If there’s one thing Family Guy knows better than what it feels like to be cancelled by Fox, it’s movies. From their reverential full-length Star Wars treatments to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em cutaways, the show is littered with so many movie references that they’re impossible to count. With a not-necessarily-respectful nod to everything from The Sound of Music to Debbie Does Dallas, Rhode Island’s edgiest family rarely take the moral high ground and occasionally walk the thinnest of lines between questionable and downright obscene. But with creator Seth MacFarlane himself describing the show as an “equal opportunity offender“, the bad taste is at least democratic.
For our list of favourite movie references, we’ve limited ourselves to the regular series episodes—missing out the Star Wars parodies as well as the extended “And Then There Were Fewer” season 9 opener. Some movies are mentioned many many times throughout the show’s run, and we’ve done our best to include as many as we have room for. Here are the 15 Best Movie References In Family Guy.
Early in his career, MacFarlane freelanced as a writer for Disney, working on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, among others. He put his experience to good use in the series 8 episode, “Road To The Multiverse”. We join Stewie and Brian visiting a number of parallel universes, including a 21st century where Christianity has never existed and technology is therefore light years ahead. AIDS can be cured with a pill, bathroom visits are carried out digitally, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is nothing but pin ups of Jodie Foster–the handiwork of Reagan assassination enthusiast John Hinckley Jr. Even more incredibly, Meg is a drop-dead stunner.
After bouncing around the Flintstones universe and another containing nothing but a man shouting compliments from a distance, they land in the sweet and fuzzy world of a Disney feature film. Enchanted by the angelic atmosphere, they’re hard pressed to find a reason not to stay—until Mort The Jew pops by for a visit. Playing on Walt Disney’s supposed antisemitism, the mood in the delightful cottage turns decidedly ugly as the rank stereotype is dragged off screen and beaten to death by the Disney Griffins. As they sit in a puddle of Mort’s blood, teeth, and Star of David necklace, the boys decide it’s maybe time to move on.
14. North by Northwest
Family Guy‘s triumphant return to Fox after the studio cancelled the show three years previously is chock-full of cultural references.
With Peter desperate to spice up his marriage after Lois screams out George Clooney’s name during the act of… you know, the couple embark on a second honeymoon. When repairing the car after Peter crashes it drains all the funds they had for the trip, the pair bluff their way into Mel Gibson’s hotel suite, where they stumble on his sequel to Passion of the Christ in a private screening room. Starring Chris Tucker and Jesus in a send up of Rush Hour, Passion of the Christ 2: Crucify This is too much for Peter to allow on an unsuspecting world and he steals the film. A car chase through a shopping mall pursued by agents of the Vatican is straight out of The Blues Brothers, before the Griffins escape to a cornfield where Peter buries the movie.
Paying affectionate homage to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and one of the most famous set pieces in movie history, Peter finds himself the prey of a crop-dusting biplane as it swoops down and kidnaps Lois, setting up a final showdown on top of Mount Rushmore– one of the other most famous set pieces in movie history.
13. Stephen King
So, The Simpsons mined the rich resource that is the work of Stephen King first, with The Shinning. It wasn’t until season 15 of Family Guy that they brought us “Three Kings”, a reworking of a trio of the writer’s best loved tales.
When Lois complains he watches too much TV, Peter visits the library and picks up three books by the “greatest author of the last thousand years”—Stand By Me, Misery, and The Shawshank Redemption.
“Three Kings” is a surprisingly affectionate adaptation of King’s stories, from a show not generally known for its warmth.
Stand By Me, a story of four boys who, “went looking for a dead body and instead found themselves. And also a dead body” starts with an awkward voiceover exchange between the two stars of Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider, and ends by pointing out a major plot hole in the movie version. What exactly is there to stop Ace getting a gun and just shooting Lachance tomorrow?
Misery sees children’s author Brian kill off his best-selling character Snuggly Jeff in order to concentrate on more serious work. After running down Stephen King (who finishes another novel by the time he hits the ground), he plows into a snowdrift and is rescued by “number one fan” Stewie. Playing the psychotic Kathy Bates role, he holds Brian hostage and forces him to bring his beloved character back to life.
And The Shawshank Redemption follows Peter as Andy Dufresne, the wrongfully imprisoned man who eventually escapes his unjust confinement by crawling to freedom through the prison’s sewage pipes. Why he chose enchilada night, we’ll never know. Fleeing to his Mexican paradise, he awaits the arrival of his best friend Red. If only he can remember the name of the town.
