As virtual reality becomes an increasingly tempting alternative to the real world, we’re going to take a look back at our favorite digital universes in the movies.
It’s a small but growing subgenre – although the majority of depictions of VR on the big screen aren’t as upbeat and optimistic as Ernest Cline’s. Ready Player One Book or later adaptation, with The Matrix the most famous example of technology as a deceptive prison.
So there’s a healthy mix of cautionary tales about technology completely replacing our reality as well as optimistic speculation about the endless possibilities a virtual world represents, both paths providing juicy premises for classic 2D cinema.
So strap on your VR glasses and make sure you don’t touch anything – here are seven VR worlds to explore after Ready Player One.
1. The Matrix
While the Matrix may not feature the distinctive goggles we now associate with virtual reality, the 1999 classic is nonetheless the most famous representation of on-screen technology. For those who have yet to descend down the rabbit hole and find out what The Matrix is, the film follows Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer who discovers that humanity is trapped in a simulated reality called The Matrix and leads the rebellion against responsible machines.
Needless to say, The Matrix’s take on VR is a little darker than Ready Player One’s – while Spielberg’s film briefly touches on the idea of the importance of disconnecting to spend time in the world. real, in the virtual cyberpunk of Keanu Reeves. reality has completely replaced the real world, with the oblivious human race spending their entire lives alone and isolated in containment pods, their minds locked in a digital prison.
It’s a worst-case scenario for virtual reality – but it brought the concept to the mainstream, and is still worth watching just how good the film is even though our perception of technology has changed. Our five-star reviewer notes how “the Wachowskis mix ultra-cool visuals, dizzying kung fu, and a delightfully paranoid storyline for an adrenaline-pumping roller coaster ride of extraordinary vision and stunning power” that “pushed the limits of the imagination and the digital”. carries technology further than ever before.”
Where to watch: NOW
2. Lawn Mower Man
Named after a Stephen King short story – and nothing more – it’s no surprise that this 1992 sci-fi has a fairly negative take on virtual reality. The Lawnmower Man stars Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Lawrence Angelo, a brilliant scientist who experiments on chimpanzees using virtual reality – but when he subjects a gardener to the same treatment, he gains superhuman abilities.
It’s safe to say that Ready Player One has significantly better visuals than The Lawnmower Man, which is pretty laughable by today’s standards – but shows that the anxiety over VR technology doesn’t is not a new phenomenon. Spielberg’s adaptation shows virtual worlds as fun escapism where players can share their passions as long as it’s not global, but The Lawnmower Man acts as a fun sci-fi horror counterpoint speculating on the dangers of a digital world.
As our review of The Lawnmower Man points out, the film’s big draw – and then impressive special effects – has aged rather poorly, but the film remains “remarkable only for its attempt to combine a variation on the Frankenstein theme with the cinematic opportunities offered by “virtual reality”. “.
Where to watch: quiver
3. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Along with Ready Player One, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle might just be one of the best video game movies around – even if it’s not actually based on a video game…
A “rebootquel” of Robin Williams’ beloved classic, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle follows four teenagers who are transported into the Jumanji video game as adult avatars and must complete the game to survive.
Although the Jumanji reboot movies don’t technically use VR technology to realize the game world – instead, they’re magically sucked in – they’re still one of Hollywood’s best portrayals of what it is. would be to fully step into a VR-style video game. Ready Player One and the new Jumanji films are fun, family-friendly adventures that, while not based on existing video games, nevertheless incorporate several gaming tropes into their story and have therefore become one of the best translations of the medium on the big screen.
Video game similarities aside, Ready Player One and Jumanji are two of the best family adventure films of recent years – our Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review described the film as “as good as the original from 1995, director Jake Kasdan’s action adventure takes the bones of Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 book and adds contemporary twists.” It was also a box office success, resulting in Jumanji: The Next Level and Jumanji 4.
