You don't need a degree in quantum physics to enjoy Adult Swim's popular sci-fi sitcom Rick and Morty, but a healthy appetite for pop culture enhances the trope-filled show's satirical flavor. As promised, the show's third season of adventures with depressed, alcoholic, super-genius sociopath Rick Sanchez and his awkward grandson Morty are darker than ever. This season also offers a veritable masterclass in film and television trivia to those with a careful eye and a lot of time on their hands.
Spotting references to 80s movies, sci-fi classics, and co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland's friends has become a sport on the online forums where Rick and Morty fans gather. Anything from an overarching plot to a throwaway character can contain a nod to a bit of culture for Rick and Morty's loyal acolytes to consume. We've gathered all the references we can find in the nine episodes aired so far, which you can peruse below.
"The Rickshank Redemption"
When we left Rick at the end of season two finale "Wedding Squanchers," he was imprisoned in Galactic Federal Prison and the Smiths were adjusting to life on Earth dominated by the alien government. This episode saw Rick's extremely complex and violent escape from prison, defeat of the Federation, and destruction of the Citadel of Ricks, culminating in life on Earth returning to normal. Rick returns to the Smith household, and Beth divorces Jerry.
- The title references The Shawshank Redemption, a novella by Stephen King and 1994 film in which an allegedly innocent man escapes from prison.
- The opening scene takes place in Shoneys, a small chain restaurant in the southeast United States.
- McDonald's Szechuan dipping sauce was marketed alongside Disney's 1998 film Mulan.
- Rick says finding the Szechuan sauce is his "one-armed man," referencing the killer Dr. Richard Kimble searches for in the 1959 show and 1993 film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive.
- Rick's house in the constructed flashback is identical to Walter White's Albuquerque home in Breaking Bad.
- Hidden in a crowd in the Citadel of Ricks are Morty versions of Gravity Falls characters Mabel and Dippy:
"Rickmancing the Stone"
Rick, Morty, and Summer explore a savage, post-apocalyptic desert allegedly in search of a rare power source. Morty and Summer adopt the violent lifestyle of the waste, but eventually realize that they're actually running away from the awkwardness of Beth and Jerry's divorce.
- The title references 1986 action comedy Romancing the Stone.
- The setting and bondage-outfitted characters references George Miller's Mad Max series, including a grotesque character hooked up to a bunch of machines, referencing Fury Road's Immortan Joe.
- The Blood Dome is a reference to the Thunderdome from Mad Max's third installment, Beyond the Thunderdome.
- Rick references E.B. White's The Elements of Style when he tells a character to "Save it for the Semantics Dome."
- We see characters spray painting their own faces, and one shouts, "MY BODY IS CHROME, MY BLOOD IS GASOLINE" referencing the mentions of a "shiny and chrome" afterlife in Fury Road.
- Various logos, including Atari, Bart Simpson, and Hello Kitty, populate the wreckage of Seattle.
- Rick creates robotic copies of Morty and Summer. By the end of the episode, Morty wants to become a real human, referencing titles like Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, Steven Spielberg's AI, Robin Williams's Bicentennial Man, and the classic children's book and Disney film, Pinocchio.
Rick turns himself into a pickle to escape school-mandated therapy, which forces him to fight a small army as a vegetable. The Smiths go to therapy, where a psychiatrist helps them confront their unhealthy relationships with Rick and each other.
- Pickle Rick falls into a sewer after a cat hisses at him and bats him off of a table, referencing a trend of viral videos of cats being terrified of cucumbers.
- The sequence of Rick being sucked down the drain recalls a scene from the 1991 animated film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.
- Rick creates an elaborate mechanism to outfit his pickle body with rat and cockroach parts, a grotesque nod to the mechanism Tony Stark uses to don his Iron Man suit.
- The action sequences parody a slew of 80s action films in which the hero slaughters vaguely Eastern European henchmen in an office building, most notably Die Hard.
- Rick is called "Solenya, the Pickle Man" by the guards, reminiscent of Keanu Reeves's action hero John Wick folk villain nickname, Baba Yaga.
- The Jaguar plot mirrors Suicide Squad, The Dirty Dozen, and the trope of a prisoner being given a shot at freedom if they fight to the death.
- Jaguar does Jean-Claude Van Damme's iconic split while fighting Pickle Rick.
"Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender"
This parody of the superhero movie industrial complex is essentially one big reference next to a drunk middle finger. Rick and Morty join a team of superheroes called the Vindicators to face off against a villain named Worldender. Rick gets drunk and blacks out, killing Worldender and leading the rest of the Vindicators on a series of games where the punishment for failure is gruesome death.
- The title references The Avengers, X-Men, Justice League, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and any series of endless sequels built on the "team of superheros" trope.
- The punch card earning Morty the ability to choose every tenth adventure in the intro recalls his agreement with Rick from season one's "Meeseeks and Destroy."
- The second half of the plot references the horror-movie trope made popular by the Saw series in which a villain tortures victims with sadistic games.
