This page contains unmarked spoilers. You have been warned!
The clan of Gunters that Parzival forms is called the High Five. When Parzival asks for a high-five from the curator (who is not in his clan), he's refused.
The same is true with Art3mis after their brief test in Aech's garage. He offers a high five, but she doesn't give it to him. And this was before any of them ended up being on the top of the scoreboard.
The BTTF references are everywhere, from the DeLorean to the Zemeckis Cube to Art3mis calling Parzival "McFly" as she signs out. But there are subtler parallels too. In BTTF3, Marty erases his bad future by going hard reverse in the street race with Needles, same as Parzival during the race trial.
He technically does that in the first film as well. Marty's home life didn't look like it was going well, with his mom as an alcoholic and his father being a wimp. After the accidental changes he made in the past, he ended up finding his family happier and living better than they had before.
A movie about the greatest Easter Egg hunt of all time was released on Easter weekend, 2018.
Oingo Boingos song Dead Mans Party isnt used in the film, but the zombie ball during the second trial is a literal dead mans party!
The Curator being Ogden Morrow is hinted at a few times:
His seemingly out-of-character astonishment at there being only one mention of Kira in Halliday's Journals makes sense when you know he is actually an avatar for Ogden Morrow, Kira's husband. Morrow would have remembered having had other conversations with Halliday about Kira, and had clearly assumed they would all be there.
The Curator's discomfort at replaying scenes from the journals is because he remembers the conversations first-hand, and it is undoubtedly a painful memory.
The way he talks about Nolan Sorrento when he was an intern at Gregarious Games ('The only thing he knows about Halliday is how he liked his coffee') implies he was there, and knew both men.
The Curator doesn't stop the first video after Parzival says he had seen enough (which ends up helping him, since the end of the conversation holds the clue to the first task)? Ogden's emotional reaction to the video is apparently making him unwilling to end it immediately.
When Wade bets the Curator "all my coin" that Kira was only mentioned once, the Curator pays up with a quarter. The "extra life" provided by that quarter saves Wade from zeroing out after the Cataclyst detonationthus preventing Wade from losing all his coin.
The quarter being an extra life also makes a reference to how quarters were used exactly that way in old arcades.
In the PVP free-for-all seen early in the movie, the avatar used by Wade's aunt's trailer-trash boyfriend is James Raynor, a central character from the Starcraft single-player campaign. One of Starcraft's main themes is that its human forces are "trailer trash in space."
That The Shining is known for making huge changes to the book it was based on is a plot point in this movie, which also makes huge changes to the book it was based on. It gets even more charmingly meta when you consider that Stanley Kubrick was Steven Spielberg's good friend and mentor, someone he looked up to. So by including a Kubrick reference, Spielberg is engaging in the same sort of fannish hero worship in his movie that Ernest Cline did of Spielberg in his book.
Even more Fridge Brilliance when you listen to some of Spielberg's interviews about where they met for the first time. Spielberg had met Kubrick in the same open hall set where Jack is seen writing his novel throughout the film while visiting the soundstages at the studio for Raiders Of The Lost Ark. When the High Five enter the recreation of the film, it's in the same open hall set that Spielberg met Kubrick in.
While the placement of their meeting in real life is much earlier in the movie than in the book, a nod is made in that Samantha and Wade meet both times in an area surrounded by plants, on the garden roof of her base in the movie, and in the center of Og's hedge maze in the book.
When Aech asks Sho if The Shining was scary, he says, "I had to watch it through my fingers." It makes sense when you discover that he's an eleven year-old kid.
Double points for fridge logic for foreshadowing when you realize that Aech is an African-American, making his trip through the VR version of The Shining playing around with the "black person dies first in a horror movie" trope before it's subverted by Parzival and Art3mis rescuing him from the maze.
Even more horrifying when you realize that for The Shining played that trope straight, as the only primary black character in the entire cast is the first person to die on screen, and in a very horrific way. Every other death mentioned is often backstory (like with the ghosts) or off screen (Jack freezing to death). That means Halliday's recreation of The Shining may have had that rule built into it, staying true to the source material.
