Blink and You’ll Miss ‘Em: 5 Movie References Hidden in ‘Ready Player One’

Chris Tilly

Ready Player One is chock-full of pop culture references. Crammed with them. Filled to the gills. Some are pretty obvious, with the Back to the Future DeLorean front and centre throughout the movie. Atari game Adventure playing a big part in the film’s plot. And a pretty famous horror movie is revisited for an extended sequence. That we won’t spoil here.

But others are harder to find. Brief nods to the classics in the background of scenes. Or understated references to less obvious titles. So the following are five of the best — and least obvious — Easter Eggs that we spotted during an early watch of the film.


1. ‘The Last Action Hero’

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero.

During the first ‘Quest’ in Ready Player One, competitors participate in a street race through an ever-shifting city landscape. Where they drive past a movie theatre that’s showing Jack Slater III. Which is an in-joke based on an in-joke. As Jack Slater was the fictional movie star that Arnold Schwarzenegger played in The Last Action Hero. It’s also fitting that this reference occurs moments after the Jurassic Park T-Rex cameos, as the summer of 1993 saw The Last Action Hero pitted against Jurassic Park at the box office. With the dinosaurs victorious.

2. ‘Cocktail’

Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

Keep your eyes peeled during Parzival’s visit to Aech’s workshop, as there are references all over the place. Most of them focussed on sci-fi flicks like The Iron Giant and Silent Running. But there are a couple of more random nods to the 1980s in his den. Including a ‘Save Ferris’ sticker from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But our favourite is a neon ‘Cocktails and Dreams’ sign. Which is what Bryan Brown plans to call his bar in the 1988 Tom Cruise flick Cocktail. He fails to make that dream a reality, but Cruise’s character opens his own ‘Cocktail and Dreams’ at the end of the movie. Where he both pours, and reigns.

3. ‘Back to the Future’

Donald Fullilove as Goldie Wilson in Back to the Future.

There are Back to the Future references everywhere in Ready Player One. From Parzival driving the aforementioned DeLorean and Art3mis calling him McFly to director Robert Zemeckis getting name-checked a couple of times. But blink and you’ll miss our favourite hat-tip. When Parzival is prepping for his trip to The Distracted Globe, and trying on a variety of outfits — including Buckeroo Banzai’s threads and Michael Jackson’s Thriller suit — there’s a poster above the mirror. That features a familiar face below the words ‘Re-Elect Mayor Goldie Wilson.’ Goldie Wilson being the busboy whom Marty encourages to run for mayor in BTTF.

4. ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

Arnold Schwarzenegger's thumb in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

During the concluding battle on Planet Doom, a character — whose identity we won’t spoil here — sinks into a fiery river of lava. But before said character disappears, they stick a single thumb in the air. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when teaching him to be more human, John Connor shows the T-800 the thumbs-up signal. Following the concluding battle with his terminating nemesis, the T-800 self-terminates by lowering himself into a vat of molten steel. Sticking a single thumb in the air before he disappears.

5. Citizen Kane

The mystery at the core of Citizen Kane.

Ready Player One is obsessed with pop culture of the 1980s. So it comes as something of a surprise that an Orson Welles movie from 1941 gets referenced. But Citizen Kane — one of the greatest movies of all-time — does indeed receive a mention. We’ll dance around the exact details of the scene as it comes at the very end of the film. When one character refers to another as ‘Rosebud.’ That name was the mystery at the heart of Citizen Kane, with a reporter investigating why it was the last word uttered by elderly newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane before he died. At the end of the movie, he discovers it was the name of the sled eight-year-old Kane was playing on the last time he was happy. And in Ready Player One, the mention of Rosebud has similar emotional resonance.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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