8 reasons why 'Blade Runner' became a cult film

Ridley Scott's science fiction film hit cinemas in 1982, later earning die-hard fans. "Blade Runner 2049," to be released on October 6 in the US, links to this legacy. But what makes "Blade Runner" a cult hit today?

When "Blade Runner" came out in 1982, it didn't do exceptionally well at the box office. Five years after the start of the space opera "Star Wars," movie-goers were apparently not yet ready for the extremely dark world proposed by filmmaker Ridley Scott and his artistic team.  That same year, the greatest box office hit was incidentally another science fiction film, Steven Spielberg's "E.T." 

Ridley Scott Regisseur

"Blade Runner" director Ridley Scott behind the camera

"Blade Runner" nevertheless became a cult movie, even though it was way more bleak and mysterious than the other science fiction cult hits.

Read more: Top 10 German Sci-fi Films

1. Production and art direction

The biggest showpiece of the film is the dark and mysterious universe created by the director, cinematographers and set designers.

It portrays Los Angeles in 2019 as an overcrowded city where rain constantly falls from the sky. A mishmash of languages dominates the scene. Skyscrapers actually reach the stratosphere. Average people walk through decaying urban canyons on foot while the rich are ensconced in pyramid-like buildings.

"Blade Runner" followed on from great sci-fi cinematic role models like "Metropolis," the 1927 groundbreaking German expressionist film. Scott's movie influenced subsequent generations like no other science fiction film of its time.

2. Looking into the future

Unlike "Star Wars" or "Star Trek," "Blade Runner" was not completely decoupled from the here and now. Through the filmmakers' presentation of the city and street landscapes, one could actually imagine a future built on remnants of the present. Huge billboards advertise Pan Am, Coca Cola or TDK. "Blade Runner" also anticipates the traffic gridlocks and environmental collapse in the mega metropolises of the 21st century.

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Harrison Ford inhabits a futuristic world that at the same time seems realistic

3. Modern film noir

"Blade Runner" does not just play with science fiction aesthetics. The film also pays homage to the film noir of the 1940s. Black and white, all possible shades of gray, brown and sepia tones give the film an inimitable look.

Rick Deckard, the police officer in the Blade Runner unit, is a grandson of detective characters such as Raymond Chandler's Philipe Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Harrison Ford, who plays Deckard, confidently walks in the footsteps of film noir actors Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum.

Bildergalerie Harrison Ford

"Blade Runner" confronts the audience with provocative questions

4. The story

The story of "Blade Runner" (based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick) revolves around a so-called blade runner hunting four artificial human beings, known as the replicants, who are illegally present on the earth.

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The film simultaneously transcends the classic sci-fi genre film by provoking the audience with a number of barbs and questions. This provides immense depth to the story.

5. The meta level

As simple as the basic story is, the deeper layers of the plot are always surprising and diverse. According to film journalist Kata Kirste, Ridley Scott "creates a highly individual work that asks no less than the question of what constitutes the identity of man. Not only is there a phonetic similarity is the names Deckard and Descartes, but a philosophical subtext shines through the narrative, his central motif the problematic of being and consciousness." Indeed, the film considers a spectrum of religious, philosophical, ethical and aesthetic questions.

Read more: More than science fiction: society's deepest fears and hopes in film

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News stars for a new decade

Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young: Those were the "Blade Runner" stars of 1982. "Blade Runner 2049" features Canadian Ryan Gosling and Cuban Ana de Armas in the leading rolls (pictured above in a spaceship). The new film links back to its predecessor, though it enlivens the story with new elements in hopes of attracting a new generation of movie-goers that is not familiar with the original.

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The cult classic from 1982

Surprisingly, "Blade Runner 2049" is even gloomier than its predecessor. Despite its dark setting, the 1982 version also featured noticeably bright colors, such as in the above scene with artificial humans and puppets. The 2017 version is radical in its cool-toned visual construction. Pale yellows, blues and grays dominate, and there are many foggy and nighttime scenes.

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The bleak world of 2049

The plot of "Blade Runner 2049" picks up 30 years after the events of its prequel. In the intervening years, the world was struck by atomic catastrophes and nuclear fallout. The viewer once again meets a Blade Runner (Gosling) – an officer who hunts artificial humans known as replicants. And, as in the 1982 film, the same question arises: What is the value of a human? And of a replicant?

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Denis Villeneuve in the footsteps of Ridley Scott

The stakes are high when filming a movie sequel some 35 years after the original cult hit that, meanwhile, has earned millions of global fans. But in this instance the gamble paid off. The producers of "Blade Runner 2049" chose well in picking world-renowned French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve to make the film. Ridley Scott, director of the 1982 original, served as an executive producer.

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Humans of the future in the Future Museum

The story that "Blade Runner 249" tells is as complex as it is simple. Complex, because the story picks up plot threads from the old film, varying them and developing them further. But also simple, because the new film fundamentally addresses the same questions as in 1982: How do humans deal with artificial intelligence? And how humanely do they interact with replicants?

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'Blade Runner 2049': a darker and more dangerous world

In 1982, "Blade Runner" set the standard for artistic design and special effects, primarily through its imaginative vision of a near future set in global super cities. Far less of human life in such cities can be seen in the new film, in part because environmental pollution and nuclear catastrophes have wrapped the earth in an impenetrable fog.

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Harrison Ford is back

Harrison Ford was at the pinnacle of his career in 1982. Five years before "Blade Runner," the American actor starred as Han Solo in "Star Wars," and in 1981 he played Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The producers and director of "Blade Runner 2049" placed a visibly older Ford once more before the camera, giving him a perfectly tailored role that leaves behind a strong impression.

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Ryan Gosling on the side of Ford

However, the lead actor of "Blade Runner 2049" is Canadian Ryan Gosling, who is some 40 years younger than Ford. The two have to flee side-by-side more than once in the new film. Gosling most recently showed off his acting chops as a sensitive musician in the worldwide hit "La La Land." He gives a similarly convincing performance in "Blade Runner 2049" through reduced, sparse expressivity.

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A successful sequel

Over the past years, many experts and film connoisseurs warned against a "Blade Runner" sequel. Hollywood's attempts at new film installments often ended up as artistic shipwrecks. But the new "Blade Runner" is anything but the typical, heartless sequel spawned by the commercial machinery of Hollywood's biggest studios. It qualifies as a singular artistic cinematic work.

6. The actors

The success of "Blade Runner" as a unified artistic work is due in no small part to the film's convincing ensemble of actors.

As the doubtful, brooding and self-questioning replicant hunter Deckard, lead actor Harrison Ford gives one of the best performances of his career. "Blade Runner" also features Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as the leader of the replicants – his best-ever film performance. And actress Sean Young plays the greatest role of her life as the sad and unsettlingly beautiful replicant.

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Ford gave a masterful performance in "Blade Runner" as the complex replicant hunter Deckard

7. The melodramatic factor

The melancholic love story that develops between Deckard and Rachael adds a melodramatic layer to the science fiction film that is primarily carried by its masterfully staged action scenes. Ridley Scott magnificently unites action and love, making each unimaginable without the other. This also gives "Blade Runner" its inimitable aura.

8. The music

The film score by Greek electro-pioneer Vangelis also contributes significantly to the timeless feeling of "Blade Runner"; 35 later, the movie hardly seems to have aged at all.

In 1982, the same year that "Blade Runner" hit box offices, Vangelis won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his prior musical work on the British drama "Chariots of Fire." Vangelis' "Blade Runner" soundtrack sucks the audience into the action through the entire film.