37 Things to Look for the Next Time You Watch Back to the Future

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Fans of pop culture have undoubtedly watched the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown countless times before. They’ve pored over each time Michael J. Fox’s quintessential 1980s teen travels back in time to 1955 in a souped-up DeLorean created by Christopher Lloyd’s bumbling mad scientist. They’ve memorized all the lines in director Robert Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Bob Gale’s indelible (and Academy Award-nominated) script. But they might not have noticed these tiny details, which you should look out for next time you watch Back to the Future. 

1. DOC BROWN’S CLOCKS ARE ALL PERFECTLY SYNCHRONIZED.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Look at the clocks in Doc Brown’s garage in the opening scene and you'll notice that they're all set 25 minutes behind. One of the clocks features a man hanging from its hands, an allusion to silent comedy star Harold Lloyd’s famous scene from the 1923 film Safety Last. It also foreshadows the later scene where Doc hangs from the Hill Valley clock tower in the same way. Unfortunately the similarities stop there: Christopher and Harold aren’t related.

2. STATLER TOYOTA IS A RUNNING GAG.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A radio ad in the opening scene mentions Statler Toyota, the car dealership with the Toyota 4x4 seen in 1985 Hill Valley's main square (in the improved 1985, Marty later owns the truck).

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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There's also a Statler dealership in every iteration of Hill Valley throughout the Back to the Future trilogy: Honest Joe Statler's Fine Horses in 1885, Statler Studebaker in 1955, and Statler Pontiac in 2015.

3. STANLEY KUBRICK GETS A NOD

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The sticker on the amp Marty plugs into in Doc’s garage says “CRM 114,” which is a nod to director Stanley Kubrick. In Kubrick's films, the CRM-114 Discriminator is a fictional radio device in Dr. Strangelove. It’s also the homophone "Serum 114," the experimental drug given to Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange; and it’s the serial number of the Jupiter explorer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4. MARTY’S INTO SOVIET ART.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The black and red badge Marty wears on his denim jacket says “Art in Revolution,” which was a Soviet art and design exhibition that was held at London’s Hayward Gallery from February to April in 1971.

5. ROBERT ZEMECKIS GAVE A NOD TO ONE OF HIS OTHER MOVIES.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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As Marty skitches on the fender of a Jeep in the town square, a sign reads “Used Cars,” which is the name of a 1980 movie directed by Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Gale.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The newscaster seen on the TV in the opening sequence is actress Deborah Harmon, who appeared in Used Cars.

6. MAYOR RED THOMAS FELL ON HARD TIMES.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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When Marty sees the tramp on the bench in 1985 he shouts out the name “Red,” which could indicate this character is Red Thomas, the mayor of Hill Valley in 1955.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The photo of Thomas on his 1955 reelection campaign is actually Back to the Future’s set decorator, Hal Gausman.

7. THE GUY WHO THINKS MARTY IS "TOO DARN LOUD" PROBABLY LOOKS FAMILIAR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The school administrator with the megaphone who chides Marty’s band, The Pinheads, for being too loud is singer Huey Lewis in his first acting role. The scene had an added irony as Lewis made The Pinheads stop playing his own song, “Power of Love,” which appeared on the Back to the Future soundtrack.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Marty also has a poster for the Huey Lewis & the News album “Sports” in his bedroom, and when Marty wakes up after getting back to the future in the improved 1985, Lewis’s soundtrack song “Back in Time” plays on his alarm clock radio.

8. SOME CREW MEMBERS GOT BACKGROUND SHOUT-OUTS.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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When Marty and Jennifer walk across the town square parking lot after his failed audition, a license plate on a green car in the background reads 'FOR MARY,' which is a nod to Mary Radford, the PA to the film’s second unit director Frank Marshall.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Another reference to one of the crew can be seen on a poster on the wall of the high school in 1955, which reads 'Ron Woodward for Senior Class President.' Ronald T. Woodward was the film’s key grip, and had previously worked with Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone.

9. HILL VALLEY’S DIRTY MOVIES STARRED A REAL LIFE BACK TO THE FUTURE ACTOR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Hill Valley’s Essex movie theater is playing the movie, Orgy American Style in 1985, and that isn’t just some set decoration. It’s a real 1973 pornographic film starring George 'Buck' Flower, the actor who plays Red in Back to the Future.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The Town Theatre, Hill Valley’s other cinema (which is turned into a church in 1985) is showing a 1954 Mickey Rooney film called The Atomic Kid in 1955—just before Marty goes back to the future.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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10. UNCLE ‘JAILBIRD’ JOEY IS USED TO BEING BEHIND BARS.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Lorraine serves the family a cake for Marty’s unseen uncle Joey in 1985, which was supposed to celebrate his freedom from prison before he didn’t make parole.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Joey’s penchant for the slammer is brought up again when Marty sees baby Joey in 1955 when his mother says, “Joey just loves being in his playpen. He cries whenever we take him out so we just leave him in there all the time.”

