To say that DC’s extended universe got off to a rocky start would be a massive understatement. While there were certain aspects of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that were heralded, Suicide Squad and Justice League were almost universally abhorred by fans. Really, the only one to live up to the expectations set by the character it was adapting was Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman.
But with Aquaman, DC seems to be listening to what the fans want. While not a perfect movie, it has been praised for its visual flair. The costume design, action set pieces, fantastical creatures, and cinematography have all been received positively by critics and fans alike. Hiring James Wan as the director, who has proven capable of delivering thrills through horror films like The Conjuring and his venture into action with Furious 7, was a smart choice.
As is the case with many other superhero movies, Aquaman holds hidden references throughout for eager fans to discover. These range from secretive cameos to references to Aquaman’s comic adventures to nods to other properties. Some of them are so well-hidden that it would be impossible to discover them with just one viewing, while others are obvious to only the hardcore as noteworthy nudges to show that this creative property is in the right hands. Here are 25 things everyone completely missed in Aquaman.
25 New 52 Links
For non-comic readers, this may mean nothing to you. But every so often, DC will relaunch their universe with new creative teams, characters, and storylines. With the New 52 relaunch in 2011, however, they also chose to rewire some key features in the lore of some of their biggest characters. Aquaman was one of them.
Some of the aspects that were changed were Ocean Master’s background and Aquaman’s father being a lighthouse keeper. These details and others were used for inspiration when creating this movie. Geoff Johns, who co-wrote the movie, also wrote Aquaman’s New 52 story.
24 Topo The Drumming Octopus
There is a shot early in the movie when Aquaman first arrives in Atlantis of an octopus playing several bongos. It’s wonderfully strange and many viewers may have just thought of this as a gag but that octopus is a legitimate character from the Aquaman comics.
According to James Wan, this octopus is Topo.
Topo is one of Aquaman’s many underwater sidekicks and can actually play many other instruments besides the drums. Including him as more than a joke shot may have been a bit too silly for audiences to handle.
23 The Annabelle Reference
One of the more fun and popular Easter Eggs a director can include is a reference to their past films. And James Wan chose to do just that. During a secret meeting between Arthur, Mera, and Vulko, the doll Annabelle can be seen on the ground of the underwater ship where the meeting takes place.
The demonic doll was first seen in The Conjuring before being given her own spin-off series. Two of those movies have been released with a third currently in development. Her appearance in Aquaman is very quick, so viewers will have to keep their eyes peeled.
22 Leigh Whannell's Cameo
Another fun nod to James Wan’s past films is the cameo of Leigh Whannell, who plays the pilot that drops off Mera and Arthur in the Sahara Desert on their quest to find King Atlan’s lost trident. And by drop off, I mean they leap from the plane without parachutes much to the pilot’s shock.
Leigh Whannell helped Wan write the first Saw, which he also starred in. They also worked together on the Insidious series, so it was nice to see him pop up even if it was brief.
21 Atlantis's Bifrost
Aquaman has a few things in common with Thor. Both are royalty in Kingdoms of a different world with otherworldly powers that go on to have an impact on the world of humans. But there was one feature seen in Aquaman that seems to have been lifted straight from Thor’s world.
When Mera first takes Aquaman to Atlantis, they go through a portal similar to the Bifrost that lets Asgardians travel to Earth. This type of portal has never been seen in Aquaman before, so it was just put in for this movie.
20 Black Manta's Helmet
There were a lot of risks of costumes not translating well from comic page to movie screen, but one of the things Aquaman has been praised for is how well it pulled this off. Black Manta, for example, wears a giant helmet similar to the shape of an oversized football and he still managed to look cool and sleek.
But this helmet is actually more in line with what the newer version of the character looks like.
The character’s first helmet does make a brief appearance. While he is creating his suit, the villain accidentally blows it up.
19 The Devil Ray Reference
In the animated series Justice League Unlimited, the creators wanted to include Black Manta but couldn’t due to licensing issues. So instead, they created a new villain called Devil Ray that was very similar in appearance but was made to be a Wonder Woman villain instead.
In Aquaman, there is a reference to this little-known villain.
Michael Beach, the actor who voices Devil Ray, is also the man who plays Black Manta’s doomed father. It’s a nice nod and a passing of the torch of sorts.
18 The Mother Box Reference
Other than the Steppenwolf mention, there was one other reference to Justice League that was extremely hard to spot. But one user on Reddit noticed it right away.
