Virtual Reality Hollywood: The history of VR in movies


Forget Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – Ready Player One will be hitting cinema screens all over the globe in March 2018, bringing novelist Ernest Cline’s original vision of a rich and extremely life-like virtual reality gaming world, called the OASIS, to the big screen.

But this isn’t the first time a movie about virtual reality has aroused our cultural craving for fantastical future technology and employed some of the same tropes about all the wonders and horrors it could bring. 

In fact, exploring the endless possibilities, ethical minefields and advanced technological inventions around virtual reality has played a central role in science-fiction from the early days of Doctor Who through to the nightmarish visions of David Cronenberg to the storylines of Rick and Morty.

So as we wait for Ready Player One to be released, we’ve decided to go on an adventure. From horrifying, hair-raising games and holodeck adventures through to sprawling sci-fi worlds, we bring you a brief history of VR in TV and film.

It’s worth bearing in mind as you make your way through the list that there might be some titles missing that you would have included and their omission is sure to make for some interesting discussions. For example, is The Grid from Tron virtual reality? Or more digitisation and miniaturisation? We thought the latter. And is Inception an adventure into someone else’s subconscious or an example of a simulated reality? We settled on the former. 

Needless to say, we’ve tried our best not to lift the lid on endings and twists, but there’ll be some spoilers in here. So without further ado, it’s time to take the red pill – we’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes

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