All the movies we see are filled with homages to the ones that inspired them, or at the very least inspired the filmmakers behind them. We don’t always recognize the homages when they appear right in front of us, but we think we know a handful of filmmakers who do this on a regular basis. Some would call it plagiarism, but that’s different; plagiarism involves the act of stealing someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. Look, everybody steals from other movies and some filmmakers are very upfront about that. But the best examples of film homages are the ones that directors take and end up making their own. These are my 5 choices which best demonstrate this:
1) Jack Nicholson’s “here’s Johnny” scene with him wielding an axe from The Shining
Now everyone knows this one, and that’s even if you haven’t seen Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic. My first exposure to this scene came when I was about five or six years old when it was been shown in commercials on HBO. It should have screwed me up seriously watching it back then. As Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson hammers into his bedroom door with an ax to get at his wife Wendy and their child. While the child escapes, the wife is stuck in the bathroom as Torrance slams away at the door and announces to his wife who looks like she will be overwhelmed with shock:
This scene has been spoofed ever since in shows like “Moonlighting” and “The Simpsons,” and we even saw John Ritter send it up in “Problem Child.”
Inspired by: the 1921 silent horror movie classic “The Phantom Carriage”
This movie has been said to have been a big influence on many filmmakers, including Stanley Kubrick. The main character of David Holm is forced to confront sins from his past, and one incident involves when he was infected with the dreaded tuberculosis disease. David’s wife ends up locking him in a small room so that he will not end up infecting their family with the same affliction. But in a drunken rage (just like Jack Torrance years later), he finds an axe in the room and uses it to smash the door to pieces.
2) Bruce Willis running over Ving Rhames in “Pulp Fiction”
Now all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies are full of homages, and you could make a mile long list of them. One of the best examples comes after Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis) retrieves his prized gold watch. Butch thinks he’s home free, gets in his girlfriend’s Honda and drives away while singing “Flowers On The Wall.” When he comes to a stop light though, Marsellus Wallace (played by Ving Rhames) spots him while walking across the street with take out food. Wallace wants Butch dead, and this is the first time we see Wallace’s face in the movie, so we already know how pissed he is. Butch thinks quickly and runs him over with the car before getting smashed into by another. I remember the very first time I saw “Pulp Fiction” on the big screen, and this was one of its most inspired moments for me.
Inspired by: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”
There are many famous moments in “Psycho,” and it doesn’t just boil down to that famous shower scene. Tarantino’s inspiration for the ill fated meeting between Butch and Marsellus comes from Marion accidentally running into her boss after stealing $40,000 dollars from him. She’s in her car while he crosses the street in front of her, and then he does a double take wondering why she didn’t go straight to the bank. Now Marion didn’t run him over, but she spends the rest of her drive convinced that her boss has it all figured out, and she becomes increasingly nervous that her theft will eventually be her undoing. But we all know what happened to Marion in the end…
3) The opening tracking shot of “Boogie Nights”
At the start of his commentary track for “Boogie Nights,” Paul Thomas Anderson goes out of his way to say that we’re about to listen to a guy who learned a lot about filmmaking from “ripping off” a lot of movie directors. The opening shot of the movie is amazing as it goes from the movie’s title down to inside a nightclub which lasts several minutes. In that shot, we get introduced to the movie’s main characters from Burt Reynolds’ Jack Horner and Julianne Moore’s Amber Waves to Mark Whalberg’s Eddie Adams (aka Dirk Diggler).
Inspired by: Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”
This remains my favorite movie of all time, and the Anderson’s inspiration clearly came from the scene where Henry Hill and Karen walk through the back entrance of the Copacabana Club. While everyone else waits in line to get in, they go in through the kitchen and right into the main room where they are set up with VIP service. It’s one of the greatest steadicam moments in film history because the way it’s shot, we are going right along with Henry and Karen on this unique journey. We come out of it feeling like we were a party to an event many of us never get front row seats for.
4) A baby stroller rolling down a staircase while a brutal gun battle ensues in “The Untouchables”
This movie screwed me up a little because I saw it a lot sooner than I should have, and I ended up missing out on one of the climatic scenes in Brian DePalma’s excellent (not to mention very violent) film. Elliott Ness and George Stone go out to Union Station in Chicago to apprehend Al Capone’s accountant, Walter Payne. While waiting for him, Ness spots a woman trying to drag her baby whose in a stroller up the stairs. Ness ends up going to help her, but when he gets to the top, one of Capone’s gunmen is waiting for him and a bloody gun fight ensues during which he loses his grip on the baby carriage which descends down the flight of stairs. It’s one of DePalma’s most brilliantly staged set pieces.
Inspired by: “The Battleship Potemkin”
This is said to be one of the most influential movies ever made. DePalma’s inspiration for his Chicago gunfight came from “The Battleship Potemkin’s” most celebrate scene, the Odessa Steps Massacre. During this moment, a group of Tsar’s Cossacks come down the steps and end up inflicting a cold blooded massacre on the civilians present. One of the many victims is a mother who upon dying ends up knocking her baby carriage down the famous flight of steps as the bloody violence runs rampant.
5) When Vera Farmiga walks straight past Matt Damon without acknowledging his presence in “The Departed”
WARNING: SPOILERS BEGIN HERE
We watch Matt’s and Vera’s characters meet up and start up a relationship to where they end up living together in the Martin Scorsese picture that finally got him his long denied Best Director Oscar. They look great together, but upon finding out that Matt is actually working for mob boss Frank Costello, she cuts him off completely, and that’s even though she is now carrying his child. After they both attend the funeral of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Matt tries to talk to Vera about their baby, but she walks past him without saying a word. Doesn’t matter if they will have a baby together; she’s done with him.
Inspired by: “The Third Man”
One of Orson Welles’ most famous movies, his character of Harry Lime is involved with bad medicine that causes the death of children in Vienna. His girlfriend Anna Schmidt still loves him in spite of his crimes, but she has also caught the eye of Harry’s good friend Holly Martins who has fallen for her as well. But in the end, disgusted by his crimes, Holly turns against Mr. Lime and shoots him dead in a sewer beneath Vienna. After Lime’s funeral, Holly tries to reconcile with Anna, but she walks right past him without even acknowledging his existence. Ouch!
SPOILERS END HERE
Those are my top five picks, and the directors inspired by these scenes deserve a tremendous amount of credit for making them work in the context of the movies they make.