Tell The Saga Of An Asshole Witch
A good way to spot a knowledgeable Harry Potter fan is to ask them who the greatest villain in the story is. A lot of people will name the dark wizard Voldemort, which is your sign that they're a boring old Muggle. Real fans know the true villain of this franchise: the fabled Ginger Witch.
We're not being jerks, by the way. That's actually her name:
"In other news, Hogwarts student Ron Weasley has gone missing, along with a bunch of his mother's clothes."
Design studio MinaLima was contracted to create the moving newspapers for the Harry Potter films. While they were working, they decided to leave their mark on the film universe by creating their own character, and then by making her a total asshole. The Ginger Witch appears at least seven times in the original films and Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and every single time she's in trouble for increasingly ridiculous crimes. In the above screenshot she was caught stealing wigs, while in other incidents she was rabble-rousing at a soccer match, interfering with air traffic by making pigs fly, or somehow causing a recall of jelly beans -- which can already taste like vomit, so if they need to be recalled then you know some shit went down (possibly in the literal sense).
Note that these articles are written in some arcane, outdated language. For instance, "football" means "soccer."
Her presence in the original films was silly enough, but her cameo in Fantastic Beasts (which takes place about 70 years before Harry Potter) takes it to a new level. Now we know that there is some 80- or 90-year-old witch out there on a rampage, not even doing any major crimes, just stirring up shit at sports games and blowing shit up. If this character can't get her own spin-off film but a 128-page fake textbook can, then there is no justice in this world.
Come on, you even have the name for the movie already.
The Magna Doodle Screen In Friends Had A New Easter Egg Every Week
Friends was so popular that the actors still make $20 million apiece off the show every year from syndication, rendering any joke we might make about their post-sitcom careers woefully ineffective. With that kind of popularity, there are bound to be dedicated superfans analyzing every last goddamn frame of this thing.
"Wait, are you superfans just 'analyzing' the fact that Rachel's nipples were never not showing?" "Uh, um, no?"
Anyway, starting in the third season, someone added a Magna Doodle to the wall in Joey and Chandler's apartment, and as anyone who's ever lived in a college dorm knows, nobody can resist drawing on one of those. Instead of a parade of crudely drawn penises, however, the Magna Doodle had a different in-joke, cast member shout-out, or plot spoiler with basically every episode, like a friend watching next to you who loves the show a little too much and can't stop spouting trivia.
Here's the board giving a birthday shout-out to a crew member:
That season where Joey and Chandler adopted a lion and an elephant was weird.
Here's a drawing of police surrounding a house, reflecting the characters' fear that they would get caught for stealing cheesecake:
The Magna Doodle is actually a representation of their psyche, which is why it's empty whenever it's just Joey.
And for a jarring tonal shift, here's the show saluting the FDNY after 9/11:
For the next episode, they had "JET FUEL CAN'T (indiscernible)."
Who was doing these drawings, exactly? Did the show have its own designated, union-certified Magna Doodler with a fully insured drawing hand? Well, the answer is "sort of, but not really." A lot of different people on the crew, and even some on the cast, are responsible for some of the doodles on the board, but the majority of them were done by a man on the electrical crew named Paul Swaim. And now we can all die unperturbed and serene, knowing this important mystery has been put to rest.
He should have been writing the scripts, really.
Vin Diesel Keeps Putting His Dungeons & Dragons Character Into His Films
Famed action star and wall of meat Vin Diesel, on top of driving fast cars and throwing fast punches, is also a huge nerd (a phrase we can comfortably say since he is hopefully thousands of miles away from us). We've written before about his obsession with Street Sharks, but he really, really loves Dungeons & Dragons. So much so that he wrote the foreword for the 30th anniversary D&D retrospective, and invited Her Royal Highness Judi Dench to his house to play D&D as part of his successful attempt to get her to act in The Chronicles Of Riddick.
You can actually see the name of his D&D character, Melkor, tattooed across his stomach in the movie xXx:
He also included his sidekicks, "Right Nipple" and "Left Nipple."
Note that Diesel doesn't really have any tattoos; these were made for the movie. Meaning that while they were drawing up the art for xXx, Diesel leaned in and said to the makeup director, "Dude, I know a totally badass word we can put on my abs, for no particular reason."
And then he went and topped that by getting an entire movie written about Melkor. The Last Witch Hunter, released in 2015, was written after Diesel met up with writer Cory Goodman at a party and started nerding out about D&D. Goodman was apparently so moved by the lore of the witch hunter Melkor that he went back home and wrote an entire movie based on it, renaming the character with the equally '90s comic-book-esque name "Kaulder." Here's a bad Photoshop of Diesel as Melkor that he shared on Facebook before the movie:
Though he presumably created it for his MySpace page in 2005.
Firefly Had A Carbonite Han Solo Appearing All Over The Place
Firefly has been called a blatant Star Wars rip-off by people far braver than us. They (which is to say, not us, seriously we don't want the trouble) insist that the show is basically Han Solo: The Series, complete with its own Millennium Falcon and a far sexier Chewbacca. Obviously, that's completely ridiculous and this show is a wholly original, perfect, beautiful creation.
Anyway, did you know Han Solo is in a whole bunch of episodes? Here he is:
(The one on the right.)
Okay, so it's not exactly Harrison Ford so much as a custom-made replica of Han frozen in carbonite, but still, the figure's probably had more screentime on Firefly than some of the secondary characters. The little guy ends up popping up all over the place, appearing in random places in and outside of the protagonists' spaceship:
Maybe tiny people frozen in carbonite are just a popular way of cooling your drinks in this universe?
