DC's Shazam! has wowed audiences everywhere. Zachary Levi's instantly iconic performance has cemented a new age for DC's extended universe, creating a fresh road forward for a lighter and more character-based storytelling. Much of this newly infused energy is thanks in part to Shazam!'s director David Sandberg. Originally, Sandberg's has solely directed horror films. Shazam! obviously breaks this mold, but Sandberg's horror sensibilities and film fandom are still present through visual cues and outside inspiration.
Shazam! is full of references and homage to film history and pop culture tracing back decades. Whether through easter eggs or thematic notes, Shazam! is replete with cinematic history. Here are the top 10 movie references and inspirations tied to Shazam!. Be aware, this is not a spoiler-free dive into Shazam!, so if you haven't seen the movie be warned!
Who doesn't love Gremlins? This 1984 cult classic follows a teen who discovers his mystical pet Mogwai can multiply. These clones tend to go nuts if you feed them after midnight though, turning the cute little Mogwai into insatiable demons. What follows is a Christmas time horror caper filled with mischievous little pranksters turning the little town of Kingston Falls.
This film's creature feature tendencies and horror sensibilities are all over Shazam!. The choice to set all the mayhem of the movie at Christmas time and many of the action sequences, both at the mall and Christmas fair, harken back to Gremlins. Also, the depiction of Envy, one of the demonic seven deadly sins, certainly echoes the design of the gremlins themselves. Both of these little guys have serious anger issues.
Speaking of hell-spawns that terrify youngsters, Ghostbusters is full of them! The comedy classic blends humor with horror in a similar way as Gremlins (and occasionally Shazam! as well). One of the most iconic visual aspects of Ghostbusters are the Terror Dogs who annoy the apartment tenants of 55 Central Park West. The creatures explode from their gargoyle forms, wreaking havoc through New York.
Though Envy looked a bit more like a gremlin, the rest of the seven sins were massive beastlike creatures, who closely resembled these hellhounds from Ghostbusters. Like the Terror Dogs, the Seven Deadly Sins were encased in stone, exploding to life when summoned. Each also had fiery red eyes, leathery gray skin, and a tendency to eat people. There is no denying the homage to the original Ghostbusters through the design and execution of the Seven Deadly Sins.
There is no denying that perhaps Shazam!'s most significant cinematic influence is 1988's Big. This classic comedy focuses on 12-year-old Josh Baskin who wishes to become a full grown man comes true. Played by Tom Hanks, the film follows a young boy in a grown man's body having the time of his life.
Shazam! takes this concept and modernizes it through more up to date laughs and a superhero lens. Shazam! subverts some of the awkward logic from Big through humor but still, honor's it through references. The iconic piano dance from the first film even has a small shout-out. When Doctor Sivana confronts Billy in the toy store, they accidentally stumble across a giant floor-bound keyboard, a direct reference to the scene in Big.
Shazam! owes much of its caped crusader origins to the Christopher Reeves led Superman from 1978. One of the cornerstones of the superhero film genre Superman was, and remains, possibly the best film interpretation of the hero ever. Filled with nothing but hope and positivity, Superman is the quintessential comic book hero story.
Shazam! is a perfect extension of that. The comic book character of Shazam! is essentially the wish fulfillment of a child becoming Superman. Obviously, Shazam!'s protagonist is visually similar to this hero, but the sheer goodness and light that Richard Donner's film brought to the genre is extended to this film as well. Also, when a certain somebody makes a surprise appearance, the original John Williams theme is used instead of the Hans Zimmer Man of Steel score.
As stated, David S. Sandberg is a huge horror fan and filmmaker. Before his work on Shazam!, Sandberg director a few films under the Blumhouse banner, including Lights Out and The Conjuring spinoff film Annabelle: Creation. Though Shazam! is somewhat of a departure, Sandberg still made time to reference his horror roots.
At the beginning of the film, Billy traps some police officers within a Pawn Shop in order to search their computer database. While leading them inside, the camera shows shelves of objects for sale, including everyone's favorite demonic darling Annabelle the doll. That's right, the Warren's entrapped evil doll made her way into the DCEU. It was a nice touch of Sandberg to add that small personal touch to such a big tentpole project.
Superman isn't the only superhero film to be referenced in Shazam!. Alan Moore's Watchmen has a small reference as well. After Child Protective Services find Billy, he sits down at a meeting with a social worker who has an exceptionally happy desktop. Scattered throughout her workspace are buttons and memorabilia featuring the iconic happy face from Watchmen.
Within the Watchmen comic and film, the vigilante Rorschach wears a button owned by the fallen hero The Comedian on his jacket. It has become the most iconic image from the film and graphic novel, each of which is under the same DC banner as Shazam!. Even director David S. Sandberg confirmed this as a mini-easter egg for fans of the graphic novel.
Unlike other DC properties, Shazam! takes place in a real city. There is no Gotham or Metropolis in sight, instead Shazam! is set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philly is home to multiple iconic film moments, but none more so than Rocky and his steps.
As most are aware, Rocky jogs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art while training for his fight against Apollo Creed. Shazam! makes multiple Rocky references and sets various scenes at the museum stairs. Billy even makes his own parody version of "Eye of the Tiger" called "Lightning from My Hands" which he sings as a street performing superhuman.
Throughout Shazam!, Billy and Freddy test the extent of Shazam's powers. From super strength to lightning, Shazam's power set is extensive. Building a social media following, the two film all of their tests and become viral sensations. Much of these scenes are filmed as handheld camera shots, similar to that of a found footage film. These moments instantly called back to another found footage superhero film: Chronicle.
Much of Chronicle is about discovering and testing the extent of one's super abilities, similarly to Shazam!. The found footage style of these montages are indeed a tad lighter than Chronicle, but certainly, feel like an homage to the cult favorite superhero film.
While in the original lair of the Wizard, Billy and his foster family weave in and out of the maze-like tunnels. This scene often felt reminiscent to The Goonies, but eventually harkened back to a classic Pixar favorite. The gang comes across a strange hall of doors to alternate dimensions. Upon opening, they find tentacle monsters, poker playing crocodiles, and more.
Though full of comic book references, the scene was remarkably similar to the hall of doors in Monsters Inc. The visual gags and the internal physics of this world are remarkably similar to the workplace of Sully and Mike Wazowski, but also double as a starting point for future stories in the Seven Magiclands from Shazam's comic book origins.
The final reference is both a comic book easter egg as well as a visual callback to a Jim Henson favorite. In the mid-credits scene, Doctor Sivana comes face to face with the caterpillar who appeared earlier in the Wizard's lair. This character is actually a comic villain from Shazam's past named Mister Mind. This villain was introduced in 1943 in issue #26 of Fawcett Comics’ “Captain Marvel Adventures.”
This evil little bug is a mainstay of Shazam's comic book runs, but his performance harkens back to another iconic cinematic worm. Many could not help but remember the cute little worm from Jim Henson's Labyrinth, who couldn't help Sarah find her way out. Though Mister Mind is far more ominous, the fantasy element of the Wizard's lair and the visual of Mister Mind speaking to Sivana certainly felt like a small nod to this puppet-filled classic.