An acute case of cinephilia
Riverdale has never met a pop culture reference it doesn’t like. The CW series, itself based on the iconic pop culture property Archie Comics, subverts the Americana of its source material and puts a neo-noir twist on soapy teen drama. “The tension of the show is the wholesome iconography and the Norman Rockwell looking back at the past, and the grotty, more noir, underworld-y side underneath it — that’s the thesis of the show,” Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa previously told EW. With that tension comes a deep, abiding love for classic cinema that expresses itself in everything from visual cues to the titles of episodes. Indeed, if the tone and feel of the show didn’t key you in to the classic Hollywood vibes, the episode titles of the first season — “A Touch of Evil,” “In a Lonely Place” — would. Whether it’s a visual Easter egg, a winking bit of casting, or a piece of dialogue linking the characters to another film, Riverdale has no shortage of pop touchstones meant to delight cinephiles. Click through for some of our favorites.
While Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe is original to the Archie Comics and the idea of a 1950s diner is integral to the DNA of Riverdale, the look of the place is pure noir. Film writer Marya E. Gates pointed out on Twitter that the neon lighting, framing, and design of Pop’s hark back to another diner with the same name featured in 1945’s Fallen Angel, directed by Otto Preminger.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
In case you had any doubts about what kind of town Riverdale is, the pilot provided a handy cinematic quip from Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) to break it down for you. “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this town is so In Cold Blood,” she tells her new classmates. Both titles are books by Truman Capote, as well as films. The contrast between the socialite glamour of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the true-crime aspect of In Cold Blood is an instant distillation of just how out of place Veronica is when she arrives in town.
Audrey Hepburn isn’t the only one Veronica compares herself to: Early on, she bemoans her family’s fall from grace and precarious financial state by saying, “I’m already the Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High.” This is in reference to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as a similarly wealthy woman forced to come to terms with living more modestly after her husband goes to jail for fraud.
If his own description of himself is any indication, Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is admirably self-aware. He quips that he’s “devastatingly handsome in that classic, pre-accident Montgomery Clift kind of way,” and he’s not wrong. It’s also no coincidence that Kevin, the only out gay character on Riverdale at its onset, compares himself to Clift, a classic Hollywood heartthrob who was also a closeted gay man.
The Hitchcock blonde
Lest Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) feel left out from the classic Hollywood references, she also gets a nod in season 1 when Jughead (Cole Sprouse) refers to her as “our friendly neighborhood Hitchcock blonde” in a voice-over (which is itself a nod to noir conventions). Hitchcock was famous for his blonde leading ladies, women whose icy, poised exterior masked inner fire or turmoil. He took it almost to the point of obsession (a deliberate plot point in Vertigo). So, there you have it: Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Tippi Hedren, and now Lili Reinhart.
The 1950s dream sequence from season 1 was primarily a throwback to the original Archie Comics characters as they appeared on the page, but its tone and visual style owe a debt to the king of 1950s technicolor melodrama, Douglas Sirk. Episode director Allison Anders cited Sirk as inspiration, telling EW, “The approach was to make it look very saturated in terms of production design and the costumes and the lighting, to make it look like that perfect world of the 1950s.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Betty and Archie (K.J. Apa) live on Elm Street in Riverdale, a nod to one of cinema’s most famous slasher franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street. But the production design team took things a step further: The Cooper house, down to its white clapboard exterior and front door, is almost identical to Nancy Thompson’s (Heather Langenkamp) home in the ’80s horror flicks. (Nancy’s front door is blue in the original Nightmare, but red, like Betty’s, in the sequels.)
Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) is now the mayor of Riverdale, and often the picture of wealth and poise. But when we first met her, she was down on her luck and took a job as a waitress at Pop’s to make ends meet, much like Joan Crawford’s classic noir heroine Mildred Pierce. Hermione even calls out the comparison while in uniform, saying, “I’m going for this Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce thing. Is it working?” Luckily, Veronica takes her new occupational status a whole lot better than Mildred’s daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth).
