13 Best Pop-Culture References in Ready Player One

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If you grew up in the 80s (or 70s or 90s), you will love the pop-culture references in Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel is in theaters now and in a word, this movie is FUN.  It’s the first movie in a long time that had me grinning and chuckling through the whole thing.

Here’s my no-spoiler, quick review.

What I loved most was the constant barrage of 80’s film, music, and video game references. Spoilers ahead – but if you’ve seen the movie, read on for my 13 favorite moments. (Even the movie poster is full of nods to great movies!)

Ready Player One movie poster

Best Pop-Culture References in Ready Player One

  1. The Shining: I loved watching Aech react to The Shining story line, having never seen the movie IRL. And, yes, I watched the elevator blood scene through my fingers in this version, too.
    Twins from the movie The Shining.
  2. Video Killed the Radio Star: Mentioned in a brief exchange between Parzival and Art3mis, they said it was Halliday’s favorite song. I remember watching that music video the day MTV began broadcasting. It’s basically an anthem for 80s kids – video killed a lot of things for us.
  3. Harley Quinn & the Joker: The pair can be seen dancing in the Distracted Globe night club. And another Batman reference in the beginning tells viewers that in the Oasis, you can climb Mount Everest – with Batman!
  4. Back to the Future: There are lots of references for this one. There’s the “Zemeckis Cube” that turns back time (Robert Zemeckis directed Back to the Future), Art3mis calls Parzival “McFly”, and Parzival drives the DeLorean car. I missed this one – but read that Aech had a hoverboard from Back to the Future 2 in her workshop.
    DeLorean car from the movie Ready Player One.
  5. Horror movie icons: I noticed Chucky, Freddy Krueger, Jason from Friday the 13th, and the chest-burster from Alien.
  6. TONS of video game references: There are stickers and T-shirts and characters and name drops constantly. A few I noticed include Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Centipede (my fave game!), and Minecraft. And of course the big reference to the Atari 2600 game “Adventure” at the end of the movie. I don’t remember playing Adventure, but my husband did and he remembered how cool it was when he found the “dot” that revealed the game creator’s hidden name (Warren Robinett) – the first ever virtual Easter egg!
  7. Clark Kent glasses: Art3mis gave Parzival these glasses to disguise him when he became popular. He put them on and instantly had the nerdy Clark Kent look.
  8. Monsters: Mechagodzilla, King Kong, and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park played prominent roles.
  9. Star Wars: There were a few references, though I read they were limited because Disney now owns Star Wars. But bad guy Sorrento did offer Parzival the Millennium Falcon and you can see R2D2 in Parzival & Samantha’s apartment at the end. Apparently there are a few more references I didn’t notice: Boba Fett comes to the bar at the Distracted Globe and Parzival wears Han Solo’s belt and holster.
  10. Saturday Night Fever: Seeing Parzival and Art3mis dance to “Stayin’ Alive” in the Distracted Globe made me happy!
  11. Magic 8 Ball: Used as a recording device for Parzival’s broadcast.
  12. Nerd alert: My husband picked out lots of Dungeons & Dragons references, and I-Rok’s chant to make the giant sphere/force field work was from Excaliber.
  13. And perhaps one of the coolest pop-culture references in Ready Player One is this that I found on the web: The scene where IOI attacks Wade and Samantha just after they meet in real life is based on the music video for “Take On Me” by a-Ha. They run through a maze-like hallway and then she pushes him through a hole in the wall, but stays behind to be captured. Check out the similarities to the a-Ha video here.

Screenshot from a-Ha video

There are so many more character and pop-culture references in Ready Player One – especially during the battle at the end. I’ve heard everyone from Harry Potter to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man can be spotted if you watch closely!

Go see the movie – you’ll enjoy it – and let me know what you noticed!

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