The OASIS creator James Halliday's favourite music video is "Take on Me"... which is about a woman being drawn into an imaginary world that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
Also, Wade and Samantha running from IOI is practically a gender-flipped version of the video's chase scene.
Some seriously meta Fridge Brilliance. Given how much of a pop culture maniac Halliday was, there's an additional message there. The follow up to "Take On Me," was a song called "The Sun Always Shines on TV," which is an incredibly melancholy song about regret, lost love, and trying to escape the pain. Topping it, the video starts with the couple from "Take on Me." He turns back into a cartoon and vanishes. The video itself is the band performing in a church to an audience of mannequins. Now look at what happened with Halliday and Kira. He blows it with her, and ends up having to run away...essentially becoming a cartoon. The sun always shines on TV, and the Oasis is much sunnier than the reality outside it. It's also worth noting that "Take On Me" was a Black Sheep Hit for the band; "The Sun Always Shines on TV" is closer to their usual output.
You think that's brilliant? How about his favorite song, "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles? The main theme behind the song is that technology has changed music, essentially music videos (a new medium) destroyed how people listened to new music. In other words, music videos took over music as it was (and the fact the video for the song was the first one shown on MTV is not without its irony). But here's where the Fridge Brilliance comes into play: The OASIS basically "killed" every other means of entertainment in a similar manner, as the OASIS has become the replacement for radio, movie theaters, TV sets, comic book shops, stores and libraries. Essentially, Halliday's choice of making "Video Killed The Radio Star" being his favorite song reflects on exactly what his creation did to everything: it took over all forms of media, just like how the "technology" mentioned in the song took over music from radio.
The face of Sorrento's avatar looks like Superman, or possibly his Injustice counterpart, OR his evil counterpart from the Crime Syndicate of America, Ultraman.
More tellingly, Sorrento's avatar wears a suit, only bigger and shinier. In OASIS, you can look like anyone, anything, and any gender, whatever the player wants. So, why does Sorrento's avatar look so...mild...in comparison. Because that's who he is. A businessman. To him, the OASIS is just another ploy to squeeze money from an already bankrupt world, as evidenced by his plan to fill the game world with enough ads to cause seizures. And the Ear Piece Conversation he has with Wade shows he has no interest in popular culture beyond how he can manipulate his potential customers. Sorrento's avatar advertises what kind of person he is.
It's also telling that while everyone else has avatars expressing who they like to be (and can't be in real life). Sorrento's lack of modification to his avatar? He's got it good in reality, and doesn't have a need to make his fantasy much better than reality.
In the third place, it's a reference to how the book describes the sole company-approved Sixer avatar: blue business suit with their employee number above the left breast pocket, telling everyone you're a corporate shill and to pay you no mind.
I read it more as him seeing himself as "the big cheese", so like the second option but with more... ego. His avatar is pretty big and chunky, and physically intimidating.
At first, Art3mis' insecurity over her birthmark might seem like the film enforcing Hollywood Homelyness on her. But then you realize that she has spent most of her time in the Oasis, where everyone looks however they want. Like many people in Real Life, she believes that she is ugly because the media she consumes consists of people looking impossibly beautiful.
The movie makes nods to the initial discovery of the solutions of the first two keys in clever ways. Wade's discovery of the answer to the first riddle/puzzle is almost entirely by accident both times, and both answers hinge of turns of phrase and language puns. The second is thanks to Art3mis's dogged determination to keep Sorrento from being first to the egg; thus, she discovers the Jade Key first, though she finds the key offscreen in the book.
At first, the change in how Parzival obtains the extra life from book to movie appears very jarring; instead of earning it by luck, because he happened to be exploring part of Halliday's past and decides to play a perfect game of Pacman on the right machine, he is just handed it by one of the former owners of the OASIS. At first, that seems like cheating, but he receives it because he told Ogden something he didn't know about Halliday: that Halliday had purged Kira from the archives. Imagine how Ogden feels: he's remembering all those times he talked about his wife and putting together how Halliday must have felt together with the fact that Halliday forced him to sell his shares later on. He's not thinking about the contest at all at that point; he just hands over the best artifact he has on him (which he doesn't need, with his avatar's immortality) as a 'thank you' and, like in the book, it's pure luck that it turns out to be useful.
