While the popularity of the show is in a large part due to the quality of its writing and animation, it also doesn't hurt that the shows writers and creators are big nerds. There are shoutouts to popular culture everywhere in the show, and even a few whole episodes seem like one big parody! From classic kids stuff like Looney Tunes and Disney, all the way up to adult stuff like Mad Men and Poltergeist, everything gets its due. It's difficult to choose just 10 from all the references in the show. However, these 10 are some of the most clever, most nerdy and just overall most fun shoutouts in all of Equestria and beyond.
10) Your Friendly Neighborhood Rainbow Dash
There are several subtle comic shoutouts in this episode, from Mare Do Well regularly posing on ledges like a certain bat-based vigilante, to posters at a celebration sporting a Mare Do Well silhouette that are suspiciously similar to said vigilante's animated series logo. Marvel gets a shoutout too, since Rainbow Dash borrows Spiderman's catchphrase and tells people she's just "your friendly neighborhood Rainbow Dash."
9) Steven Wright Has a Pony
The random and physics-defying pony Pinkie Pie ends up babysitting her employer's newborns in the episode, "Baby Cakes." When the babies won't calm down she decides to entertain them by doing some standup comedy (Pinkie's not the best babysitter). She tells two jokes, one about an ant farm and another about using spot remover on her dog. Unfortunately both fall flat and the babies are unimpressed.
So who does Pinkie Pie get her jokes from? Why the beloved deadpan comedian Stephen Wright, of course! Both jokes are classics of his. Later on in the episode Pinkie laments to her friend about the babies' bad taste in standup comedy. But at least the audience can enjoy the episode knowing of Pinkie's (and the creator's) good taste in cribbing from Stephen Wright.
8) "Do You Think Friendship Can Bloom Even on the Battlefield?"
It's pretty much a requirement that any episode of a TV series involving time travel must have either a Doctor Who or Terminator reference, and My Little Pony doesn't disappoint. In the episode "It's About Time," Twilight Sparkle is visited by her future self. The arrival of Future Twilight is taken right from the Terminator series, complete with random lightning, and ominously swirling debris. The sequence even starts with Twilight arriving in a sphere of light which eventually becomes a blinding flash, the same way the Governator arrives in Terminator 2.
Future Twilight's appearance is very much that of a post apocalyptic survivor. In fact, she greatly resembles a pair of Snakes... With a torn black bodysuit, tortured oddly cut hair, a scar on her cheek and an eyepatch, Twilight is the spitting pony image of Snake Plissken, star of Escape from New York and its sequel. Twilight also sports a head band which also serves as a shout out to another snake, Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series.
7) "Eat Any Good Books Lately?"
Discord is the bad guy in the second season two part opener. He's a chimera with a penchant for Chaos and god-like powers. During the course of the two episodes he emotionally tortures the Mane Six ponies, turns them against each other and toys with all of Equestria. Oh, and he also regularly turns reality on its head and subverts the laws of physics.
Sound familiar? To Trekkies it should; a writer confirmed in an interview that Discord is a monster version of Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Lauren Faust (the show's creator) thought up Discord after a long binge of TNG episodes. When the time came to cast a voice for Discord the creators went straight to the source, and cast John de Lancie, Q's actor.
6) "Snowflake, You Eeeediot!"
The biggest reference though is in the form a bulked-up, huge white pegasus (with tiny wings) who looks like he walked straight off the set of Ren and Stimpy. He appears in the episode "Hurricane Fluttershy" where all he does is flex and yell "YEAH!" really loudly. He has no official name as of yet, but the fans have dubbed him Snowflake.
5) From Fillydelphia with Love
Mysteries are the fodder for the parodies in the episode, "Mmmystery on the Friendship Express!" when Pinkie Pie and three other bakers escort their entries into a dessert competition on a train to Canterlot. When her cake is found half eaten, Pinkie decides to play detective (complete with Sherlock Holmes hat and bubble pipe, of course).
Pinkie recounts how she thinks each baker committed the crime, and each story comes complete with a fantasy sequence parodying various movie genres. There's a mustache twirling silent film spoof, and a martial arts satire with a ninja mule. But the cake (pun intended) goes to the James Bond sendup, featuring Donut Joe as "Con Mane." He breaks into the train car using all sorts of gadgets and foils the laser grid guarding the cake. And yes, he is always surrounded by pretty mares.
4) Celebrating the 3-Apple Lunch
While Hasbro's toy department might be slow in the uptake when it comes to the brony phenomenon, the advertising department is right on the ball. Many of the advertising spots and billboards are tongue in cheek parodies of other TV shows or movies. One of the ads is a spot on parody of the Apple "We've got an App for that" campaign. The icons featured on the iPhone in the parody are puns based around real websites and apps, such as Hooftube for Youtube or Enay for Ebay. One of the apps is even a shoutout to popular MLP blog, Equestria Daily.
Other print ads are send ups of mature rated TV shows or movies. There was a Mad Men-styled magazine ad, and a billboard featuring Pinky Pie imitating the kid from Poltergeist. Last summer they put up another clever billboard ad parodying the Bridesmaids movie poster, with the Mane Six ponies taking up the same positions the stars do.
3) "Ponies. Why Did It Have to Be Ponies?"
While Rainbow Dash is stuck recuperating from a broken wing, she reads the adventures of Daring-Do, an explorer/archaeologist pegasus who is channeling a certain snake-hating professor. Daring is off to find a a lost temple which has a sacred idol in it. Along the way she faces every kind of trap imaginable (including ceiling alligators!). She eventually ends up in a chamber where the idol sits on pressure-weighted pedestal, and of course, grabbing the idol causes the temple to collapse around her.
The whole sequence is an homage to Indiana Jones, in particular the opening cave scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Daring-Do also has to deal with a "find the safe tiles with a certain design" puzzle which is taken right from the "Jehovah" puzzle Indy faces in Last Crusade. Finally, Daring-Do carefully considers the idol then shrugs and ends up just grabbing it the same way Weird Al does in UHF.
2) "Nobody Bucks with the Jesus-Pony."
So they have an episode set in a bowling alley, so what do the show's crew fill up the background with? Why, Big Lebowski ponies of course! There's a Dude pony, a Walter one and a Donny one. And yes, there is a Jesus pony too. All the Lebowski ponies are instantly recognizable as their real life counterparts.
1) May the Horse Be With You
Everyone and their mother references Star Wars in their shows (hell, Family Guy even did their own versions of the first three movies), so why should MLP be any different? At the end of the second season opener (which also featured Discord), Princess Celestia decides to honor the Mane Six for their valor in an almost shot for shot remake of the medal scene from
It features Twilight Sparkle subbing in for Luke Skywalker, Applejack doing the same for Han Solo, Celestia in place of Leia and Spike taking the part of R2D2 (the jury is out on who's filling in for Chewbacca). This scene is a direct shoutout to the fans and completely cements the creator Lauren Faust's geek cred. The only thing missing is a wookiee yell at the end!