Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Published 9 months ago by , Updated July 15th, 2014 at 1:07 pm,

Tyler Durden Fight Club Cigarette Mark1 Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Moviemaking is an extremely collaborative process – where hundreds of people contribute to a film as it journeys from script to screen. Even though a project’s success or failure is often attributed to the strengths and shortcomings of the writer, director, and principle cast, countless professionals leave their mark on every feature film. However, from time to time, those marks are a bit more literal – as certain directors, special effects gurus, and editors have inserted hidden messages into fan-favorite films. In honor of these sly moviemakers, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites.

To be clear, movies on our list are more than simple easter eggs (such as the Egyptian etching of R2-D2 and C-3PO in Raiders of the Lost Ark), set/costume designs that might not have been an actual “message” to the audience (like the The Bride’s “F*** You” sneaker soles in Kill Bill, Vol. 1), or Illuminati/thematic abstractions about the “true meaning” behind a particular film (i.e. Harry Potter is a platform for anti-family subliminal messaging). For our purposes, we’re focusing on frames, text, and audio that is literally hidden in each movie.

That said, the list is not all-inclusive, so once you’ve had a chance to read our picks, share your favorite hidden movie messages in the comments.

1. Dusty SFX

Lion King Sex Cloud Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Lion King (1994)

Hidden Message: The letters S-F-X (or possibly S-E-X).

Backstory: When Simba flops down on a cliffside, a cloud of dust is pushed out into the air – where, for a brief second, a series of three controversial letters appear. For years, the frame was scrutinized as a subliminal message (SEX) intended to promote sexuality to children. However, the film’s animators have since claimed that the letters were intended to spell SFX – a nod to the Lion King‘s special effects department.

There’s no way of knowing whether or not the original intention was to spell SEX or SFX – as the differences would be minute. Disney could have devised the SFX explanation after the fact in order to quell outrage from concerned parents but it’s equally possible that the SEX controversy took-off simply because it’s the more scandalous headline – especially in a fan-favorite kids movie.

Watch the SFX/SEX cloud in context - HERE.

2. Romanian in Reverse

Eyes Wide Shut Masked Ball Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Hidden Message: Jocelyn Pook’s song “Masked Ball.”

Backstory: After arriving at a rural mansion, Bill (Tom Cruise) witnesses a satanic ritual. For the scene, Stanley Kubrick enlisted the work of composer Jocelyn Pook, after her song “Backwards Priests” had been used in pre-production to design the infamous orgy scene.

As a result, a Pook track, “Masked Ball,” plays during the satanic ritual, and includes a backwards Orthodox Romanian liturgy - which, in its original form, read: “And God told to his apprentices, I gave you a command to pray to the Lord for the mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, the search, the leave, and the forgiveness of the sins of God’s children. The ones that pray, they have mercy and they take good care of this holy place.

Watch the “Masked Ball” song in context (WARNING it’s NSFW) - HERE.

3. Don’t Talk About Fight Club

Tyler Durden Fight Club Hidden Flashes Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Fight Club (1999)

Hidden Message: Tyler Durden frames (and a penis).

Backstory: Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) reveals that while working as a film projectionist, he would intentionally splice images of male genitalia into films – which were nearly imperceptible to moviegoers. For the Fight Club movie, director David Fincher utilized a similar approach but, in addition to one standalone penis picture, he also included four brief flashes of Durden in scenes prior to the character’s official introduction.

According to Fincher, the purpose of the subliminal frames was to show that “our hero is creating Tyler Durden in his own mind, so at this point he exists only on the periphery of the narrator’s consciousness.” In addition to the Durden flashes, Fincher also foreshadowed the story’s twist with a subtle label on a pay phone the Narrator uses after his apartment is destroyed – which reads “No Incoming Calls Allowed.” Moments later, Tyler Durden calls the pay phone.

Watch the hidden frames in context - HERE.

4. Spit in Translation

Anchorman Escupimos en su Alimento Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Hidden Message: The “Escupimos en su Alimento” restaurant.

Backstory: After tensions rise at the station, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) visits a Mexican restaurant with other women from the KVWN Channel 4 – plotting a practical joke to get even for the continued arrogance and sexism displayed by Ron Burgandy and the rest of San Diego’s number one news team. The restaurant the ladies visit is the “Escupimos en su Alimento” - which, when translated in Spanish, actually means “we spit in your food.

Given the talent behind the scenes of Anchorman, including producer Judd Apatow, writer/director Adam McKay, and writer/star Will Farell, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that one of the funniest gags (in an already highly quotable film) is also one that most American moviegoers will miss entirely.

