WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Daybreak Season 1, streaming now on Netflix.
Over the course of its 10-episode first season, Netflix's Daybreak pays tribute to a slew of movies and TV shows that clearly influenced their adaptation of Brian Ralph's graphic novel series focusing on a young teen, Josh (Colin Ford), as he tries to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. With Josh exploring Glendale, California, meeting different tribes, both friendly and hostile, all while avoiding the zombie-like adults called ghoulies, the series includes some incredible pop culture references strewn across various locations as the hero aims to find the love of his life, Sam (Sophie Simnett).
THE MAD MAX NODS
In the first episode, "Josh vs. the Apocalypse: Part 1," we see Josh jumping into a Ferrari as he explains how, with the nuclear blast removing adults from the equation, it's a free-for-all, as teens can now pick their own territories and set up shop as if it's "Grand Theft Auto," as he puts it. As Josh pulls out, we see the license plate marked "FURYRD," a clear nod to George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road, which took place in its own dusty wasteland.
In fact, quite a bit of this series pays tribute to the Mad Max franchise in general, as Turbo Bro Jock and his goons feel and look like the villains from the original movies starring Mel Gibson with their masks and overall looks. Daybreak continues to lean into Fury Road with the cannibalistic Baron Triumph actually giving off an intimidating presence with his gas mask, bike and jacket, similar to Immortan Joe.
THE FERRIS BUELLER THROWBACK
Again in the first episode, when Miss Crumble's taking roll as Josh explains via flashback how kids still kept their social circles, even after the nuclear disaster, we hear the teacher calling a lot of students by the name Jaden. When she reaches Josh's name, because there are several Josh's in the class, she repeatedly calls him by his last name, Wheeler.
However, Josh doesn't respond in the flashback, leaving her asking, "Josh Wheeler? Wheeler?... Wheeler?" -- a nod to John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off from 1986, which starred Matthew Broderick as the titular rogue student. Here, Broderick's playing Principal Burr/Triumph, devours kids in the nuclear fallout in an ironic twist of fate, placing the shoe on the other foot as he exacts his revenge on students who caused him distress in his career.
JOSH: THE WHITE KNIGHT
With the adults mutated, Josh talks about naming his trusty old sword, namedropping King Arthur's Excalibur, as well as Longclaw and Needle from Game of Thrones. However, in a bit of an anticlimactic moment, he names it Sam. Nonetheless, Josh needs a weapon as he searches for his love, but surprisingly with so many ghoulies roaming around, his first battle is what a gang that old-school Batman fans would appreciate.
Instead of ghoulies, Josh runs into a different, more human kind of enemy via the Golf Team, the lackeys of the Jocks. Desperately craving the latter's approval, Gary, Barry, Larry, Terry and Jerry are holding Angelica hostage, leading to a standoff against a sword-wielding Josh. As we get to know the golfers, they're a clear throwback to Frank Miller's mutant gang from '80s epic The Dark Knight Returns, with this scene mimicking when the mutants accosted Carrie Kelly and her friend, Michelle, only to be saved by Batman.
ANGELICA'S BREAKING BAD ORIGIN
In the third episode, "The Slime Queenpin of Glendale, CA," Angelica highjacks Josh's narration, and we learn about her misdeeds at Glendale High, which made all the more interesting as she wasn't even a student. It turns out she was just there to sell drugs in the form of her "slime." Angelica was a child prodigy but with mental issues, albeit she did use this to her benefit, playing psychiatrists so she could get prescription drugs.
She'd then use her knowledge of chemistry and creates various lines of slime products to become the "Slime Queenpin," modeled after her idol Griselda Blanco, the notorious real-world drug lord from Colombia. The shots of her in her yellow hazmat suit cooking is a nod to AMC's Breaking Bad, with Angelica coming off as a smarter Jesse Pinkman. She even has the foul-mouth to match, although she's a lot more intelligent and has a better sense of business.
THE WALKING DEAD'S FAKE-OUTS
In Episode 4, "MMMMMMM-HMMMMMM," when the reveal comes about Burr going insane and transforming into Triumph in order to repay the students for their sins, a voiceover from Josh pokes fun at how shows usually try to drag on big reveals, particularly at the end of episodes.
He gets meta, taking shots at AMC's The Walking Dead as he references how Daybreak isn't going to fake fans out by having zombies pile up on heroes making it seem as if they're dead when they're really alive -- which is what TWD famously did with Glenn. Josh's words also address how fans shouldn't have to endure such cliffhangers in season finales, jabbing at TWD again where fans had to wait until Season 7 began to see who Negan killed.
TURBO: THE KING OF GEEKS
When Turbo's flashback shows the history of him and his secret boyfriend, Wesley Pipes in Episode 6, we see his room is filled with collector's items which would surely leave nerds jealous. There are quite a few DC properties with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman action figures, not to mention G.I. JOE soldiers, Ryu and Naruto, as well.
The most sentimental, however, is the He-Man his dad kept and the Skeletor Turbo held onto as a reminder of their rocky relationship. Even when he went insane, Turbo kept it as a memento that hinted all he wanted was to feel loved, which would eventually pave the way to redemption once he and Wesley, who turned pacifist in the wake of the nuclear explosions, reconciled.
