They like to watch: an analysis of Sam and Dean's viewing habits

From Super-wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Author: Missy Jack, Livejournal University


The aim of this paper is to document and analyse movies and TV programs viewed by the Winchester brothers, Sam and Dean, in order to gain greater insight into their characters. It will also attempt to develop a predictive algorithm to assist in choosing appropriate DVDs when the Winchesters come to visit.


So I’ve invited the Winchester boys over for a slumber party and I need some ideas for entertainment. What do they do in their spare time?

Growing up the boys were left in motel rooms or apartments on their own a lot. Not much to do except watch TV. There is no evidence of the boys going to a cinema, and I can’t really imagine John “sorry I spent your college fund on ammo” Winchester spending money on popcorn.

Similarly when they grow up, there is a quite a bit of downtime in motel rooms to kill. What else can they do? They can’t clean their weapons all the time. Of course we know the Internet is for porn, and there is evidence that that they make use of this (e.g. Dean’s surfing of in Tall Tales).

We have not seen the boys reading novels, although we know from Provenance that Sam has read the Da Vinci Code, and we do know Dean likes a bit of Yahtzee. We know they read the Weekly World News (they pretend to be reporters from it in Bloodlust and refer to it in Tall Tales). The references to Paris Hilton, Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan, and Nick Nolte do suggest some reading of trashy celebrity gossip magazines.

Luckily I have been stalking Sam and Dean for a while and have collected extensive data on their viewing habits. The following paper will analyse what Sam and Dean watch, and what it tells us about them. And most importantly help me choose what to rent for this slumber party.


Data definition: Movies and TV shows watched by Sam and/or Dean Winchester. Each datum is referred to as a viewing.

Sampling method: Only movies and TV shows mentioned by Sam or Dean. I am assuming the boys have seen a movie or TV show if someone mentions it in their presence and they seem to understand the reference. These third person references comprise less than 6% of total references, and of those, half are shows the boys themselves reference at some point.

Oblique references, such as the pea soup shout out to The Exorcist in the Season Two episode The Usual Suspects because of Linda Blair’s role in that episode, or visual references such as that to Blue Velvet in What is and What Should Never Be are not included.

Each individual viewing was counted only once per episode, even if there were multiple references to that viewing within an episode. For example there are two separate references to The Shining by Dean in Asylum however this counts only as one viewing.

Source: The data were collected from Season One and Season Two. Methods of collection included repeated viewing of episodes and application of my brain drawing on my many, many years spent in the dark watching on the couch and at the cinema. However even a couch potato like me couldn’t get all the references, and I am grateful to the eclectic viewing habits of fandom for filling in the gaps.

Transcripts provided by Super Wiki proved invaluable in validation of material, and I am extremely grateful for access to this resource.

Coding: Viewings were categorised into the following categories:

  • Genre: Cartoons, Drama, Horror, Kids’ Shows, Sci-fi, Sitcom, Chick Flick, Ad, Porn
  • Decade: 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s.
  • If a TV show or movie series was produced across a number of decades it was coded with the decade in which it was either most popular, or most associated with. For example George Romero has produced zombie movies from 1968 until the present. They have been categorised in the 70s category.
  • The same categories were used across film and TV viewings.
  • Who quoted what: Each viewing was coded according to who mentioned it.

False positive results: It is possible that a movie reference does not indicate that either Sam or Dean have watched the movie. For example when Dean uses the phrase “Daddy dearest” in Provenance, it may simply be an expression that has become part of popular lexicon, rather than an indication that he has watched the movie (or read the book) Mommie Dearest.


see TV and Movie Quotes (Season 1) and TV and Movie Quotes (Season 2)


Dean and Sam are drawn to movies that reflect their life – stories about ghosts and supernatural creatures, psychics and lawbreakers.

TV and Movies watched by genre
TV and Movies watched by decade

In both movie and TV shows horror is the favourite genre, closely followed by sci-fi. Never mentioned are shows of the following genres: reality TV, soap operas (the exception being Sam watching All My Children with Madison) and dramas dominated by long story arcs such as Lost, 24 or Prison Break. My theory is that due to the brothers’ lack of regular routine, it is difficult for them to commit to any show that requires committed viewing. Someone really needs to tell them about torrents (although you could argue they are not missing much). Maybe they are too busy downloading porn.

TV has probably been a constant companion through their lives – they don’t only tune into watch particular shows. We know they watch it when they can’t sleep (Sam in Phantom Traveler, Dean in What Is and What Should Never Be), or sick (Dean in Faith).

The lack of recent movie references suggests the boys don’t go to the cinema often (although movies are quoted twice as often as TV shows). In contrast recent TV shows such as Ghost Whisperer, Medium and MTV Cribs are mentioned. This may explain why older movies – the sort oft repeated on TV – are more often referred to.

The exceptions are some recent movies Dean mentions – feardotcom, Ghost Ship, Boogeyman – which date from this decade but before Sam’s return. Maybe when Dean was off on his solo hunting trips he popped into a multiplex occasionally.

Further analysis is required in order to predict with some confidence which DVDs we should rent for our slumber party. Commonly, the prediction of viewer preferences is based on a Collaborative Filtering Algorithm . This is based on the assumption that if two people on a database rent the same films and rate them similarly, then the probability that Viewer A will like a movie can be predicted based on whether Viewer B liked it.

Most referenced movies

However in this data set we cannot distinguish between Sam and Dean’s preferences (ahem). While Dean is the one who makes most of the movie quips (87% ), Sam obviously gets all of them, so we can’t at this point distinguish which brother watches more movies, or identify genre preferences between them. What is required is a closer textual analysis of the films and shows watched.

