Intertextuality is an incredibly important concept for writers to understand – but what is intertextuality? We’re going to break down everything there is to know about intertextuality by looking at examples from film, television, literature, and games. By the end, you’ll know how to recognize intertextuality, and institute it in your own works.

Intertextuality Definition

First, let’s define intertextuality

Intertextuality has something to do with texts. But what is a text? Your first thought might be a text message but we'll focus on a different meaning.

A text is a written or visual work; books, paintings, movies, shows, and games are all texts. Any object that can be "read" — so we can think of the lyrics of a song but also the song itself, which can be analyzed and discussed. But before we jump into our examples, let’s formally go over the intertextuality definition!


What is intertextuality?

Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, i.e., books, movies, plays, songs, games, etc. In other words, it’s anytime one text is referenced in another text. Intertextuality works best when it’s explained explicitly, then later alluded to implicitly. Either way, this technique is a fantastic way to share common references to us and our world. When a show like The Sopranos references The Godfather, suddenly the bridge between our reality and the reality of the show gets shorter. And, so, it can be argued that part of the appeal of bridging that gap is to make a show like The Sopranos more "real."

Types of Intertextuality:

  • Explicit
  • Implicit
  • Allusion

Intertextuality may seem benign by storytelling standards, but it’s actually really important – and we’re going to show you why.

Here’s a great video on this from Nerdwriter1 to get the conversation started.

What is Intertextuality?  •  Hollywood’s New Currency

Now that we have a basic understanding of this concept, let's go a little deeper. We'll start with the different types and how they work.

Types of Intertextuality

What are the types of intertextuality?

Literary critics love nothing more than making terms for things that don’t really need terms. Intertextuality is no exception. Go around the web and you’ll find more than a dozen “types of intertextuality.”

The truth is: most of them are the same.

We’re going to keep it simple by sticking to three main types.


Explicit intertextuality is when one text is explicitly replicated, either through a remake, reboot, or plagiarism. 

Examples of explicit intertextuality:


Implicit intertextuality is when one text is implicitly replicated through parody or satire.

What is Intertextuality Intertextuality in Film Examples Implicit Intertextuality Spaceballs Parodies

Intertextuality in Film Examples  •  Spaceballs Parodies Star Wars

Examples of implicit intertextuality:


Allusory intertextuality is when one text alludes to other texts. This can be done through just about anything, e.g., dialogue, action, plot, imagery, character names, etc.

What is Intertextuality Allusory Intertextuality The Office

What is Intertextuality?  •  The Office References a Quote from Wayne Gretzky

Examples of allusion intertextuality:

  • Ex Machina: Caleb references the Bhagavad Gita to suggest Nathan is a “destroyer of worlds.”
  • Inside Out: one cop tells another “forget it Jake, it’s cloud town” in reference to the ending quote from Chinatown.
  • The Office: Michael Scott gives himself credit for crediting the iconic Wayne Gretzky quote, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Intertextuality in Literature Examples

What is intertextuality in literature?

John Milton’s 1667 treatise on the Fall of Man – Paradise Lost – is one of the best intertextual works ever made. Here’s a quick video on Paradise Lost from Course Hero.

Intertextuality Examples in Literature  •  ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton

Paradise Lost takes a text (The Bible) and recontextualizes it through a new perspective: Satan’s. The strength of intertextuality lies in how it adds new ideas to the original’s discourse. Seeing as The Bible is one of the most read texts of all-time, it makes sense that other texts reference it intertextually; but Paradise Lost remains perhaps the most impactful of all examples.

TV Referencing Cinema

Intertextuality examples in television

In a situational sense, intertextuality always works best when the allusion/parody/satire is referenced explicitly before it’s referenced implicitly. I know, it’s complicated.

Let’s look at a perfect example of why this is the case though. This section contains major spoilers for The Sopranos

Throughout its six-season run, The Sopranos references gangster classics such as The Public Enemy, Goodfellas, and The Godfather. Sopranos’ fans can probably count a dozen instances of Godfather references off the top of their head – but here’s a refresher course.

Define Intertextuality in TV  •  Every Godfather Reference in The Sopranos

Perhaps no Godfather reference is more important than the “gun in the bathroom” reference though. In a candid conversation with his father, AJ tells Tony “every time we watch Godfather, when Michael Corleone shoots those guys in the restaurant – those assholes who just tried to kill his dad – you sit there with your fucking bowl of ice cream and you say it’s your favorite scene of all-time.” Here, the writers tell us about an intertextual event.

That’s step one in executing an intertextual allusion. 

Step two comes in the very last scene of the show when an unidentified man enters the restaurant, proceeds to the bathroom, followed by the screen cutting to black. We’re able to infer the man is retrieving a gun from the bathroom because of the intertextual reference from earlier. Check out the clip below.

What is Intertextuality?  •  Watch The Sopranos Ending

The fact that Tony appears on the other side of his favorite scene from The Godfather is ironic

Intertextual Films

Intertextuality examples in movies

Woody Allen’s best movies are full of intertextual references – but some of his best references come in Play It Again, Sam, (written by Allen, directed by Herbert Ross); heck, even the title of the movie is an intertextual reference to Casablanca!

Check out the clip below to see how Allen organically integrated intertextual references into the film’s screenplay.

Intertextuality in Film Definition  •  Play It Again, Sam

This clip is intertextual gold. In under two minutes, Allen expertly deconstructs Italian cinema through the lens of parody, from Le Coppie to La Strada’s denouement at the beach. The thing is: Allen doesn’t presuppose these references with the information needed to understand them, thus limiting their extended appeal.

Intertextual Examples in Games

Intertextuality examples in games

I’ll keep this one brief because it’s a reference few are probably familiar with. In the video game Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the protagonist expresses that he wants to be a hero, like one from the Dragon Quest video game franchise. Hence, the sub-title “Like a Dragon.”

Here’s the scene where Ichiban lays out his intertextual dreams:

What is Intertextuality?  •  Intertextuality in Video Games: Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Video games are emerging as a legitimate medium for storytelling; literary techniques included. Yakuza: Like a Dragon contains one of the best-executed examples of intertextuality I’ve seen in gaming to date.

Up Next

What is Subtext?

Intertextuality is the relationship between texts – but what is subtext? Simply, subtext is the unspoken truths between-the-lines. Up next, we break down subtext, with examples from The Squid and the Whale, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and more. By the end, you’ll know what subtext is and how to implement it in your own work!

Up Next: Subtext in Screenwriting →
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