The prop was reportedly made for star Nathan Fillion, who is a huge Star Wars fan -- but just like Christmas, other people got to play with his toy more than he did. Apparently, the prop department had a good laugh placing this guy all over the place for fun while the show was being made, giving Firefly a sudden case of cross-universe anachronisms. Or maybe it was foreshadowing about the future of the one-season series, as fans tearfully confessed their love for Firefly just before the show was frozen in place forever (at least until Serenity came out).
The Star Trek Prop Designers Filled The Sets With Insane Signs
If you want contemplative, thought-provoking science fiction (as opposed to backflips and explosions), then Star Trek is your thing. Unless, of course, you're looking a bit more closely at the set of the USS Enterprise ... in which case this serious space drama suddenly turns into something out of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Or, in a more literal sense, Gilligan's Island.
That is a 100 percent real sign from the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and there are plenty more like it. These are now known as Okudagrams, as the signs were chiefly made by lead graphic designer Michael Okuda. He never expected that the fine print would be legible on a television screen, so he had free reign to write any dumb thing that popped into his head, which is exactly what he did.
When writing tiny text no one will read, most people just shhdhd xchfg fdghfdf dhdf.
But that's far from the only thing that was snuck onto the show. The various data screens from the Enterprise are packed with silly crap as well. Here's a map of the iconic spaceship that's been filled with random objects, like the world's easiest Hidden Picture:
Turns out the Enterprise had a real vermin problem.
They also paid tribute to series creator Gene Roddenberry, lovingly/bizarrely nicknamed "The Great Bird," by creating this horrifying Gene/parrot monstrosity:
The most disturbing part is that it's green, so you know what Kirk did with it ...
This continued in later shows, as well. Here's a still from Voyager, where what should be a bio of Ensign Phil Wallace instead has a self-aware rant from a crew member facing the mundanity of his own existence:
Wesley Crusher's bio is just the same tiny four-letter word over and over.
Partly transcribed: "Unreadable biographical text goes here. It would be telling us vital information about the handsome fellow pictured to the right. But let's face it. Writing all that up for every single person would take more time than I care to spend. In the end, it would be so small. No one will be able to read it. Instead, I will write sentences of sufficiently different lengths so that it looks like regular English usage ... I wonder if this will be readable in Hi-def?"
Our theory? This absurd text is actually part of the show, and the crew members of the Enterprise and the Voyager have just started going crazy after surviving so many crises week after week. The entire crew was later killed when they tried to fix the main reactor, but all the instructions were replaced with the lyrics for "Bohemian Rhapsody."
George Costanza (And Other Characters) Are Named After Real People
Even if you've ever seen Seinfeld, you know George Costanza: loud, angry, selfish, conniving, and basically the most insufferable character on a show where everyone is already a terrible person. And everyone who watches the show finds him hilarious. Except for one person -- an old schoolmate of Jerry Seinfeld's who happens to be named Michael Costanza.
The similarities don't end there. According to the lesser-known Costanza, "George is bald. I am bald. George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. George's high-school teacher nicknamed him 'Can't stand ya.' So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I." He then reportedly started getting louder and angrier before starting to yell something about pretzels. Incidentally, try not to read his tweets with Jason Alexander's voice:
Michael is GETTING UPSET.
Seinfeld isn't the only one to do this, though; plenty of filmmakers use their characters to try and insult or exact revenge on real-life people. Sometimes they become the villains; after The New Yorker's Pauline Kael gave a bad review to Return Of The Jedi, George Lucas responded by borrowing her name for the giant General Kael in Willow. This would have been more effective if anyone had seen that movie.
We've mentioned that Roland Emmerich made Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel the incompetent heads of New York City in his attempt at Godzilla. Likewise, Kevin Smith does this all the time, though not necessarily as an insult. Producer Bryan Johnson has worked on most of Smith's films, and to show his appreciation, Smith had him pee on a girl and then die of leukemia in Dogma.
But the gold medal has to go to David Wain, the writer of films like Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, who has included someone named Jim Stansel in every movie he's written -- once as a newscaster, once as a lawyer, once as a shady guy holding a paintbrush, and so on. According to Wain's Reddit AMA, Stansel was a co-worker of his dad's and they had a Super 8 film of him going up on a hot air balloon. For some reason, the name stuck with Wain. Now the real Jim Stansel can point to Wet Hot American Summer and say "You know that fake person Beth made up to get out of an awkward conversation? That's me!"
The Asteroid Fields In Star Wars Had Secret Potatoes
Given all the advances in special effects technology over the past 40 years, it's almost staggering how well the original Star Wars trilogy holds up visually. Through the power of determination, creativity, and basically no money whatsoever, they managed to slap a movie classic together out of literal junk. Props were recycled, helmets were torn apart and made into other helmets, and during intense space chase scenes, they had the Millennium Falcon fly through a field of potatoes.
Sorry, a space field of potatoes.
We're kidding, of course: The asteroid designs that George Lucas approved ended up looking a lot like potatoes, so that's the in-joke among creators and fans. Also, we're not kidding: In the backgrounds of several of these asteroid field chases, you can find actual potatoes if you look closely enough. In this video from the designers of the Millennium Falcon, they confirm it themselves while showing off some shots from the film, and it's a little embarrassing how well the actual potatoes blend in. They also threw some tennis shoes in there, because at some point they apparently started using this set as a trash can.
Why does that potato have bits of corn in it?
While it's not officially confirmed anywhere, the rumor is that the potatoes are an act of revenge against the highly demanding George Lucas. The talented folks at Industrial Light & Magic worked 15-hour shifts making things like AT-ATs and the floating city of Bespin into reality, having to invent new technologies to make the movies work. So, it's entirely possible that they added in potatoes as a joke, or a stress reliever. Sadly, the scene where the Millennium Falcon crashes into an asteroid only to have it explode into millions of French fries ended up being cut from the final movie.
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