It is fair to call Dean a fan – he certainly engages more enthusiastically with the medium, knows obscure facts relating to movies and often quotes from them. He imagines an almost personal relationship with actors (“My man Jack”) and certainly they feature in his fantasy life (“My god, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she?”; “Mmm. Daphne. Love her”.) Sound familiar?

His favourite movies? We know from The Benders that he loves Godzilla versus Mothra. In Hollywood Babylon we get the strongest evidence of Dean’s favourite genre with his multiple reference to horror movies. He also states to Sam that Poltergeist is “part of (our) cultural heritage”.

If we look further into what sort of horror movies Dean refers to they tend to either feature creepy critters or spooks or zombies. He is not one for the psycho killer genre of Friday the 13th or Halloween.

Another way of picking his favorite movies is to look at the ones from which he can quote lines of dialogue – The Shining is top of the list here, followed by Silence of the Lambs, and Star Wars.

Shows featuring women Dean finds attractive (Daphne, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jeannie) also can be considered favorites.

Jack Nicholson appears to be Dean’s favorite actor. With his reputation as a ladies man with a line in acerbic one-liners, this is surprising in a “not so much” way.

Many shows have a great shared meaning for Sam and Dean. They would have watched and re-watched them together, and they are part of their private brotherly language. They use code based on The Great Escape, and a Rockford Files reference is part of their back-up plans (The Usual Suspects).

The X-Files is a show they watched together and loved – they banter about who is Scully, and use Mulder and Scully as aliases.

And chick flicks? Yeah they watch’em. In the season two episode Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Dean makes a reference to “unrequited Ducky love”, which Sam obviously gets. This indicates an intimate familiarity with the 1986 teen romance Pretty in Pink. They also both make references on different occasions to Ghost. Maybe they tuned in because they thought it would be a horror flick…

Of course either Sam or Dean may have watched many shows never referred to. for all we know Dean loves the French comedies of Jacques Tati and Sam is a sucker for the costume dramas of Merchant Ivory. Or not.


So the popcorns ready, we’ve got our PJs on and we’re all snuggled up with Sam and Dean. Sam sits on the floor coz he's too big for the couch. And I put his hair in little pigtails. Dean knows the dialogue to all the movies, and thinks he does a great Jack Nicholson impersonation but he doesn't.

Sorry – I got a bit carried away there.

From our analysis, we should choose a horror or science fiction movie from the 70s or 80s. TV shows with supernatural themes are good, especially if they include hot chicks.

So what would I be picking up from the DVD store?

Surefire hits:

  • Horror: Croenenberg’s The Fly , Carpenter’s The Thing, Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black (you know the one with the possessed little idol?), The Ring (Japanese or US version), Blair Witch Project, M.Night Shyamalan’s The Village, Cry Wolf, Devour.
  • Sci-fi: Resident Evil, Pitch Black, The Alien trilogy (sorry Joss the fourth one sucked) Starship Troopers, Earlier sci-fi like Planet of the Apes (Sam probably likes the Helena Bonham Carter remake), or Forbidden Planet.
  • Zombie flicks: 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead.
  • Prison movie: Cool Hand Luke, Brubaker, The Rock,The Shawshank Redemption would go down well.
  • Nicholson oeuvre: Easy Rider, The Postman Always Rings Twice, A Few Good Men, The Crossing Guard, The Pledge, The Departed.
  • Chick Flicks: My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Lakehouse
  • Comedy: Waynes World, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • TV: Charmed (TV series), Firefly

Taking a punt: Gattaca (although they might get teary), Minority Report (although I sense that Tom Cruise may not be a favorite), Battlestar Galactica.

Leave on the shelf:

  • Too close to home: Constantine, Rosemary’s Baby, IT, Wolf.
  • Sucky sequels: The later Matrix, Terminator or Star Wars movies. Remakes if Dean’s around, pick them up if its just me and Sam.

And if all that fails, I am sure I can find something else to do with those Winchester boys.

I'm sure they’d love my PS3!

Appendix: Who wrote what?

Number of viewings per episode, Season one in purple, Season Two in yellow.

In Season One there were 31 movie and 16 TV show references, a total of 47 for the season at an average of 2.1 references per episode. In Season Two, 36 movies and 18 TV shows were referred to. This is an average of 3 references per episode.

In Season One the episodes with the most references are the Pilot (writer: Eric Kripke) and Asylum (writer: Richard Hatem) with 7 references each.

In Season Two it’s not surprising that Hollywood Babylon (writer: Ben Edlund) beats all comers with nine.The Usual Suspects (writer: Cathryn Humphris) has seven references.

In Season One, three episodes contain no viewing references: Faith and Nightmare by Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker, and Shadow by Eric Kripke. To be fair Faith contains references to the Fabric Softener Bear and Daytime TV, and Shadow has the shout-out to Chad Michael Murray.

In Season Two Born Under a Bad Sign (writer: Cathryn Humphris) has no movie references, but hey it has evil!Sam so no-one is complaining.

The finales episodes (21 and 22) in each season are almost reference free.

Overall mythology epsiodes have less movie or TV references than stand alone episodes.

The following graph shows the average number of movie ref per episode by writer. The first bar is the average for episodes with references; the second includes episodes with no references. As we can see Ben rules all before him. Followed by Cathryn. Both Eric and Sera fall down by having a number of episodes with no movie or TV refs at all, but this is infleunced by their roles as the main finale writers.