The Warcraft may not have been the best, but it sure did pack in the references.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: The Warcraft franchise is, to put it lightly, complicated on the lore side of things. From humble beginnings, Blizzard’s real-time strategy series has grown and evolved into a juggernaut, now resting squarely on the back of an MMO that has been running uninterrupted for 16 years. This means the story is not only incredibly dense, but riddled with the sort of revisions, retcons, and alternate timelines you’d normally find in things like superhero comics.
That said, the 2016 Warcraft movie did its level best to try and distill some of the earliest Warcraft stories into a cohesive, easily digestible narrative for both longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Whether or not it actually succeeded is up for debate. But hey, if nothing else, the movie did give us a sweeping fantasy with some truly decadent visual effects that still hold up today, and enough nods, references, and Easter eggs for Warcraft franchise history to keep even the most die-hard fans entertained while watching. Sure, some of those references may not make the most sense in context, and other plot points have been adjusted or otherwise pivoted away from their canonical origins. To be honest, most are not much more than clever winks at the camera for anyone in the know, but we’ll forgive them.
We went through and pulled out a whopping 47 of our favorite references, from fun World of Warcraft shout-outs to deep, early Warcraft pulls and everything in between. And we’re sure there are more to be found–so, if you’re looking for something to do with your quarantine free time, why not revisit the movie and see how many you can spot?
1. Orcs & Humans
Ah, simpler times. The original conceit of Warcraft was simple: a no-frills war between Orcs and Humans, which we see here in live action during the opening scenes.
2, The Fel
The Fel has been a major part of Warcraft’s lore, usually linked to the Burning Legion. The Legion itself is never mentioned here in the film, but the story borrows heavily from their typical plots through the games and through World Of Warcraft.
3. Wolf Mounts
Instead of horses, orcs ride giant wolves–this is pretty much a constant for them, through all the games and through WoW, where wolves are the orcs’ racial mounts.
4. Laughing Skull and Blackrock
Orcs exist in clans, many of which are not only namechecked but featured directly on screen. During the opening scenes, we hear Laughing Skull and Blackrock get specifically called out. The Blackrock orcs are difficult to pick out in the crowd but the Laughing Skulls are pretty distinct, given their traditions of skull face paint or masks and, well, laughing.
Interestingly, the Laughing Skull clan is usually composed of ogres as well, but there are no ogres to be found in the movie.
5. Lok’tar Ogar
This orcish warcry means “victory or death.” If you’ve ever played a Warcraft game, you’ve probably heard it many times.
The creatures Gul’dan had caged and drained to power the Draenor side of the Dark Portal were Draenei, one of the three dominant races on the planet, next to the Orcs and the Blood Elves (who do not appear in the movie). In World Of Warcraft, Draenei were introduced as a playable race during the Burning Crusade expansion, which allowed players to travel to the shattered remains of Draenor, now called Outlands.
A major player in orcish history, the shaman Gul’dan has been an antagonist throughout the history of Warcraft. He was tutored in the dark arts by the demon Kil’jaeden and, in early versions of continuity, played a part in creating Death Knights out of dead human soldiers.
Chieftain of the Blackrock clan, Blackhand’s depiction in the movie falls more in line with his early characterization and design. In the alternate continuity/reality of WoW’s Warlords Of Draenor expansion, Blackhand and the Blackrock clan were responsible for the forging and distribution of the Horde’s weapons.
The Frostwolf clan is one of the more peaceful orcish clans. Chieftain Durotan was the father of Thrall, who would go on to become warchief of the modern day Horde. The Frostwolves make their home in one of Draenor’s colder regions, hence the name and several comments made in the movie about their tolerance for extreme weather.
10. The Dark Portal
Gul’dan’s masterpiece, the Dark Portal, serves as a gateway between Draenor and Azeroth. It was actually masterminded by the Burning Legion and the dark titan Sargeras, neither of which are directly referenced in the film.
