Our modern cinema landscape is covered in fan-fueled franchises that expand through each passing decade. It is a long term commitment to storytelling and universe building that would no doubt grow tiresome if the movies weren’t meaty enough to later on dissect and speculate what is to come. With every growing franchise comes an abundance of scattered Easter eggs that seem to separate the movie goers from the knowledgeable fans. If you missed one, you are probably not perceptive enough and you will miss out on the clues that give a peek at the next installment in the series.
While it’s fun to be able to point out an inside joke the majority of the audience didn’t pick up on, the purpose behind these hidden messages is never completely clear. Why would John Lasseter use the same carpet pattern from The Shinning's Overlook Hotel in his animated movie Toy Story? What service does it do to have a hieroglyphic of C3PO and R2D2 Raiders of the Lost Ark? Coming up with a theory to link movies’ universes is favorite go to idea, yet the reasons behind these Easter eggs might not be as mysterious as many might think.
A wink to the fans
The same way authors like to leave hidden notes in their books, directors enjoy leaving their messages to the viewers. A film is carried by the actors, the action sequences and the script while the director ends up being an abstract figure, the puppeteer who moves the story along but see remains hidden. Therefore, Easter eggs are a way of saying to the audience Here I am.
Sometimes it can be as direct as playing a small cameo in all of their movies, like Quentin Tarantino or Alfred Hitchcock. Other times, it’s about demonstrating their knowledge of the story they are directing. This has become a vital supplement in all superhero movies. The comic book fans search ardently for any small trinket or name drop that will suggest the puppeteers are not just in it for the block buster success but for the love of these characters and their origins.
Foreshadowing and Universe Creation
More often than not, the Easter eggs serve as scattered clues to a cinematic secret. Instead of telling the audience directly what their plans were with Captain America, director Joe Johnston and producer Kevin Feige placed key characters that would allude to the set up of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With direct connections to Howard Stark and to Thor in reference of the Asgardian myth, it was clear they were building up to something that would not be encompassed in a single movie.
It is because of Easter eggs that directors can slowly build up a world without hitting the audience over the head with narrative explanations. Viewers who had never heard of the Avengers got the idea when Iron Man 2 brought Nick Fury on board to recruit Tony Stark. As for the long-term fans, they got a great announcement as to what awaited them in the next couple of years.
The never ending scavenger hunt
Even before a superhero movie hits theaters, the internet is flooded with trailer reactions that try to inspect every second for a clue of what is to come. Articles claim to have found that one Easter egg that sets them apart from the average investigators. Even weeks after its release, viewers are still talking about Disney’s latest film, Zootopia, and all the Easter eggs they have found and what it can mean.
They say there is nothing like good word of mouth and there is no doubt directors use this to their advantage. Any upcoming film needs spot on PR and marketing to help ticket sales but it can also quickly fizzle out if there is nothing to savor during a second view. Easter eggs give a platform for fans to analyze, conspire and, eventually, to create a community. This conversation creates a buzz that lasts long after the movie has left theaters and leaves everyone wanting more.
The Easter eggs don’t necessarily have to involve a purposeful story by the movie’s creators. There is no better way to create long lasting publicity of your film than to leave mysterious clues that fans will relish and use for imaginative stories. Frozen is a massive success for Disney, that is an understatement. The movie broke records for highest-grossing animated film of all time. Yet, even three years later, people still talk about Rapunzel and Eugene’s appearance as if they were the first to have discovered it.
Seeing the main characters of Tangled during a split second gave fuel to Disney fans to conspire about the connection, going as far as connecting The Little Mermaid (1989) to the death of Anna and Elsa’s parents. Surely, Disney did not have a 14 year old story plan that connects these movies. Nevertheless, fans enjoyed intertwining the stories of these three princesses and by doing so they expanded the world into a more colorful fairy tale story.
A Tribute to Those Before Them
There are times where fans’ imaginations get the better of them and Easter eggs become the cause of improbable theories when really, they were meant for another purpose. Directors sometimes use them as a nod to those who have influenced them, leaving their gratitude marked forever in their films.
In Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, it has been noted an X is always marked behind a character that is going to die. The one character that survives never has an X behind him. In fact, there are normally straight lines in the background whenever he appears.
It is said Scorsese chose this approach as an homage to the original version of Scarface back in 1932, which did the same as a way to foreshadow the deaths of certain characters.
Pixar is famously known for their Easter eggs although they are normally self-referential. However, every now and then, they pay tribute to a movie far outside the Disney and Pixar universe. In Toy Story, 1995, Jon Lasseter uses the same carpet pattern from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining for Sid’s house. While this one probably slipped under the radar for many, for those who noticed, the pattern choice helps to accentuate the creepy atmosphere the toys must have felt when trapped in Sid’s house, a kid well known for destroying toys in vicious ways.
This is not the last time the Toy Story franchise brings in an outsider as an easter egg. In Toy Story 3, Woody is taken away by a little girl while the rest of the gang is stuck in the children’s daycare. Brought back to the girl’s house, he is introduced to her toys and one of them is none other than Totoro, from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro. The references are too far apart, in style and story, to correlate into a theory but it does show the creators’ knowledge of other influential films and their place in pop culture.
There could be many reasons why filmmakers choose to add Easter eggs to their movies. However, unless they are to be asked point blank about a specific hidden clue, it is unlikely their fans will know for sure what their motivation was. What can be said for certain is they are creating a treasure hunt for their fans, a map of clues that lead them to an amazing discovery in other movies. Or maybe, it’s just a subtle connection between them and their supporters, a way of testing just how in tune they are with this comic book adaptation or with the Pixar universe. And the fans will always search for that invisible connection.