7 Essential '80s Movies to Watch Before 'Ready Player One'

Do you need to see a Steven Spielberg movie first? Maybe not.


By now, you’ve probably heard that the highly anticipated Steven Spielberg film, Ready Player One, has a lot of pop culture references. So many if fact, you can read about every single pop culture reference in a novel by Ernest Cline that also happens to be called Ready Player One. But, unlike the film version’s multi-decade approach to pop culture, Cline’s book asserts that the biggest VR interface of the future — the OASIS — is actually based on the Eighties. Obviously, there are a lot of movies, books, video games, and TV shows to know if you’re to understand every reference in both the book and forthcoming film, but if you want just the seven most spiritually connected films, that’s what this list is for.

Below, in a completely biased order, are the only seven movies you totally need to watch before seeing Ready Player One. It should be noted that not one of these movies was directed by Steven Spielberg. Though, he did co-produce all the Back to the Future films. In other words, IS Steven Spielberg as important to the Eighties as we think he is? HMMMM?

No spoilers ahead for anything.

7. Back to the Future Part II (1989)

If you’re looking for only the essential movies from the Eighties to watch before Ready Player One, the first 1985 Back to the Future probably isn’t as important as its sequel. Why? Well, because the flying DeLorean doesn’t show up until the end of Back to the Future. But, it’s the essential focus of the entire sequel.

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6. WarGames (1983)

It’s the quintessential Eighties hacker movie with young Matthew Broderick! In the book version of Ready Player One, Wade has to act out scenes from this movie word-for-word in order to unlock the first gate in his epic quest to find James Halliday’s Easter egg in the OASIS.

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5. Say Anything (1989)

This is the Eighties romantic comedy to rule them all. This is also the movie that made John Cusack famous, and it’s totally required for you to understand the vibe of Ready Player One, if only because it’s probably the purest Eighties artifact of all the films on this list.

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4. LadyHawke (1985)

A relatively obscure Eighties fantasy film featuring Matthew Broderick, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame. The film was also directed by Richard Donner, famous for the 1978 version of Superman. In the book version of Ready Player One, characters are pretty into this movie, even if it’s not near as famous as other Eighties fantasy flicks like Willow or The Neverending Story.

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3. Better Off Dead (1985)

Ernest Cline references a few music cuts from Better Off Dead in Ready Player One, but the most enduring reason to watch it ahead of the new film adaptation is that it’s another excellent — and underrated — John Cusack movie. It’s also surreal as hell, which dovetails nicely with the VR world of the OASIS.

Watch the whole thing on YouTube!

2. Tron (1982)

1982 was a pretty solid year for sci-fi movies. Not only did Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan come out that year, but also Blade Runner, E.T. and The Thing! Still, the film from that year that is the most relevant to Ready Player One is easily the original Tron. The premise, in essence, is basically the same as Cline’s book. The only difference is that Tron takes it all one step further. Instead of VR (which didn’t exist back then), Jeff Bridges just literally gets transported into a computer network. Basically, the anachronistic description of Tron is that it’s Ready Player One meets The Matrix.

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1. The Last Starfighter (1984)

Though this classic film is most closely associated with Kline’s second novel — Armanda — the close connection between simulated sci-fi battles and actual stakes make this film the true progenitor of Ready Player One. In it, a trailer park kid discovers than arcade game is actually a recruitment device for an interstellar war raging just outside of Earth. Eighties sci-fi doesn’t get better than this. Even though the vibe of this movie feels like it’s ripping off Back to the Future style jokes, it isn’t. This movie came out a year before the first Back to the Future.

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Ready Player One is out next week on March 30, 2018. Meaning, you have just enough time to watch all these movies before then.

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