Design in Film: Ready Player One Campaign

It could just be because I'm living in Hollywood, but it feels like I was seeing the Ready Player One campaign everywhere over the past few months. And if you have been following the movie, you will know that there was a lot of controversy around its many rounds of marketing. If you are unfamiliar with the film, you can watch the trailer above, and I highly recommend that you go see it because it was such a fun time!

For those who are not familiar with the plot, the film centers around a teenage boy named Wade, who like everyone else in the future dystopian world he lives in, spends most his time escaping the real world in a reality game called the OASIS. When the creator of the game James Halliday suddenly dies, it is announced that he has hidden a final Easter Egg inside the OASIS. The first person to solve his riddles scattered throughout the imaginary world will get to take over his company, and will also receive a half a million dollars. It is a race against the clock as Wade and his friends try to win the game before an evil corporation called Innovative Online Industries does, as whoever wins will get to decide the fate of the fictional world. The movie is littered with pop culture references and imagery, as the game combines many beloved fictional worlds from the 80s and 90s inside of it. This brings us to the controversial campaign for the film that I've been following pretty much since it began.

The first wave of posters released around the time of Comic-Con (which you can see below) were simple enough. The first one was essentially just the title treatment inside a faint outline of "The Egg" that would become a major plot point in the film. The other also shows the title treatment in an egg outline in the background, but more so featured Wade in the foreground climbing a ladder to his home in "the stacks." Both were pretty simple and typical first wave campaign posters, introducing a small bit of the plot, and the title treatment, both of which would become necessary recognition tools throughout the rest of the campaign. 



Another wave included the final key art poster which would be the main imagery used to promote the film, along with specific character posters. The main key art, to me, seemed pretty standard for today's movie poster design. Wade is front and center, only really being outshone in size by the main villain, Nolan Sorrento, behind him. The rest of the cast again surrounds "The Egg" and title treatment, each one getting smaller in regards to importance. Finally at the bottom we can see all of the characters' gaming avatars surrounding a car, which if you saw the film you know is important to completing the first challenge. The poster has a painted finish look, such as many 80s and 90s movie posters do. And, I'm sure it is also not a coincidence that the style would remind people of films such as Blade Runner or Back to the Future. Overall I think it is a successful design. The contrast in showing the characters and their avatars allows interest to develop, and the style of the poster certainly could bring back a bit of nostalgia to people familiar with the decades it is inspired by.


While these character study posters may have been redundant, I actually think they may be my favorite part of the campaign. I love how even though they all have the same concept and layout, they are still so unique to each character. Between the different colorings, font choices, and stances the characters are shown to be in, you can really get a sense of each character without knowing much about them. And I love how the avatars are much more prevalent on these posters than the human forms of each character because as those who have seen the movie will know, most of the characters enjoy being those fictional versions of themselves, rather than being in the real world. Also for a majority of the characters, we only see them as their avatars for the majority of the film. So it makes sense that their idealized alter egos would be more prevalent on the poster.

Another wave of posters that were released, caused some people to begin to tire of hearing about the film before they even saw it. These posters were much of the same in feel and tone, displaying futuristic imagery, and showing the differences between reality and the OASIS. I actually really enjoyed a lot of them on the design front. The one below on the far right is so clever with its reiteration of the title treatment as the VR glasses that are so important to the storyline. It also shows Wade as being halfway between the real world, and the virtual reality, as he still has his human form, but appears to be in more of a Picasso/pixelated state. 


Okay, so here is where the controversy really started. In a later wave of marketing, the filmmakers took the idea of the film involving 80s and 90s nostalgia and really drove that point home in the posters you can see below. They took very recognizable 80s and 90s film posters, and inserted the new characters from Ready Player One into them, in what I'm assuming was an effort to reach an older demographic, and convince them that the film would be a great way to relive their childhoods. This plan backfired greatly though, as many people came out online saying they hated the campaign and even began making fun of the posters.

Listen I get it. People don't want to see their favorite movie posters being replaced with new characters that they don't know or care about. Some other movies and shows being released recently have been able to use nostalgia to their advantage such as Stranger Things. However, I think that the difference is that Stranger Things did not reference specific 80s imagery, but instead took what people loved about the 80s and used it as a way to set the story and give people a similar feel to 80s movies that they loved. 

But if you want my opinion, I loved these posters, and as a designer would love to meet and congratulate the designers who had the task of photoshopping them. They honestly look just like the originals, and let me just say, that is not an easy thing to do. Not only do you have to replace each character with a new one, and change their outfits to match the originals, but you also have to be able to match the different styles and tones of each poster.

And let's be honest, whether you loved or hated the idea, the posters did what they were meant to do: start a conversation and raise awareness about the movie. In its opening weekend, the film jumped right to the top of the box office and raked in 53 million dollars. It also did well critically, with a standing score of 74% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. So people could not have disliked the marketing nearly as much as they claimed if it drove them to eventually see the film. But you can make up your own mind about it by seeing the posters below.


So what do you guys think? Do you love or hate the movie poster reimagining campaign? Did you have a favorite in the many series of posters? And finally did you see the film, and what did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!