ArtSunday: the Blade Runner Effect
Last night we watched the Final Cut of Blade Runner again, and if you don’t have this package I can’t recommend it highly enough. 25 years on, Ridley Scott was able to finally re-craft the film as he wanted it originally, and the result is a stunning achievement. Scott has been one of our greatest directors for a very long time, but this may be his finest moment to date.
This viewing (probably my 35th or 40th – I lost count a long time ago) got me to thinking, all over again, about how little the film was acknowledged at the time of its release. While it was nominated for two technical Oscars (Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Effects, Visual Effects), it’s hard to look back and argue that it got anything like the critical acclaim it deserved (a point underscored by how well respected the film is today). In addition, it didn’t do very well at the box office (it drew a little over $6M that opening weekend, and the theater I saw it in was 90% empty).
Now, though, history has reassessed Blade Runner. Roger Ebert added it to his list of greatest films after seeing the Final Cut, and our friends at Wikipedia catalog the rest:
- In 2007, the American Film Institute listed it as the 97th greatest film of all time, making it new to the list, having been left off the 1997 version. In 2008, Blade Runner was voted the sixth best science fiction film ever made as part of the AFI’s 10 Top 10.
- Blade Runner is currently ranked the third best film of all time by The Screen Directory.
- One of Time’s 100 All-Time best movies.
- British movie magazine Empire voted it the “Best Science Fiction Film Ever” in 2007.
- In 2002, Blade Runner was voted the 8th greatest film of all time in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Films poll.
All of which brings me back around to a favorite topic of mine: art whose greatness was not realized in its time. “In its time” is a malleable phrase, of course. With film it might mean anything from “opening weekend” to 25 years or beyond, and with other, older forms of art we could be talking about decades. For purposes of today’s ArtSunday, I’ll let you, the reader, make you own calls about this.
From where I stand, Blade Runner is the greatest example in film of a work that critics and audiences whiffed on at the time of release. It was largely ignored or panned, over time evolved into “cult status,” and was eventually validated both critically and commercially well after the fact. No other film I can think of surpasses Blade Runner in this respect.
Other genres have their own examples of greatness discovered late (or even too late), of course. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, now regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian Era, was never published in his lifetime, for instance.
Today, then, we invite our readers to offer their favorite examples of “the Blade Runner Effect” – that is, the condition of “late greatness” by art that was not duly acclaimed in its time.
That done, I’m certain a store near you is selling the 25th anniversary box of Ridley Scott’s classic. Go grab it, and while you’re out, stop by one of your finer bookstores and pick up a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the superb Philip K. Dick novel on which it was based.
Oh, yeah – Philip K. Dick. Speaking of artists who never really got their full due….