Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

by Ridley Scott blade runner might be the greatest definition of a cult classic. It has the necessary lackluster box office and the obligatory years of widespread praise as it heavily influenced the cinematic science fiction that followed. It is also famous for not being able to settle on a definitive version for many years. In a twist that mirrors the film’s themes of reality and life, blade runner itself exists in several versions.

The basics remain the same; it’s a style-soaked neo-noir based on the short story by Philip K. Dick Do androids dream of electric sheep?. The film took the central premise and main characters from the 1968 story, but cut it down to a skimpy detective tale.

The film retains the California short story setting but moves from San Francisco to the neon-soaked metropolis of Los Angeles in 2019. The short story’s background of a post-apocalyptic world nearly destroyed by a nuclear war that left almost all the dead animals and humans fleeing to other planets is relatively untapped. It retains the focus on the title’s Blade Runner, Rick Deckard. It’s a brilliant and inspiring name for a particular kind of bounty hunter, but it’s not taken from the book, just like the name of Deckard’s targets: replicants. These realistic androids were developed for off-world work – a class of slaves with enhanced abilities but limited lifespans who 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, their creator’s planet.

What the film loses in Dick’s plot and subplots, it makes up for in its vision of a dystopian urban future. The subject is full of references, influences and themes that have helped it endure. There are touches of Greek drama, must-see biblical imagery, and references to works from the Romantic Age, including William Blake and Mary Shelley. It’s all wrapped in the mood of atmospheric noir, complete with a grizzled detective, a femme fatale, and a famous improvised last line that instantly passed into Hollywood lore. It’s a dark film that encourages multiple interpretations and offers no easy answers. One particularly compelling question has played a huge role in the film’s mythology since its release in 1982…but no spoilers here.

Replica Blade Runner

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

blade runner had a troubled production and earned Dick’s early reviews. Although at the time of his death, just four months before its release, he had seen the first footage and praised Scott’s script and vision. Director Ridley Scott, eager to build on the success of Extraterrestrial, ran into star wars veteran Harrison Ford. Then there was a heavy dose of studio interference, which led to multiple versions of the same film:

  • Prototype version of the working print—113 minutes (1982)
  • San Diego preview version—about 113 minutes (1982)
  • US theatrical release—117 minutes (1982)
  • International theatrical release—about 117 minutes (1982)
  • Version broadcast in the United States—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 clung to the editing for its theatrical release in 1982. The director’s cut emerged after unauthorized versions of earlier working copies with a conclusion more in line with Scott’s vision. Although the 10th anniversary cut received Scott’s approval, he was only given complete artistic control of The final cutwhich is generally considered the definitive version.

Where to stream Blade Runner online?

Harrison Ford in The Blade Runner
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

The theatrical cut of blade runner is available to stream now from multiple services, but not by subscription. You can rent or buy the original in 4k on Apple TV. You can also rent or buy the movie in HD on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft Store, Redbox, and AMC On Demand. It is only available for rental on Spectrum on Demand.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is also available to stream online. If you have an HBO Max or Netflix subscription, it’s available immediately in HD. You can also rent or buy a 4K stream from Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft Store, and Direct TV. HD versions are available on Amazon Prime and Redbox.

If you’re a finalist wanting to see all versions, you’ll need to log out. blade runner still enjoys multiple physical media home releases, including a legendary Ultimate box set containing five versions on DVD, including the workprint and Director’s Cut—which are not currently available online.
The Titans of Cult collectors line of special 4k releases couldn’t start anywhere but a feature-rich version of The final cut. blade runner still enjoys regular screenings at independent theaters, as any great cult classic should.