In Justice League, Steppenwolf was trying to acquire the three Mother Boxes. One was guarded by humans, one by Amazonians, and one by the Atlanteans. The one that been hidden in Atlantis makes a brief appearance. It seems that Queen Atlanna, who would’ve spent a lot of time around it, crafted a small version of the box as a keepsake. It can be seen next to a family photo.
17 Jules Verne
It would be impossible to miss the Jules Verne quote during Aquaman’s opening narration as he states the author’s name. But for those not familiar with the author’s work, they may have not understood the deeper connection.
Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, one of the most beloved underwater adventure tales of all time.
The book first debuted in 1870 and tells the tale of a sea monster and a team of scientists that try to hunt it down. Only the monster is really an advanced submarine belonging to people who chose to leave normal society behind.
16 H.P. Lovecraft
Jules Verne isn’t the only sci-fi writer that Aquaman references. In the opening sequence chronicling the romance between his parents, a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror can be seen on Thomas’s table.
Lovecraft is best known for creating Cthulhu, a giant deity with a face resembling an octopus who lives at the bottom of the ocean.
Many of the creature designs in Aquaman could be described as Lovecraftian. But the beast Karathen, which shows up in the latter half the film, is especially reminiscent. She is giant, tentacled creature that lives in the deepest depths of the ocean.
15 The Haka
Jason Momoa obviously doesn’t resemble the traditionally Caucasian Aquaman. But DC chose to make a couple of changes to the character other than the casting of the Hawaiian-born actor. One simple change was casting New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison as his father.
Another inclusion was that of the Haka, a traditional dance of war performed by the Maori people of New Zealand. It can be quite intimidating and Momoa as Aquaman performs the Haka just as a battle begins. Momoa also performed a Haka when he auditioned for Game of Thrones and it won him the part of Khal Drogo.
14 Ocean Master Looks Like Aquaman
Jason Momoa doesn’t look like Aquaman. But Patrick Wilson, the actor who plays the villain Ocean Master, definitely does. Director James Wan had Wilson dye his hair blonde in order to look like the classic version of the character, but to also look like the opposite of Momoa.
This change and dynamic between the characters also plays off the audience’s expectations.
The amount of Hollywood films that have featured a Caucasian hero triumphing over a minority outsider are too many to count, but this story flips that on its head. And the movie is stronger for it.
13 Julie Andrews's Cameo
Unless you followed every movie news site freaking out that Julie Andrews had a cameo in Aquaman, you may have missed it. But the British actress, famous for her roles in Mary Poppins and The Princess Diaries, was never seen, only heard.
Andrews voices Karathen, the massive underwater creature guarding King Atlan’s trident.
Her voice is altered slightly to match up with her imposing character, but it is definitely her. Some people may have been freaking out because she reportedly passed on a cameo in Mary Poppins Returns but did show up in this.
12 Unite The Seven
Remember this poster? It was released just ahead of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice via Twitter in 2015. Many believed that this was a tease for the upcoming Justice League and that there would be seven heroes on the team. But when that film came out, there were only six heroes seen.
Having seen Aquaman, this tagline makes much more sense. It was never a tease for Justice League, but rather a nod at what Aquaman would do in his own movie. There are seven underwater kingdoms seen in the film, which he unites by the end.
11 Steppenwolf Reference
One of the larger criticisms concerning the DC universe is that it tried to do too much too fast, bringing in heroes to create team-ups before they were fleshed out. Aquaman was wisely made to be its own story without having tie-ins with the other films.
But there is a quick reference to Arthur Curry’s first appearance in Justice League.
Early on, Mera speaks of Aquaman defeating Steppenwolf and saving Atlantis. This reference is made extremely quickly and most likely only because the writers felt they had to mention it.
10 Classic Adventure Influences
The majority of the plot follows Arthur and Mera as they try to track down a lost trident in a hidden location. And the influence of classic adventure movies can be felt throughout this journey.
Director James Wan has stated that the film takes inspiration from movies like Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones franchise. The influence of the strained romance between the two heroes in Romancing the Stone can be felt between Arthur and Mera. And the trek of tracking down a long-lost item like King Atlan’s trident takes obvious inspiration from Indy’s adventures.
9 Stingray Reference
This next Easter Egg would be completely lost on younger viewers, unless you’ve looked at lists like this one. During the opening sequence when Thomas rescues Queen Atlanna, she wakes up in his home completely confused and scared.
Being that she is from a different world, the loud TV startles her and she ends up throwing her trident through it. Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed the show it was playing is Stingray, a 1960’s underwater adventure series with puppets. But more importantly, it also features a villain that wants to wage war on the surface world.
8 Fast & Furious Reference
There is a moment in Aquaman that features Arthur and Mera emerging from the ocean on a beautiful, sunny day set to a Pitbull song that samples Toto’s Africa. It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds, but there was actually a reason behind it according to an interview with James Wan.
He included this moment as a reference to the Fast & Furious franchise. Those movies feature similar slow-motion sequences set to hip hop songs and he wanted to include a lighthearted, silly moment outside of the plot. Wan also directed Furious 7.
7 Djimon Hounsou's Cameo
Julie Andrews wasn’t the only big voiceover cameo in Aquaman. There were several others, but one of the more notable was Djimon Hounsou as the Fisherman King. The actor, famous for his roles in Blood Diamond and Guardians of the Galaxy, voiced the monarch of one of the seven kingdoms. But he wasn’t on screen long before Ocean Master put an end to him.
Interestingly, Hounsou will also play the wizard that gifts Billy Batson his powers in DC’s upcoming Shazam and he’ll return to the rule of Korath in Marvel’s Captain Marvel.
The first action sequence showing off Aquaman’s incredible abilities has him saving innocent crew members from the modern-day pirate and future Black Manta. But the reference to WGBS comes in a later scene.
While having a celebratory drink with his father, the TV in the place features a news report of Aquaman’s heroic deed.
The station reporting on this is WGBS. Comic fans will recognize this as a station Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked for when the Daily Planet was bought by its parent company. WGBS is owned by crime lord Morgan Edge.
5 The Kaiju Influence
Kaiju films are typically Japanese monster movies, though American audiences have experienced them through Pacific Rim and the recent Godzilla/King Kong crossover films. And James Wan is a huge fan of them.
He grew up watching them and drew inspiration from them for the creature designs in Aquaman. One battle sequence features a giant, monstrous crab and then there is Julie Andrews’s Karathen. All of the creature designs in the film are fantastical and in some cases horrific, like the mindless and destructive Trench. Wan’s love for Kaiju films, and his background as a horror director, made them so.
4 Atlan's Trident
For a better portion of the film, Aquaman and Mera are trying to track down the trident that belonged to the first King of Atlantis in order to stop Ocean Master. But Atlan’s Trident may be a reference to something else from the comics.
Called the Dead King’s Scepter, this powerful weapon shares similarities to the on-screen item, such as the ability to control The Trench. But the comic version is also powerful enough to destroy whole continents. Only time (and a sequel) will tell if Atlan’s Trident holds this much power.
3 Romulus And Remus
On the scavenger hunt to find King Atlan’s lost trident, Mera and Arthur are led to Sicily where they find a statue of King Romulus, which points them in the direction they need to go. But the inclusion of Romulus is more than just a piece of their puzzle.
Historically, King Romulus of Rome quarreled with and took the life of his twin brother Remus. While the half-brothers Arthur and Orm don’t go this far, they certainly come close. And given the chance, the villainous Ocean Master surely would’ve taken the life of Aquaman.
2 The Importance Of Stephen Shin
Midway through the movie, there is a clip from a talk show of people arguing over the existence of Atlantis. One Dr. Stephen Shin passionately believes it to be real, much to the chagrin of the other guests. This same character also shows up in the mid-credits scene in order to rescue Black Manta.
In the comics, this character was once a friend to Aquaman but tried to take his life when he wouldn’t tell the doctor where Atlantis was. He’s played by Randall Park of Fresh Off The Boat, and he’ll likely play a bigger role in the sequel.
1 The Green Lantern Reference
No, there’s no Hal Jordan cameo or a green ring hidden in the background somewhere. This Easter Egg is a bit more subtle. During the mid-credits scene with Black Manta and Dr. Stephen Shin, a newspaper clipping from the Coast City Gazette can be seen pinned to the wall.
And for Green Lantern fans, they know Hal Jordan’s hometown to be Coast City.
It’s a nice little nod to one of DC’s most popular heroes. But hopefully, it’s similar to the way Marvel hinted at characters before they appeared, such as seeing Wakanda on a map before Black Panther’s debut.