The ’80s Movies That Paved the Way For ‘Ready Player One’

Chris Tilly

Ready Player One is a nostalgia-infused trip down memory lane. Based on the book of the same name by Ernest Cline — and directed by Steven Spielberg — the film revolves around a young hero who enters a contest in a virtual reality called the OASIS. One where knowledge of 1980s pop culture is the key to winning.

So not only is the film filled with Easter Eggs, callbacks and in jokes revolving around the movies, music, TV and games of the 1980s — it’s also inspired by the films of that decade. Here are five features that paved the way for Ready Player One.

Tron (1982)


Written and directed by Steven Lisberger, Tron is the movie that perhaps most resembles Ready Player One, both in terms of storyline and visuals. The plot concerns software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), whose efforts to hack the computer firm he used to work for results in Flynn becoming digitised and entering into the corporation’s cyberspace. Where he plays a series of games against other captured programs, including a Light Cycle race. Which features a Light Cycle that appears in Ready Player One. Tron‘s combination of live-action and animation is a precursor to the CG utilised by blockbusters today, and it’s clearly a huge influence on both Cline’s book and Spielberg’s feature.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

The Last Starfighter.

Ready Player One is all about escape. Protagonist Wade Watts leads a miserable life in a miserable world, and so finds escape in the OASIS. Alex Rogan — hero of The Last Starfighter — feels much the same, desperate to leave the confines of his trailer park. Alex’s only joy comes via arcade game Starfighter, on which he achieves the high score. Only, it turns out, Starfighter is more than just a game. It’s a test, designed to find gunners for a galactic war being fought by the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire. Meaning that — much like Wade — Alex’s knowledge and skills enable him to go on the most incredible adventure.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Young Sherlock Holmes.

This one doesn’t make the list because of anything to do with plot, character or tone. Although it does feature a couple of teens going on a grand adventure. Rather, we’re picking Young Sherlock Holmes because it kicked off the special effects revolution that means movies like Ready Player One can now get made. And it’s a single, solitary scene. Early in proceedings, a priest is shot by a poisoned dart that makes him hallucinate, believing the knight on a stained-glass window has come to life. Created by John Lasseter — later of Pixar fame — this knight was the first fully computer generated character in any film, opening the door for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, Gollum, and pretty much everything and everyone in the OASIS.

The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies.

Steven Spielberg produced The Goonieswhich has similarities with Ready Player One, both in terms of character and story. RPO‘s hero is Wade Watts, a kid living in poverty, whose mother is having serious financial issues. This is one of the reasons Wade escapes into the OASIS and endeavours to win the lucrative contest, teaming up with the ragtag buddies he meets online to solve a series of puzzles set by OASIS creator James Halliday. Goonies hero Mikey has problems of his own. A country club expansion means he might lose his home. He therefore teams up with his ragtag gang of Goonie friends and embarks on a quest of his own. The only difference is that this one involves navigating a pirate map to locate One Eyed Willy’s hidden treasure and save the town. Meaning if you like The Goonies, you’ll probably like Ready Player One.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? paved the way for Ready Player One in two ways. On a technical level, it pushed special effects forward in mind-boggling fashion, seamlessly combining live-action and animation so that you believe Bob Hoskins is really interacting with that big bunny. But beyond that, Roger Rabbit also succeeded in gathering together a bunch of disparate characters, all owned by rival companies. Meaning the film features Donald Duck and Daffy Duck duelling; Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appearing opposite each other; and cameos from the likes of Dumbo, Porky Pig, Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Pinocchio and many more cartoon characters fans never expected to see sharing the same screen. This is a feat that Ready Player One looks to have surpassed through the vast array of film, TV and video game characters rubbing shoulders inside the OASIS. With rumours circulating that even Roger himself makes a brief cameo.

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.
Become a
Pop culture fans! Write what you love and have your work seen by millions.