11. Green Orcs
The nature of orcish skin color is a little complicated. The movie tries to simplify things by implying Fel magic is the root cause of green orc skin and we see this in action as Gul’dan saves an infant Thrall. In the larger Warcraft continuity, however, green skin became a genetic trait able to be passed down between parents and offspring thanks to contact with any warlock magic. Fel-touched orcs specifically tended to turn red. Orcs with brown skin, in World of Warcraft, are specifically called Mag’har orcs to differentiate them from their green-skinned cousins.
The Dwarven home city of Ironforge is set deep within a mountain, as we see here in this establishing shot.
The city of Stormwind has served as the human home base in the Warcraft universe for generations.
14. Kirin Tor
A council of the most powerful wizards in the world, the Kirin Tor are based in Dalaran and pride themselves on defending Azeroth from magical threats. The movie plays a little fast and loose with the timelines of both the Kirin Tor and of Dalaran itself, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Medivh is a major part of Warcraft history, and while the movie truncated certain parts of his story, it’s basically what we see here on screen–a very powerful wizard who made a deal with the evil titan Sargeras and then worked with Gul’dan to open the Dark Portal. Later, in Warcraft III and World of Warcraft, he was redeemed.
The small town of Goldshire gets a name check–WoW players will immediately recognize the name for the infamous reputation for awkward role playing it garnered for itself back in the game’s early days.
Did you spot the Murloc spearing fish in the river? He was pretty hard to miss–he even made the “mrglwglwglg!” sound you’ve heard over and over and over again if you’re a WoW player.
Like Medivh, Khadgar is a massive part of Warcraft lore and his story is largely transcribed here with only a few changes. In actual Warcraft history, Khadgar spent some considerable time as Medivh’s apprentice before everything actually went down.
19. Anduin Lothar
Lothar is a bit of a cad throughout the movie but in Warcraft history he goes on to be one of the greatest human warriors ever known. The future king of Stormwind, Varian Wrynn, actually named his son after him. Also he’s a lot younger here in the movie than he would have been in other versions of the continuity–but we’ll give them that one.
Medivh’s palatial home, Karazhan is now an iconic World of Warcraft raid-turned-dungeon filled to the brim with wacky magical hijinks and several mounts that can be won from boss fights.
21. Llane Wrynn
King Llane was the king of Stormwind before Varian, the man who held the throne for the first Warcraft game. He was killed by Garona, as we saw here in the movie, and succeeded by his son, who held the throne for the vast majority of Warcraft content until he was killed during World of Warcraft’s Legion expansion.
Gryphons are the traditional flying mounts of humans in Warcraft games across the board.
Poor, long-suffering Moroes is a human here in the movie. In WoW he’s an undead who would really rather just be dead for real. He’s a killable boss in the MMO.
24. Karazhan’s library
Karazhan’s surreal library is a near exact match for the version players can run through in WoW.
25. Kadghar’s staff
The giant wooden staff Medivh and later Khadgar wields is known as Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian. WoW players will recognize it immediately, since Khadgar is rarely seen without it.
26. Elwynn Forest
Elwynn Forest is a quaint little zone located just outside of Stormwind City. Alliance players in WoW will recognize it as an early leveling area.
27. Blackhand’s Hand
Blackhand’s hand is, uh, blackened in the movie by Gul’dan’s fel magic. This is largely what happened in early Warcraft continuity, but more recently in the alternate history of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, a new version of Blackhand was introduced–this version of the character was lord of the Horde’s forge and wore an intimidating black metal gauntlet.
28. Azerite Fissures
The magic Medivh uses creates glowing blue fissures on the ground that look suspiciously like the Azerite fissures players can find and drain in the most recent WoW expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
Half-orc Garona’s story is pretty complicated overall, but the movie captures the major bullet points. She functions as a sort of emissary between the Horde and the humans, assassinates the king (though she’d rather she didn’t have to), and then goes on to be a (mostly) free agent for a while. Thankfully the movie gave her design a major update and got rid of her frankly embarrassing high pigtails from the games.
