Watching Collateral the other night, I was struck again by the simplicity of its script, the amazing clarity of its high-def digital photography, the way Michael Mann is able to wring supple, nuanced performances from his two stars, Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, and... holy crap, is that Jason "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" Statham switching briefcases with Tom Cruise at the beginning of the movie? Or did my eyes just deceive me? The man may only show his face for about 15-20 seconds or so, but... yep, a quick scan of IMDb shows that Statham is indeed in the movie (credited only as "Airport Man"). My interest piqued, I check IMDb again, and see that Statham's Collateral cameo comes only one year after The Italian Job (2003) and two years after The Transporter (2002). So he'd already made a name for himself by the time 2004 rolled around - why such a bit part in an otherwise major motion picture? Was it a favor to the director? A favor to Cruise? A way of passing the baton from one action hero to another?
The Internet isn't telling (and neither does Mann during his DVD commentary track), though speculation suggests that Statham could be reprising his role as Frank Martin from Fox's popular Transporter series (Collateral is a DreamWorks/Paramount co-production). Watching the scene itself, you could definitely argue this is the case:
Is it possible that the worlds of Collateral and The Transporter occupy the same universe? This mysterious "Airport Man" certainly seems to abide by the same set of rules as Mr. Martin (and the rules are: #1: "Never change the deal," #2: "No names," and #3: "Never open the package"), and there's nothing to suggest they aren't one and the same (though you have to admit, "deliver briefcase to fellow assassin at airport" is a cakewalk compared to, say, chasing some rich dude's private jet down the tarmac). Of course, there's nothing to prove they actually are the same character either. But it's a tantalizing idea nonetheless.
Movies, as a general rule, exist in a vacuum. Unless they're part of a franchise, spin-off or sequel, films rarely, if ever, cross-pollinate with other films. But crossovers have been known to happen on occasion. Characters in Quentin Tarantino's films, for example, often eat at the same restaurants, smoke the same cigarettes, and even come from the same family tree as previous characters. The worlds of Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1987) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012) are populated with characters from competing cartoon and video game corporations. And there's even a theory, as crazy as it sounds, that suggests all of Pixar's films are connected in a single timeline (though it takes a good stretch of the imagination to buy any of that).
These shared universes are fun to talk about, think about, and discuss at length with our friends. But what about the less obvious examples, those crossover cases closer to in-jokes than actual world-building? What about those actors who jump between seemingly unrelated films, starring as would-be spiritual cousins to previously-played characters? Like Jason Statham in Collateral, here are seven other instances of characters that make the leap from one cinematic universe to the next. The possibilities are endless...
The Movie: Coming To America (John Landis, 1988)
Crosses Over With: Trading Places (John Landis,
Why It's A Mind-Blower: Director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf In London) is renowned for the in-jokey nature of his films. Few gags, however, seemed to delight audiences as much as this scene from Coming To America. In that Eddie Murphy comedy hit, Murphy's Prince Akeem, seeking to distance himself from his pampered life of royalty, hands a bundle of money to a pair of homeless men on a New York City street. The two men, named Randolph and Mortimer, are obviously overjoyed. But here's the kicker: they're played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, the same characters bankrupted by Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in Landis's Trading Places! In all their excitement, it's no wonder they did't recognize Akeem as the spitting image of the man who put them in this predicament in the first place...
The Movie: Predator 2 (Stephen Hopkins, 1990)
Crosses Over With: Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
Why It's A Mind-Blower: Before these two Sci-Fi blockbuster franchises crossed actual paths with 2004's Alien Vs. Predator, the makers of Predator 2 added this blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo to the climax of their Los Angeles-based sequel. Here, Lt. Frank Horrigan (Danny Glover) sneaks aboard the spacecraft of his extraterrestrial nemesis and happens upon the creature's prominently-displayed trophy wall. Among its kills is the unmistakable skull of an all-too familiar Xenomorph, designed by H.R. Giger for Alien, Ridley Scott's 1979 haunted-house-in-outer-space masterpiece. It's a throwaway gag designed to whet the appetites of fanboys the world over and nothing more. Shame they took the idea too literally and botched it completely for AVP.
