Spoilers below for Ready Player One.
Ready Player One is the apotheosis of a rising trend in film that we might refer to as “recognition cinema” — the phenomenon of trying to please an audience by including brief references to other pieces of fiction. It’s common in — though by no means restricted to — superhero movies, which will commonly drop hints or include cameos that demonstrate a connection to elements the viewers might remember from comic-book source material or separate movies in the same shared universe.
Typically, such references are given some room to breathe so the crowd can go wild at the excitement of recognizing what the filmmakers are implying. Not so in Ready Player One. In Steven Spielberg’s latest picture, there are dozens upon dozens of pop-culture references in dialogue and mise-en-scène; so many that a single pair of human eyes is incapable of catching them all. Here, we’ve attempted to list as many of them as we could notice and scribble down in the darkened theater. Let us know in the comments if you find ones we missed, of which there are surely more than a few.
Minecraft: The popular video game is one the many worlds gamers in the film can visit as part of the OASIS virtual-reality system.
Batman: The protagonist, Wade Watts, tells us one can hang out with a virtual Batman inside OASIS, and we see him climbing Mount Everest. The Batmobile from the 1960s Batman TV show is seen in a virtual race.
The Joker: Wade’s virtual avatar is briefly modded to look like the Batman villain. Someone else in a Joker avatar hangs out in a virtual nightclub.
Harley Quinn: Seen in the virtual nightclub.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Friday the 13th: Jason Voorhees seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Star Trek: OASIS creator James Halliday has a Star Trek–themed funeral. Later, we see a Klingon bat’leth weapon on a windowsill.
Street Fighter: Logo seen in a marketplace for gamers. Characters Ryu and Chun-Li make appearances as player avatars in fights. A character uses Ryu’s famed “hadouken” fireball to attack someone.
Speed Racer: Speed’s car, the Mach 5, is seen in a virtual race.
Bigfoot: The famous monster truck is seen in a virtual race.
Back to the Future: Wade drives a virtual DeLorean. A modified Rubik’s Cube called a Zemeckis Cube (named after Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis) allows a character to travel back in time.
Tron: A light-cycle is seen in a virtual race.
Akira: A motorcycle modeled after Kaneda’s is seen in a virtual race.
Jurassic Park: The T. rex is seen as an obstacle in a virtual race.
King Kong: Seen in as an obstacle in a virtual race.
Last Action Hero: Characters race past a marquee advertising a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character.
The Iron Giant: The titular robot is a weapon built by Wade’s friend Aech.
Battlestar Galactica: The 1970s version of the Galactica ship is seen as a virtual toy.
Alien: A chestburster is used by Wade’s love interest, Artemis.
Aliens: Space-marine spaceship the Sulaco is seen as a virtual toy.
Silent Running: Spaceship Valley Forge is seen as a virtual toy.
Dune: The planet Arrakis is mentioned as a virtual destination.
Goldeneye: The video game is mentioned as Halliday’s favorite. (He prefers the “slappers only” mode.)
Superman: Wade’s avatar is briefly modded to look like Clark Kent.
Spider-Man: Wade mentions that he was given an alliterative name to sound like Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker or …
The Incredible Hulk: … the Hulk’s, Bruce Banner.
Looney Tunes: Young Halliday is seen near a Marvin the Martian toy.
Space Invaders: Halliday is repeatedly seen wearing a shirt advertising the game.
Asteroids: Mentioned by Halliday’s business partner, Ogden Morrow.
Galaga: Poster for the game seen in Halliday and Morrow’s offices.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Halliday mentions the film.
Star Wars: Stormtroopers briefly seen as avatars in a battle royale. R2-D2 toy seen on a floor. A character refers to Wade as “padawan.”
Borderlands: Unspecified game accoutrements available in a virtual marketplace.
Overwatch: Unspecified game accoutrements available in a virtual marketplace.
War of the Worlds: A crashed Martian ship is the site of a virtual meeting.
Tootsie Pop: A character mentions the candy as a metaphor.
Knight Rider: The car, KITT, is briefly seen.
Beetlejuice: Title character seen as someone’s avatar.
Mortal Kombat: Goro seen as someone’s avatar.
The Dark Crystal: Mentioned by Halliday.