Riverdale’s fourth episode, “The Last Picture Show,” is rife with classic cinematic references, from posters plastered across the walls of the projection booth (where Jughead has been living) to the screening of Rebel Without a Cause (practically the ur-text of teen angst and rebellion) as the drive-in’s last ever film. But it’s the episode title, which references the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film of the same name, and the very act of going to the drive-in like the teens in that movie, that truly bring the Easter eggs home here.
Mrs. Grundy (Sarah Habel) remains one of Riverdale’s most divisive figures, as the music teacher who started a sexual relationship with a teenage Archie. She was eventually run out of town and then murdered for her improprieties. Given her role as a sexual predator for underage boys, there’s no better film to link her to than Lolita, Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation of the 1955 Vladimir Nabakov novel. It tells the tale of a middle-aged man (played by James Mason) who becomes sexually involved with the titular teenage girl (Sue Lyon), who herself is portrayed as a figure of seduction. Putting Mrs. Grundy in those red heart sunglasses worn so provocatively by Lyon on screen and on the Lolita poster says it all.
Many of Riverdale’s film references are deep cuts, but the first season also paid tribute to a more recent gothic film, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Following her twin brother’s funeral, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) has a nightmare about sleeping in his bed and encountering him as a zombie. Her nightmare garb, from red gown to candelabra and even her red hair, is pure Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) in Crimson Peak, amping up the gothic factor of the nightmare and toying with the notion that maybe Cheryl and Jason (Trevor Stines) were a bit too close for siblings, just as Lucille and Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) are in Crimson Peak.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
When Cheryl’s mother, Penelope (Nathalie Boltt), is laid up in the hospital with bad burns from a fire at Thistlehouse, Cheryl lays down the law, telling her, “Now here’s the reals, Baby Jane.” It’s a reference to the 1962 grand-guignol film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, though given that Penelope is the one incapacitated, she should really be dubbed Blanche (the character played by Joan Crawford), with Cheryl being Baby Jane (a la Bette Davis).
Carnival of Souls (and Grease)
In season 2 of Riverdale, as a newly minted Southside Serpent, Jughead initiates a drag race with rival gang the Ghoulies for control of the Southside. He tells their leader, “Race over Herk Harvey Bridge to Dead Man’s Curve,” in what may be the show’s most obscure reference ever. Harvey directed a 1962 film called Carnival of Souls, which begins with a drag race that culminates in a horrific accident. The car featured prominently in that film resembles the Ghoulies vehicle, and much of the race in the opening sequence of Carnival of Souls inspired the shots here as well. This scene also contains a more obvious Easter Egg: When Cheryl goes to lift her arms to start the race with her scarf, she brushes off Toni (Vanessa Morgan), saying, “Not today, Cha Cha,” in reference to Grease when Cha Cha (Annette Charles) begins the drag race for Greased Lightning.
When Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) murders a man in her living room during season 2’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” it falls to Jughead and Betty to dump his car in the local swamp to cover up his disappearance. This sequence, from the car’s slow sink into the mud to its exact license plate, is a nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) car meets the same fate in the mire near the Bates Botel.
Betty should’ve known that Chic (Hart Denton), the boy pretending to be her long-lost brother, was trouble from the beginning, given his motel room number when she found him. It was room 237 — the same designation as the notoriously creepy room at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
Technically this is more a musical theater reference than a cinematic one, but Les Miserables is also a 2012 film so we’re going with it. When FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) goes to prison for his role in Jason Blossom’s murder in season 2, he gets assigned a familar number: 24601, the same one as Jean Valjean in Les Mis.
Season 2’s “The Watcher in the Woods” delved more deeply into Kevin’s sexuality and his feelings of loneliness and isolation. So what better for a reference than one of the most iconic films ever to deal with such themes, Brokeback Mountain? The fake-out sequence where Kevin is stabbed to death by a stranger in a car was inspired by a scene in the 2005 film. “That horrible scene where Heath Ledger is calling in the phone booth and he sees flashes of Jake Gyllenhaal’s death — that was what inspired that,” Aguirre-Sacasa previously told EW. “We wanted it really to get underneath everyone’s fear and paranoia.”
In season 2, Betty runs for student body president, much like another cinematic blonde, Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick in Election. Jughead draws a connection, telling her, “Go get ’em, Tracy Flick,” in the midst of her campaigning as a nudge of encouragement and reference to the 1999 film. Though Betty is certainly far less overbearing than Tracy.
