‘Blade Runner’ Turns 35: Ridley Scott’s Unloved Film That Became a Classic

blade runner
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

June 25 is the 35th anniversary of the 1982 Ridley Scott-directed “Blade Runner,” one of the all-time science-fiction classics. The long-planned sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” starring Ryan Gosling, opens in October; earlier this year, director Denis Villeneuve told Variety’s “Playback” podcast that he felt a lot of pressure working on “the most risky project” of his life, because the original is so iconic.

But if it makes him feel better, the earlier film was not a big hit with audiences or critics when it opened. In the 21st century, that seems incredible — how could people not flip out? But “Blade Runner” was so radical that it took several years for its impact to sink in. Even the filmmakers had misgivings: there have been multiple re-edits over the years, trying to hit movie perfection.

Rotten Tomatoes says it was “misunderstood when it first hit theaters.” In the original review, Variety reflected a lot of the mixed reaction, saying the film is “a stylistically dazzling film noir set 37 years hence in a brilliantly imagined Los Angeles… Special effects and sheer virtuosity of the production will attract considerable attention but unrelenting grimness and vacuum at the story’s center will make it tough to recoup reported $30 million budget, not to mention ad-promos costs. Critical reaction will probably vary widely.”

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Many other reviewers also mentioned the budget, which was considered enormous (even though it converts to $76 million today, a laughably modest sum for such an ambitious film).

On June 25, 1981, exactly a year before it opened, Variety reported that the film was racing to complete before a directors strike. “Despite unconfirmed reports over the past several weeks of a mushrooming budget, pic will wrap June 30, five days over schedule. Considerable special effects work will then remain to be done under supervision of Douglas Trumbull.”

A few weeks later, Variety reported that Ladd Co. had picked up “Blade Runner” from the financially beleaguered Filmways.

The film earned $26 million in its summer run in 1982 — not bad, but not enough to get it into the summer’s top 10. And it was certainly not enough to make a profit (the summer box office was dominated by two films, “ET — the ExtraTerrestrial” and “Rocky 3”).

“Blade Runner” earned two Oscar nominations: for art direction (Lawrence G. Paull, David L. Snyder, with set decoration by Linda DeScenna) and visual effects (the visionary Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, David Dryer). They all went home empty-handed. But over the years, filmmakers and audiences have appreciated their work, as well as the contributions of the entire team of the Michael Deeley-produced movie, including cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, composer Vangelis, and casting directors Mike Fenton and Jane Feinberg.

In Variety‘s May 26, 2006, retrospective of the film, Diane Garrett reported that the original did not reflect the vision of the filmmakers; completion-bond guarantors took over, adding the voiceover and happy ending. There was a director’s cut in 1992, but Scott was not happy with that one, saying he was rushed. There was also an expanded international cut. In 2007, to honor the film’s 25th anniversary, there was a fourth version, billed “the Final Cut”; Scott had started working on this edition in 2000, but Warner Bros. shelved it for several years because the studio couldn’t come to terms with one of the guarantors.

There are a few links between the 1982 film and the upcoming sequel, including Harrison Ford repeating as Rick Deckard and writer Hampton Fancher (who scripted the original with David Webb Peoples, and wrote the new film with Michael Green).

Among its many lasting accomplishments, the original film introduced audiences to Philip K. Dick, a prolific writer whose novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was the inspiration for the film. Unfortunately, Dick didn’t live long enough to see the film’s eventual success. He died of a heart attack in 1982, three months before the film opened, at age 53.

But his novel, and a team of futurists and artists hired by Scott and the producers, created a world of oppressive extreme weather, law-enforcement helicopters, oversized neon signs, and robots that can out-think humans. These were exotic ideas back then. But the film is set in 2019, which means that the dystopian clock is ticking and the world of “unrelenting grimness” is just around the corner — if it’s not here already.

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  1. Cathryn says:

    Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favourite reason appeared to be at the net thee
    simplest factor to be mindful of. I say too you, I certainly
    geet irked while other folks think about concerns that they plainly don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon thee top and alpso defined out the entire thing without having side-effects , folks could take a
    signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thank you!

  2. Wes Candela says:

    It was always a masterpiece, it took the directors cut and losing the narration….
    Then people could think for themselves and see the film

  3. Roy says:

    For your reference, ‘The Final Cut’ wasn’t shelved – it had a brief cinema release and is available on disc for anyone who wants to see the version closest to Scott’s original intention and how he viewed Deckard.

    • timgray2013 says:

      Right, thanks. WB shelved it in 2000, when Ridley Scott was working on it, but it was released in 2007. I clarified that just now… thanks.

  4. John Weiss says:

    One of the most amazing things about this film is, that it is very different than Phillip Dick’s novella, it perfectly captured the spirit of his work. It is a gorgeous picture, one of the very best SF films.

  5. tony says:

    Not unloved as so many tv shows /movies have used that ‘blade runner’ visual style over the years.

  6. Steve Barr says:

    If Rick Decade is outed as an aging replicant it will destroy both films . The point of the film has always been what it means to be human.and Harrison Ford has always said that his character is human and the replicants are in their own way more human than Decard because he was dead inside . I also loved the original with the narration .

