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13 Mad Scientists Who Inspired Rick from RICK AND MORTY

Like every mad scientist in pop culture, Rick Sanchez (C-137) is a complex guy. His wild blue hair and his white lab coat aside, he is an unusual amalgam of all the pop culture precedents that came before him. Despite his penchant for booze, he’s a genius capable of building fantastical tools and outsmarting his enemies in elaborate long-cons. Yet he’s also, begrudgingly, attached to his family—his daughter, Beth, and his grandchildren, Morty and Summer (and sometimes, though rarely, his son-in-law, Jerry.) Sure, he puts their lives in peril pretty much every episode, but he most certainly cares, even if he’d prefer not to.

So where does this place Rick on the sliding scale of his on-screen predecessors? Is he good, evil, or a hilarious and terrifying mixture of the two that makes us question our own sense of morality? To get to the bottom of this question we’ve assembled a list of 13 other mad scientists who have surely inspired our Rick.

1. Doc Brown

Dr. Emmett Brown is an eccentric scientist who travels through time in a DeLorean. He teams up with Marty McFly, an otherwise ordinary teenager, for several extraordinary adventures. If that sounds a lot like our Rick and Morty, that’s not a coincidence. Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland had initially created a crass Back to the Future spoof called Doc & Mharti, a clear precursor to the show we know today. Roiland said of the short:

I actually made this as a way to poke fun at the idea of getting cease and desist letters. At the time (October 2006) I had nothing to lose and my original intention was to call this “Back to the Future: The New Official Universal Studios Cartoon Featuring the New Doc Brown and Marty McFly” and then I’d just sit back and wait for a letter from their lawyers to arrive. That’s actually why it’s so filthy. I was just looking to “troll” a big studio.

2. Dr. Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein is perhaps the most obvious and iconic mad scientist in fiction, thanks to the novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and numerous film adaptations. Aside from setting up the archetype for Rick (he creates as much as he destroys), Frankenstein’s monster actually shows up in episode “Total Rickall.” In this episode, the Smith household is infested with parasites who appear as various zany characters and implant memories of themselves in the family’s mind. The monster is one such parasite, who appears in a false memory Rick has of the two of them fighting in the Vietnam War. Another parasite, Sleepy Gary, later points out that the monster is often erroneously called “Frankenstein.”

3. Young Frankenstein

Frederick Frankenstein is the grandson of Victor Frankenstein in the Mel Brooks/Gene Wilder parody, Young Frankenstein. Frederick craves an ordinary life and wants nothing to do with his eccentric, mad scientist grandfather, yet gets dragged into the madness anyhow. Though this description is more akin to Morty, the idea of being beholden to a brilliant family member is key. The film also proves that when sci-fi/horror parodies work, they really work.

4. Dr. Moreau

In H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, the titular scientist lives on a remote island conducting experiments on animals in an attempt to turn them into humans. This results in the protagonist, the marooned Edward Prendick, meeting numerous “Beast Folk” like a Dog-Man and a Fox-Bear Witch. These cross-species experimental beings appear all over Rick and Morty. Consider Phoenixperson (nee Birdperson), Morty Jr. and Snuffles, the cyborg dog. Rick crossbreeds himself with a pickle for crying out loud.

5. Walter White

The “Pickle Rick” episode was, according to series co-creator Dan Harmon, inspired by Breaking Bad episode, “4 Days Out.” In this episode, Walter White and Jesse head into the desert to cook meth for an entire weekend, only to nearly die after a dead Winnebago battery strands them in the sweltering heat. It is White’s smarts and science know-how (and Jesse’s optimism, perhaps) that save them. Similarly, when Rick turns himself into a sentient pickle to get out of going to family therapy then rolls helplessly into the sewer, he is forced to rely on only his wits and mouth (and later, rat limbs he fuses to his pickle body). Harmon once said, “[Rick] can make anything with his human hands that he wants because he’s always near a big toolbox. How smart is Rick, though? Is he so smart that with is mouth alone he could gain an advantage over biological killing machines in an environment that wasn’t built to sustain him?” Yes, exactly.