5. Personalized Plating

Matrix Reloaded License Plates Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Hidden Message: License Plates

Backstory: Typically in movies, license plates are designed to blend into the scenery without a second thought. However, in the Matrix trilogy, many of the vehicle plates are shorthand references to religious scriptures. At the beginning of Reloaded, Agent Smith’s license plate reads “IS5416,” which corresponds to Isaiah 54:16: “Behold, I have created the smith, who blows the fire of coals, and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy.” Similarly, during the highway chase sequence, Trinity’s Cadillac plate reads “DA203,” which corresponds to Daniel 2:03: “He said to them, ‘I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.’

Of course, license plates aren’t the only references to religious texts in the Matrix series, given that, among others, Nebuchadnezzar (the name of Morpheus’ ship) was also a Babylonian King – and the speaker chronicled in the aforementioned Daniel 2:03 text.

Watch the DA203 license plate in context (you’ll have to look fast) - HERE.

6. Morse and Monkey

King Kong 2005 Morse Code Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: King Kong (2005)

Hidden Message: Morse Code Translation

Backstory: Countless movies rely on character dialogue or subtitles to explain non-verbal and non-visual information to viewers. As a result, audiences rarely think twice when watching an actor receive (or send) a message through morse code – accepting that any sound bites will match what characters are reporting onscreen.

However, in the case of Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, the director included a tongue-in-cheek message for savvy moviegoers who actually took the time to do translation work. Just before reaching Skull Island, SS Venture captain Englehorn intercepts a coded message calling for the arrest of Carl Denham (Jack Black). Yet the audible code does not actually say anything about an arrest and instead reads: “Show me the monkey!” – a campy hidden message in honor of the film’s titular ape that will probably make readers think twice the next time they see morse code depicted on screen.

7. Ghosts in the Flashlight

Sunshine Movie Faces Hidden Frames Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Sunshine (2007)

Hidden Message: Deceased Icarus 1 Crew Members

Backstory: While on their mission to the Sun, the Icarus II crew receives a distress signal from the long-missing Icarus I and decides to rendezvous with the ship. When Capa (Cillian Murphy), Searle (Cliff Curtis), Harvey (Troy Garity), and Mace (Chris Evans) board the Icarus I, their flashlights periodically shine directly into the camera (and out at the audience). At each instance, roughly 49 minutes into the film, director Danny Boyle spliced in hidden frames of (now deceased) Icarus I crew members.

The juxtaposition is especially creepy – since the pictures are from a happy Hawaiian-themed party that took place before the unfortunate events leading to the floundering of Icarus I. Searle encounters the full group photo (from which each flash is taken) later on in the film. Boyle has not discussed the hidden frames officially but the flashes definitely work as a subliminal way of setting audience members on edge – without outright revealing the fate of the Icarus I crew.

Watch the Icarus I hidden faces in context - HERE.

8. Evila Llits S’ti

Cloverfield Hidden Message Its Still Alive Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Movie: Cloverfield (2008)

Hidden Message: “It’s Still Alive”

Backstory: In the final moments of Cloverfield, Rob and Beth seek refuge from the creature under Central Park’s Greyshot Arch. Moments later, an air raid strike buries the couple (and the camera) in rubble from the bridge – presumably killing the Cloverfield monster. However, following the film credits, director Matt Reeves included a brief, 5-second, piece of garbled audio that hints at a different outcome. When reversed, the audio recording (which sounds like a military mission report) clearly states: “It’s Still Alive” – indicating that the creature was not killed in the airstrike (while also setting the stage for a possible, though yet to be released, Cloverfield 2).

Furthermore, the post-credits audio message isn’t the only secret in Cloverfield – as the film also contains three hidden frames from classic monster movies:  Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and King Kong.

Listen to the after credits “It’s Still Alive” message forward and backward - HERE.

Honorable Mention & Conclusion

Batman Superman I Am Legend Best Hidden Messages in Famous Movies

Even though our list focuses on actual messages, not cameos or easter eggs, there’s one borderline semi-hidden message that we’d be remiss to mention.

Honorable Mention: I Am Legend (2007)

Backstory: During the Times Square hunting sequence in I Am Legend, Robert Neville (Will Smith) passes a billboard advertising a Superman and Batman team-up film set to open on May 15, 2010. Given the 2007 I Am Legend release, had the tongue-in-cheek easter egg come true, the film would have likely featured Brandon Routh (whose Superman Returns released in 2006) and Christian Bale (who debuted as Batman in 2005). Of course, Warner Bros. has since announced an actual Superman vs. Batman crossover in their Man of Steel sequel, which will star Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in the iconic roles. So, maybe I Am Legend really did include a hidden message from Warner Bros. after all – i.e. they’ve wanted to cash-in with a World’s Finest team-up for more than half a decade. Watch the billboard in context - HERE.

What are your favorite hidden movie messages? As mentioned the list is not all-inclusive, so share your picks and reactions in the comments.

