It’s been 10 years since Rick and Morty premiered on Adult Swim, and in that time it’s grown to reshape all of pop culture in its image through its idiosyncratic blend of dark humor, irreverent creativity, and well-written characters. Co-created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, the animated sci-fi sitcom about the multidimensional misadventures of an alcoholic mad scientist and his hapless adolescent grandson has become one of the most important animated shows since The Simpsons in its heyday.
After nearly 70 episodes, the influence of Rick and Morty’s humor and writing on video games, movies, and TV feels too vast to chart. Hell, there’s even a Rick and Morty anime spinoff on the horizon. But perhaps the place we can feel the reach of Rick and Morty most clearly is its measurable impact on yet another pop culture juggernaut: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of all the trends in popular culture that can be accredited to Rick and Morty’s success, none are more apparent than the popularization of its central conceit: the multiverse. Similar to how the Wachowskis’ The Matrix helped to popularize simulation theory, the concept of a hypothetical set of infinitely variable universes formed the crux of Rick and Morty’s earliest adventures and helped to elevate the show from its origins as a crass parody of Back to the Future.
“We definitely don’t start with the multiverse anymore,” Harmon told Polygon in an interview about the writing process behind Rick and Morty season 7. “There was a peak there where it became such a fun thing that was irresistible to writers old and new, where a lot of [Rick and Morty] pitches would start with, ‘Let’s say there’s a blank Rick and he’s having a blank Rick party and blank Rick shows up.’ Marvel’s dug into this, as well they should, because the comic books invented this stuff; we just lifted it from that and Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors.”
While Harmon is correct in attributing the popular origin of the multiverse as a storytelling device to the likes of Marvel and DC Comics, Rick and Morty is responsible for introducing the term into the broader lexicon of popular culture, and for it becoming the new backbone of the MCU.
When Rick and Morty premiered in 2013, Marvel Studios was just bouncing back from the first “phase” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the release of The Avengers. In 2019, just months after the release of Avengers: Endgame, the capstone to the MCU’s decade-spanning storyline known as the Infinity Saga, Rick and Morty debuted its fourth season, the first to premiere following the show’s highly publicized 70-episode renewal order from Adult Swim. Both franchises were major cultural touchstones in their own right, but with the MCU’s largest crossover event behind it, Marvel Studios would find the future of the series in Rick and Morty, both in concept (that of the multiverse) and through its stable of writers.
In the decade since Rick and Morty has been on the air, several alumni from the series’ writing staff have been recruited to work on multiple TV shows and movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even spearheaded the next major era in the franchise dubbed, you guessed it, the Multiverse Saga.
Jessica Gao, the writer behind the Primetime Emmy Award-winning episode “Pickle Rick,” went on to become the showrunner and creator of Marvel streaming miniseries She-Hulk: Attorney at Law; Jeff Loveness, the co-writer of the Primetime Emmy Award-winning “The Vat of Acid Episode,” served as the writer for 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; and Michael Waldron, who worked as a writer on the fourth season of Rick and Morty, has since gone on to create the Marvel streaming series Loki and write the script for 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and he is currently tapped to serve as the writer for 2026’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and 2027’s Avengers: Secret Wars. The connections between the popularity of Rick and Morty and ubiquity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe go back even further than that, though, with none other than series co-creator Dan Harmon having contributed uncredited script analysis and dialogue work during the production of 2016’s Doctor Strange.
Rick and Morty’s impact on culture can be felt far beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Writers from the show have gone on to write for shows like Invincible and Star Trek: Lower Decks and movies like Renfield. Unfortunately, the show’s co-creator, Justin Roiland, who was dismissed from the show earlier this year following allegations of domestic violence, is perhaps the alumnus that has left the biggest impression on pop culture so far. Along with providing the iconic voices for the show’s lead characters for its first six seasons, he also co-created Solar Opposites, provided voices for video games, and even helped make a few games himself. Outside of movies and TV, the series even has a mountain of promotional tie-ins with brands ranging from Pringles and Wendy’s and games like Death Stranding and God of War Ragnarök. And of course, who could forget the infamous McDonald’s Szechuan sauce debacle of 2017?
Despite this long list, that’s only scratching the surface of Rick and Morty’s broader impact. to actually encapsulate the entirety of how Rick and Morty has extended beyond its own series to gain a foothold in nearly every part of mainstream media would be daunting and fill a book. But the fact that it now has the biggest movie franchise of all time twisted around its finger seems like a good start.
But what’s most impressive about the series might be that, 10 years into its run, it refuses to get stuck in its own groove. As Harmon said, while the rest of the world is just catching up to multiverses, Rick and Morty is on to something new, figuring out how best to shape the future of its own universe and, in doing so, potentially another decade of pop culture along with it.