Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most influential novels of all time. Published in 1965, the science-fiction epic tells the story of a feudal universe and a young man named Paul Atreides at the center of the conflict. House Atreides is assigned stewardship of a planet called Arrakis, to mine the most precious material in the known world: a powerful drug called spice melange. Paul, gifted and prodigious, must get to know his new home world through tragic and fateful circumstances, as political turmoil and ecological warfare swirl about him.
Dune is a dense story full of odd terminology, intense human conflict, and an abundance of moral quandary. And thus, it is hugely popular, and has influenced culture in a major way since its release. A David Lynch film adaptation came out in 1984, and another from Denis Villeneuve is on the way. But it’s worth looking at Dune‘s impact on a larger scale, and how it’s referenced and alluded to in non-direct adaptations—everything from cartoon television series to video games to songs from major recording artists.
It’d be nearly impossible to list every single Dune reference in pop culture, but we did our best to compile all of the major ones, as well as some fun, more obscure nods to Herbert’s world.
Let’s start with the most obvious. Herbert’s DNA is all over Star Wars, from the desert planet Tatooine that shares much with Arrakis, to “spice” as a valuable drug, to the Force’s similarities to the Voice. It’s very clear that George Lucas borrowed heavily from Dune when crafting the galaxy far, far away, although he imbued his universe with more a serialized fantasy element than Herbert’s harder sci-fi.
The 1979 fantasy horror film makes a few references to Dune, including a bar literally named Dune and a part where the protagonist Mike puts his hand into a black box that inflicts pain as part of a test, which mimics the Gom Jabbar sequence in the opening of Dune.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki’s 1982 animated film, based on a manga of the same name, follows a young princess named Nausicaä embroiled in a struggle with a kingdom called Tolmekia that uses an ancient weapon to destroy a jungle of mutant insects. She becomes a savior of this devastated world, not unlike Paul Atreides on Arrakis. Dune was an influence on both the manga and Miyazaki’s film, and the advertising for the latter leaned into the connection, featuring monsters that look like the giant sand worms on Arrakis.
Speaking of sand worms and Arrakis, the 1988 Tim Burton horror comedy Beetlejuice also features giant sand creatures erupting from the depths of a desolate sand planet. This strange, time-bending location exists outside the home of the Maitlands after they tragically die, trapping them forever in their abode. It’s a clear visual reference to Dune.
In this 2012 Wes Anderson film, two 12-year-old kids fall in love and run away together into the New England wilderness. The girl, Suzy, brings her favorite fantasy novels along for the journey. One of them, titled The Girl from Jupiter, has a map on the back of the dust jacket. The map is one of the north pole of Arrakis from David Lynch’s Dune.
In the 2016 animated film Trolls, the Chef says the line, “He who controls the trolls controls the kingdom!” This is a reference to the famous line from Dune, “He who controls the spice controls the universe!”
Ready Player One
Surprising absolutely no one, there is a nod to Dune in Steven Spielberg’s reference-heavy 2018 film Ready Player One (based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline). The planet Arrakis is mentioned as a virtual destination that exists in OASIS.
The Simpsons regularly pays respects to Dune. Animated covers for Dune books appear in one episode, and Krusty the Clown writes a book called The Sands of Space that is clearly modeled after Herbert’s work. Perhaps the most famous reference is when Lisa eats spicy food and says, “I can see through time,” a reference to the spice from Dune, which also helps see through time.
The animated TV series Futurama features several references to Dune, including an episode where a tailor tries to sell Fry a stillsuit, the suit worn on Arrakis to preserve the body’s moisture. Another episode features a giant, desert-dwelling sand worm.
Many of the Star Trek series contain references to Dune. In Voyager, Arrakis Prime is listed as a planet the ship’s surgeon has visited. The same show also names Giedi Prime in another episode. The Next Generation mentions a planet called Caldonia that shares a physical likeness to Caladan, the home world of House Atreides.
The episode “Red Starved” takes place in an underground sand city and features a giant sand worm that recalls the imagery of Dune.
The Venture Brothers
Dune is referenced pretty frequently in this animated series. There is a direct callout in the season seven episode “The High Cost of Living” when Henchman 21 compares Professor von Helping’s appearance to Paul Atreides and The Monarch’s to Piter De Vries. Von Helping’s appearance is based on Kyle MacLachlan, who played Paul in Lynch’s adaptation.
The skit “Sand Worm Strategy” from Robot Chicken is totally Dune-focused. It’s set on Arrakis and features the worms.
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
The most thorough and awesome Dune reference in animation comes from this Cartoon Network series. The show’s third episode, “Mandy the Merciless,” is based on the fourth novel in Herbert’s series, God Emperor of Dune. Mandy assumes the role of Leto from the book, and learns the secret of immortality by transforming into a worm creature. Billy plays the part of Duncan Idaho, and Grim is Moneo. The episode also references Star Wars.
The USA series Chuck is another show that wears its Dune love on its sleeve. The eponymous character has a poster of Lynch’s Dune on his bedroom wall, and in the episode “Chuck Versus the Sandworm” he and Morgan dress as a sand worm for a Halloween party. The Dune line “fear is the mind-killer” is also said many times on the show.
