These days, it seems like every film production company on the planet is focused on making sure their products all share a universe. Warner Bros. has bet it all on the DC Extended Universe, Marvel has built a world-class studio around its shared Universe. Universal meanwhile, is rolling out the first of its shared universe films based on its classic movie monsters. It might seem like a new trick to pull, but some of our favorite films, TV shows, and comics, have always shared some DNA with other popular titles, you just didn’t realize it. Here are some old-school shared universes you didn’t even know existed.
1. ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and ‘True Romance’
Inglourious Basterds tells the story of a renegade group of US soldiers whose sole purpose is to destabilize Nazi forces during the Second World War. One of the most feared members of this squad is Donny Donowitz, who goes by the nom de guerre, The Bear Jew. Meanwhile, in True Romance, which was written by a young Quentin Tarantino, the main character gets mixed up in a coke deal with Hollywood producer Lee Donowitz, Donny’s grandson. Too bad Lee shoots his mouth off, the deal goes sideways, and the producer is gunned down in a hail of gunfire.
2. ‘Star Wars’ and ‘E.T.’
Eagle-eyed fans may have already spotted this one, but ever since Spielberg’s original film, E.T., he and George Lucas have had a running inside joke about their famous universes overlapping. On Halloween night in E.T., the titular alien spends a few moments chasing after a kid who’s dressed as Yoda. E.T. shouts, “Home!” excitedly over and over again. It’s a clear reference to Yoda being a reminder of E.T.’s home neighborhood. Years later, George Lucas revisited the joke in Star Wars Episode III, when he plopped a few E.T.-style aliens in the midst of a raging Galactic Senate. The inference was clear, E.T. and his people are definitely residents of a galaxy far, far away.
3. ‘Trading Places’ and ‘Coming to America’
Though Eddie Murphy doesn’t reprise his role as slick-talking Billy Ray Valentine, it’s clear that Coming to America takes place in the same New York in which Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd turned the tables on two racist billionaires, thanks to some fast movements with orange juice futures. The evidence can be found in a brief cutaway in Coming to America, when Murphy’s Prince Akeem gives some money to two old vagrants living in the park. The two old men are, of course, Randolph and Mortimer Duke who’ve lost everything thanks to their trickery in Trading Places.
4. Pretty Much Every Sitcom on TGIF
Remember Friday nights in the 90s? If you were too young (or too tired) to go out, you likely found solace in the sitcoms on TGIF. What you might not remember is that thanks to the popularity of a nasally nerd, a lot of those shows are connected. When Family Matters breakout character Steven Urkel (Jaleel White) became a hit (for some reason), showrunners from tons of other sitcoms wanted to get a little bit of his juice. As a result, Urkel showed up on a ton of shows including Full House, Boy Meets World, and Step by Step.
5. ‘Mad About You’, ‘Friends’, and ‘Seinfeld
If you’ve gone back and re-watched old episodes of Friends (thanks, Netflix!), then you might already be aware of the fact that popular 90s sitcoms Mad About You and Friends shared a universe. See, Lisa Kudrow had already been cast in a recurring role in Mad About You when she was cast as one of the stars of Friends. As a joke, the writers wrote a twin sister for Kudrow’s Friends character to explain the actress’ appearance on Mad About You. What’s more, Seinfeld star Michael Richards, guest starred on Mad About You in one episode, tying all three universes together in one, neat bow.
6. ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Casper’
At one point in 1995’s live-action film Casper (about the friendly specter), there’s a point at which the haunted mansion’s owner attempts to exorcise Casper’s three rambunctious uncles. After going through a series of professionals, Dan Aykroyd shows up as his ghost-busting character Ray Stantz. Unfortunately, things don’t go well, and Stantz hightails it out of town.
7. ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’
Though several incarnation of the Turtles’ origin story have essentially erased the connection, the original comic book was an ode to the blind hero of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil. As comic fans know, Matt Murdock was blinded as a boy when he leapt into the street to save a blind man from getting hit by a truck. As a result, Matt was blinded by a strange chemical which also granted him heightened senses. When TMNT writers Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird set about creating their fearsome foursome, they continued the story of the strange chemical. In the opening pages of the original TMNT comic, the ooze that transforms the turtles falls off a truck, splashes an unidentified boy in the face, and then continues to trickle down into the sewer where it coated the unsuspecting turtles and their mentor Splinter.
8. ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’
If you thought Ridley Scott’s twin masterpieces Blade Runner and Alien shared a certain visual aesthetic, you’re not wrong. Harrison Ford’s quest to hunt down rogue humanoids in Blade Runner, is supposedly a representation of the Earth, while Sigourney Weaver’s terrifying haunted house in space, is a representation of the far reaches of space. Director Ridley Scott has often stated that he believes that the Earth of Blade Runner is the same Earth that Ripley and her crew mates are trying to escape to in Alien.
9. ‘Spy Kids’ and ‘Machete
Even though they’re both written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, you might not expect the family film Spy Kids to have much in common with the grind house masterpiece Machete. However, they’re actually companion films thanks to the involvement of Danny Trejo, who plays the same character in both films. Though he takes a back seat in the Spy Kids series (because no one needs to be decapitated), Trejo’s character is still true to himself. He even runs a store called Machete Spy Shop.
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