When Warner Bros. announced Steven Spielberg would direct the film adaptation of Ready Player One — Ernest Cline's 2011 book overflowing with pop-culture references — fans immediately wondered if he would reference his own work. After all, the book does, and often. But Spielberg quickly answered such questions early on in the production process, claiming he would leave references to his films out of the movie.
Finally, just shy of the film's March 29 release date, Spielberg admitted that viewers would get to see a single reference to a movie of his. Now that the film has hit theaters, however, audiences are realizing there's actually more than one reference. Either Spielberg was being coy, or he didn't want to give away the surprise. Of course, the film's first trailer made it apparent Spielberg was willing to negotiate somewhat on film's he produced rather than directed. After all, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a film directed by Robert Zemeckis and executive produced by Spielberg, makes a prominent appearance in the initial teaser.
Production designer Adam Stockhausen has also discussed how he attempted to insert props and scenery hailing from Spielberg's oeuvre. He tried to sneak in some Gremlins graffiti art on a wall, and a copy of Schindler's Ark (the book that inspired Schindler's List) in Wade Watt's trailer home. He even attempted to include a Fratelli's Diner in the film's car race scene, a reference to The Goonies, another film Spielberg produced and based on the story he wrote. Other than the book, which would be hard to spot in the film, Spielberg nixed the additions.
Spielberg admits that once the film moved on to the digital post-production part of the filmmaking process, reigning in the CG artists was difficult. Which makes sense considering a majority of the film takes place within the story's digital world of the OASIS. The film's finale is a large-scale battle between the villainous army of Sixers from IOI (Innovative Online Industries) and the users of the OASIS, fighting to retain their digital freedoms. Because OASIS users can choose any avatar they desire to represent them in the virtual world, the battle is populated with more pop-culture characters than can be visually absorbed in any single screening.
“I think a lot of the digital artists were trying to get some of their favorite ’80s cultural references in there, you know," Spielberg said. "And having seen every shot 30 times as we go through all the different steps from pre-viz to animatic to final, I started noticing little things. They snuck a Gremlin in.” The director didn't catch the Gremlin in the battle scene until it was too late to cut, so it got to stay in the film, though, anyone who sees the film will find it challenging to spot considering the enormity of the battle and the sheer amount of characters onscreen.