Someone recently asked me what I thought was a fairly ignorant question. They wanted to know if it was okay to have characters in their movie discussing a scene from Lord of the Rings. I guess as a copyright lawyer, the answer to this is obvious. But I thought that the answer would be obvious to anyone, even if they didn’t go to law school. The fact that people might think that just discussing a movie or TV show in your film could get you sued shows how much the studios have intimidated people and led to this complete fear among filmmakers to even mention another movie for fear of a lawsuit.
So I’m here to tell you that such fears are completely groundless. As shown in the above clip from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” it is perfectly acceptable to characters in a movie discuss elements of another movie (in this case “The Empire Strikes Back”).
That doesn’t mean that you can take massive amounts of dialogue from another movie and put it in your film, but you can certainly say “Go ahead. Make my day” or “May the Force be With You” without fear of the copyright police coming after you.