Citizen Kane: Multiple references to Rosebud.
Purple Rain: Wade briefly dresses as Prince’s character.
Mad Max: Mentioned.
Gremlins: Graffiti related to the film briefly seen.
Christine: The titular car from the 1983 Stephen King adaptation is seen in a virtual race.
“Thriller” music video: Wade briefly dresses as Michael Jackson’s character.
Duran Duran: Wade briefly dresses as a band member.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Wade dresses as the title character for an extended period of time.
Battletoads: Titular toads seen as avatars.
Saturday Night Fever: An extended dance sequence is based on the film, complete with Bee Gees soundtrack.
The Breakfast Club: Mentioned by the villain, Nolan Sorrento. Bender seen as an avatar elsewhere.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Mentioned by Sorrento.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Mentioned by Wade.
Animal House: Mentioned by Wade.
Robotron: Mentioned by Sorrento.
Joy Division: Band T-shirt seen on Art3mis’s real-life body.
Dungeons and Dragons: A virtual space is named after the role-playing game’s creator, Gary Gygax. A 20-sided die is briefly seen. Aech’s van has an image on the back door from module Tomb of Horrors.
The Fly: The 1986 remake is mentioned as a film Halliday once saw.
Say Anything: Mentioned as a film Halliday once saw.
Simon: The classic toy is seen as a possession of Halliday’s.
Thundercats: Wade wears a belt referencing the show.
Hello Kitty: A sticker for the brand is seen on a motorcycle.
The Shining: An extended sequence is set in a replica of the Overlook Hotel.
Punk’d: Aech mentions “being punk’d.”
Nancy Drew: Mentioned by a character.
Atari 2600: Becomes a crucial plot point when it’s revealed that Halliday has hidden a key to beating OASIS in a virtual version of one of the antiquated system’s games.
Centipede: An Atari 2600 game mentioned by Sorrento’s underlings.
Pitfall: An Atari 2600 game mentioned by Sorrento’s underlings.
Swordquest: An Atari 2600 game mentioned by Sorrento’s underlings.
Motorcross: An Atari 2600 game mentioned by Sorrento’s underlings.
Adventure: An Atari 2600 game that is crucial to the ending.
Spawn: Seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Child’s Play: Chucky is used as a weapon during a battle royale.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The versions of the characters from the recent film reboot are seen as avatars during a battle royale.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: Sorrento morphs into Mechagodzilla during a battle royale.
Gundam: Wade’s ally Daito morphs into a Gundam robot during a battle royale.
Madballs: A madball is used as a weapon in a battle royale.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day: While sinking into a pit of lava, the Iron Giant gives a thumbs up.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Wade uses the Holy Hand Grenade in a virtual fight.
Mario Kart: Aech jokingly mentions the game during a car chase.
Joust: Poster for the game seen in Halliday’s childhood bedroom.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Poster for the film seen in Halliday’s childhood bedroom.
Forbidden Planet: Toy robot from the film seen in Halliday’s childhood bedroom.
Pac-Man: Poster for the game seen in Halliday’s childhood bedroom.
2112: Poster for the Rush album is seen in Halliday’s childhood bedroom.
The A-Team: Van seen in a virtual race.
Halo: Soldiers seen as a group’s avatars.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Title character seen as someone’s avatar.
Say Anything: An avatar is seen holding a boom box above their head during a battle royale.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure: Aech has a replica of Pee-wee’s bike.
Devo: In the virtual nightclub, the bartender is wearing a Devo energy dome.
Mass Effect: Shepard avatar seen in virtual nightclub and battle royale.
Tomb Raider: Lara Croft seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Deathstroke: The DC Comics villain is seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Jason and the Argonauts: Skeletons seen as avatars in a battle royale.
RoboCop: Title character seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Pole Position: Two cars seen in virtual race.
Duke Nukem: Title character seen as an avatar in a battle royale.
Excalibur: A magic spell from the film is recited by multiple characters.
Spaceballs: Eagle 5 replica seen in Aech’s garage.
Firefly: Spaceship Serenity seen on multiple occasions.
Cowboy Bebop: Swordfish replica seen in Aech’s garage.
Sinbad: Cyclops avatar seen in battle royale.
Chappie: Title character seen as an avatar in a battle royale.