WESLEY'S OBSESSION WITH WARRIOR CULTURE
Throughout the series, Wesley Fists drops a ton of samurai references, and as Episode 5, "Homecoming Redux or My So Called Stunt Double Life," begins, the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA (a lifelong kung-fu enthusiast and whose Man with the Iron Fists surely influenced Wesley's name) drops a narration about the warrior's quest that pays homage to the likes of Samurai Jack and Conan the Barbarian.
Wesley's also seen playing Street Fighter as Ryu against Turbo's Guile, while explaining how Asian culture has influenced the black hip-hop realm, using Nikki Minaj's "Chun-Li" as an example in which she even dressed as the character. Wesley doesn't forget American culture, though, as he also pays tribute to Daniel's Crane Kick from The Karate Kid franchise when waxing on about the way of the warrior and having a code based on honor.
AMERICAN NINJA IDOL
Turbo has a stage set up where kids who want to stay in his good graces and garner haven from the outside world have to perform musical ensembles with their bands. If they fail, Turbo gives the thumbs down and they're dropped into a pit of ghoulies as if he were overseeing a gladiator's colosseum. The setup's dubbed American Ninja Idol, so from that alone, you can tell Daybreak isn't subtle at all in what it references.
This, of course, references the ever-popular American Idol series, where folks parade their vocal talent for a chance to make it. Turbo doesn't really like any performances throughout the series, however, making him a much more sadistic version of Simon Cowell, as he sentences folks to their deaths.
CRUMBLE'S X-MEN INDOCTRINATION
In Episode 7, "Canta Tu Vida," we get insight into Crumble's past and how tragic her life was before the nuclear blast as a failed singer-turned-teacher. Eventually, she makes her way to the Cheermazons (Daybreak's feminist colony a la DC's Amazons on Themyscira) in the present, and when she's taken in, they welcome her by telling her, "Hope you survive the experience!"
It's a nod to 1980's Uncanny X-Men #139, where the tagline on the cover read, "Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde - Hope you survive the experience!" This actually became a recurring gag used whenever a new mutant character joined the team as seen later on in Issues #171 with Rogue and #219 with Havok.
STAR WARS STILL REIGNS SUPREME
Even in the wake of nuclear meltdown, folks are clearly in love with the popular space franchise. There are several nods littered across Season 1, beginning with Wesley's love for lightsaber affairs between the Jedi and Sith. Also, in Episode 6, "5318008," when Josh and KJ head over to the Game Overs' secret lair (where a couple of Fortnite and Overwatch references are dropped for good measure by the Daft Punk-helmet wearing Aria Killigan), they're asked for a password and given a tough time for entry, paying homage to when C-3PO and R2-D2 had to enter Jabba's palace on Tatooine at the start of Return of the Jedi.
Episode 9, "Josh vs. the Apocalypse: Part 2," goes even deeper as Josh and Eli attempt to use a motorcycle with a sidecar to head over to Glendale High to save Sam from Triumph's clutches. Eli likens them to Han Solo and Chewbacca, clearly showing an affinity for Harrison Ford's dashing debonair. Another notable Easter egg includes Sam using "putting Anakin back in his helmet" as an allegory for sexual intercourse when she finds out Josh and KJ slept together in her absence in the finale, ""FWASH-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!"
KJ'S NON-EXISTENT LANGUAGE BARRIER
Initially, KJ faked being not able to speak English so others would think she's a foreign exchange student, allowing her to listen in and get secret intel. It spoke to a running theme in the show about how American students never really paid much attention to ones they perceived to be foreign. But even after KJ reveals the truth, Josh finds out she's got more linguistic skill than first assumed.
At the Game Overs' lair, she speaks Dothraki when giving the password to enter, paying tribute to the savage warriors Khal Drogo belonged to in Game of Thrones that helped Daenerys Targaryen in her crusade. She also mentions she can speak Elvish, homaging properties such as The Lord of the Rings, as well as the language of the Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar to show how big a geek she really is.
After Sam's rescued from Triumph's grips, she and Josh eventually reconcile and head to Goblin Flakes cereal factory for a final battle with the overlord. As they depart on bike, he gives her a shield, however, with a sunflower on it which Marvel optimists believe is a nod to Captain America. After all, Sam's his everything and the symbol of hope in the apocalypse.
Sam even has her own Cap-like battle when she fights Triumph on a bridge at the factory, blocking his blows in a fight that seems influenced by Captain America: The First Avenger where Steve Rogers took on Red Skull. It helps that bits and pieces of the German villain could be seen in Triumph, who was just as oppressive a tyrant.
LOVE ACTUALLY IN THE APOCALYPSE
In the finale, after Burr detonated a nuke, the shockwave left Glendale citizens disoriented and unable to hear. Luckily, Wesley's taken care of by Turbo who communicates via signs. He asks Wesley if he's worried about his friends so they can move forward, but as he flips through signs, one actually reads "Say it's carol singers," which pokes fun at Love Actually.
In this 2003 British Christmas romance flick, Andrew Lincoln's Mark (aka Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead) held a sign up with these exact words as he professed his love for his best friend's wife outside their door. This sign was to ensure their communication would be kept secret. It's less creepy here, though, because Turbo isn't crossing the boundaries of a marriage or goading Wesley into cheating on someone.
Streaming now on Netflix, Daybreak stars Matthew Broderick, Krysta Rodriguez, Colin Ford, Sophie Simnett and Austin Crute.
KEEP READING: Daybreak's Mad Queen Is Far Better Than Game of Thrones'