The Simpsons is a show that has parodied, spoofed, and referenced so many movies that even hardcore fans will find themselves revisiting episodes and finding nods to certain classics that they missed in the past.
Over its decades of popularity, Matt Groening and The Simpsons writers have paid homage to everything from Citizen Kane to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similarly, Futurama has also tipped its hat to some of the most beloved and treasured motion pictures ever made.
These homages extend to novels and shows too. Speaking of which, Futurama recently returned for season 11 on Hulu and Disney+, with episode 5 indebted to Frank Herbert’s iconic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune.
The parody finds the Planet Express crew shrunken down and traveling into the sandy landscapes of Nibbler’s litter tray, where they’re met by a people akin to the fremen of Dune. One of them is even voiced by Kyle MacLachlan, who played Paul Atreides in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the influential book.
Some of the cult filmmaker’s fans consider it to be the weakest effort in his filmography, others herald it as a masterpiece, but audiences sure enjoyed seeing it given the Futurama treatment in Parasites Regained. And yet, the divisive 1980s blockbuster got The Simpsons treatment four years before the recent Futurama episode.
Season 30 episode 14—The Clown Stays in the Picture—premiered in February 2019 and is a flashback episode that begins with Krusty reminiscing the troubled production of his directorial feature debut, an adaptation of a novel called The Sands Of Space, clearly a thinly veiled stand-in for Dune.
“It changed my life,” he says, holding the book written by Jeremiah Hargrove before beginning to quote it. “‘There’s a light that shines from star to star, from soul to soul, connecting everyone in the universe.’ Wow.”
The authoritative figures at Polystar Pictures refer to the project as a “hippie-dippie science-fiction vanity project,” and say, “Here’s what we do: we humor him and make it dirt cheap.”
They begin to shoot the film in Mexico, with Krusty starring in the central role and a young Marge and Homer joining the supporting crew. Krusty hires Marge as an assistant director which sparks tensions between her and Homer.
There are vague similarities with the adaptation they’re embarking on with Dune, as Frank’s novel was also referred to as being “unfilmable” ahead of the 1984 movie. However, Futurama really doubles down and makes it far more clear, even adding in a substitute for sandworms and plenty of Dune-related puns.
Although Futurama arguably did it far more justice, there’s no denying that The Simpsons gave an episode the Dune treatment—regardless of how less thoroughly—before Futurama did.
Hilariously, the episode of The Simpsons ends with Krusty having to hand the film over to Mexican gangsters and it not being released, only for him to discover decades later that it was released in Mexico as a comedy called El Bozo Loco.