8 Great ‘Citizen Kane’ References and Parodies in ‘The Simpsons’
To watch The Simpsons is to watch a master class in cultural parody. On any given episode in its golden years, viewers would be treated to countless pitch-perfect spoofs of landmark film and television moments sprinkled throughout a solid emotional story. But if there was one film that the show consistently mined for parody — besides The Godfather — it would be Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane.
“I always say if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,” former Simpsons showrunner David Mirkin once told The Ringer. The series has made more than a dozen references to the film over the last 30 years, with more than one episode teetering on complete parody. Here are some of the best...
‘Treehouse of Horror XVI,’ Season 17, Episode 4
In a parody of Welles’ famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, when Welles tries to warn Chief Wiggum of an alien invasion in 1938, Wiggum brushes him off, stating, “Why don’t I just punch you in the nose, bud.” Welles pauses and repeats, “Nosebud,” referencing Charles Foster Kane’s uttering of “Rosebud” in Kane. The reference is a bit forced (or on the nosebud?), but how could the show have Welles reference without a Kane reference?
‘Treehouse of Horror VII,’ Season 8, Episode 1’
The third segment is named “Citizen Kang.” The title is the only connection it shares with the film, however, as the segment itself remains a relevant satire on American politics.
‘Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?,’ Season 11, Episode 3
When the Simpsons are at a Planet Springfield restaurant (itself a parody of Planet Hollywood), one of the pieces of Hollywood memorabilia featured is the cane from Citizen Kane. Upon seeing this, Lisa takes a moment to realize, “Wait a minute... There was no cane in Citizen Kane!” This basic reference to the film has gone on to be one of many memorable Simpsons memes. The best part is, although this was meant to be a joke, there actually was a cane in Citizen Kane, and it was in a scene that was parodied by The Simpsons in Season Four (see #3 below).
‘Sideshow Bob Roberts,’ Season 6, Episode 5
Much to Bart’s dismay, this episode sees Sideshow Bob being elected mayor of Springfield. In the scene that cuts to “Mayor Terwillinger’s victory speech” at a campaign rally, the establishing shot of Bob in front of a large banner with his head and name is a direct reference to a Citizen Kane shot where Kane is at a campaign rally in his run for governor. Interestingly, this gag is among the few times The Simpsons parodied something it had previously referenced in an earlier episode (see #2 below).
‘A Streetcar Named Marge,’ Season 4, Episode 2
This is perhaps the most subtle Citizen Kane reference of the bunch. During the performance of Oh, Streetcar! (the musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire), Homer is seen blowing a torn paper program in boredom until he’s alerted to Marge’s introduction as Blanche DuBois. The shot is a reference to a similar shot in the film of Kane’s best friend, Jed Leland, blowing a torn paper program at an opera performance.
‘Marge Gets a Job,’ Season 4, Episode 7
At a retirement party for an employee, Smithers performs a dance act, not for the retiree but for Mr. Burns. His performance is a parody of the dance act organized for Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. (According to Bill Oakley, co-writer of the episode, the bit was conceived by the rest of the writers’ room during production.)
‘Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,’ Season 2, Episode 4
This was the first of two episodes that lifted heavily from Citizen Kane, drawing parallels between the film’s Charles Foster Kane and the show’s Charles Montgomery Burns, a character who had not really been focused on previously. In the episode, Mr. Burns decides to run for governor to control the regulations on his own nuclear power plant; Kane, of course, runs for governor of New York in the film.
Directed by renowned animation director Wes Archer and written by legendary Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder (with producer Sam Simon), several scenes are direct parodies of Kane. There is a brief scene of Mr. Burns at a campaign rally where he stands in front of a large banner of his head. As with the Sideshow Bob scene mentioned above, the shots, banner and expression on Mr. Burns’ face in the poster is identical to a scene in the film of Kane at a campaign rally.
Later in the episode, an impatient Bart asks Homer, “Is your boss governor yet?” Homer replies, “Not yet, son. Not yet.” Kane’s first wife, Emily, and their son, Charles, have a similar exchange.
In the film, when Kane is blackmailed by his political rival, he yells at him, “Don’t worry about me, Gettys! I’m Charles Foster Kane!” When Mr. Burns’ campaign collapses at the end of the episode, he shouts at his departing staff, “You can’t do this to me! I’m Charles Montgomery Burns!” Mr. Burns (mostly with the help of Smithers) then begins trashing the Simpsons living room where the scene is taking place, referencing another scene in Citizen Kane when Kane trashes his wife’s bedroom after she leaves him.
‘Rosebud,’ Season 5, Episode 4
“Rosebud” once again aligns the characters of Kane and Mr. Burns, but this time focuses on their childhoods. It’s also credited to Archer as director and Swartzwelder as writer, the latter of which came up with most of the written gags, while the animation team developed most of the visual references.
It starts with a scene at Burns’ Manor, where Mr. Burns is haunted by scenes of his childhood with a snow globe in his hand, a parody of the opening of Kane. The subsequent flashback shows the poor but happy — literally, his name was Happy — Mr. Burns leaving his teddy bear Bobo and his family behind to live with a wealthy millionaire. This obviously references a similar scene in the film where Kane (as a child) plays with his sled Rosebud when he’s entered into a guardianship with a rich banker.
No word on whether Welles had a deleted scene with Kane’s younger brother, George.