Comic book movies tend to have lots and easter eggs and references, but none of them can compare to Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg’s latest sci-fi film, based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, is being billed as the holy grail of pop culture – and rightfully so. The film is filled to the brim with characters, references, and easter eggs to countless movies, TV shows, and video games.
Of course, the production team needed to secure the licensing rights to each property – just one of many various forms of rights used in Hollywood – in order to get all those references into the movie, which couldn’t have been easy (or cheap). But when the movie has Spielberg at the helm and a lot of money backing him up, then doors start to open.
Many of the Big References are Warner Bros.
One thing that viewers will notice right off the bat is that most of the major easter eggs and references in Ready Player One come from Warner Bros. properties. And since the film itself is a Warners movie, it was easy to secure licensing rights to several films for the project. For instance, there are several characters from the DC Universe as well as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth stories in Ready Player One. In this case, Warner Bros. owns DC Entertainment and they control the Lord of the Rings film rights through New Line Cinema. That tends to be the case for most of their movies that are in Spielberg’s film.
However, securing licensing rights to non-WB properties is where it got tricky for the film’s producers. Ultraman plays an integral role in Ernest Cline’s book, but they couldn’t use the character since the rights are currently locked in a legal battle. So, rather than alter the story, the creative team opted to replace Ultraman with The Iron Giant instead – a character from Brad Bird’s 1999 movie of the same name that was produced and distributed by WB. It seems it all worked out in the end.
How Spielberg Got The Rights To Non-WB Properties
Getting the licensing rights to Warner Bros. Pictures’ properties shouldn’t have been too difficult, but getting the rights to non-WB movies, TV shows, and video games is an entirely different story. They couldn’t just add in whatever they wanted and hope for the best, that’s not how Hollywood works. Since Steven Spielberg was preoccupied with the movie itself, the burden of getting the rights to all the properties for the movie fell onto the Warner Bros. team, producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, and especially, special-projects supervisor Deidre Backs – all of whom approached Disney, Fox, Paramount, Universal, and various other studios for their character licensing rights. According to screenwriter Zak Penn, Backs’ efforts in clearing the rights to each character in the film was so astounding that it will be taught in film schools.
What ISN’T In The Movie
Here’s the interesting thing: Ready Player One has numerous pop culture references going back decades, but what it doesn’t have are easter eggs and references to Steven Spielberg movies. That’s right, a Spielberg movie that contains references to countless other iconic properties doesn’t actually have references to any of the director’s own works – and that wasn’t an egregious oversight; it was by design. Spielberg didn’t want his filmography to overshadow all the other movies, TV shows, and video games.
Despite not wanting any Spielberg-movie shout outs in Ready Player One, the crew still tried to add in some not-so-subtle references to Gremlins and The Goonies – two movies Spielberg produced via Amblin Entertainment; he also wrote the story for Gremlins – but those easter eggs were nixed. Spielberg even confirmed that references to movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind aren’t in the film. What’s interesting, though, is that there’s a T-Rex in the movie (and in the trailers), but dinosaurs aren’t exclusive to Jurassic Park.
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