- Vance Maximus's suave, tech-centric cool guy is a send up to Tony Stark.
- Million Ants pokes fun at Ant-Man, while his alien origins and position as the token non-fleshy humanoid is reminiscent of Groot.
- Crocubot represents the trope of two different things combined into one hero.
- Supernova lampoons the godlike powers held by characters like Doctor Strange and Starfire.
- Worldender, described by director Bryan Newton as, "If Thanos fucked Darkside and had a baby and then that baby the fucked some other giant creature monster, that's Worldender."
- Doomnomitron, a parody of Ultron from Avengers 2, is referenced as the villain of the off-screen Vindicators 2, to which Rick and Morty weren't invited.
- One task forces characters to make a number of three-pointers on a basketball court in a limited amount of time, referencing a similar task in Escape from LA.
- Drunk Rick references the geopolitical complexities of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
"The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy"
Rick takes Jerry on an adventure to a resort with an immortality field, where locals ask Jerry to help them kill Rick. Summer turns herself giant and inside out with one of Rick's machines while trying to make her boobs bigger so her ex-boyfriend will like her again.
- The theme park where everyone can kill with abandon and not die echoes the hedonism of Westworld.
- The giant Summer turned into looks like one of the giant humanoid monsters from Attack on Titan, and the plot references sci-fi classics like Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
- Bender from Futurama appears on a magazine Morty is reading while Beth tries to fix the mody morphing machine.
- A DMT-inspired Wormhole sequence blends a whole lot of various imagery from art, film, and religion.
- The sequence takes place on a spaceship that looks like Floston Paradise cruise ship from The Fifth Element.
- The wormhole itself looks like the Stargate from Stargate or the interplanetary transport portals from Cowboy Bebop.
- Jerry becomes a fetus in a reference to the Starchild sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The tunnel of colors also recalls that scene.
- Jerry is depicted with seven orbs of energy on his body aligned, a reference to the Hindu and Buddhist belief in chakras representing different areas of spirituality within the body.
- Satanic imagery, including Rick as the horned demon Baphomet, abounds during the trip.
"Rest and Ricklaxation"
After a traumatic adventure, Rick and Morty go to an intergalactic spa that cleanses all the emotional toxicity from their bodies—but the toxic parts of them are sentient and fight back against being cleansed. Without his toxins, Morty becomes popular at school, but that leads to a whole new series of problems for him and Rick.
- The opening action sequence references the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and the medal ceremony at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope.
- The spa treatment that separates "good" and "evil" sides of a character references Captain Kirk's conflict between versions of himself in Star Trek's "The Enemy Within".
- The Evil Twin trope has also shown up in plenty of other shows like Samurai Jack and Dexter's Lab, and dates back at least to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Toxic and non-toxic Rick's fight involves a gun that impregnates the enemy with a Rick clone that bursts out of the chest, just like the facehuggers in Alien.
- Non-toxic Morty, without anxiety and morals, becomes a rich Wolf of Wall Street/American Psycho/Gordon Gecko in Wall Street stockbroker. Rick later calls non-toxic Morty, "Tiny American Psycho."
- Morty answers the phone, "Go for Morty" like Barney Stinson's answer in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
- An Adult Swim bump before the show read, "The Writing on Game of Thrones [2011–2016]".
- Rick storms Morty's apartment with drones that can combine into a robot reminiscent of Voltron.
- Mrs. Pancake, who first appears saying, "You don't know me" repeatedly in "Lawnmower Dog," says on TV, "You do know me."
"The Ricklantis Mixup"
The intro prepares the audience for Rick and Morty to visit Atlantis, but actually visits the Citadel of Ricks, where Ricks and Mortys from all dimensions gather. The Citadel is in the process of rebuilding after Rick C-137 crashed it into the headquarters of his galaxy's Federation. We follow beat cops, student Mortys, a presidential election, a group of businessman Ricks who claim to have been the true power behind the Council of Ricks, and a factory. Each plot fleshes out the current state of the Citadel.
- Atlantis in the intro and outro references the mythological underwater city explored in a variety of media, from comic books to Disney movies.
- A plot following four Mortys searching for the "wishing portal" mirrors Stephen King's Stand By Me, a coming-of-age story about four boys searching for treasure. A Morty with slicked back hair references River Phoenix's character in the film, Chris Chambers.
- The boys attend a school for Mortys and art taught by a professor rick with greasy, long hair styled after Severus Snape from Harry Potter.
- The boys are chased away from a megatree orchard by Farmer Rick, which sounds just like Justin Roiland's Sam Elliott impersonation from Dan Harmon's comedy podcast Harmontown.
- A rookie Rick cop teamed up with a jaded veteran Morty cop loosely follows the plot of 2001's Training Day, starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.
- A club called the Creepy Morty has red curtains and a striped black and white floor like the Red Lodge from Twin Peaks.
- Jaded cop Morty talks about, "Mortys killing Mortys," a reference to the prominence of "black on black crime" in political rhetoric.
