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10 Unexpected Star Trek References

Sometimes Star Trek pops up in surprising places.

Star Trek Pop Culture | Shutterstock/Willrow Hood

I was recently on a quarantine compliant jog, jamming to an 80’s playlist when Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (in its original German) came on. I’ve listened to this song countless times; I may be a 90’s kid, but I have a soft spot for 80’s classics. Unsurprisingly, as a Star Trek fan my favorite part of the song is when Nena name checks Captain Kirk. You don’t have to speak a lick of German to hear the shout-out; according to the universal translator, Nena sings “Ninety-nine jet fighters / Each was a great warrior / Regarded themselves as Captain Kirk.”

“99 Luftballons” has one of those great, unexpected Star Trek references; those times when, in the least likely of places, Star Trek shows up.

I’m not talking about an homage or a parody. Galaxy Quest is brilliant, as is the “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” episode of Futurama, but those are direct Star Trek tributes. I’m referring to watching an episode of Mad Men and characters surprisingly start talking about a Trek spec script.

While Star Trek is so ubiquitous that it regularly appears in every corner of pop-culture – from ’80 German rock songs to Emmy award-winning shows and cult films – it’s still a wonderful surprise when a reference is made, particularly to a fan. Below are 10 of my all-time favorite Star Trek references.

10. Fight Club

At one point in David Fincher’s seminal film, Fight Club, Brad Pitt asks Edward Norton who he would fight, if he could fight anybody. Norton – without skipping a beat – answers with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Norton would never had had a chance; if Kirk can beat a Gorn, he can beat Norton.

9. Gilmore Girls

The classic mother-daughter show is full of more pop-cultural references than there are Tribbles. Not only does Kirk, the quirky town do-it-all, share his birthday with William Shatner, but Lorelai’s fourth season boyfriend Digger once justified that hiding their relationship in plain site would backfire by explaining how cloaking technology was problematic across “every incarnation of Star Trek.”

8. “The Chanukah Song”

Adam Sandler’s songs and comedy skits dominated the 90’s. Among his best bits? The part in “The Chanukah Song” when he sings, “You don't need "Deck the Halls" or ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ / Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (both Jewish!)” Many a fan, including me, learned of Shatner and Nimoy’s shared cultural heritage because of Sandler.

7. “Intergalactic”

The Beastie Boys – the Kelvin timeline’s favorite “oldies” band – directly reference Trek in their sci-fi themed single, “Intergalactic.” The boys from Brooklyn loudly sing: “Your knees'll start shakin' and your fingers pop / Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.”

6. Crimson Tide

Tony Scott’s superb submarine thriller, Crimson Tide, includes a scene between Denzel Washington’s Commander Hunter and a junior engineer. Washington motivates the crewman by explaining that their dilemma is akin to any number of classic episodes of Trek where Kirk needs Scotty to once again fix the Enterprise in order to save themselves from Klingons.

5. Back to the Future

This classic, which co-stars Commander Kruge himself, Christopher Lloyd, has a great sequence where Michael J. Fox’s Marty convinces his future father to ask his future mother on a date by dressing up in as hazmat suit and proclaiming, all while doing the Vulcan salute and claiming to be “an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan.” Paging Temporal Investigation!

4. South Park

South Park is full of Star Trek references. In a sixth season episode entitled “Fun with Veal,” Cartman masterminds a hostage situation. Among his demands? That Michael Dorn, in full Worf make-up drive his getaway truck and refer to him as Captain. Spoiler alert: he does.

3. Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino’s love of Star Trek is well known. In fact, he even worked as a script doctor to punch up the pop culture references in one of our earlier entries, Crimson Tide. Among the most overt Star Trek references in his films is the opening of Kill Bill. The movie begins with a title card featuring the old Klingon proverb, once quoted by Khan himself: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

2. Spaced

Star Trek Beyond - Simon Pegg

The cult British sitcom, starring and co-written by Kelvin Scotty himself, Simon Pegg, is littered with Star Trek references. Pegg’s character, Tim, even has that iconic Seven of Nine poster in his bedroom. A favorite moment comes when Tim addresses the classic ‘even vs odd number’ Star Trek film debate. Wonder how Pegg feels about that particular debate now that he co-wrote Star Trek Beyond, the 13th film in the series?

1. Wayne’s World

One of my all-time favorite films has several of my all-time favorite references. The movie has one scene where Wayne, wanting to weigh in on a conversation about the differences in champagnes, compares Star Trek to Star Trek: The Next Generation. (“In many ways it's superior but will never be as recognized as the original.”) In another sequence, Garth famously whistles The Original Series theme while both he and Wayne stare off into the vastness of space.

There are literally thousands of examples to choose from; did some of your favorite unexpected Star Trek references make the list? Let us know @StarTrek on all things social!

Carlos Miranda (he/him)is the CEO of Social Misfits Media, a London-based social media agency. Carlos, as obsessed with coffee as he is sci-fi, writes for Star Trek fan site, TrekNews.Net, and is a regular guest on a variety of Star Trek-themed podcasts including TrekRanks. Follow him on Twitter @doublemacc.