Original air date: 7/10/2002
Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Tweek form a club to prevent Steven Spielberg and George Lucas from releasing edited versions of their classic films, offering a free hat to those who join, but the townsfolk mistake it as a call to free a child murderer named Hat McCullough from prison.
"Free Hat" contains examples of:
- Accentuate the Negative: A meta-instance with Francis Ford Coppola, who appears late in the episode off the back of his having recently re-edited Apocalypse Now. Trey Parker and Matt Stone later revealed that they didn't actually have any major issues with the longer Redux cut of the film, since it was more akin to a Director's Cut than a George Lucas Altered Version. However, they did take issue with Coppola choosing to only release the Redux cut on DVD rather than releasing it alongside the theatrical cut and allowing the viewer to decide which one they preferred, and this, combined with them needing someone to fill Colonel Dietrich's role in the finale, resulted in them adding Coppola to the episode.
- Adults Are Useless: None of the adults want to help the boys out with their cause against Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and instead only want to free a child serial killer from prison.
- An Aesop: Don't try to fix what isn't broken.
- Art Evolution: The Parody Commercial starring series' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampoons this, promoting a fake remastered version of the Pilot Episode "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" with CGI, spaceships, Imperial Walkers, and overall things they wouldn't have been able to do in the past, due to a low animation budget.
- Bait-and-Switch: The boys attend a celebration in their honor, but they learn partway through it's not about their actions against Spielberg and Lucas but about Hat being freed.
- Brick Joke:
- Spielberg's mooks carrying walkie-talkies in place of guns.
- Warming a person's cold heart with a cool island song actually frees Hat from prison.
- Characterisation Click Moment: Stan and Kyle's role as the sympathetic Only Sane Men of the four-boy group is set around here. It is established here that only Cartman is particularly cruel and manipulative towards Tweek, while Stan and Kyle are relatively nice to him and are largely dealing with the obstacle that Adults Are Useless. This carries over into their handling of Kenny and Butters within the dynamic in later episodes, both characters they were generally as antipathetic towards as Cartman beforehand.
- Comically Missing the Point: The protestors believed that "Free Hat" in the advertisement poster meant that the boys wanted to free a convicted murderer from jail and not that the boys were offering free paper hats to attendees.
- Continuity Nod: Cartman's suggestion to add a free hat because "more people will come" is similar to how he suggests offering punch and pie to those who join the La Résistance organization in The Movie.
- Darkest Hour: Parodied. The boys refer to Spielberg and Lucas wanting to alter Raiders as this.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Hat makes no attempt to hide what a psychopath he is, but the Lethally Stupid townspeople believe otherwise.
- Dirty Coward: After Cartman badgered the boys into letting him be the spokesman for their movement, he names Tweek as the spokesman the second he gets a question that he can't answer.
- The Dog Bites Back: After dealing with Cartman's abuse throughout the episode, Tweek attempts to leave him with the directors while trying to bargain for Stan and Kyle's release.
- George Lucas Altered Version: Parodied. The referenced variations made to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were based on real life, but the ones for Saving Private Ryan, The Empire Strikes Back, and the show's own first episode are deliberately silly. The boys hope to prevent a similar fate befalling Raiders of the Lost Ark. At George's house, the boys find digitally enhanced versions of his own home movies.
- Hope Spot: George Lucas is just about to hand over the Raiders print to the boys when Spielberg arrives.
- Horrible Judge of Character: The protesters who want Hat freed from prison, even though he murdered over twenty babies (which he claimed was in "self-defense"). After he's released, the crowd sees nothing wrong with giving the clearly homicidal and unrepentant Hat a baby to hold.
- Hypocrite: Kyle points out that George Lucas led the campaign against colorizing old movies. Lucas, in turn, responds: "But these are my movies." Of course, Lucas was criticizing other people messing with other people’s movies while Lucas is only altering movies that are his in the first place. On the other hand, Stan and Kyle remind him that the work of an artist belongs to society, which nearly gets Lucas to reconsider his actions.
- Hypocritical Humor: The entire episode centers around the boys' distaste for remakes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas classics, yet midway through the episode, a fake commercial promoting a remade version of the show's pilot episode plays.
- Insane Troll Logic: Everyone believes Hat deserves to be freed from prison because "he killed those babies in self-defense."
- Karma Houdini: Hat McCullough is released from prison and immediately goes back to killing babies.
- Lethally Stupid: Despite Hat confessing to killing twenty-three babies, the adults still have no problem giving him a baby when he asks for one to hold.
- Non-Standard Character Design: The updated alien visitors featured in the fake promo for the fake series premiere remake use full 3D models rather than the show's usual paper cutout style, as does their new mother ship.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: During the news interview, Kyle accidentally gives Spielberg and Lucas the idea to alter Raiders.
- Obviously Evil: Hat McCullough. He even starts spouting about wanting to harm innocents and immediately asks to hold a baby. Said baby desperately trying to keep away from him.
- Political Overcorrectness: Kyle says they changed the word "terrorist" to "hippie" in E.T. to be more politically correct. The trailer for the altered of Saving Private Ryan then notes that "Nazi" has been changed to "Person with political differences," while the altered Empire changed "Wookie" to "Hair-challenged animal." Also, both had the guns replaced with walkie-talkies.
- The Power of Friendship: Tweek is prepared to let the version of Raiders go if Spielberg releases Stan and Kyle go, but he pointedly is okay with Cartman remaining a prisoner.
- Precision F-Strike:Spielberg: You troublemakers shall be my guests of honor at the premiere of my new Raiders of the Lost Ark. Your gay little club is over.
Stan: Fuck you, Steven Spielberg!
- Prison Rape:George: Soon, you'll be in jail getting rammed!
Stan: Those rams can do to us what they will, Mr. Lucas.
- Shout-Out: The boys appear on Nightline to tell the world why George Lucas and Steven Spielberg must be stopped.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: The adults had the same idea as the boys: warm a person's cold heart with a cool island song.
- Suckiness Is Painful: The re-edited version of Raiders of the Lost Ark is so bad that it kills the entire audience in a manner similar to said movie's climax, the boys only surviving by keeping their eyes shut.
- Sustained Misunderstanding: The protesters misunderstood the advertising saying "Free hat" as wanting to free Hat McCullough from prison, not that free hats would be given to those attending the rally. The boys decide not to correct them because of how much support they can get to stop classic films from being digitally edited, but the Hat supporters aren't that useful for the boys' original goal and only care about Hat's release.
- They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: In-universe: the boys feel this way about updates to classic films. So does the premiere audience when they see the updated Raiders.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Cartman's simple idea of offering free hats to entice people into joining the film preservation group eventually resulted in a convicted child-murderer being released from prison.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Hat McCullough, who has a lot of supporters who want him freed from prison.
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Cartman says exactly this about the gang's planned TV appearance. It goes very wrong.
- Whole-Plot Reference: The final act turns into a straight up parody of the final act of Raiders of the Lost Ark.Spielberg: It's beautiful!
- Would Hurt a Child: Hat, obviously, and Ted Koppel who interviews the boys seems to agree with Hat too. When Tweek is asked to name a positive of toddler murder Tweek answers:Tweek (hesitantly): It's... it's easy?Ted Koppel: Yes... it is easy...