6. Wayne Szalinski

Wayne Szalinksi is a husband, father, and inventor who accidentally shrinks and enlarges his children (and sometimes himself) in the ’90s family comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and its numerous sequels. Rick also cares deeply about his own family, even if he deals with those feelings in extremely destructive ways. He also has a disastrous size-changing ray, which Summer uses in “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” in an attempt to boost her bra size. Unfortunately, she accidentally transforms herself into a giant and Beth, refusing to consult Rick for help, inadvertently turns Summer inside out by pressing the “reverse” button. Oh, to be a mad scientist with a complicated family dynamic.

7. Paul Matthews

In ’90s rom-com Love Potion #9, biochemist Paul Matthews receives a love potion from a fortune teller and hijinks ensue, ultimately forcing him to use another potion to reveal true love. It’s not a great movie and it’s certainly cringe-y, but the trope of a love potion or spell gone awry has appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including Rick and Morty‘s “Rick Potion No. 9.” Rick makes a potion for Morty so his classmate, Jessica, will fall in love with him. Unfortunately, Jessica is sick and the potion clings to her flu virus and infects the entire school. In an attempt to undo the spell, Rick accidentally destroys the planet, forcing the duo to take the place of deceased versions of themselves in another dimension. It’s a dark episode, but at least Rick comments on how creepy love potions are as he tries to pass off the blame: “You’re the one who wanted me to buckle down and make you a roofie juice serum so you could roofie that poor girl at your school…You’re a little creep, Morty! You’re just a little creepy creep person!”

8. Clayton and Pearl Forrester

Clayton Forrester and his mother, Pearl Forrester, are the mad scientists of Mystery Science Theater 3000. They torment human Joel and his robot companions by forcing them to watch terrible movies in search of one so horrible they can use it to assume control of the world. Carrying the same quick-witted spirit of MST3K, Rick is also a master improviser, both practically and comedically. Acknowledging this, the show pays homage to the series during the pilot with a scene including the silhouettes of robots Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy.

9. Willy Wonka

If building an elaborate candy factory rife with moral consequences isn’t the work of a mad scientist, then we don’t know what is. We see a Wonka-esque Rick in “The Ricklantis Mixup.” He presides over the Simple Rick’s Wafer Cookie factory. Much like Wonka, Rick turns would-be fantastical adventures into nightmares.

10. Professor Farnsworth

As the bumbling, yet lovable owner of the delivery spaceship Planet Express in Futurama, Professor Farnsworth is Rick Sanchez’s most immediate cartoon predecessor. He is an inventor who drags along a lovable yet dim-witted relative along on perilous space adventures. Sound familiar?

11. Doctor Poison

The last time we saw DC’s Dr. Poison, she was working to create deadly chemical weapons for the Nazis in Wonder Woman. As a villain, she has little in common with Rick, except they both seem to enjoy antagonizing superheroes. In “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender,” Rick and Morty go on a ensemble hero adventure with The Vindicators, a Justice League/Avengers-style hero group. It’s going okay until Rick gets drunk and sets up a terrible Saw-esque torture game for his partners due to his disdain for superheroes.

12. Dexter

Dexter’s Laboratory follows the exploits of a child genius who, despite being much younger than Rick, has a similar set-up. He lives with his mother, father and sister Dee Dee in a typical American home. He hides his laboratory in his bedroom, concealed behind a bookcase, similar to Rick’s sprawling garage workshop and its many secret doors. Though Dexter’s exploits are often silly, sometimes they are full of existential dread, too.

13. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic horror classic about the duality of man, Dr. Jekyll creates a serum to quell his dark urges, but instead turns himself into the amoral Mr. Hyde, who soon gains the upper hand. Similarly, the many Ricks across all dimensions are varying degrees of good and evil, though it is implied that Rick C-137 is the most reckless, rogue, and Rick-iest Rick of them all.

What other classic mad scientists do you see in Rick Sanchez? Let us know on Twitter!

Images: MGM, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, AMC, KTMA, Disney, Universal

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