12. Christian Bale
Not so much a movie reference as a movie business reference, “Ocean’s Three and a Half” treats us to an extended cutaway featuring the now legendary meltdown by Christian Bale on the set of Terminator: Salvation. When director of photography Shane Hurlbut (who should’ve known better, to be honest) stepped into Bale’s eye line during the filming of an emotional scene, the notoriously volatile actor exploded into an obscenity-strewn rant of epic proportions. Luckily for us, the sound engineer “forgot” he was still recording and the tirade has been preserved for posterity.
In the season 7 episode, we hear Peter try and calm the actor’s volcanic rage by explaining that he stumbled onto set chasing a dropped M&M. After warning him that he’ll owe a fortune to the swear jar, Peter goes on to question why the world needs another Terminator movie, cleverly intercutting with Bale’s screaming diatribe, before delivering the line of the episode. “Jeez, you punch your mother with that mouth?” It’s a brutal jab at a man who was working through some serious family problems at the time.
11. Back To The Future
Remember that time Brian rickrolled us all? It was one of many Family Guy references to Back to the Future.
Throughout the show’s run we learn, among other things, that Doc Brown is surprisingly racist when he desperately tries to warn Marty about his future daughter marrying a black guy. We have our eyes opened to a major plot hole when a mistrustful George McFly points out to his wife that their son is a “dead ringer for the guy who fixed us up”. And we watch another fight between Peter and the giant chicken transport them back to 1885. They end up on the train, pushing Marty’s Delorean back to the present.
In “Meet The Quagmires”, basically a parody of the first two films, Peter persuades Death to send him back in time to 1984 for one night so he can enjoy some of the single life he feels he’s missed out on. After spending the evening making out with Molly Ringwald, he returns to the present to find it drastically changed—Lois is married to Quagmire, Al Gore is President, and Chevy Chase is the host of The Tonight Show.
Determined to put things right, Peter pleads with Death to repeatedly send him back, until the episode ends with Brian playing on stage at The Newport Country Club Dance, in a direct parody of The Enchantment Under The Sea. Brian picks up the most ’80s instrument ever; the Keytar and launches into “Never gonna give you up”—just the mediocre, generic sound Rick Astley had been looking for.
While politics robbed us of Ronald Reagan’s acting talents, at least he left us with his portrayal of George Gipp, the tragic Notre Dame halfback in Knute Rockne, All American. In the film, Gipp delivers a moving speech from his death bed, imploring Coach to inspire the team and, “win just one for the Gipper“.
Cut to 1980’s Airplane, where straight-faced Leslie Neilsen almost quotes the passage verbatim as he tells Ted Striker about the last words of his old war buddy George Zipp (“Win just one for the Zipper”) in an attempt to inspire the shell-shocked pilot to land a stricken airliner.
If you’re going to spoof a spoof, and there’s nothing to say you can’t, you may as well choose one of the funniest comedy movies ever made.
In “Family Guy’s Airport ’07” episode, a freshly rednecked Peter causes Quagmire to lose his job as an airline pilot by siphoning off his plane’s fuel into his truck, believing it’ll make it fly. When the resulting plane crash costs Quagmire his job, they come up with a scheme to have him reinstated by highjacking a flight, so Quagmire can heroically step in and save the day. Sadly, Quagmire’s libido means he gets distracted and misses the take-off. Despondent, he retires to the airport bar where he’s visited by Hugh Hefner, who gives his very own, somewhat dubious version of the Gipper’s speech by quoting legendary porn star John Holmes.
9. Lord of the Rings
Another series that’s been plundered many times on the show, The Lord of the Rings was never likely to escape unscathed. References to the sprawling epic fantasy have cropped up variously in sequences where Herbert (as Gandalf) defends Chris against an evil Balrog tree, Peter turns full Gollum as he becomes obsessed with one of Brian’s old chew toys, and Chris and video store owner Carl try to figure out why the eagle from the first movie couldn’t have just carried the adventurers all the way to Mordor.
In a cutaway in Season 4 episode “Sibling Rivalry”, a vanquished child on the jungle gym is goaded to, “cry like Sauron when he lost a contact lens!” by a triumphant Stewie. The demonic eye is shown desperately scanning the landscape and wailing, “I am so grounded!”
And perhaps best of all, the lighting of the beacons scene is replayed to celebrate Brian dating Cheryl Tiegs in “Tiegs for Two”. The ongoing feud between Brian and Quagmire reaches boiling point when the vengeful dog steals the woman Quagmire has been captivated by his whole life. Their fierce confrontation only results in an awestruck Peter deciding the joyous news needs to be spread across the land. As the fires light up across the mountain peaks, they eventually reach a suitably brooding Aragorn. “Cheryl Tiegs. Nice!”
