10 Movies Where Actors Got to Pay Homage to Past Roles

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10 Movies Where Actors Got to Pay Homage to Past Roles
10 Movies Where Actors Got to Pay Homage to Past Roles


It tends to be the case that every character an actor plays throughout their career is an entirely different person. Of course, some actors get to reprise roles in sequels, and with the advent of cinematic universes and long-running film series’, actors sometimes get very familiar with the one character. However, more often than not, a character’s story concludes in the film they first appear in, and the actor effectively has to “retire” that character once the film is over.

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However, in some instances, actors have been given the opportunity to pay homage to an old role without reprising it exactly. There are some notable actors who all had movies that allowed them to reference another iconic role of theirs from years past. Beyond being (presumably) fun for the actor, the best instances of these can also work as humorous meta-references for film-savvy viewers to pick up on.


Franco Nero in ‘Django Unchained’ (2012)

Quentin Tarantino is a director who’s no stranger to filling his movies with references to older movies. It’s one of the things he’s best known for, with his revenge-themed revisionist western, Django Unchained, even featuring a reference in the title.

Django is the name of an iconic spaghetti western from 1966 – the kind of violent and down-and-dirty one that Tarantino’s whole style was clearly influenced by. He even got the title character’s actor from the original Django Franco Nero – to have a cameo, where he meets the new Django, played by Jamie Foxx. Foxx’s Django tells Nero’s character that the D in his name is silent, to which Nero’s character bluntly responds, “I know.”

Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)

Captain America Winter Solider - 2014

Samuel L. Jackson has been in so many movies that there are countless roles you could have him reference in one of his movies. Some of Jackson’s most popular roles have been in the movies of Quentin Tarantino, and he’s also been well-known to modern audiences for his role as Nick Fury in the MCU.

It makes a reasonable amount of sense then that one of his most prominent performances as Nick Fury sneaks in a reference to Jackson’s character, Jules, from Pulp Fiction. Part of Captain America: The Winter Solider involves Fury faking his death, and he even gets a burial and tombstone and everything. On that tombstone is a reference to the famous Ezekiel 25:17 speech, which is probably the most iconic monologue from Pulp Fiction.

Marlon Brando in ‘The Freshman’ (1990)

The Freshman - 1990

The Freshman isn’t a particularly well-remembered movie, and that’s honestly fair enough. It’s a pretty standard comedy about a young college student getting inexplicably mixed up with the mafia. It’s perfectly watchable stuff, but perhaps not memorable enough to have sustained a core fanbase in the decades since its release.

Still, at least The Freshman does give Marlon Brando one last chance to play a character who’s similar to the legendary Vito Corleone, as played by Brando in The Godfather Part I. This 1990 comedy is stacked with references to that film, and Brando’s character in it, so it has some worth for letting Brando pay homage to his definitive role.

Édith Scob in ‘Holy Motors’ (2012)

Holy Motors - 2012 - Edith Scob

Holy Motors is a strange, surreal trip of a movie that introduces more and more questions with every scene, and offers very few answers. At its most basic, it’s about a man who takes on numerous identities in order to pull off a series of bizarre, disconnected jobs, all the while being driven around by a mysterious older woman, played by Édith Scob.

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Scob was well known in French cinema, largely for her role in the iconic (and creepy) 1960 horror movie Eyes Without a Face. That’s another strange film about identity (and face transplants!) that sees Scob wearing an unnerving mask for much of the runtime. Towards the end of Holy Motors, her character wears a similar one, and it would be surprising if the connection was unintentional.

Harrison Ford in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008)

Image via Paramount Pictures

Harrison Ford has been fortunate enough to play two of the most iconic characters in film history. He’s had four appearances (and one cameo) in the Star Wars series as the lovable rogue Han Solo, and has portrayed the globe-trotting adventurer Indiana Jones in four movies so far (with a fifth on the way in 2023).

It’s a tradition in Star Wars movies to have a character say, “I have a bad feeling about this” at least once a film, with Ford getting to say it – or a variation of it – four times. In the fourth Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, his other character even got in on the action, with the line in Indiana Jones being a fairly on-the-nose Star Wars/Han Solo reference.

Keanu Reeves in ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ (2019)

John Wick 3 - 2019

Before the John Wick series, Neo from The Matrix movies was far and away the most iconic character Keanu Reeves has played. However, his role as everyone’s favorite unstoppable hitman is on the way to becoming just as iconic, given he’ll have played each character four times, by the time John Wick 4 is released.

Fittingly, Reeves gets to quote one of Neo’s most famous lines in John Wick: Chapter 3. In the original Matrix, Neo says he needs, “Guns. Lots of guns” to save Morpheus, while in John Wick: Chapter 3’s climax, he makes the same request during the climactic shootout in the Continental. What follows in each film is a pretty great action sequence.

Michael Imperioli in ‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007)

The Sopranos - 1999 - _It happens_

The Sopranos was a crime-drama TV show that included numerous actors in its cast who’d also had roles in Goodfellas. This led to worlds colliding for fans of gangster movies/shows, because the former is among the best crime shows of all time, and the latter is easily one of the best gangster movies in film history.

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This naturally led to more than a few Martin Scorsese references throughout the show, but the best might’ve been in its first season. Michael Imperioli had a small role in Goodfellas as Spider, a young mob associate who at one point is cruelly shot in the foot. In The Sopranos, Imperioli’s role is bigger, and he’s a far more violent character. As such, he’s the one who does the unjustified shooting, blasting someone in a bakery for testing his patience. “It happens,” he tells the man, who’s screaming in pain, which is darkly funny… but only if you’ve seen Goodfellas.

Dennis Hopper in ‘River’s Edge’ (1986)

River's Edge - Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper was an important figure in the New Hollywood movement, both as a director and actor. One of his most famous roles came in the counter-culture film about bikers, Easy Rider, which he both directed and starred in.

River’s Edge came later in his career, and it’s a dark crime film mostly focused on a group of teenagers, with Hopper in a supporting role. At one point, he mentions how he used to be a biker when he was younger, cheekily referencing Easy Rider… and given the way that movie ended, there’s no way both of these people played by Hopper can be the same character.

Carrie Fisher in ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980)

The Blues Brothers - 1980

The Blues Brothers is a gloriously crazy hybrid of action, comedy, crime, and musical. It tells the story of petty criminal brothers who go to great lengths to save their old orphanage from being demolished, with their plans including reforming their old jazz band to throw a charity concert.

There are many side characters and obstacles along the way, including Carrie Fisher’s character, who’s a vengeful ex-girlfriend of one of the brothers. She acquires numerous weapons throughout the film, using them all to try and destroy her ex, who scorned her. At one point, she fires a bazooka, and it makes a sound similar to a blaster from a galaxy far, far away.

Sean Connery in ‘The Rock’ (1996)

The Rock is certainly one of Michael Bay’s best movies. It features Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage working together to break into Alcatraz, to stop a rogue General who’s threatening to fire rockets filled with nerve gas from the location if his demands aren’t met.

It’s one of Connery’s best-known roles outside of playing James Bond, and appropriately, he gets to reference the role that made him a star during The Rock. His character gets to explain he gained all his skills through training by the British Intelligence, which does sound familiar…

NEXT: Movies Where Fans Were Okay With Actors Not Bothering To Do Their Character’s Accent


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