___

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future feature articles as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

108 Comments

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  1. Love this stuff – thanks for putting it together.

    Repo Man (1981?) with Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez – many hidden references (some obvious) throughout the movie including all the Repo men being named after beers. I can’t do it justice since it’s been so long since I’ve seen it but if you like this kind of stuff, check it out.

  2. The link for the Eyes Wide Shut track is not real. It’s not the actual soundtrack, it’s someone’s remix or something. And it’s kind of annoying, especially when the link is leading to a video for the music!

    • Weird, I think the one I had linked might have been taken down and we replaced it with the wrong link. At any rate, it is now fixed.

  3. The Frozen staff basically placed in an Easter Egg in their movie by making a nod to the original story’s plot of the mirror via Elsa and Hans looking out a window in the castle and having themselves be reflected in it like with a mirror. Another nod to the story is two of the castle servants being named after the main chars from the story.

    Pixar is also well-known for their many Easter eggs, most notably the Pizza Planet truck which has shown up in some way in all but (I believe) one movie. Pixar also adds in a number that’s a nod to a classroom basically every member of the studio was part of before joining Pixar and they also place in a nod to a future movie. For example in Monster’s Inc, one of Boo’s toys is Nemo from Finding Nemo which was being made at the time of the movie’s release.

    The studio that makes Despicable Me placed in a nod to their (at that time) upcoming movie The Lorax by having Margo (the oldest of the three girls) wear a shirt with the Lorax’s face on it. (cause of this many believe the shirt Margo wears in the sequel is a hint to another movie from the studio)

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  5. The “Batman vs. Superman” one have been a running joke in comics for a few decades.

    Superman and Batman have clashed numerous times in comics, but never in a movie. Many have tried to do that movie, but all have failed in the early stages. A few years ago, it was believed that this ultimate showdown would never be realised. “I am Legend” – based on the comic with the same name – takes place in a seemingly apocalyptic future, an “End of Days” scenario if you will. It’s just a tounge-in-cheek nod to all comics fans who went to see the movie. Had the movie been released a year earlier, we’d probably see poster boards announcing the new Guns ‘n’ Roses “Chinese Democracy” as well.

    • Actually, the director of I Am Legend was contracted to do a Batman/Superman movie, but the film was cancelled. He has been on record as saying had he done the movie, it would have been released around the time that that date on the billboard says. He did it as a nod to the film he didnt get to make. This was actually very well documented.

      Also, I Am Legend is based on a novel called Omega Man.

      • Actually, I Am Legend is the title of the novel written by Richard Matheson. The film “Omega Man” was based on the novel, amd it was the inspiration behind Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. The comic book adaptations came later.

  6. In Jewel of the Nile (starring Michael Douglas), one of the Arab leaders gives a speech that is really just the names of Kirk Douglas films, translated into Arabic.

    Note: I have seen this written about as fact in multiple places, but for some reason on IMDB trivia for the film it is listed, but with the word “rumor” in parenthesis afterward.

  7. In Life of Pi, Irfan Khan’s character names the tiger, ‘Richard Parker’. Irfan Khan then goes on to star in the Amazing Spiderman, and makes reference to Peter Parker’s father, Richard Parker. Coincidence?

    • Yes, pure coincidence, as the tigers name is taken from the novel the film is based on.

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  9. The Director’s cut to Blade Runner hinting at the fact that he is a replicant himself, with the unicorn dream and the Origami figures Gaff has the habit of making, the last one being a unicorn, found on Deckard’s doorstep as he and Rachael run away.

    • None of that is subliminal imagery. If anything, it’s the opposite.

  10. I worked in a cinema when Fight Club was released and the Ghost Tylers and giant dong were actually really freakin difficult to notice on 35mm. Must’ve watched it ten times on late shows waiting to go home and only noticed the aforementioned dong. Maybe I was just looking for dong?

    Only noticed the Tylers watching it on VHS and it’s still difficult but if you watch on DVD they stay on screen much longer than the other formats almost like by the time the DVD transfer was done they knew people would be looking for them and kept them for a few extra frames to make it easier. They seem easier to spot when it’s on TV too so maybe it’s an analogue/digital thing.

    I liked this movie a lot…

    • Saw it at the movies when it first came out, and the ‘subliminal’ frames are obvious. Especially cause they only show up after Tyler has given a speech about exactly that.

  11. My favorite is in From Dusk til Dawn when they stay at the “Dew Drop Motel”, they only pan across the sign for a few seconds so it is easy to miss the joke…

    • I think it’s actually Dew Drop Inn.

  12. In the movie Super Troopers at the end the guys are delivering St. Anky Beer or STANKY Beer to the party. Good movie I must say.

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