The Simpsons is not just a television show; it's a pop culture phenomenon. With 34 seasons and over 700 episodes, the show has made countless references to famous and obscure movies.
Many viewers have been inspired to seek out the films referenced in The Simpsons to understand the inside jokes and discover hidden cinematic gems. These are 25 awesome movies that people watched because The Simpsons referenced them.
From classic comedies to gritty dramas, these films have all received a boost in popularity thanks to the long-running animated series.
1 – The Simpsons Movie (2007)
In this movie adaptation of the popular animated series, the Simpson family must save Springfield from environmental disaster. Incredibly popular upon its release, it's earned a respectable 7.3 rating on IMDb after all these years. Putting The Simpsons Movie on here may seem like a cop-out.
However, as loyal fans of The Simpsons will tell you, you would miss countless spider pig references if you don't watch the movie. Ironically, a newbie insists they began watching The Simpsons show because of the movie.
2 – Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Paint Your Wagon is a musical comedy about a group of miners who strike it rich and compete for a woman's affection in a California gold rush town. This movie is referenced in the episode “The Last Temptation of Homer,” where Homer hallucinates that he is in a musical number from the film featuring brilliant lyrics such as “gonna paint a wagon, gonna paint it good, we ain't braggin', we're gonna coat that wood.”
3 – Barton Fink (1991)
Referenced in the episode “Brother From the Same Planet,” Bart's friends drive past him and ask if he wants to join them in sneaking into an R-rated movie called Barton Fink. Bart is bummed and replies that he can't go because he told his dad he'd wait for him. The kids drive off excitedly, chanting, “Barton Fink! Barton Fink! Barton Fink!”
The hilarity only dawns on you after watching the movie, which you immediately realize is nothing kids would be excited to see. The film is also referenced in several other episodes, including “Bart the Fink.” The movie is a dark comedy-drama about a struggling playwright who moves to Hollywood to write for movies.
4 – Citizen Kane (1941)
This classic drama is about the life of a wealthy newspaper tycoon. Citizen Kane is referenced in the episode “Rosebud,” where Mr. Burns searches for his long-lost teddy bear named “Bobo,” which is a parody of the movie's plot. As die-hard Simpsons fans point out, there's almost no scene of Citizen Kane that hasn't been parodied in an episode of The Simpsons.
5 – Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Dr. Strangelove is a satirical black comedy film about nuclear war. It's referenced in the episode “Bart's Comet,” where Principal Skinner compares a comet's arrival to the movie's plot.
A viewer describes how they came across the film: “The episode with the scene where Homer imagines he's an airforce pilot jumping up and down on a nuclear bomb to release it and then riding it like a cowboy to the ground inspired me to research what that part was based on, which was from a scene in the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
6 – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A Streetcar Named Desire is a drama film about a southern belle who moves in with her sister and her brutish husband in New Orleans. The episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” is a play on the film's title, and the plot of the episode involves Marge auditioning for a musical version of the play. One person notes they had no idea how dark the gag was until they found out what the movie was about.
7 – Planet of The Apes (1968)
This science fiction film is about a group of astronauts who land on a planet ruled by intelligent apes. Referenced in the episode “A Fish Called Selma,” where Troy McClure stars in a musical version of the film.
Hilariously, a viewer admits that they sincerely believed there was a breakdancing number at the end of Planet of the Apes when they were a kid because of The Simpsons, only to find something completely different when they eventually did watch the source material.
8 – Guys and Dolls (1955)
This musical comedy is about a group of gamblers and their romantic entanglements in New York City. This move is alluded to in the episode “Bart Gets Famous,” where Krusty the Clown performs a musical number from the show. One spectator recalls believing that the opening parody song in The Simpsons was a real song from the musical.
9 – Rashomon (1950)
This Japanese period drama film is about the retelling of a murder from multiple perspectives. It's referenced in the episode “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo.” Marge turns to Homer and says, “Come on, Homer, Japan will be fun. You Liked Rashomon.” Homer responds, “That's not how I remember it.”
10 – Basic Instinct (1992)
This thriller follows a police detective who becomes involved with a suspect in a murder case. Basic Instinct is referenced in the episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns Pt 2.” The police investigate the shooting and interrogate the groundskeeper Willie in a setting reminiscent of Sharon Stone's interrogation in Basic Instinct.
Sitting in a kilt, the Scottish bloke uncrosses his legs just like Stone does in the movie, revealing more than the police want to see. A policeman holds up a gun and says, “This is your last warning about that,” implying he's been doing it repeatedly.
11 – Tron (1982)
Tron is a science fiction film about a computer programmer who is transported into a virtual world. As referenced in the episode “Treehouse of Horror VI,” Homer is trapped in a 3D world similar to the film. His physician asks him what it's like in there, and Homer says, “It's like uhh.. Did anyone see the movie Tron?” to which everyone in the room says no.
12 – The Fugitive (1993)
The Fugitive is a thriller about a doctor wrongfully accused of killing his wife and his quest to clear his name. This movie is referenced in the episode “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” where Bart becomes a fugitive after witnessing a crime.
A viewer explains the reference in the episode, “Homer escapes Chief Wiggum's police truck at the Krusty Burger drive-through like Dr. Richard Kimble does when he jumps out of the crashing train.” In another episode called “Lisa's Rival,” Milhouse confronts Tommy Lee Jones before falling down the water dam. Jones says I don't care and Milhouse says, “My glasses,” after plummeting down the waterfall.
