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Ready Player One, the hit sci-fi novel that’s about to be a hugely profitable Steven Spielberg film, has become a favorite punching bag online. It’s been roundly mocked as a hodge-podge of geek culture references and wish-fulfillment without enough plot or heart to hold it together, and one meme captures this criticism better than any other: “Ready Player One (2018).”
Ready Player One‘s protagonist is a young man who uses his knowledge of ’80s geek trivia to save the world (and the virtual world where future humans spend much of their time). The main thing people seem to hate about it is how frequently those references to old movies, books, and video games come up, and how much value the story places on them.
Accordingly, the game of this meme is to find any photo that mashes up two or more well-known geek culture franchises and caption it “Ready Player One (2018).”
There’s no better illustration of RPO than this car with the license plate “JEDI 007.”
READY PLAYER ONE (2018)— Stuart Wellington (@flophousecat) March 6, 2018
Dir: Steven Spielberg pic.twitter.com/CZ3qQYTOyj
This meme is especially funny because one of the cars in Ready Player One is a Back to the Future DeLorean with the brain of Knight Rider‘s KITT and the Ghostbusters-inspired license plate “Ecto-88.” As you can see, some of these memes are only a slight exaggeration of the movie they’re spoofing.
Let’s take a look at some more examples. Some of them use the trope known as “Two Things,” where two popular nerdy franchises are combined for no logical reason—it’s been prevalent since 2013, and it’s still a depressingly common trend in t-shirt designs. Others attack aspects of the movie’s “save the virtual world” plot by depicting dorks in VR goggles. Either way, these memes are derisive and pretty funny.
Ready Player One (2018) pic.twitter.com/rHXiCjp3RW— Volkan Graafen (@GraafenBlackpaw) March 7, 2018
Ready Player One (2018) pic.twitter.com/ntQkTrGg01— dDx (@dr_doobers) February 17, 2018
Photo from the five minute sneak peak of Ready Player One (2018) pic.twitter.com/bgf3AbV9ST— Julian Assele (@julian_assele) February 11, 2018
Ready Player One (2018) dir. Steven Spielberg pic.twitter.com/AMsrulIbtO— twenty-KATE-teen (@rose_emoji) February 16, 2018
Ready Player One (2018) pic.twitter.com/eSEMsHu1WP— Raj (@goddamnimglam) February 21, 2018
ready player one (2018) pic.twitter.com/ox03ejKdTF— ben burbank (@bburbank) March 7, 2018
Ready player one (2018) pic.twitter.com/BxDMi24PVS— Kermit (@jonesmcdan21) February 28, 2018
Ready player one (2018) pic.twitter.com/HW2pxEzMZW— Ranch boi (@ben_hotzfondle) February 26, 2018
Picking on Ready Player One may be a new trend, but this basic format has been popular on Twitter for at least a year. One of the best memes of early 2017 was using movie titles to caption screengrabs from the reality show Jersey Shore.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) pic.twitter.com/vtPzjh3El6— first period spare (@brandnxxw) December 31, 2016
This isn’t the first meme to attack Ready Player One, either. When Warner Bros. released variant RPO posters that mimicked the style of iconic ’80s films like Blade Runner, critics made their own posters. Blade Runner? More like Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
In spite of the online backlash, Ready Player One will probably be a huge financial success. For a lot of moviegoers, a special-effects-heavy Spielberg flick full of familiar ’80s references isn’t a bad thing.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.