During the final battle, we see Mechagodzilla roast the Iron Giant. This may be unintentional, but it acts as a homage to the book that inspired The Iron Giant. In the story, the Giant challenges an invading black space dragon to a contest of bravery. Each had to withstand something very hot (the Giant had to sit in a bed of burning oil while the dragon had to lie on the sun). The one to either die or call it quits would be the loser. What essentially happens here? More-or-less the same thing. The Iron Giant is burnt by the invading black Mechagodzilla and is visibly in pain, but gets a second wind to fight him again.
Another Mythology Gag to both the Iron Giant and Mechagodzilla: the latter breathes an atomic breath, right? Why could the Giant withstand the atomic breath? Watch the ending of "The Iron Giant" and think real hard on that.
Why can't Aech use his weapons against the zombie during "The Shining" challenge? Simple enough, because the Curator mentions that in the archives of Halliday's memories, there are no violent weapons or artifacts allowed. And for intents and purposes, they were still in the archives, so Aech was disarmed.
It also explains why the Sixers themselves were panicking during the challenge, not because they're wimpy, but because they're up a creek without a paddle.
The secret cheat in the race to earn the first key acts as a nice allegory for why Halliday favors reliving the past so much: everything is easier and the problems you will face in the future don't exist yet. Those problems only exist for those moving forward.
It may also be a reference to how in some older racing games, a cheaty way to win was to drive in reverse, then forward again, thus "passing" the finish line while the other racers barely left.
Wade Watts says that his father gave him that name because it sounds like a superhero name like Peter Parker. Like Peter, and most other superheroes in general, he needs to do his best to keep his true identity a secret because once its revealed, the villains will not hesitate to take advantage of it and people close to him will be in serious danger, something Wade learned the hard way.
It would seem Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt was meant to keep the likes of Sorrento from winning all along. Only someone who was not only skilled at the game, but could think like him and understand the Oasis was both blessing and curse could win.
Sorrento is a business man, the kind who believes that progress should move forward really fast. But to earn the first key, you have to think like Halliday: he wanted things to move backwards really fast.
For obvious reasons, "The Shining" level is meant to be too scary for someone like Sorrento (or at least his sixers) so they would be too scared or unprepared to get through the level without so much as soiling themselves. Furthermore, finding the key requires a understanding of Halliday's deeper regrets, namely not pursuing Kira, something a businessman like Sorrento would have trouble grasping.
The third key being in Atari's Adventure game is pretty obvious, but the reason it was there in the first place was also important. At the time, Atari didn't believe in crediting its programmers or having them be able to put their name to their work, as they felt that the games were a team effort and the company owned the rights. The very first Easter Egg put into games was done so as an act of protest against Atari's policy. The creator signed his work against Atari's orders, but not in a way that could be found if you were just focused on winning. It's also a shot at Sorrento, as the game programmers of the era were considered interchangeable drones, just there to make the company money, like the Sixers in-universe.
Halliday's Secret Test of Character at the end of the film means that Sorrento would have *never* won the challenge, even if he had all three keys. We don't get to see what would have happened had someone signed that paper instead of realizing that the correct course of action is to walk away, but it probably wouldn't have been pretty, especially since Sorrento would have tried to handle the matter personally instead of sending one of his sixers.
The Angst? What Angst? over Wade losing his aunt in the bombing. Out loud, he didn't refer to her as his aunt, calling her "my mother's sister." He also derisively claims that she spends more time and energy on the string of shitty boyfriends. In the book, she was also abusive and a drug addict. Wade and Alice weren't close at all, and so he only felt for her death the same as he did for the neighbors who got killed in the bombing.
Some cultural critics of the movie (and the book, to a much greater extent), point out just how retrograde the world of the Oasis is, based on media that was Fair for Its Day at best. But then you see Halliday and you know why. Of course, it reads like the reactionary fantasy of a cisgender, heterosexual, white American male Manchild. Its creator was exactly that, trying his best, but too hamstrung by his limited reference frame and mental health issues to expand it much.
