Ready Player Two: everything we know so far about the virtual reality movie sequel
Ready for more?
It’s far from game over for the Ready Player One movies.
The first film, adapted from Ernest Cline’s best-selling 2011 novel and directed by Steven Spielberg, was a major box office hit when it arrived in cinemas in 2018, taking an impressive $582.9 million worldwide, so it’s hardly surprising that a sequel is currently in the works, based on Cline’s 2020 follow-up titled, you guessed it, Ready Player Two.
Crammed full of pop culture references nodding at everything from hit video games like Street Fighter to movie classics like Back to the Future and comic books like Batman, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian near future, when climate change and an energy crisis have prompted people to seek refuge in a virtual reality universe called the Oasis.
When the Oasis’s creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, his in-game avatar Anorak announces a competition, inviting players to find the Easter egg hidden inside the simulation. The winner will become the new owner of the Oasis and receive half a trillion dollars.
Among those taking part is Wade Watts, an orphan who uses the avatar Parzival in the game and is played by Tye Sheridan in the film. Teaming up with friends like Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), he travels to different planets in the Oasis to retrieve a series of keys that will help lead them to the Easter egg, dodging the villainous tech CEO Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn)’s attempts to take the prize for himself.
The film adaptation received mixed reviews, but the blend of relentless pop culture nods and impressive CGI world-building with classic Spielbergian adventure clearly proved successful with cinemagoers around the globe, meaning that anticipation for the second book was high when it was announced in the summer of 2020.
More like this
Cline’s sequel was almost a decade in the making, but picks up just days after the first book’s ending, and reveals what happens after Wade is placed in charge of the Oasis following his successful quest. The author, who collaborated with co-writer Zak Penn on the first film’s screenplay, was inspired to work on a second book when he saw Ready Player One’s sci-fi universe coming to life during the production process.
“I don’t think I really started writing until they started production on the movie, which got me back into living in the world of Ready Player One,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2020. “That’s when I started to really write the sequel.” The prospect of a second movie helped propel him forward - as did some nudges from Spielberg (what a double whammy of motivation).
“I knew then there was like a ticking clock because if the movie does well, then they’re going to want to make a movie sequel,” he revealed to EW. “And if there’s no book to base the sequel on, then that won’t stop them. So that motivated me and it was great because as we were finishing the movie, Steven started to ask me questions about what the sequel might be about so he could get that into the ending of the first movie.” Talk about pressure.
Details may be scarce right now, but here is what we know so far about the Ready Player One sequel (with some spoilers for the first film ahead).
Will there be a sequel to Ready Player One?
Cline has revealed that a film sequel is already in the works, albeit in the “early stages” of development. Speaking to Inverse in December 2020, shortly after the release of the book Ready Player Two, he confirmed plans to bring part two to the big screen, with the caveat that “Hollywood is in limbo right now” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can tell from the experience of making the first movie that everybody had a lot of fun,” he added. “We talked about the possibility of there being a Ready Player Two when we were making Ready Player One. In Hollywood you never know. I really tried my best to focus on just writing a sequel to my book. There are characters in the movie that are alive that aren’t alive in the book. I focused on trying to give the fans the book without letting the film influence me. The movie will sort itself out later.” Aside from Cline’s confirmation, though, details about the second movie are few and far between, and a director is yet to be attached to the project.
Recently Spielberg has been occupied directing The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical drama starring Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, and serving as an executive producer on projects like the fifth Indiana Jones movie and upcoming series Masters of the Air. He has also spoken about the challenges involved in bringing Ready Player One’s intricate sci-fi world to the big screen, describing the adaptation as one of the most difficult projects he has worked on across his decades in the film business, thanks to the extensive CGI work required to recreate Oasis’s virtual realm.
“It’s the third most difficult [film] I’ve made after Jaws and Saving Private Ryan,” he told Empire magazine. “I think there is a distinction between a physical challenge, which was both Jaws and Saving Private Ryan, and another kind of challenge, which is trying to do something technologically new that has never been done before… I had to learn how to make a film like this while I was making a film like this. And that means a lot of trial and error.”
Still, Cline has spoken of his hopes that Spielberg could be persuaded to come back on board. “I really hope that if we do make another one, that he would do it,” the author told Collider. “Michael Crichton, the novelist, is the only one to get that lucky and have two of his books made into movies by Steven [Jurassic Park and The Lost World], but maybe I’ll get lucky, too.”
What happens in Ready Player Two?
The second instalment begins just nine days after Wade wins Halliday’s scavenger hunt and is put in control of the Oasis. He discovers an inscription on the Easter egg which points him in the direction of an Oasis Neural Interface headset, a new piece of tech invented by Halliday but never released to the public.
It allows the user to experience all of their real world sensations in the game, but its use must be limited to 12 hours per day to avoid dangerous sensory overload. Unsure about the ethics of his latest development, Halliday decided to leave the question of whether or not to roll out the ONI to his successor, meaning that the decision lies in Wade's hands.
It’s a question that causes friction among him and his friends, especially with his love interest Art3mis, but Wade eventually gives the green light for the headsets to be made available to the public. Once a certain number of them have been sold, a new challenge goes live, asking players to find seven “shards” hidden in the game world in order to piece together the Siren’s Soul. Cue another quest that will lead Wade and his pals to various worlds within the Oasis - which are teeming with pop culture references, just like those seen in the original story - and shed new light on the making of the game world, including a love triangle between Halliday, his Oasis co-founder Ogden Morrow, and Morrow’s wife, Kira.
It’s possible, of course, that the film version could deviate from some of the book’s plot points, just as the first movie made some changes to the original, altering the structure of some of the quests for the keys and, as Cline previously noted, refraining from killing off some characters too, like Wade’s fellow gamer Daito (played in the film by Win Morisaki).
What has the cast of Ready Player One said about a sequel?
Sheridan has previously spoken of his desire to return to the Oasis for a second film, telling ComicBook that he has his “fingers crossed” and “hope[s] we get to do another,” while his co-star Cooke has told Digital Spy that should a sequel happen, she has already signed up. “I’ve signed my life away, so I’m contracted to sequels,” she said shortly after the first film’s release, albeit with the caveat “I haven’t heard anything.”
The first film drew in an impressive array of stars, from Rylance as Halliday and Simon Pegg as his Oasis co-creator Ogden Morrow to Master of None’s Waithe and Rogue One’s Mendelsohn, but with movie number two currently in the early stages of development, there’s no word yet on which members of the supporting cast might reprise their roles. Characters like Waithe’s Aech and Anorak, the Oasis avatar of Halliday, continue to play key parts in the second book, though, as does the villain of the piece, Sorrento.
Which pop culture references feature in Ready Player Two?
The first book and film manage to pack in a staggering array of cultural callbacks, from a recreation of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel to the DeLorean DMC-12 car that Wade drives. There are plenty of nostalgic nods to films and games from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, but Spielberg decided against including many references to his own works from that period (though the T-Rex from Jurassic Park still makes an appearance).
The director was able to use “80 per cent” of the properties mentioned in the book, largely thanks to his industry clout, but licensing restrictions meant that certain references had to be written out. One of those references was a scene based on Blade Runner, which was vetoed as, had Ready Player One stuck to its original release date in winter 2017, it might have overlapped with the release of the sequel Blade Runner 2049. “I actually at one point wrote a sequence set in Blade Runner and I think the problem was they knew the new Blade Runner was gonna come out right around then,” Penn later revealed. “I think I had somebody driving Deckard’s car and I think they didn’t give us the right to do it.”
Ready Player Two crams in an equally eclectic line-up of references. One planet, Shermer, is named after the fictionalised Illinois town in which John Hughes set many of his ‘80s teen movies, and throws together his characters in one high school. Their challenge revolves around Hughes’s film Pretty in Pink, and includes some meta nods to some near-miss casting decisions. Another world is based upon J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy works, with references to The Silmarillion, a collection of stories which take place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings.
A further location, Afterworld, is dedicated to Prince, where the gang must battle seven villainous versions of the singer from different eras in his career. As the Blade Runner anecdote proves, though, referring to famous films, games and figures in print is one thing, but bringing them into a film is another. This segment is one that might prove particularly difficult to adapt for the screen, as the late musician’s estate controls the rights to his image; when plans were leaked for a hologram of the star to appear during Justin Timberlake’s 2018 Superbowl performance, they were quickly quashed, perhaps because Prince described “the whole virtual reality thing” as “demonic” in a 1998 interview. Maybe Abba’s digital avatars could step in instead…
When will Ready Player Two be released in cinemas?
With the movie still in the early stages of development, fans will have to wait a while before a release date is confirmed. With no further announcements beyond Cline’s initial confirmation so far, it’s safe to say that the project is a few years away from cinemas yet — not least because its stars are booked up with a slew of exciting projects.
Cooke has swapped the Oasis for Westeros, taking a leading role in upcoming Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, while Sheridan is set to star as a young paramedic in new thriller Black Flies, starring alongside Sean Penn and Katherine Waterston. Rylance, meanwhile, remains one of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood and beyond, and has movies with the likes of Luca Guadagnino and Terrence Malick in the works.
Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.