10 Messages Hidden in the Background of Movies and TV Shows

YouTube
YouTube

In 2015, various news outlets revealed that an episode of Homeland included Arabic graffiti protesting the portrayal of Muslims on the popular Showtime series. Some of the phrases written on the set’s walls included “Homeland is racist” and “Homeland is not a show.” The messages were seemingly left on the set without the producers’ knowledge or consent. A group calling themselves “Arabian Street Artists” took credit for the act, saying it was done to air their “political discontent.”

This wasn’t the first time that the backgroundS of films and television shows have revealed interesting hidden messages, props, or inside jokes. Here are 10 more examples. 

1. FUTURAMA’S SECRET LANGUAGE

YouTube

It’s hard to believe that Homeland and Futurama have anything in common, but it turns out that the latter also includes hidden messages in graffiti and signs. The show contains an alien language, which clever viewers have decoded—allowing them to find messages in the background like “laser tentacle surgery” and “used human probes.”

2. HIEROGLYPHIC R2-D2 AND C-3PO IN RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

YouTube

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Indy lifts a huge rock to uncover the Ark, there’s a pillar featuring hieroglyphics that reference the famous Star Wars characters R2-D2 and C-3PO. There’s a second example later in the same scene, though it’s a little harder to see: On the back wall of the Ark, there’s a hieroglyph of Princess Leia with R2-D2 and C-3PO again.

3. HAN SOLO ON THE FIREFLY

YouTube

A 12-inch figurine of Han Solo frozen in carbonite can be seen in many episodes of the science fiction show Firefly. The prop department made this specifically for Nathan Fillion because he’s a huge Star Wars fan. And rumor has it that they used to sneak it into scenes as a joke, without informing the producers and directors.

4. CREW NAMES HIDDEN IN CORONATION STREET

In 2015, some crew members of the British soap opera Coronation Street got into trouble for sneaking their names onto props and sets, including football shirts, newspapers, and resident call buttons. Apparently it went too far when a prop master named Peter Eccleston put his own name on a hardware store. An on-set source told the Mirror, “They think getting their names on TV is a hoot and reckon it’s really funny. But to be honest there are quite a few people wishing for a change at the top to stop this nuisance.”

5. THE RECURRING PROP NEWSPAPER

YouTube

Prop masters have inside jokes that go way beyond putting names on a hardware store, though. There is one prop newspaper that has been spotted in a ridiculous number of films and television shows. You can see it in Angel, No Country for Old Men, Everybody Hates Chris, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, and many other titles. The paper is from Earl Hays Press, a newspaper prop company in Sun Valley, California, and use of the newspaper has become a sort of inside joke within Hollywood—plus, it’s cheaper to recycle.

6. THE GROSS RESTAURANT NAME IN ANCHORMAN

YouTube

In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) visits a Mexican food restaurant with a group of her fellow female coworkers. The restaurant’s sign says its name is “Escupimos en su Alimento.” Translated into English, that means “We spit in your food.”

7. THE ACCURATE, AND SOMETIMES HUMOROUS, WHITEBOARD IN THE BIG BANG THEORY

YouTube

CBS has a physics professor on the set of The Big Bang Theory to proofread and fact-check the scripts. In addition to making sure everything is scientifically accurate, he sometimes adds some humor to the whiteboard that sits in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment. For instance, in the episode “The Jiminy Conjecture,” two of the characters get into an argument about a cricket. In the background, the whiteboard features Dolbear’s law, a formula that explains the relationship between temperature and the rate at which crickets chirp. The information on the board doesn’t get referenced much; it’s mostly for science enthusiasts to enjoy.

8. MAGNA DOODLE ART ON FRIENDS

YouTube

Beginning in season three, a Magna Doodle toy hung on Joey and Chandler’s door in Friends. At a certain point, a man on the electric crew began changing the drawing on the magnetic surface for each episode. Sometimes the message related to the episode. For instance, in “The One with the Cat,” the apartment gets robbed, and the Magna Doodle displays the message, “Thanks for all your stuff.” A couple episodes later, Chandler gets a manicure. The Magna Doodle reads, “Nice nails, Chandler!”

9. TYLER DURDEN’S FACEBOOK PAGE IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK

YouTube

David Fincher directed both Fight Club and The Social Network. In the latter, he referenced an iconic character from his earlier film: Tyler Durden. At one point, Mark Zuckerberg is on his computer, working on Facebook. The words “Tyler Durden’s Photos” are briefly visible.

10. LOST PAINTING IN STUART LITTLE

YouTube

This is less of a hidden message than an (unintentionally) hidden object. In the 1999 film Stuart Little, the main characters are an affluent Manhattan family who happen to own a lot of nice paintings. In 2009, an art historian named Gergely Barki was watching the film with his daughter when he noticed a painting by Róbert Berény in the background. That particular painting had been missing since 1928 and was worth around a quarter of a million dollars. Barki eventually got in touch with an assistant set designer for the movie, who had bought the piece at an antique store in Pasadena for just $500. And the painting was returned.

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER