The best TV shows tend to have plenty of pop culture references and Breaking Bad is no exception. Despite telling a fictional story, the series is very much connected to the real world, thanks to the numerous times in which the characters or actions allude to things and events that we are all familiar with.
The references come in quick and fast, from Mike calmly watching The Big Heat as the DEA tears through his house to a copy of Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual lying around in Gale’s house. There are over 150 references in total but the ones below stand out as the most interesting in the series.
At one point, Jesse asks his friend Badger what the point of being a criminal is if you still have to work hard and have responsibilities. He is of the opinion that criminals like them ought to live carefree lives.
Badger argues that Darth Vader—one of the most popular fictional outlaws of all time—had responsibilities. Vader was responsible for the moon-sized space station and superweapon, the Death Star. Of course, Jesse has no idea what Badger is talking about. He has never been much of a geek.
In a lot of ways, Walter White is like DuckTales character Scrooge McDuck. He makes a lot of money but he doesn’t like spending it. He also depends on young accomplices who keep screwing up. In their first-ever scenes in their respective shows, both characters aren’t wearing any pants either.
The biggest reference to the Disney animated series happens when Huell and Kuby are tasked with packaging Walt’s large pile of dollars into barrels. Before they do that, they take a moment to lie on top of the money, just as Scrooge McDuck has done all too often.
When Walt first goes to Saul’s office to seek his services, he is disguised in dark sunglasses and a baseball cap. Upon seeing him, Saul jokes about Walt’s absurd look. He says he should call the FBI and tell them he has found D.B. Cooper.
D.B Cooper was an air pirate who hijacked a Boeing 727 back on November 24, 1971, and demanded a US$200,000 ransom. After being given the money, he parachuted out of the plane, never to be seen again. To date, the FBI has never managed to locate the person behind the crime.
The French Connection
Hank once vows to wave at Heisenberg like Popeye Doyle when he finally catches him. He is referring to the detective in the 1971 Oscar-winning movie The French Connection. Doyle (Gene Hackman), the star of the movie, finally catches his man after a long hunt and makes sure to wave at him first, letting him know it’s over.
Unfortunately for Hank, fate isn’t as kind to him as it was for Doyle. Just as he is celebrating catching Walt in the final season, Jack Welker’s gang shows up and kills him.
In the popular mob film, falling oranges are a sign of looming tragedy. Several movies and TV shows have gone on to use this reference, including Breaking Bad.
There are falling oranges just before Ted falls and injures his spine while being confronted over his failure to pay the IRS as instructed. He is then left paralyzed. And when Walt goes to check out his house in the Season 5 premiere, a shocked neighbor drops her shopping bag and oranges fall out as a result. At the end of the series, Walt succumbs to gunshot wounds.
Right after Brock—the son of Andrea—gets hospitalized, Jesse asks the doctors to check if he was poisoned using ricin. Jesse suspects it’s ricin because he and Walt had attempted to use it to kill Tuco in Season 2.
The FBI soon bring Jesse in for questioning, wanting to know how he figured it was ricin. Jesse lies that he heard about it in the FOX procedural House M.D. It turns out that Brock was poisoned using a plant known as Lilly of the Valley. Walt was the culprit because he wanted to make Jesse think Gus was targeting him.
During his birthday party, Ted Beneke urges Skyler to do a rendition of Marilyn Monroe’s ”Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ in front of all the Beneke Fabricators employees. She is reluctant at first but she eventually garners some courage and goes on to do a beautiful rendition, much to Ted’s delight.
Marylin originally sang the song at John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday celebration at the Madison Square Garden. The event happened shortly before her death, less than 3 months later.
Saul makes a hilarious reference to Sylvester Stallone’s franchise after Jesse gets brutally beaten up by Hank Schrader for lying to him that his wife had been involved in an accident. Saul says: “Hey, Adrian! Rocky called, he wants his face back!” Jesse had lied to Hank in order to prevent him from inspecting the RV.
Hanks also sings the Rocky III theme song ”Eye of the Tiger” when he forces Walt to accompany him as he stalks Gus Fring. Walt is clearly not comfortable during the trip.
Juarez Cartel underboss Juan Bolsa acts as an intermediary between the Mexican outfit and Gus Fring. He brokers meetings, delivers messages and seeks to bring an understanding between the two parties.
Interestingly, the Spanish name “Juan Bolsa” becomes “Johnny Sack” when translated to English. In The Sopranos, Sack is the underboss of the Lupertazzi Crime Family who serves as an intermediary between the New York organization and the DiMeo Crime Family in New Jersey.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan worked as a writer on the sci-fi series, so there was no way references would miss. A total of 12 actors also appeared in both shows, including Bryan Cranston.
The fourth episode of Season 1 is titled “Cancer Man.” One of the main antagonists in the ’90s hit series was frequently referred to as either Cancer Man or The Cigarette Smoking Man. In the Breaking Bad pilot, Walt shows Jesse a couple of Chemistry instruments that he took from the school lab. He tells Jesse that one of the instruments is called an Erlenmeyer flask. The finale of The X-Files‘ first season is titled “The Erlenmeyer Flask.”