Other than pretty much every plot point and story beat, the book and movie for Ready Player One are mostly the same…sort of. That isn’t to say that one is inherently better than the other, but they do differ in such dramatic ways that it’s better to think of them as two separate adventures that reference the same source material and characters.
So, it should be needless to say at this point, but just in case you don’t get the point of this article there are a lot of spoilers for both the book and the movie versions of Ready Player One to follow. As in, the entirety of the rest of this article is specifically focused on discussing spoilers. If you want a spoiler-free review of the movie, you can read and watch that here.
From the opening moments of the Ready Player One film, things are very different. In the book, Wade lives in the stacks on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. The center of the VR universe is Columbus, Ohio, and he dreams of living there, near the serves for The Oasis, one day but it’s a far off fantasy. In the movie, the stacks are already in Columbus. Everything left of humanity feels like it exists within a few miles.
Furthermore, after IOI blows up his home, killing his only family that’s left in the real world, in the book Wade flees to Columbus using the vast funds he has amassed via endorsement deals from his newfound celebrity status inside The Oasis. In doing so he changes his name and gets a new identity to hide himself. In the film, he ends up getting abducted by one of Artemis’ henchmen and joins “The Resistance” with her after his real name is revealed. He never changes his name, never gets a swanky futuristic apartment, and never really alters much about his life other than buying a nice haptic suit with some spare cash.
That’s a pretty major change.
Speaking of, yeah, he meets Artemis in the movie very quickly. In fact, I’d wager about a third of the film takes place outside of The Oasis and includes scenes of the two of them talking on balconies, scheming at desks, and kissing in the backseat of vans. A huge plot point of the book was the fact that they never met until the very final pages, but they’re introduced physically very quickly in the movie.
Additionally, their entire relationship is very different. In the book, she is a pseudo-famous guide writer and streamer in The Oasis that everyone knows. A lot of that backstory existed prior to the film beginning, but it’s character development we miss out on.
Once they do start talking more in The Oasis and becoming friends, he falls in love and gets a little…creepy. Eventually she blocks him to focus on the egg hunt and he gets depressed, barrages her incessantly with messages and emails, and becomes a bit like a cyber stalker. Then they magically come back together and are in love once again. The movie mostly erases this entire subplot and collapses the timeline significantly.
The High Five’s Relationship
In the book, Wade hangs out with his best friend Aech in his virtual basement that includes all of their favorite games and movies. It’s a bit like an exclusive club that only top-performing players and close friends get access to. In the movie, this takes the form of a modder’s garage instead. This means that Wade, Artemis, Aech, Daito, and Sho never meet up to discuss things and never agree to remain friendly rivals.
In the book, they’re competition is a driving force. They don’t really share hints and clues much and typically prefer to stay as competitive as possible. In the film, they’re working together like a merry band of best friends as soon as they all meet in person.
Speaking of, in the book, Daito and Sho are not real-life brothers like they are in the movie. In fact, the two have never met each other and near the end, Daito is actually murdered in the real world by IOI. The movie’s ending is far less morbid and actually includes all five of them gaining control of The Oasis together as they live happily ever after.
The Order of Events
All of those other details are easy to gloss over and look past since the core of the characters remain the same in the rest of the film, but it’s hard to ignore just how dramatically different the content of the movie is from the content of the book. Literally every single challenge is completely different.
There is no epic King Kong plus T-Rex laden car chase racing sequence in the book. Instead of searching through the inner workings of The Shining, like in the movie, they must do the same with War Games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the book.
Many of the relatively obscure (for Western audiences) anime references are gone from the film as well, such as Ultraman, and replaced with more well-known IP like The Iron Giant. He makes a big impact in the final battle, as does a Gundam and (thankfully) Mecha Godzilla, but there are still a ton of differences.
In the book, Halliday is very specifically obsessed with the 80s, but in the movie nerd culture from the 70s all the way up through the 90s and 2000s is referenced liberally. An entire army of Halo spartans rushing into battle is definitely not a scene from the 80s and neither is Tracer from Overwatch.
And at the very end they decide that The Oasis will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays because people need to spend more time in the real world — completely ignoring that maybe lopping off ~28% of the world’s economy isn’t a great idea.
The Keys, Gates, and Challenges
In the book when a player finds one of the keys they must then find the gate that will give them a clue to the next key, for the next gate, and so on. Three keys, three gates. In the movie, the keys open gates immediately which present clues for the next pair of keys and gates. Essentially, this compresses the entire plot and cuts the events in half, give or take.
And at the very end of the book three different people are required to present one copy of each key to open the final gate for the final challenge, which only one person can complete. That idea is gone completely from the film.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but instead was intended to touch on the major plot points that changed. Let us know some of the big differences you notice down in the comments below!