The original Tron was a groundbreaking film in 1982. It used computers in ways that nobody ever had before to make a movie that looked like nothing the world had ever seen. While this completely new look excited a lot of people and made life long Tron fans, the movie wasn't the box office revolution that Disney was hoping for. It made fans and it made money, but there's a clear feeling that the movie's uniqueness may have turned off as many people as it turned on. Director Steven Lisberger says that he now wishes he'd been able to better prepare the movie audience for the film, simply because it was so different.
The new Disney+ series Prop Culture, dedicates its second episode to the original Tron,, and as part of that, host Dan Langian sits down with the director of the original Tron. Steven Lisberger says that, were he to change anything about the making of the film, he would want to actually "warn the audience," because he knew that Tron was going to be a "far out" movie, but he didn't expect the audience to be quite as gun shy of the technology as it turned out they were. According to Lisberger...
The only thing I would have changed looking back on it is I would have tried to warn the audience: this is highly experimental and it is avant-garde, and I knew we were making something very far out but I didn’t anticipate people’s terror of anything that had to do with technology and that was kind of a shame.
Today, it has to be said that everything about the original Tron feels incredibly dated, even if that is part of the film's current charm. However, at the time, in an era when most families didn't actually own a computer, the technology maybe was a little terrifying.
Viewed through the right lens, as the experimental film that it was, it's impossible to not appreciate what Tron accomplished, but perhaps, as Steven Lisberger implies, too many people couldn't see it that way. In the early '80s Disney was still known for its animated films, which weren't all that great at the time, and other G-rated family fair like Herbie Goes Bananas or The Cat From Outer Space. Tron is a very different movie, not just in general, but specifically from Disney.
Perhaps, if Steven Lisberger had been able to "warn the audience" the response to Tron would have been different. Perhaps then we would have seen better success and it wouldn't have taken decades to get a sequel.
At the same time, if things had gone differently, Tron wouldn't have its place in pop culture that it has today. It's cult classic status is part of what makes it special.