Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner could be the greatest definition of a cult classic. It has the necessary poor box office and the obligatory years of widespread praise as it heavily influenced cinematic science-fiction that followed. It’s also famous for not being able to settle on a definitive version for many years. In a twist that mirrors the movie’s themes of reality and life, Blade Runner itself exists in multiple versions.
The basics remain the same; it’s a style-soaked soaked neo-noir based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The movie took the central premise and major characters of the 1968 story but trimmed it down to a lean detective tale.
The movie retains the novella’s setting of California but relocates from San Francisco to the neon-soaked metropolis of Los Angeles in 2019. The novella’s background of a post-apocalyptic world nearly destroyed by a nuclear war that left almost all animals dead and humans fleeing for other planets is relatively untapped. It does retain a focus on the Blade Runner of the title, Rick Deckard. It’s a brilliant, inspiring name for a particular type of bounty hunter but it’s not taken from the book, just like the name of Deckard’s targets: replicants. These lifelike androids were developed for off-world work—a slave class with enhanced abilities but a limited lifespan that are illegal on Earth. In Blade Runner, it’s Deckard’s job to track down six replicants responsible for mass murder on their journey back to Earth, the planet of their creator.
What the movie loses from Dick’s plot and subplots, it makes up for in its vision of a dystopian urban future. The subject is packed with references, influences, and themes that have helped it endure. There are splashes of Greek drama, unmissably Biblical imagery, and references to works of the Romantic Age, including William Blake and Mary Shelley. That’s all coated in the mood of an atmospheric noir, complete with a grizzled detective, femme fatale, and a famously improvised last line that instantly passed into Hollywood lore. It’s a dark movie that encourages multiple interpretations and doesn’t serve up any easy answers. One particularly compelling question has played a huge part in the movie’s mythology since its 1982 release…but no spoilers here.
Replicating Blade Runner
Blade Runner had a troubled production and earned early criticism from Dick. Although by the time he died just four months before its release, he had seen early footage and praised the script and Scott’s vision. Director Ridley Scott, eager to build on the success of Alien, clashed with Star Wars veteran Harrison Ford. Then there was a heavy dose of studio interference, which has led to multiple versions of the same movie:
- Workprint prototype version—113 minutes (1982)
- San Diego sneak preview version—approximately 113 minutes(1982)
- US theatrical release—117 minutes (1982)
- International theatrical release—approximately 117 minutes (1982)
- US broadcast version—114 minutes (1986)
- The Director’s Cut—116 minutes (1992)
- The Final Cut—117 minutes (2007)
The main point of contention is the so-called “happy ending,” and the studio latched onto the edit for its 1982 theatrical release. The Director’s Cut emerged after unauthorized releases of the earlier workprints with a conclusion more in-line with Scott’s vision. Although the 10th-anniversary cut received Scott’s approval, he only received complete artistic control of The Final Cut, which is generally considered the definitive version.
Where to stream Blade Runner online?
The theatrical cut of Blade Runner is available to stream right now from several services, although not on subscription. You can rent or buy the original in 4k on Apple TV. You also can rent or buy the movie in HD at Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft Store, Redbox, and AMC On Demand. It is available just for rent on Spectrum on Demand.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut is also available to stream online. If you have a subscription to HBO Max or Netflix, it’s available straight away in HD. Alternatively, you can rent or buy a 4K stream from Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft Store, and Direct TV. HD versions are available from Amazon Prime and Redbox.
If you’re a completist eager to see every version, you’ll have to go offline. Blade Runner still enjoys multiple physical home media releases, including a fabled Ultimate box set containing five versions on DVD, including the workprint and Director’s Cut—which are currently not available online.
The Titans of Cult collectors line of 4k special releases couldn’t start anywhere else but a feature-packed version of The Final Cut. Blade Runner still enjoys regular screenings at independent theaters, as any great cult classic should.