Hollywood loves to be meta, and there’s a long and glorious history of films referencing film-making, and indeed other films, or actors breaking the fourth wall to confirm some self-awareness.

But what Hollywood loves more, is being remarkably clever with those references, from George Lazenby quipping “this never happened to the other fella!” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, to Scream and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare referencing their own film-making and genre conventions, and John Travolta remarking on Hollywood’s tendency to make “unbelievable, unremarkable sh*t” in Swordfish just a year after releasing Battlefield Earth.

But it isn’t all just whiteboards featuring famous horror monsters (Cabin In The Woods) or Ghostbuster cameos in Casper, or even Julia Roberts playing a character pretending to be Julia Roberts (Ocean’s 12), because there’s another level to that often smug and self-satisfied clever-dickery.

We refer, of course to those moments when actors portraying other characters make reference to films they have also starred in, in a complicated loop. These are the more complicated, and more rewarding meta-references to notice, and there are more of them than you might actually think, and of course it’s all terribly self-congratulatory on Hollywood’s part.

Dishonourable Mention

The Expendables 2

There’s a subtle (yeah right) undercurrent to The Expendables franchise that forces the audience to consciously reference all of the action movies that its stars have already committed, for better or worse, to the cinematic marketplace. In positioning itself as a motivated ensemble, that agenda was always going to play a big part in the film’s marketing, after all.

But that doesn’t mean we need any reminders forcibly jammed down our necks, as in the horrendously awkward exchange between Bruce Willis and Arnie below. It thinks it’s big, and it thinks it’s clever, but it’s really, really not…

[springboard type="video" id="748943" player="what003" width="600" height="400" ]

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This article was first posted on June 29, 2013