    • Dave C says:

      I never understood why the replicant theory was propagated, when the writers never wrote the character as a replicant. I understand the director’s role in a movie, but it’s weird that Ridley’s take on the character wasn’t shared by the rest of the production.

  7. ross says:

    I Disagree. In certain circles the original film was loved, adored even, from the beginning. I started Art College in the 80’s and this was the one film all the Majors (Film, Industrial Design, Graphics, Fine Art) could agree on emulating. Terms like Blade Runner-esq, a Blade Runner-vibe or mood, Blade Runner-set-design were routinely used. Almost all the students I knew had the making of Blade Runner book

  8. Dave says:

    “Blade Runner” did actually very well in some countries, especially in Europe, where it had an audience of millions. I don’t have the global box office numbers, but it’s a mistake to judge the films commercial success only based on the U.S. box office, isn’t it?

  9. txpatriot says:

    I wouldn’t call it “unloved”. There is a core of fans that have loved it from the beginning. It is different from the book, and while I like both, I think the movie is fantastic. I am looking forward to the sequel. I hope it does the first film justice.

  10. Briston says:

    It is and always was a # one on my list of science fiction movies: – it’s not only deep in sense but also very poetic and innovative for its time. The soundtrack is awesome. The love theme is, in my view, one of the best love melodies of the XX century.

  11. stevenkovacs says:

    I’ve loved this film since seeing it on its opening day at the old Imperial 6 theatres (now incorporated into the Elgin Wintergarden theatre, used for screenings during TIFF).
    I did get to see it after in 70MM at the (now converted into shopping stores) Unversity theatre (double-billed with ‘Road Warrior), and, again at the now snowballed Ontario Place Cinesphere.
    I now watch the Special Edition blu-rays with all different versions included (I love them all)
    Of course, I’m just waiting to pre-order tix for the upcoming sequel opening in the Fall.
    I just hope it is a strong standalone film that pays homage to the first, and, a proper sendoff for Rick Deckard!
    “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”

  12. Timely Comment says:

    Yeah, could remember when E.T. dominated BLADE RUNNER as THE Science Fiction film for that year.

    I guess a heart-tugging Spielberg film about a little kid and his lost alien was a lot more audience-friendly than a movie about AI robots in a noir mystery set in a dystopian future Los Angeles? Granted you had the orchestral manipulations of John Williams vs the sax-and-synths electronica of Vangelis— but those Dykstra flying cars (models, not cgi!) and Syd Mead futuristic designs in BLADE RUNNER beat the ’80s suburbia look of E.T. for a more visually striking legacy.

    And now Ridley Scott is returning to Produce a sequel to another film he made in those leaner, directorially-hungrier years. Just like the ALIEN movie franchise, I guess he thinks the familiar is attractive to the film’s original audience that has grown up? (And those movie watchers wondering what the fuss is all about.)

    The reader in me is sad that the upcoming 35-years-later Blade Runner sequel is more indebted to Scott and his film “Property” than Philip K. Dick and the novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? that screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples had also took their inspiration from…

    It’s SF unfortunate that PKD is trumped by Ridley Scott in this.

    (Wonder if Rick Decard will be outed as an aging replicant? And how will now-closer future L.A. look? And how will the not-Vangelis soundtrack sound? The movie is definitely intriguing.)

  13. millerfilm says:

    There was nothing “unloved” about it! It was a great, near-classic film the second it debuted. 1982 was a VERY busy summer, with “Wrath of Khan,” “Poltergeist” and “The Thing” competing in the sci-fi/horror field. It just took time for people to get to seeing it.

    • Bony Hurdle says:

      No, it took time for people to reevaluate it after seeing it multiple times over the years. Hence, “unloved” by most who saw it in ’82. Reviews were mixed and word of mouth was not good. In the Dangerous Days documentary, one of the crew mentioned seeing a big line-up on the opening Friday, but the next night he went to see it and there was only a few people in the theater. He knew right then that the movie was in trouble.

  14. Stephen Byrd says:

    I always thought one of the reasons the movie got such a lukewarm reception was its release date. They opened BR during the summer movie season. It is not a “summer” movie. I think if they would had released during the fall, it would not have had the expectations of a summer movie hanging around its neck. And, by the way, I loved the original with the narration. I always thought it gave BR more of a old-fashioned “noir” feel.

  15. Lando says:

    Will there be any black people in Blade Runner this time? Surely in 2019 or 2049 they haven’t gotten rid of all of us yet.

    • Dave C says:

      Hello, commenter who didn’t watch the movie. Black people in Blade Runner (the original movie, I don’t know what they’re planning with the sequel) would have been unflattering.

  16. Bill B. says:

    I saw this a bit before June 25th at a sneak preview in NYC at the most packed theater I think I have ever been in. It’s true what is said here. I thought it was a technical masterpiece, though the narration that was tacked on was a mistake, but the audience was less thrilled leaving than they were entering. I was also puzzled by the lack of more technical Oscars which were richly deserved. I still admire the film, minus narration, but I am not looking forward to a sequel. This was very good. Let it be. Speaking of that preview, it was played at a theater (Lowe’s State?) that was playing a film called the House Where Evil Dwells and if you wanted to get a seat to see Blade Runner you had to watch this incredibly bad film. However, this was a very hip film going audience and I have rarely been in a theater with more laughter. Terrible films can be great fun with the right audience.

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