Where to watch: Amazon Premier
4. Assassin’s Creed
Speaking of video game movies, here’s one based on a game that uses virtual reality. Based on the best-selling video game franchise, Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, who explores the memories of his ancestor to become a master assassin and take on an evil organization.
While from the outside it may seem like the Assassin’s Creed series uses time travel, all historical scenes actually take place in virtual reality – Callum uses a machine called Animus to relive memories of a dead reality since a long time in a virtual world (a convenient excuse for any problems in games!). Granted, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t explore the possibilities of VR as much as Ready Player One – the technology is largely only used to recreate 1492 Madrid – but it has one of the most unique VR machines in the film, eschewing the usual glasses or chairs for a giant mechanical arm that allows Fassbender to run and jump in one of the most visually interesting representations of technology.
We were quite impressed with our Assassin’s Creed review, describing the film as “a thrilling, visually nightmarish Dan Brown-esque conspiracy tale where Mortal Kombat meets Raiders of the Lost Ark.” For some more immersive kills, it looks like a real Assassin’s Creed VR game is in development, along with a new live-action series on Netflix.
Where to watch: Amazon Premier
We can’t talk about virtual realities in cinema without mentioning one of the very first video game movies. Tron stars Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn, a hacker who is transported to the digital world and competes in gladiatorial games with the help of a security program.
Inspired by the iconic first video game Pong, the cult classic Tron was a landmark film in terms of computer animation and video games and paved the way for movies like Ready Player One. Indeed, Ready Player One makes several references to the 1982 classic throughout – a cycle of light is seen during the virtual racing scene and features more prominently in the book when Parzival plays the classic game Tron: Deadly Discs.
Ahead of its time – and the technology available – Tron was the first film set in an abstract computer world to which so many of the other films on this list are indebted. It’s a decent movie, too – our Tron reviewer described the film as an “imaginative electronic fantasy” that “opened new cinematic paths” and likely laid the foundation for the Toy Story franchise. A sequel, Tron: Legacy, was released in 2010, with Tron 2 apparently in the works with Jared Leto.
Where to watch: Disney+
6. Ender’s Game
Also based on a beloved science fiction book – Ender’s game by Orson Scott Card – this film adaptation of the same name explores virtual reality in wartime. The film follows Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), a gifted kid sent to a space military academy to prepare for an impending alien invasion by an insectoid species.
As with Ready Player One, Ender’s Game shows the oft-maligned uses of gaming skills – this time in wartime, where gifted children train in virtual reality simulations. Since several military personnel around the world have begun training using virtual reality, this particular portrayal of the technology has real-world ramifications, especially given the plot twist of the third deed. Ender’s Game acts as a cautionary tale about the blurring of lines between virtual worlds and the real world, and how war as a game can easily distort your view of your opponent.
Our Ender’s Game review was full of praise for future Sex Education star Asa Butterfield, describing how “special effects dazzle throughout, Ford and veteran soldier Ben Kingsley add gravity, but assured Butterfield is the real star, as a reluctant teenager who bears the survival of humanity on his shoulders”.
7. Free Guy
One of the newest entries in the growing virtual reality subgenre, Free Guy returns to the more upbeat tone of Ready Player One – then multiplies it by 100. A mashup of The Matrix and The Truman Show, Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds on Usual Form Wise as Guy, a bank teller who discovers he’s actually a non-playable character in an open-world video game and teams up with real players to save his world of deletion.
Ready Player One and Free Guy have a lot in common, from the virtual video game to the CEOs of naughty corporations to the many Free Guy Easter eggs and pop culture crossovers. Indeed, if Ready Player One is a love letter to 80s pop culture, Free Guy is the same for modern gaming, with several iconic video game weapons as well as cameos from popular streamers. As the celebrations of geek culture unfold, Ready Player One and Free Guy are two of the best options available.
Our Free Guy review titled “Jodie Comer stars in this largely enjoyable video game movie” which was a surprise hit that thrilled the pandemic box office crowd enough for Free Guy 2 to enter development.
Where to watch: Disney+
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