If you ask any modern science fiction fan to give you a list of classic Sci-Fi films from the last fifty years, they are without a doubt going to name Blade Runner somewhere in their top 10. Ridley Scott's iconic film has had quite a shelf life, despite a disastrous box office run in the summer of 1982. A success that, according to the film's "visual futurist" Syd Mead, is owed to the then burgeoning VHS market.
During this year's Visual Effects Society Awards, Mead was honored with the organization's "Visionary Award." With his resume filled with films like Tron, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and most recently Elysium, his contribution to the world of futuristic sci-fi is undeniable. But perhaps his greatest success was the film that, in Mead's own words with Collider, succeeded only because of the following scenario:
The movie comes out, if enough people like it, fine. If they don’t, it doesn’t go anywhere. And the VCR saved Blade Runner. It was one of the top rental movies for a couple months.
When you take into account the fact that Blade Runner was made on a $28 million budget and only took in $27 million at the box office, the film can basically be considered the Tomorrowland of 1982. Though over time, and with a couple theatrical re-releases, box office records site The Numbers has clocked the film at grossing $33 million worldwide by 2008. Still in the same summer that E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was made for $10.5 million, and brought Blade Runner's current total in its first two weeks of release, the fact that Ridley Scott's masterpiece couldn't even cover its budget is astounding. Of course, it didn't help any that Blade Runner opened in the second weekend of E.T.'s then record breaking run, but Scott's film did beat Steven Spielberg's massive hit in one respect: it was out on video first.
Despite E.T. being a top draw at the theaters, the film wasn't released on video until 1988 – six years after its original theatrical release. Blade Runner, on the other hand, was out on video the year following its less than spectacular finish. This ensured that fans could get their fill and spread the gospel to their friends who were lucky enough to own a VCR back in the day. So while E.T. took his sweet time landing in the living rooms of families across the nation, Rick Deckard's existential adventures in the neo-noir Los Angeles that Syd Mead crafted with his own hands were more than readily available.
There are quite a few franchises who have seen their reputations bolstered by home video sales, the most recent being that of Guillermo del Toro's fan favorite Hellboy movies. Sadly, the DVD and Blu Ray markets aren't what they once were, which is one of the reasons del Toro has cited when telling his fans that Hellboy 3 probably isn't happening. But maybe, if the fates are kind, he'll be able to pull a Blade Runner and find himself making a sequel a couple of years down the line.
After all, that same strategy worked on Syd Mead's other legendary cult hit, Tron, and now Blade Runner will soon see its day in sequel court. Which is funny, because if you were to tell any of those first wave fans for either of those films that a second film would make its way to their eyes decades later, they'd have probably laughed. Right before they rewound their VHS copy for the seventeenth time, in the name of perpetuating the Blade Runner legend.