In 2011, Ernest Cline’s sci-fi debut novel about a dystopian future in which most people take refuge from the day-to-day world inside a virtual reality video game became a sensation.
Ready Player One follows Wade Watts and his video game avatar Parzival as they hunt for the Easter eggs within the game that will allow them to win the game creator’s fortune—and control of the game itself.
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In 2018, the book was adapted to film under the thematically-appropriate directorial hand of Steven Spielberg. While there are distinct differences from book to movie, both deal heavily with in-game Easter eggs and pop culture references from the '80s and '90s, ranging from the mainstream to the obscure.
For pop culture addicts who can’t get enough, there are plenty of other movies out there that can help scratch that same itch. Here are ten movies like Ready Player One that will satisfy your pop culture habit, and help you get your highest score yet.
The Wizard (1989)
Legendary for introducing American audiences to Super Mario Bros. 3 before its U. S. release, The Wizard is a pop culture-fueled cult favorite from the ‘80s.
It features Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges, and even Tobey Maguire in his film debut, in a story about three kids who hitchhike cross-country to participate in a video game tournament at Universal Studios Hollywood.
The movie features plenty of Nintendo action, including scenes showcasing Rad Racer, a Power Glove, and Ninja Gaiden, in addition to the aforementioned Super Mario 3. The movie also boasts numerous other nods to pop culture, including a denouement set at the Cabazon Dinosaurs roadside attraction from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
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The Last Starfighter (1984)
Ready Player One capitalizes on the fantasy many of us have entertained at one point or another in our lives: that someday our pop culture knowledge and skill at video games will prove useful.
In The Last Starfighter, Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) discovers that the arcade game he’s been playing as an escape from his dreary life in a trailer park is actually a test left behind by aliens to find someone who can help them defeat the galactic enemy that threatens their world!
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
For those who like their pop culture a little harder-edged, Cabin in the Woods takes a similar Easter egg approach to the one employed by Ready Player One, but with a distinctly horror bent.
Not only does Cabin in the Woods skewer the tropes of the classic horror film, but it also features loads of metafictional references to pop culture favorites.
While it can’t actually feature The Shining’s Overlook Hotel or Freddy Krueger, like Ready Player One does, there are plenty of nods to popular films, from Hellraiser and Evil Dead to The Strangers.
It's all mixed in with jokey, knowing dialogue co-written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon.
Long before Ready Player One there was Arcade. This 1993 film from legendary direct-to-video horror and sci-fi outfit Full Moon Entertainment follows teens who get pulled into a sinister virtual reality video game.
Its pop culture bona fides include an early-career turn from Seth Green, and a screenplay by David S. Goyer, co-writer of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
The film also features extensive and very early CGI effects that actually got slapped with a lawsuit from Disney because the Sky Cycles in the film’s in-movie VR game too closely resembled the light cycles from Tron. This forced the film’s producers to heavily redo the effects at the last minute.
Tron (1982) / Tron: Legacy (2010)
Speaking of Tron, pretty much every movie about people inside a video game owes at least a little something to this 1982 cult classic, which featured what were ground-breaking special effects at the time.
It got a late-in-the-game sequel/reboot in 2010, featuring a return by original star Jeff Bridges and a soundtrack by French music duo Daft Punk.
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Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
For fourth-wall-breaking and Easter egg hunting, it’s hard to beat the films of cult director Joe Dante. Even his most restrained features are filled with references to other movies that reflect Dante’s love of cinema, but few of them have ever littered the screen with as many nods to other pictures as 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
A madcap road movie starring Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck, the scene where the protagonists visit “Area 52” alone is filled with more lifts from sci-fi movies than your average comicon.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2003)
Whether it's band names drawn from video games, or boss fights where vanquished foes literally explode into coins, Edgar Wright’s cinematic adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult favorite graphic novel series is a pop culture addict’s dream come true.
Michael Cera plays Scott, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead is love-of-his-life Ramona Flowers. The rest of the cast includes everyone from Chris Evans and Brie Larson to Aubrey Plaza and Kieran Culkin—and, of course, all kinds of cameos, Easter eggs, and more.
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Last Action Hero (1993)
A young boy gets magically transported (by way of a golden ticket) into an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film in this multi-layered metafictional satire of action movies.
The film was helmed by Die Hard director John McTiernan with a screenplay co-written by Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang director Shane Black who, at the time, was probably best known as the scribe of the first two Lethal Weapon flicks.
In the course of their adventures inside the movie’s film-within-a-film, Schwarzenegger and the kid encounter one pop culture reference after another.
These include a joke at the expense of Mel Gibson playing Hamlet, to guest appearances by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick as their characters from Basic Instinct and Terminator 2, respectively.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Disney’s 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph was a surprise hit, thanks in no small part to its pop cultural references and its nostalgic affection for video games gone by.
From classic arcade cabinets like Tapper and Pac-man to Mortal Kombat and World of Warcraft, there are more video game nods in Wreck-It Ralph than you can shake a joystick at.
This 2018 sequel goes even further, as protagonists Ralph and Vanellope get into the internet and, in the process, run across everyone from Disney princesses to Star Wars characters.
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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
James Gunn’s jokey, poppy adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy took Marvel movies into space and exploded the size of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It also features a breakout role by Chris Pratt as a wisecracking space rogue who connects to the world pretty much entirely through ‘80s pop culture references, from Footloose to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a prominently-placed Troll doll.
Pratt’s character also connects with his late mother through an “Awesome Mixtape” of swingin’ ‘70s hits that dominate the soundtrack.