11. THE MCFLYS LOVE MEATLOAF.


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Marty’s dinner when he arrives home in 1985 is the same dish Lorraine and her family eat when he meets them in 1955. Marty technically eats the same dinner two nights in a row in two different years. In early drafts of the script, Marty hated meatloaf.

12. LORRAINE LAYS OUT THE PLOT.

During the 1985 dinner, Lorraine essentially lays out the plot of the entire movie. Linda asks, “How am I supposed to ever meet anybody?” and Lorraine responds, “Well, it will just happen. Like the way I met your father.” Then Linda responds, “That was so stupid, Grandpa hit him with the car,” to which Lorraine says, “It was meant to be. Anyway, if Grandpa hadn't hit him, then none of you would have been born.”

Based on Marty’s time traveling, with his brother and sister disappearing from a photo he keeps in his pocket, this is exactly what he’s trying to fix.

13. THE MCFLYS ARE BIG FANS OF THE HONEYMOONERS.

The 1985 McFlys watch the same episode of The Honeymooners as the 1955 McFlys. The episode, entitled “The Man From Space,” foreshadows the moment when Marty dresses up to scare George into taking Lorraine out on a date. The episode actually aired on December 31, 1955, which is over a month after Marty travels to the past on November 5, 1955. Oops!

14. MARTY LOVES PEPSI FREE.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The caffeine-free soft drink, which was phased out in real life in 1987, can be seen on Marty’s headboard when he wakes up late for Doc’s experiment, and he then tries to order one from the bewildered owner of Lou’s Cafe in 1955.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

He also has trouble opening an old-fashioned capped bottle of Pepsi at the Hill Valley gas station, but George helps him. It was likely that Marty would even have trouble opening a bottle in 1985—twist-off caps weren’t invented until 1988.

15. WHAT’S THE NAME OF THE MALL?

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Marty shows up to witness Doc’s science experiment at the Twin Pines Mall, but when he returns later after going back to the future, it’s the Lone Pine Mall. That’s because Marty destroyed one of Old Man Peabody’s dual pine trees on the 1955 farmland where the mall is located in 1985. In real life it’s actually Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, California.

16. ZEMECKIS AND GALE MUST LOVE THE NUMBERS ONE AND 21.

When Einstein the dog is sent a minute into the future, his stopwatch indicates that one minute and 20 seconds has elapsed. Einstein also reappears at 1:21a.m. using the 1.21 gigawatts of energy from the Flux Capacitor.

17. DOC’S BUMPER STICKER IS PROPHETIC.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

It reads: "One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day," which is appropriate since the plot of the movie hinges on stolen plutonium that results in Doc's death. The nuclear reaction needed to generate 1.21 gigawatts really did ruin his day.

18. DOC DROPS A HINT FOR BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II.

During the experiment, Doc tells Marty, "I've always dreamed of seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next 25 World Series.”

This ends up being a plot point in the sequel when 1955 Biff strikes it rich with knowledge gained from the Grays Sports Almanac stolen from 2015.

19. DOC’S GUN LOOKS FAMILIAR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The pearl-handled handgun Doc uses to try to shoot the Libyans in the mall parking lot is the same pistol he uses at the drive-in theater to time Marty’s trip to the old west in Back to the Future Part III. Maybe it jams because it’s a 30-year-old gun?

20. THERE'S A ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE HOMAGE.

His name isn’t said out loud, but Old Man Peabody’s son is credited as “Sherman,” a direct reference to Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the time-traveling cartoon duo from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which first aired in 1959.

21. SHERMAN IS A FAN OF SOME CLASSIC COMIC BOOKS.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The fictional Tales from Space comic book Sherman uses to explain the time machine to his father sports the logo of legendary Tales from the Crypt publisher EC Comics.

22. ROY’S RECORDS DID SOME TIME TRAVELING, TOO.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Marty drops in on 1955 Hill Valley he first sees Cattle Queen of Montana on the Essex theater marquee, a 1954 film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan—a great set-up to Doc’s befuddled reaction to the future president a few scenes later. Marty also spots Roy’s Records with four album advertisements in the window.

One is the 1954 reissue of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” but the other three are anachronisms: The Chordettes’s self-titled compilation wasn’t released until 1959, “Eydie in Dixieland” by Eydie Gorme wasn’t released until 1959, and “In the Land of Hi-Fi” by Patti Page wasn’t released until 1956.

23. HILL VALLEY’S PHONE BOOK NEEDS A COPY EDITOR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The 1955 phone book spells Doc’s name wrong—it should be Emmett, not “Emmet.” At least they get his occupation right!