13 – Crimson Tide (1995)
This thriller is about a power struggle on a nuclear submarine. One of the episodes is called “Simpsons Tide.” In the Simpsons episode, Homer accidentally joins the Naval Reserve and leads a nuclear submarine through a crisis. The episode parodies the movie Crimson Tide by referencing the conflict between the captain and executive officer, military jargon, and specific lines from the film.
14 – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction is a Quentin Tarantino-directed crime film about various interconnected stories of gangsters and criminals in Los Angeles. In the episode “22 Short Films About Springfield,” there is an entire re-enactment of many of the scenes in Pulp Fiction, including the burger discussion, Butch fleeing in his car, and Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield being held captive.
The episode parodies many lines from the film. Instead of a royale with cheese, they call it a Krusty Burger with cheese.
15 – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This science fiction film is the second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy. The Simpsons allude to Star Wars in numerous episodes, including “Mayored to the Mob,” where Homer dresses up as Darth Vader for a sci-fi convention. The most infamous and controversial reference, however, came in the form of flashbacks of Marge and Homer going to the movies.
When they walk out of the theater, Homer says, “Wow, what an ending. Who'da thought Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father?” spoiling the ending for everyone waiting in line and, ironically, for many people watching the episode who hadn't seen The Empire Strikes Back yet.
16 – The Graduate (1967)
This romantic comedy-drama is about a recent college graduate who becomes involved with an older woman and falls in love with her daughter. It's parodied in the episode “The Front,” where Homer becomes a screenwriter and pitches a script that is a satire of the film.
However, there are many references to The Graduate in the first few seasons of The Simpsons, such as in “Lady Bouvier's Lover” when the grandpa enters the church where Mrs. Bouvier is getting married to Mr. Burns and escapes with her, catching a bus. In the background plays a song parodying the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack from The Graduate.
17 – Speed Franchise (1994-1997)
This action thriller is about a bomb on a bus that will explode if the speed drops below 50 miles per hour. In one of the episodes, when Millhouse is on a bumpy haywire bus, he says, “Whoa, it's like Speed 2, only it's like a bus instead of a boat.
There's also a scene where Homer says, “I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to SPEED around a city, keeping its SPEED over fifty, and if its SPEED dropped, it would explode! I think it was called ‘The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down.'”
18 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This Wes Craven horror film is about a serial killer who murders teenagers in their dreams. The Simpsons spoofs A Nightmare on Elm Street in “Treehouse of Horror VI. The segment in question is called “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace.” It features Bart having a nightmare in which his school bus crashes into a tree, and he is killed.
He then starts having nightmares about being chased by a mysterious figure who looks like Groundskeeper Willie. The segment is a parody of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, with the Willie character being a nod to Freddy Krueger.
19 – Cape Fear (1962)
This psychological thriller is about a convicted sex offender who seeks revenge on the lawyer who defended him. This is referenced in the episode “Cape Feare,” where the character Sideshow Bob is released from prison and stalks the Simpson family.
20 – The Shining (1980)
This Stanley Kubrick horror film is about a family who becomes the caretakers of a remote hotel and the father's descent into madness. In the episode “The Shinning” (note the misspelling), the family becomes caretakers of Mr. Burns' mansion and Homer's descent into madness.
One viewer says their viewing of The Simpsons‘ parody of The Shining before they watched the original movie ruined their experience because they couldn't take it seriously.
21 – Thelma & Louise (1991)
This road movie is about two women who flee after committing a crime and their journey across the American Southwest. In the episode “The Springfield Connection,” Marge becomes a police officer and goes on a stakeout with a female partner.
After watching this episode, this Simpsons fan couldn't stop thinking of Marge and Ruth or the line “sticking together is what good waffles do,” even though it's a fairly serious movie.
22 – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
In this dystopian crime film, a young man undergoes an experimental treatment to cure his violent behavior. In the episode “Itchy & Scratchy Land,” Itchy undergoes a similar treatment to cure his violent behavior.
This movie is referenced many times throughout the show, including when Mr. Burns uses the Ludovico technique on Santa's Little Helper. There's another subtle reference to the movie when Mr. Burns is all bandaged up, and Smithers is feeding him peanuts.
23 – Rear Window (1954)
This thriller is about a wheelchair-bound photographer who witnesses a murder from his apartment window. In the episode “Bart of Darkness,” Bart breaks his leg and spends the summer spying on his neighbors.
Funnily enough, when a Simpsons fan first watched Rear Window after already seeing the parodies of it in The Simpsons, the movie ending was a huge twist for them. They explain, “The twist was that there was no twist. Unlike The Simpsons episode, it wasn't a big misunderstanding. Everything in the movie is taken at face value.”
24 – It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
This comedy film is about a group of strangers who race to find a buried treasure. In the episode “Homer the Vigilante,” a scene parodies Phil Silvers' character when a man drives his car into the river and says to Bart, “What's the matter with you, kid? You told me this stream was shallow!”
25 – Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
This is a science fiction anthology film based on the classic TV series. It's referenced in the episode “Treehouse of Horror IX.” In Terror of the Tiny Toon, there is a reference to Twilight Zone: The Movie. Both stories involve a person from the real world ending up in an animated world and facing danger.
Interestingly, Nancy Cartwright, who voices several characters in The Simpsons, played the person in Twilight Zone: The Movie. The Twilight Zone show was also referenced numerous times throughout the series.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.