6 key Spielberg references to watch out for in ‘Nope’

A man in an orange hoodie riding a horse with a ranch house behind him
Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from “Nope.”
(Universal Pictures)

Plenty of filmgoers who’ve already seen Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated “Nope,” which opens this weekend, have left the theater in high spirits. Others have left scratching their heads, trying to decipher the perplexing puzzles of the “Get Out” and “Us” filmmaker’s horror/sci-fi epic.

But what comes across clearly to everyone in Peele’s third film is his affection for Black cultural history and all kinds of films, both classic and obscure.

One of the first scenes alludes to one of the first moving images in film history — a man riding on a horse, captured by 19th century inventor Eadweard Muybridge. Sprinkled through “Nope” are low-key shoutouts to Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Poitier’s classic western “Buck and the Preacher” and the not-so-classic “The Scorpion King,” starring Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. the Rock.


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Perhaps the most obvious riffs in “Nope” are those saluting Steven Spielberg — particularly his 1977 sci-fi classic, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Peele has said in interviews that the filmmaker behind “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and numerous other blockbusters is one of his earliest and most important influences.

Let’s examine some of the homages to Spielberg in “Nope.” Spoilers are ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

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Flying saucers. As in “Close Encounters,” the existence of unidentified flying objects is at the core of “Nope.” In both films, the UFOs — now “unidentified aerial phenomena/UAPs,” as one character in “Nope” complains — fly swiftly in the darkened skies, wreaking havoc on power lines and electrical equipment. In “Close Encounters,” Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) becomes obsessed after seeing a UFO flying above him. In “Nope,” Horse wrangler O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) suspects that the strange vessel he saw darting in the sky may be connected to the strange behavior of his horses, as well as the sudden death of his father.

Clouds. In both films, the UFOs use clouds as camouflage. One of the most famous scenes in “Close Encounters” depicts a young boy who is abducted by the occupants of a vessel that appears and disappears in a cloud. In “Nope,” O.J. and others discover that one large cloud on the horizon never moves even when the wind moves other clouds around it, which clues them in to the UFO’s hiding place.

Aliens. O.J.’s first glimpse of “aliens” in “Nope” comes when he spots three hiding in his stable, which bear a resemblance to the otherworldly creatures in “Close Encounters.” (He soon finds out that they are not aliens at all, but the children of his neighbor, former actor Jupe (Steven Yeun), wearing masks to prank him.

Trucks. Both Roy and O.J have scary close encounters with UFOs while sitting alone in their trucks.


The power of three. In “Jaws,” three men (Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw) set out alone in a small boat to kill the great white shark terrorizing a small coastal town. O.J. joins forces with his fast-talking sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) and a nervous electronic store clerk named Angel (Brandon Perea) to get photographic proof of the UFO in “Nope.”

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“E.T.” This one may be a bit of a stretch for some viewers, but bear with me.

Arguably the most disturbing incident in “Nope” is a flashback to a 1990s sitcom starring Jupe and a chimpanzee named Gordy. During a taping, Gordy becomes startled by the popping of a balloon and goes on a rampage, attacking and maiming cast members as the young Jupe hides a table and watches in horror.

When the blood-covered Gordy spies Jupe, he slowly approaches the terrified child. But instead of attacking, Gordy calmly extends his hand toward the youth, mimicking a fist bump motion their characters perform on the show. Jupe carefully reaches toward Gordy, but before their fingers connect, the simian is gunned down from behind.

As horrific as the scene is, it was hard, given all of the film’s other Spielberg reference, not to be reminded of the connection between the boy Elliot and the scared alien in “E.T.” Although the extraterrestrial was seen as a threat by adults, the youth and the alien were bonded, using their fingers to express their friendship.

And it’s perhaps that absence of innocence — the adult Jupe exploits the incident for profit by erecting a small museum to the carnage — that leads him to his fate later in the film.

Many of you may say “nope” to that reference.

But who knows? Others may say “yup.”