- A wafer factory run by a Willy Wonka Rick, complete with purple suit and top hat, is a reference to Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the subsequent film starring Gene Wilder.
- One factory worker tries to escape the monotony of the factory, but is captured and lives with the illusion that he escaped, calling back the ending to Terry Gilliam's 1985 dystopian mind-bender, Brazil.
- The factory also references the dystopias of Brave New World and Soylent Green. Rick Wafers are like Soma, a drug that makes people happy and complacent. Everyone could be a genius, but the society necessarily requires its citizens to be cut down to perform menial, lower-class jobs. It's also made out of people.
- Members of the organization of Ricks that has replaced the Council reference several famous businessmen, fictional and real, including Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.
- The Ricks in the presidential election reference the archetypal politicians who run for president. Private Sector Rick is a reference to candidates like Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. Retired General Rick covers presidents like George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rick Guilt Rick, referencing white guilt, is styled after "the rent is too damn high" guy Jimmy McMillan. Reverse Rick Outrage looks like Bernie Sanders.
- Three newscasters, Rick 0716, 0716-B, and 0716-C, each with a progressively more horrifying facial scar. This could be a reference to Tomax and his scarred alternate reality counterpart Xamot from GI Joe.
- There's a Marty Mcfly Morty in one crowd shot, referencing the film that originally inspired Rick and Morty: Back to the Future.
- Evil Morty is back from S1 E10, "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind," including the Blonde Redhead song "For the Damaged Coda" that has become his theme song.
"Morty's Mind Blowers"
After Morty accidently downloads all knowledge from the eyes of the Truth Tortoise, Rick offers to wipe the overwhelming memories from his mind. Before he does, Rick decides to show Morty other memories he's erased over the years. They are alternately situations where Morty irrevocably messed up, his family showed how little they care about him, or Rick embarrassed himself and didn't want Morty to remember. Fighting ensues until the two are rescued by Summer.
- A character chasing Rick and Morty in the cold open references Dream from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics.
- They run through a trippy structure filled with MC Escher illusions and upside-down staircases.
- The premise of erasing hurtful memories is also from Michel Gondry's 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
- In Morty's first mindblower he thinks he sees a man on the moon, who shows up at his school the next day. The man's car has a license plate reading SATFIV3, referencing the Saturn V rocket used in NASA's Apollo moon missions.
- In one memory, Morty is possessed and turns into a mix between a Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball Z, Tetsuo from Akira, and the demon from The Exorcist.
- An alien forces Beth to choose which child will live and which will die, like the Two Face's (Tommy Lee Jones) challenge to Batman (Val Kilmer) in Batman Forever to choose whether Robin (Chris O'Donnell) or Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) will die—also like Sophie's Choice.
- Interdimensional cable comes on at the end, featuring a version of House Hunters where men with guns chase down and kill legged houses.
- The after-credits clip recreates a version of Steven Spielberg's E.T. where Jerry accidentally kills the alien.
- After the credits we see Jerry's Mindblowers, which include his lover Sleepy Gary from Total Rickall and the Hungry for Apples campaign from M. Night Shamayliens.
"The ABCs of Beth"
Beth returns to a simulated universe Rick used to put her into when she was young to rescue a playmate who has been presumed dead and eaten by his father. They discover he lives by committing incest and cannibalism on children made within the simulation. Meanwhile, Jerry is rebounding with a telekinetic warrior alien who keeps forcing him, Morty, and Summer to hunt aliens with her.
- The title refers to 2012 horror comedy The ABC's of Death.
- Rick mentions Reddit and R2-D2 from Star Wars when comparing himself to dads who make nerdy projects for their kids for their kids.
- Beth says "Fake News" when and her and her former playmate Tommy Lipkip's version of how he got stuck in the simulation, Floopydoopy Land, are different, referring to President Trumps's employment of the term against people who disagree with him.
- "I'm not kneeling so suck my dick" can be interpreted as a potential dig at Game of Thrones' "bend the knee" line.
- Jerry's compares his alien girlfriend, Keara, to Cheetara from Thundercats. She also has blue skin and sharp features like the Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar.
- Jerry and Keara engage in a Soul Bond, reminiscent of the intense relationships between the Na'vi in Avatar.
- Rick compares Beth's newly elucidated sociopathic tendencies to professional wrestler Stone cold Steve Austin.
- Summer calls Morty "Isaac Assi-hole," referring to the prolific science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
- Rick offers to give Beth a clone that "will never go Blade Runner," referring to the Replicants who rebel against humans in the 1982 Ridley Scott film based on Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
- Rick says, "Don't jump a gift shark in the mouth," referring to the phrase "jump the shark," which refers to a show going on too long and getting too weird. The phrase refers to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie water skis over a shark.
The final episode of Rick and Morty season three, "The Rickchurian Candidate," airs Sunday, October 1, at 11:30 PM on Adult Swim. Follow Beckett Mufson on Twitter.