Something that was mentioned in the book went unsaid in the film: that Aech/Helen is a lesbian. Hide Your Gays? Yeah, possibly. In the book, though, while Wade was a little surprised, after talking to Helen for a bit, he realized that his friend's sexual orientation didn't matter all that much. The gayness being glossed over and not made overt could be seen as the film trying to be true to that.
It seems like a bit of a stretch that all five members of the High Five are in the same city, but think on it. In the book, Wade moves to Columbus so he can have the best connection to the OASIS. It's not so absurd that the rest of the Five used their coins to pay for travel fare and moved in as well.
Though many misattribute Wade and Daito sporting guns on Sorrento as a reference to Pulp Fiction, it's actually not. If you pay attention to the gun and suit Daito wears, he's wearing the same outfit and using the same gun as Cobb does in the first dream scene from Inception. Then you discover that four out of the High Five are making Sorrento think he's in the real world in order to get information from him. Basically, the High Five pull a Mind Heist on Sorrento.
Everything F'Nale Zandor and her gang of mooks implies. She runs IOI's combat operations; they're the ones who bomb Wade's stack, they're later seen raiding Art3mis' Resistance hideout using surprisingly competent sweep-and-clear tactics, and they show impressive competence while pursuing Aech's van. Why would IOI employ a blooded mercenary unit? The implication is that IOI kills people and blows stuff up on a regular basis. This is only heightened by what she says to Sorrento during an early conversation about Wade. "Is this another conversation we're not really having?"
While Wade and his friends safely strap themselves in when playing in the Oasis, it's shown that a lot of people don't strap themselves into anything while playing and end up stumbling around their living room. How many people are accidentally tripping, burning themselves, punching family members and so forth on a daily basis while playing OASIS? Furthermore, we see in the end, when Parzival calls all gunters for an impromptu assault, that tons of people are playing OASIS in the street, and even running down the sidewalk during the battle. How many real-life casualties did the battle cause by players getting hit by cars or falling down manholes and such? Hell, we have real life instances of this already, and they don't involve VR goggles or full bodysuits.
The woman playing while standing on her couch, completely ignores her son who's trying to tell her that the stove is on fire. Their house could easily burn down and kill them all.
The fact that the setting is in post-societal collapse and close to anarchy. Even the "happy ending" where Wade and his friends gain control and IOI is defeated the premise of the world hasn't changed: that the real world is so shitty that people constantly play in the OASIS to escape their depressing reality. This could be the focus of a story in itself, but is barely even remarked upon. It's briefly mentioned that real life is what matters, but all of the stakes of the story are tied up with the OASIS and its creator, which are portrayed as basically good, rather than a symptom that something is very wrong with the world.
Don't forget as well that people do work in the OASIS as a career, that a lot of markets work through it. So their shutting it off for two days of the week is putting a hard break on economies. Imagine the effects that has on markets and people's livelihoods.
Let's not forget the ethical implications of shutting down the OASIS, even temporarily; put simply, as said above the OASIS is against the backdrop of a Crapsack World (where de-facto slavery is openly practiced and corporations casually commit acts of terrorism), and Wade is effectively forcing people to live in that world. More specifically, it's mentioned that you come to the OASIS for what you can do, but stay for who you can be. People don't just simply live vicariously through their avatars; for some people it is their life. They may have made their only friends in the OASIS, or may only be able to make friends there for whatever reason. Call it sad or futuristic or what have you, but objectively speaking we clearly see that people attach as much significance to their avatars and their possessions as they do their actual bodies (i.e "Losing your shit means losing your shit") because in a way they are if we're talking about something that is so immersive and so heavily used. Let's also imagine people who've found communities of people like them only through OASIS (think LGBT and other minorities on the internet for a real life example) or those who've managed to escape abusive or neglectful households through the OASIS (Wade himself is this, though it's more clear in the book). Now imagine that you are now effectively banned from your community/surrogate family/escape from terrible reality. It's tempting to snark that Wade more or less saved the OASIS from IOI only to force people from using it two days a week like some screentime-measuring nanny, but even the most overbearing nanny can't bring about the existential horror of effectively locking you out of your own body for two days every week. In short, the message about appreciating the real world falls kind of flat when the world is established as so dystopian that people are literally living their lives outside it.