8. The Music Man
With Seth McFarlane sharing the same voice coaches who trained Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra, it’s no surprise that extravagant musical parodies crop up regularly in the show. While many of the numbers stick with the original tunes and add Family Guy‘s own “unique” lyrics, in season 4’s “Patriot Games”, Peter choreographs a word-for-word rendition of “Shipoopi”, from the 1962 musical The Music Man.
In a desperate attempt to impress former classmates at his high-school reunion by posing as a secret agent-millionaire-astronaut, Peter is found out after meeting New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. After drowning his sorrows, he’s forced to make a bolt for the bathroom and flattens everyone in his path. An astounded Brady immediately signs Peter up as the Patriots’ starting center.
Eventually tiring of his showboating, the last straw for Brady comes when Peter drives his new Subaru onto the field, before leading the entire crowd, players, cheerleaders, and marching band in a flamboyant version of the Meredith Wilson song.
7. Animal House
Brian The Bachelor brings us the simple love story between a boy and his acne. When Chris develops an enormous talking pimple, who he names Doug, the malevolent carbuncle starts to lead the young man astray. Urging him to pull cruel pranks and commit acts of vandalism, Doug is soon controlling every aspect of Chris’s life. While this doesn’t go down well with his parents, there’s one Quahog resident who couldn’t be happier. As a frenzied Chris dances topless in the bathroom, “child-friendly” neighbour Herbert hops his ladder to the window for a peak.
It’s a moment only slightly more creepy than John Belushi’s identical stunt in National Lampoon’s Animal House. When the ultra slob of Delta House, “Bluto” Blutarsky, spies the silhouette of Faber College’s sorority girls having a pillow fight in their dorm, he decides to climb up for a closer look.
6. Rocky IV
We hate to state the obvious, but there is nothing in the world of cinema more magnificent and uplifting than a Rocky montage. We all know this, and so does Family Guy. Referencing the work of art that is the Rocky IV training sequence not once, but twice during its lifetime, the show has given us the “Hearts on Fire” backed scene in the swamps of Dagobah, as Yoda puts Chris through his Jedi training, and also when Brian is forced to return to college to finally graduate.
Fired from his job at The New Yorker when it’s revealed he didn’t finish his education, Brian finds himself back at Brown University and unable to cope with the stress. Eventually cracking under the pressure, he returns home a failure before being persuaded by Lois and a vacuum cleaner to give it one more shot.
Cue the music, as we join Brian and Stewie in the snowy Russian tundra, chopping logs, hauling huge bags of rocks and scrabbling up hillsides. Sweat pours and muscles gleam as Brian gets in shape for the final exam, which Stewie reminds him starts in three hours time.
5. Indiana Jones
Indy’s adventures have been revisited a number of times in the show, with Temple of Doom receiving the most nods. The Shanghai nightclub scene featuring the fight for a poison’s antidote crops up as early as the second season in “Fifteen Minutes of Shame”.
In season 4’s “The Courtship of Stewie’s Father”, after freeing the multicultural slave children that are the rightful property of the Disney corporation, Peter and Stewie escape from the pursuing thugee guard while dressed as Indy and Shortround. Following a familiar looking mine cart chase, a heart-stealing Michael Eisner also meets the same alligator-infested fate as the movie’s evil henchman Mola Ram.
In “The Road to Germany”, Mort, Brian and Stewie are forced to abandon their crippled bomber on a life raft, with Stewie giving his best Willie Scott scream of, “We’re not sinking! We’re crashing!”
Raiders of the Lost Ark gets several look-ins as well. One of the many fights between Peter and his arch nemesis the giant chicken ends when the aggressive poultry is chopped up by a propellor in the same way as Raiders‘ Nazi mechanic. And James Woods is examined by “top men” before being sealed in an Ark-sized wooden box and stored away forever in “Peter’s Got Woods”.
4. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Brian Griffin, High Times magazine’s 2009 Stoner of the Year, has long extolled the virtues of pot. In the season 7 episode “420”, he successfully campaigns to have weed legalized in Quahog, thanks mainly to a showstopping, tap-dancing musical number set to the tune of “Me Ol’ Bamboo” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Arrested for possession of marijuana, Brian sets about trying to change the law and performs a song and dance routine called “Bag of Weed” on the park bandstand. With a song taking cruel shots at Helen Keller, Michael Jackson, fans of The Rocketeer, and Texans, Brian and Stewie’s enthusiasm rallies the whole town and even persuades Herbert the Pervert to put down his child-catching net. It’s an inspired rendition of Dick Van Dyke’s joyous scene, complete with bong xylophones and a respectful nod to Woody Harrelson.
