Say what you will about Ready Player One (and you probably have; or haven’t … who’s to say?) but, if nothing else, Steven Spielberg has probably killed the “80s movie reference” forever. And that’s most likely a good thing. At least for the foreseeable future, if a filmmaker thinks they are getting away with a clever Buckaroo Banzai reference, someone will remind them, “Sorry, buddy, Spielberg already did that in Ready Player One.” There are thousands of possible examples like this.
Though, in a movie that’s not at all subtle about its references (most of them are literally announced like, “Oh, it’s Mechagodzilla!”), my personal favorite is a surprisingly subtle reference hidden in a sequence in the middle of the film that there’s better than average chance you missed.
(I really don’t think any of this would be considered a spoiler, but who knows? So let this serve as your warning. Or not. It’s your life.)
Early in the film, Wade (Tye Sheridan) is testing his trivia skills about the life of OASIS founder James Halliday (Mark Rylance). One of these questions was Halliday’s favorite song and the answer is “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. (Look, this is a good song, but this is no one’s “favorite” song.) Right after that Wade mentions that Halliday’s favorite video is a-Ha’s “Take On Me.” (This seems much more plausible because this is a legitimately great video. Also, while we are talking about a-Ha, I need to mention not enough people realize how good the follow-up hit to “Take On Me” is, “The Sun Always Shines On TV.”)
So what Spielberg did was, much later in the movie, without bringing attention to it, he recreated the “Take On Me” video, only gender-swapped.
At one point when Wade is at Samantha’s (Olivia Cooke) house in the real world (it actually may be more of a lair?), the IOI security forces bust through the windows to raid the place. One of the IOI officers, wearing a full helmet and SWAT-looking gear, runs straight up to the camera and holds some sort of device in his hand, ready to strike – which looks exactly like this:
After, Samantha grabs Wade and runs him down twisting and turning hallways, with IOI right behind.
Then Samantha opens a small, square hole in the side of the wall and pushes Wade through. Wade thinks Samantha is also coming, but instead she turns around to face the officer.
The scene ends with Wade now on the outside of the building and Samantha being captured by IOI. But it’s kind of amazing Spielberg didn’t play the song during this sequence because so much of the rest of the movie is like that.