The Movie: Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992)
Crosses Over With: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
(James Cameron, 1991)
Why It's A Mind-Blower: It's hard to take this one seriously, since the first big-screen outing for everyone's favorite public-access television personalities, Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), is filled to the brim with so many meta-jokes and self-conscious celebrity cameos to begin with. But when Mr. Campbell is pulled over by a verrry familiar face towards the end of the movie, audiences just about choked on their popcorn (never have I heard the words "Have you seen this boy?" get louder laughs in a theater). Robert Patrick's role as the T-1000 is so iconic, as a matter of fact, I don't think he'll ever be able to outlast it.
The Movie: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
(George Lucas, 1999)
Crosses Over With: E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial
(Steven Spielberg, 1982)
Why It's A Mind-Blower: We all know that Mr. Lucas loves packing the fringes of every Star Wars frame with outlandish creatures and digital trickery (watching the climactic duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge Of The Sith, you wonder what you're supposed to be watching, the clashing of lightsabers or the flittering worker 'bots buzzing around in the background). And we also know he and lifelong pal Steven Spielberg are practically cut from the same cloth. So it should have come as little surprise that Spielberg's enduring, Reese's Pieces-eating race of aliens (called Grebleips, in case you wanted to know) would make an appearance as members of the Galactic Senate in The Phantom Menace. Lucas did this as a favor to his friend, who recruited Yoda (and other Star Wars characters) for E.T.
The Movie: Scream 3 (Wes Craven, 2003)
Crosses Over With: Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
Why It's A Mind-Blower: Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse shares a lot in common with Quentin Tarantino's films: recurring characters, fictional fast food franchises, countless in-jokes and references to other movies. No other characters, though, pop up more often than Jay and Silent Bob, those dim-witted, foul-mouthed (well, one of them, anyway), unflappable stoner-slackers first seen loitering outside the local Quick Mart in Clerks. Played by Jason Mewes and Smith himself, Jay and Bob act as kind of a Greek chorus to the comedic goings-on, and went on to appear in Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999) and even their own spin-off, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). For their 20-second cameo in Scream 3 (done at the behest of Miramax mogul Bob Weinstein, who financed most of Smith's films), Smith scripted the scene himself. But the hilarious thing is that Scream's iconic Ghostface killer is now forever linked with Dogma's quick-to-be-forgotten "Sh-- Demon" (don't ask).
The Movie: Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
Crosses Over With: Out Of Sight (Steven Soderbergh,
Why It's A Mind-Blower: Speaking of Tarantino, QT's third directorial effort struck many as a solid yet lackadaisical follow-up to 1994's industry-changing Pulp Fiction. Still, Jackie Brown (based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard) bears the hallmarks of its director's most memorable films, including self-referential dialogue, overlapping timelines, and stellar performances from a knockout cast (Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Robert Forster, Michael Keaton). Then, the following year, came a second Leonard adaptation, Out Of Sight, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez and directed by Steven Soderbergh. That crime thriller-comedy, filled to overflowing with quirky supporting characters, features a quick cameo by Keaton as FBI agent Ray Nicolette - the same role he played in Jackie Brown *! While it's not uncommon for literary characters to jump between stories (James Bond and Sherlock Holmes were masters at it), it was a shock to see the same actor play the same part for two competing movie studios (Jackie and Out Of Sight were distributed by Miramax and Universal, respectively). Tarantino, however, insisted that Miramax give Universal the rights to the character for free, presumably so both films could share the same continuity.
* Also funny: The fact that Lopez's character seems to be caught in a romantic love triangle between two former Batmen.
The Movie: The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier,
Crosses Over With: Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)
Why It's A Mind-Blower: By now, we're all very aware of Marvel's grand master plan for their ever-expanding Cinematic Universe, but during the summer of 2008 we'd barely scratched the surface of the wonders yet to come. First came Iron Man, with its surprise end-credits stinger and Nick Fury's so-called "Avengers Initiative." Then, just over a month later, came the sure sign that Marvel was up to something big. In this before-the-credits stinger from The Incredible Hulk, General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) gets a visit from none other than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who promptly informs the general "we're putting a team together." ("Who's we?" replies Ross, as if there were any doubt.) Again, the cross-company pollinating is impressive (although they're both produced by Marvel, Iron Man was released by Paramount and Hulk by Universal Pictures). It gives us hope that one day everyone will be able to settle their differences and work together for the greater good.
As always, this list is by no means comprehensive and if you feel I neglected to add additional crossover cases to the write-up above, be sure to mention them in the comments below. And for a look at TV's most incredible crossovers, be sure to read The AV Club's exhaustive retrospective over here.