With the law passed, all is well in Quahog. Productivity is up, crime is down and Doctor Who is enjoying record viewing figures. Unfortunately, Carter Pewterschmidt’s timber business is failing due to hemp replacing wood for building materials, so he sets about having the ban reinstated. Appealing to Brian’s fragile ego, Carter bribes the aspiring author with the promise of publishing and shipping his appalling novel, adorned with an Oprah’s Book Club sticker, in exchange for his help. Unable to resist, Brian gets pot re-criminalized and goes on to sell exactly zero copies of his Faster Than The Speed of Love.
3. Office Space
“I Dream of Jesus”, one of the more controversial Family Guy episodes, gave us an almost shot-for-shot treatment of a pivotal sequence from Mike Judge’s Office Space. In the 1999 cult classic, three disgruntled office workers steal a hateful, malfunctioning printer from their soul-sucking workplace and vent their frustrations by smashing it to pieces with baseball bats. It’s a scene that resonated with wage slaves the world over.
In the Family Guy episode, criticized for its portrayal of Jesus and religion in general, Peter tortures his family by constantly playing the most irritating song ever recorded, “Bird is the Word” by the Trashmen. When Stewie and Brian finally snap and decide to rid themselves of the torment, they take the record to a similar piece of desolate wasteland and set about it with equal viciousness. Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.
It’s not the only time Office Space is referenced in the show. Bill Lumbergh, the vile, micromanaging boss of Initech crops up early on in “The Father, The Son and The Holy Fonz” to request that Lois sits at the children’s table during her father-in-law’s birthday party. And if she could go ahead and not complain about it, that’d be great.
2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Any kid growing up in the ’80s wanted to be Ferris Bueller, and it seems Seth MacFarlane is no different—moments from the 1986 John Hughes classic are peppered throughout the animated series. From the occasional one-liner, such as the man himself telling the camera, “this is where Brian goes berserk” in “Yug Ylimaf” as Brian realizes the time-machine he’s secretly been using has a trip counter very much like a classic Ferrari, to Stewie and Ferris being mesmerized by the same Seurat painting in the Chicago Museum of Art.
One of the longer homages is an almost identical reworking of Ferris’s desperate attempt to beat his parents home after scamming his titular day off school. The frantic race through the neighbourhood, hurdling fences, stealing BBQ, and hitting on sunbathing hotties is mirrored exactly in “Stu and Stewie’s Excellent Adventure”. Instead of trying to avoid being grounded, Stewie is looking to avert a much worse fate—ending up as his tragic 35-year old virgin self from the future. Realising that all his subsequent problems stemmed from a near-death experience he had at the local community pool, Stewie rushes to stop the event.
Both sequences end with the longest slow-motion leap ever, but while Ferris hits the ground yards from his front door, Stewie winds up next to a sign telling him he still has another 5 miles to go. Probably shouldn’t have milked that landing.
1. Schindler’s List
Nothing’s sacred in Family Guy-land, in case you hadn’t worked that out already. Has enough time passed now to be able to make jokes about the Holocaust? Well, probably not, but that hasn’t stopped the writers from doing it anyway.
In the season 8 episode Family Goy, we discover that Lois has Jewish heritage and her mother, Babs, is a Holocaust survivor. Carter has kept it a family secret so he could join the country club. Peter, initially delighted and taking his devotion to his new faith to typical extremes, is visited by the ghost of his dead father. The staunch Irish-Catholic denounces his son and warns him he faces an eternity in hell unless he converts back to catholicism.
With time-honoured Family Guy subtlety, when we next join Peter he’s gone from Rabbi to Nazi and transformed into Schindler’s List‘s camp commandant Amon Göth. Played by an Oscar-nominated Ralph Fiennes in one of the most chilling portrayals ever, the scene showing him taking pot shots at terrified inmates from his balcony at Plaszów concentration camp stands out in a movie not short on harrowing visuals.
With Peter now a confirmed anti-Semite, he blasts the mailbox off its post as Lois collects her letters, before sending another round over Mort’s head. (Unfazed, he reassures Lois that it’s just how people say hello to him). In a perfect echo of Fiennes’s performance, Peter stands up on his balcony and uses his rifle to give his back a stretch.
These are some of the best movie references in Family Guy, but there are many we couldn’t cover. Did we miss any of your favorites?