In season 2, Cheryl tells Betty her father, Hal (Lochlyn Munro), was sneaking around with “the stealth of a marshmallow man.” It’s a dig at Hal’s looks and lumbering approach, but it also seems a nod to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, who becomes a supernatural villain at the climax of Ghostbusters. Hmm, a lumbering paranormal monster — what don’t we know about Hal Cooper?
Blink and you’ll miss this one: When Nana Rose (Barbara Wallace) is poisoned by her own family, the toxic culprit is revealed to be tannis root. It’s not a real plant, but a fictional herb invented by author Ira Levin, as inspired by the biblical city of Tanis. In the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, which is based on Levin’s book of the same name, a mysterious locket that gives off a noxious odor is said to have tannis root enclosed in it, and it becomes a key part of the film’s diabolical scheme.
The Silence of the Lambs
When Betty visits her father in prison after he’s unmasked as the serial killer the Black Hood, the high-security cell looks very familiar. The production design of the cell and the staging of their tense interactions separated by a pane of thick glass are direct refences to Hannibal Lecter’s (Anthony Hopkins) holding cell in The Silence of the Lambs and the charged conversations he shares with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster).
Leopold and Loeb
This one’s a cinematic reference by way of a true story. The juvenile detention center in Riverdale, where Archie is sent after being framed for murder, is named Leopold and Loeb Detention Center. It references Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb, two wealthy, college-age students who, in 1924, set out to commit the perfect murder and know what it was like to kill someone as an intellectual exercise. The grisly murder was so sensationalized that it eventually inspired another Hitchcock movie, 1948’s Rope.
In season 3’s third episode, “The Red Dahlia” (itself a play on 1940s Veronica Lake starrer The Blue Dahlia), the noir references were abundant, with Jughead taking up some private investigation work. The episode paid particular debt to 1974 film Chinatown. Kelly Ripa guest-starred as Hiram Lodge’s mistress, Mrs. Mulwray, named after Faye Dunaway’s character in the Roman Polanski film. In another nod to the film, her shady dealings are tied to obscuring the truth about Riverdale’s water supply. But Veronica gets the most iconic nod to the film when, after asking Jughead to investigate her father’s shooting, she shows up in his office in full 1940s femme fatale garb and declines to know the truth, telling him, “Forget it, Jughead, it’s Riverdale.” The last (and very famous) line of Chinatown is, of course, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
In the season 3 midseason finale, we learned that the Blossom family physician is named Dr. Caligari. They might want to think about getting a new doctor, considering that’s the name of the murderous figure and asylum director at the heart of the 1920 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Its surrealist techniques still make it one of the most visually infuential films of all time.
The Breakfast Club
The season 3 flashback episode, which found the teen cast playing younger versions of their parental counterparts, was titled “The Midnight Club,” an obvious play on seminal 1980s teen classic The Breakfast Club. The episode even brought on Breakfast Club alum Anthony Michael Hall to guest-star, and Alice Cooper’s breakdown of their character types vibes with the “brain, jock, nerd, princess, and basketcase” designations of the John Hughes characters. The entire episode was a big love letter to pop culture of the ’80s and ’90s, from its musical score to its Saved By the Bell-inspired title card.
FP Jones has a broken arm through part of the flashback episode courtesy of his abusive father, and he sports a cast that bears a resemblance to another young horror star. The cast reads “Loser,” with the “S” covered up with a “V” to make it say “LoVer,” just like Eddie’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) cast in It.
Skeet Ulrich’s mere presence on Riverdale is in many ways a throwback to his start as a ’90s heartthrob. But in the season 3 episode “Manhunter,” his role in Scream got some direct nods. When the Gargoyle King breaks into the Cooper home, Alice and Betty leave popcorn on the stove in their terror, just like Drew Barrymore in the opening of Scream. They run upstairs and are frightened by a figure coming through the window, but it turns out to be FP (Ulrich) — a scenario that was an almost shot-for-shot recreation to Scream when his character Billy comes through Sidney’s (Neve Campbell) window to comfort her but she fears it’s the killer.