The episode “Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm” has a few clear-cut Dune callouts, most notably a giant sand worm creature called the Alaskan Bull Worm. At one point, when the worm approaches, Sandy picks up a sign saying “worm” that warns of his advances. This is a reference to the wormsign from Dune.
Law & Order: SVU
One episode of this long-running series, titled “Limitations,” features a clever little Dune nod. When a victim in court begins to panic, she utters the phrase: “I must not fear. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear.” Dune fans will recognize this as the Litany Against Fear, spoken many times in the series to help people focus their minds in times of peril.
This comedy series also contains the famous Dune line, “I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer.”
As with many animated series on this list, South Park also references Dune rather often. The Thanksgiving episode, “A History Channel Thanksgiving,” contains the line, “He who controls the stuffing controls the universe.” The 2019 episode “Turd Burglars” also contains nods to Dune including a spice melange reference.
Warner Bros. Animation
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated
The second season episode of this Scooby-Doo series opens with a narration from a dog named Nova. It mimics the opening sequence of David Lynch’s Dune, where Princess Irulan sets up the story before a galaxy of stars.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
It’d be hard to pin down every time this series throws out Dune mentions. We counted at least 20 different ones throughout the show’s run, including nods to the famous line, “I will kill him,” Gom Jabbar, and Muad’Dib. There are also Dune comparisons a’plenty during the 1993 episode about the film Outlaw of Gor.
The third season episode “The Rickshank Rickdemption” includes the line, “He who controls the pants controls the galaxy!”
Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss loves to reference his influences in his popular book series The Kingkiller Chronicles, and Dune is no exception. The first book in the saga, The Name of the Wind, contains a scene where a group of children request stories, and one girl says: “I want to hear about the dry lands over the Stormwahl. About the sand snakes that that come out of the ground like sharks. And the dry men who hide under the dunes and drink your blood instead of water.” This is a reference to Arrakis and the Fremen who live there.
National Lampoon’s Doon
This 1984 novel by Ellis Weiner is a parody of Herbert’s Dune, and is noted as “something of a tribute to Herbert’s success on college campuses.” The stories share a general plot, but, ya know, one is much funnier. Weiner’s book changes names like Arrakis to Arruckus and Duke Leto to Duke Lotto. Instead of giant sand worms, Arruckus is inhabited by giant pretzels, and instead of spice being the universe’s vital commodity, it’s beer.
World of Warcraft
Space Craft III: The Pirates of Pestulon
This fun 1989 adventure game contains a Dune Easter egg. A postcard in Fester’s World O’ Wonders shows the planet Arrakis, and references its dust storms and sand worms.
The post-apocalyptic video game series Fallout has a drug called Mentats, which are chalky red pills that increase memory functions, impact creativity, and speed other mental processes. In Dune, Mentat is a discipline where human brains are trained to replicate computers, after AI are banned in the universe.
Far Cry 3
This 2012 first-person shooter game contains a collectible memory card that describes a drug called Spice, with “interstellar travel” listed as one of its properties. This is a reference to the spice melange in Dune, which also makes interstellar travel possible.
Sudden Strike 4
This 2017 World War II video game has a little Dune nod. During one campaign, you encounter a soldier who says, “I had a weird dream last night. Blue-eyed men were controlling giant worms and fought over spice in the sand.” This is a reference to Arrakis and the Fremen.
Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”
This popular tune by big beat musician Fatboy Slim features vocals from American funk musician Bootsy Collins, who sings, “Walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm,” a line straight out of Herbert’s Dune.
30 Seconds to Mars’s 30 Seconds to Mars
The rock band, fronted by Oscar-winner Jared Leto, used their self-titled debut album to explore themes of humanity with space as a metaphor. Many tracks on the record reference Dune, including the song “Capricorn” that features the lyrics, “I’ll start again with a brand new name and eyes that see into infinity,” a nod to Paul Atreides.
Iron Maiden’s “To Tame a Land”
This track off the 1983 album Piece of Mind is based entirely on Dune. The band wanted to call the song “Dune” but Herbert refused, replying to their request, “No. Because Frank Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially rock bands like Iron Maiden.” Despite that curt denial, the song still contains several direct references to the book, including terms like Fremen, Muad’Dib, and Caladan.
Grimes’ Geidi Prime
The debut album of Canadian singer Grimes, mother of X Æ A-12, is a concept album based on Herbert’s novel and Lynch’s film adaptation. Geidi Primes is a reference to the planet Giedi Prime from Dune, and every track alludes to some term from the book, such as “Caladan,” House Atreides’ home planet, and “Beast Infection,” after Glossu Rabban. Dune is Grimes’ favorite novel.
Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”
Though the actual song doesn’t have any Dune-isms, the music video for Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” features a recipe that any Herbert fan will recognize. She lists “meta-cyanide” in the ingredients for a poisonous brew she concocts in prison. This is a poison referenced in Dune, specifically related to the Gom Jabbar, a needle infused with the toxin.
Tool’s “Liatnie contra la pour”
This song from the 2019 Tool album Fear Inoculum is French and translates to “Litany Against Fear.”
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox Television
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