30. Blackrock Mountain
At several points in the movie you can see a giant, fire-ringed mountain set off in the distance. It’s never named onscreen, but it’s very likely that this is, in fact, Blackrock Mountain, the infamous home of a labyrinthine network of dungeons and raids in WoW.
31. Common vs. Orcish
The fact that orcs and humans don’t speak the same language has been a running source of conflict throughout Warcraft history. Even in WoW, Alliance and Horde players cannot talk to one another–text just turns into a garbled mess of letters on the opposing faction’s screen.
32. Kul Tiras
Kul Tiras gets a namecheck. The island nation is home of the Alliance’s greatest naval force. It was introduced in Warcraft II and later made a playable area in WoW during Battle for Azeroth.
In a major departure from typical lore, Alodi in the movie is a bizarre Glenn Close cameo after Khadgar goes to Dalaran and is sent into a, uh, magical cube? Of some sort? In the games, Alodi is a male half-elf mage.
34. Orgrim Doomhammer
Orgrim Doomhammer is a major (and we do mean major) player in Warcraft history, so what plays out in the movie is a very simplified version of events–but, like most other key points, it gets the point across. Orgrim’s role in the formation of the modern day Horde was so pivotal that the name of the Horde’s home base city, Orgrimmar, was actually derived from him.
35. The Blasted Lands
The Dark Portal is situated in a region of the Eastern Kingdoms known as the Blasted Lands. You can see why they’re called that here on screen–everywhere fel magic is used, nature begins to die.
While he’s never actually named, Medivh talks about a demonic influence at play in his conception of the Dark Portal. In Warcraft lore, Medivh was possessed by the spirit of the evil “demonic” lord Sargeras since his birth. His transformation at the end of the movie makes him actually physically embody some of Sargeras’s traits.
The timeline for the floating city of Dalaran is a bit wonky here in the movie–it should actually still be safely on the ground. Dalaran didn’t begin floating until well after the First War, when the war with the Lich King began in earnest. Other than that, the Dalaran seen in the film is basically what you’d expect–a mage-ruled city governed by a council who oversee the magic of Azeroth.
38. High Elves
One of the oldest races in Azeroth, the reclusive High Elves only have a brief cameo in the movie. Their history is complicated at best, and most likely confusing for fans who are more familiar with their blue-skinned cousins, the Night Elves, which are traditionally thought of as a race belonging to the Alliance. Most modern day High Elves are known as Blood Elves–but that’s a whole other story.
39. Callan Lothar
Surprisingly, Callan Lothar was a character specifically invented for the movie. Everything between him and his father, even his tragic death, never happened in actual Warcraft lore.
40. Deadwind Pass
The ill-fated parlay between orcs and humans takes place in Deadwind Pass, a zone that WoW players will recognize as the path to Karazhan.
41. For Azeroth
The human battle-cry “For Azeroth!” is, unsurprisingly, pulled directly from many, many Warcraft games.
42. Kargath Bladefist
He doesn’t play a huge role in the film, but warlord Kargath Bladefist can be seen in the background of multiple scenes. You can recognize him by his, y’know, bladefist. He’s the chieftain of the Shattered Hand orcs.
43. Redridge Mountains
The Redridge Mountains are namechecked, much like Goldshire and Elwynn Forest. This is a quaint little zone located near Stormwind in the Eastern Kingdoms.
44. Sheep polymorph
Medivh uses a polymorph spell to turn a guard into a sheep. The spell is a popular form of crowd control for mage players in World of Warcraft.
45. Moses Thrall
Thrall is sent down the river in a bissonnette by his mother in a scene that looks almost like a shot-for-shot copy of Moses’s river journey in the Bible-inspired animated classic Prince of Egypt. This probably isn’t an accident. Thrall later goes on to become the Horde’s most famous Warchief after being raised among humans.
The orcish practice of Mak’gora means “duel of honor.” It is, indeed, sacred, as seen her in the movie.
47. The “Golem”
Medivh’s “golem” actually bears a striking resemblance to an infernal, a giant rock-based demonic creature that can be summoned by warlocks. It’s never actually called an infernal in the movie, though.