24. DOC BROWN LIVES IN AN ARTS AND CRAFTS MASTERPIECE.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Doc’s original house at 1640 Riverside Drive (or John F. Kennedy Drive if it’s 1985) is actually a historic landmark in Pasadena, California called the Gamble House. Designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene for James Gamble of Procter and Gamble fame, it’s a prime example of the Arts and Crafts architectural movement made famous in the late 19th century.

25. DOC'S GARAGE IS OF HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A newspaper clipping in the opening scene says Doc’s mansion somehow mysteriously burned down and the surrounding land was sold off, which is why he’s resorted to living in the property’s old garage at 1646 John F. Kennedy Drive in 1985.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Later, Doc tells Marty, “It's taken me almost 30 years and my entire family fortune to realize the [time machine],” so we can infer that Doc, along with the proceeds from selling off the surrounding land, burned down his mansion to collect the insurance money to fund the creation of time machine.

26. DOC KEEPS HIS MENTORS CLOSE.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The same framed photos of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Edison above Doc Brown’s mantel in 1955 can be seen above his bed in the retrofitted garage bungalow in 1985.

27. THAT FANTASTIC STORY IS REAL.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The issue of Fantastic Story Magazine we see next to a sleeping George when Marty wakes him up as Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan is genuine: It’s the Fall 1954 issue. It cost 25 cents. Marty’s yellow alien getup will eventually inspire the cover art character for George’s 1985 book, “A Match Made in Space.”

28. (EDWARD) VAN HALEN IS ACTUALLY PLAYING THE GUITAR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The tape Marty uses to scare George is an actual uncredited solo by guitarist Eddie Van Halen. The band Van Halen wouldn’t allow their name or music to be used in the film (thus the added “Edward” on the label), but the guitarist allegedly gave Zemeckis an outtake to use from a song called “Donut City” he created for the score for the 1984 film The Wild Life.

29. BIFF AND HIS ANCESTORS ARE USED TO MANURE THROUGH THE AGES.

The Statlers aren’t the only multi-generational small  business owners in Hill Valley. Biff has run-ins with D. Jones Manure Hauling trucks in 1955 in the original movie and Part II, while Mad Dog Tannen falls into an A. Jones Manure Hauling truck in 1885 in Part III.

30. DOC NEVER BUILDS HIS MODELS TO SCALE.

When Doc runs Marty through his time machine plan with models in the garage in his 1955 garage laboratory, he says, “I didn't have time to build it to scale.” When Doc says the same line in Part III (with the same car toy model), Marty finishes his sentence by saying, “Yeah, I know, Doc. It’s not to scale.”

31. DOC’S INJURIES ARE IMPORTANT TO TIME TRAVEL.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The bandage on Doc’s forehead when Marty shows up to his house in 1955 is from his eureka moment of his idea of the Flux Capacitor when he fell and hit his head in the bathroom while hanging a clock. The toilet is later seen in Part II when Marty returns to 1955 for the second time.

32. DOC SPENT A LOT OF TIME ON HIS OTHER INVENTION THAT DIDN’T WORK.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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The time machine wasn’t Doc’s only invention. Schematics for Doc’s faulty brainwave machine can be seen strewn across his house and garage. Marty later wears Doc’s brainwave machine in Part III.

33. THAT MAN ON THE BIKE MIGHT LOOK FAMILIAR.

'Back to the Future' (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The guy riding by Doc and Marty in 1955 as the former tells him not to tell him what happens in the future just before the lightning storm looks kind of like Doc...because he is Doc. This is 1985 Doc Brown who meets his younger self in Part II.

34. MARTY MIMICS MORE THAN JUST CHUCK BERRY AT THE ENCHANTMENT UNDER THE SEA DANCE.

Marty essentially invents rock ‘n roll music by mimicking Chuck Berry to his fictional cousin, Marvin Berry. But he also shocks the teeny boppers of 1955 Hill Valley by kicking over the speakers as a homage to The Who’s Pete Townshend, and he also plays his guitar lying down like Angus Young of AC/DC.

35. SOMEONE REALLY NEEDS TO FIX THE DELOREAN’S STARTER.

When he gets to 1955, Marty has to get rid of the DeLorean because, as he tells Doc, “Something [was] wrong with the starter, so I hid it.” This explains why the DeLorean suddenly stops working just as he’s about to go back to the future in the climax of the movie.

36. MARTY REMEMBERS DOC’S BULLETPROOF VEST TRICK.

Doc reads Marty’s ripped-up note in 1955, knowing he’ll die in 1985 unless he wears a bulletproof vest against the Libyans. Doc’s life-saving vest maneuver foreshadows Marty’s own makeshift bulletproof vest (made out of an iron stove cover) in Part III.

37. THE CLOCKTOWER LEDGE IS A LITTLE WORSE FOR WEAR.

A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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A screen shot from 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Doc does permanent damage to the clocktower ledge during the lightning storm in 1955, which wasn’t there in the initial 1985 timeline, but can be seen still damaged in the improved 1985 at the end of the movie.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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