Arguably, that's the point, people becoming so addicted to the Oasis and the escape it provides that they put up with stuff in their real life that would otherwise be intolerable, thereby making sure the Crapsack Worldstays that way. Halliday intended it to be a fun place for people to connect, relax, and play, but it quickly became such a good circus that the politicians and corporations didn't even have to pony up the bread. Ogden realized this explicitly, which was a contributing factor to his falling out with Halliday. Halliday even realized this himself, way too late. Despite being a virtual god inside the Oasis, his reality was lonely and sad. He had failed to confess his feelings to Kira, alienated his best friend and business partner (who, again, turned out to be right, but Halliday was too stubborn to admit it), and was crippled by mental illness, dying unfulfilled and miserable. It did a damn good job of making sure everyone was too doped up, putting all their energy (and money) into the Oasis to actually fight for better real world conditions. The whole bit with Alice and her Lower-Class Lout of a boyfriend who blew their meager savings on upgrades? The "loyalty centers" and their indentured servants? Frankly, the only reason they were allowed to exist was because of everyone's dependency on VR. Guys like Sorrento thrive when no one is paying enough attention or are too apathetic to hold them accountable. Forcing a two day per week shut down also prevents companies from forcing people to work in the Oasis until they drop dead, mandating everyone gets time off. Sometimes, pulling the plug is the only option, and it keeps Wade from becoming either Halliday or Sorrento.
Add the Creative Sterility inside the Oasis, which is based on pop culture that is 30-40 years old by our standards, 70 years old by their standards. Some critics have pointed out that the whole thing is incredibly reactionary for The New '10s with its White Male Lead and lack of media references that aren't centered around white or Japanese male protagonists. In-universe, Aech is a genius at mods, and that kind of intelligence could be applied to engineering real-world solutions to the Post-Peak Oil energy crunch. But as long as Aech is building Iron Giant replicas, there's no reason to apply that skill elsewhere. Or the fact that, in the book, she was kicked out for being gay, which means the culture either stalled out or went backwards in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. The fact that her avatar is furthest from her real appearance than the others is telling; there still aren't a lot of black lesbians in pop culture. As long as you can play on the Oasis, you don't have to build new things and the dominant cultural messages won't be challenged, either.
Near the end of the film, Wade requests every player in Columbus to help stop the IOI trucks that are chasing him and his friends in the real world, revealing his real name in the process. The last time he did that, it ended with a Stack bombed and several people dying. This time, hes revealing his name to the everyone around the world whos watching his live broadcast. While theres nothing bad happening as the whole world seems to be rooting for him at the moment, the fact remains that Wade had just told the everyone who he is and where he lives. Whats to say that there arent any more people like IOI whos going to take advantage of them and try to ruin Wades life in the future?
His identity would have been made public regardless since he won the contest and is now in charge of the company, it's like knowing Sorrento's avatar at this point.
Not to mention, everyone at the Stacks knows him as Wade Watts, their neighbor and fellow occupant of the Stacks and may not have known his avatar was Parzival. Him saying his name and addressing those who live at the Stacks is a call for help to his neighbors, because he knows that they'd rather see him win it than to let the IOI get it. And sure enough, everyone was there, including Ms. Gilmore, who so happens to be the first to Sorrento to tell him to step off.
OASIS money is at least integrated with the rest of the economy if not entirely supplanting preexisting forms of currency. Anyone familiar with MMORPGs will note that they are notoriously vulnerable to in-game inflation.
MMOs run into that issue without regular money sinks in the system to remove currency from the economy. In the Oasis there's the constant consumption of fuel as seen in the race. In addition to money is constantly circulating in the economy so one cannot just easily accrue large sums without substantial risk which is part of what also drives MMO inflation.
The long opening establishing shot is a superficial tour of Wade's home, showing various normal people conducting their lives, mostly within OASIS. We have dancer lady, surfer dude, pole dancer, the gardener woman, and their various family members. We see the gardener during the finale, but none of the rest - odds are they're all dead or badly injured from Sorrento's drone attack on the Stack. We only saw them for a moment, but enough to establish basic character traits, and they were just snapped out of existence by a corporate weasel.