To call Blade Runner 2049 a disaster would be far from the truth. For thirty-five years, creating a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was considered (by most) a bad idea. The original 1982 Blade Runner is a cult-classic about a cop called a ‘blade runner’, played by Harrison Ford, who has to hunt down bioengineered people called ‘replicants’. The film revolutionized the sci-fi genre in style, tone, and thematic elements. However, Blade Runner 2049 seemed to do the impossible. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (the director of Oscar nominated films Sicaro and Arrival), the sequel is currently boasting an impressive 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.4 on IMDb (the 63rd highest rated movie of all time), and is even gaining considerable Oscar buzz. Villeneuve made a film that kept the flair of the original while adding more to the story, justifying its importance as a sequel.
However, to call Blade Runner 2049 a success would also be far from the truth. The sequel had a significant budget of 150 million dollars (not including marketing), but bombed at the box office, only raking in 31.5 million domestically its opening weekend. It then dropped 52.7% to 15.5 million in its second week, and 54% its third week to 7.2 million. This put its domestic earnings at 54.2 million dollars after three weeks, which is barely even ⅓ of its budget.
To put this into perspective, the recently released Thor: Ragnarok had similarities to Blade Runner 2049, being a sci-fi movie with a high budget of 180 million dollars and critical praise. Its opening weekend, it earned 116 million dollars and after three weeks, has earned approximately 278.5 million dollars domestically. Now, Thor: Ragnarok is a very different product than Blade Runner 2049, being a part of the very financially successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is clear from this that Blade Runner 2049 is a box office blockbuster bomb. But if the original was so revolutionary, why wasn’t the sequel a hit?
A lot of signs point to the marketing in the trailers. Most trailers today give away a lot of the movie. To reconsider Thor: Ragnarok, the trailers gave away what could have been an amazing surprise: that Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was in the movie. However, they sacrificed that surprise by making Hulk a large part of their marketing campaign. Blade Runner 2049 refrained from that route. Ninety-nine percent of the plot was held in secret, and all that was really shown from the trailers is that Ryan Gosling plays a new blade runner and Harrison Ford is in it. This sense of curiosity is a double-edged sword. While this is what a trailer should do, general audiences are used to having big, exciting trailers that are almost like their own movie. Trailers are so important now that there are even trailers for trailers. Since Villeneuve and his marketing team left most of the movie a secret, Blade Runner 2049 sacrificed making the quick buck for a rare and intriguing moviegoing experience.
Another aspect that led Blade Runner 2049 to becoming a box office disaster is that it’s an unconventional blockbuster. The film is nearly three hours long, finishing at two hours and forty-three minutes. Not only is this asking a lot from the audience to sit through, it’s also hard for movie theaters to show a lot of viewings because of how much time it takes for each screening to play. The film also deals with a plethora of complex themes, and has many ambiguous questions that are left unanswered by the end of the film. Most general audiences are not interested in this type of complicated film, and prefer their blockbusters to be uncomplicated popcorn flicks that are fun to watch (examples are the Transformers movies and a majority of the superhero genre). It is also rated R, which means a lot of youth can’t see it without an adult, and a lot of adults can’t see it if they have kids they don’t want subjected to nudity, cursing, and intense violence. Unfortunately, Blade Runner 2049 is a slow, insightful film that is trying to appeal to a demographic too large for its market.
One of the biggest reasons that Blade Runner 2049 is a financial wreck is that it’s coming out thirty-five years after the original. Blade Runner isn’t like the Star Wars franchise that’s continued on through huge box office prequels, multiple TV shows, and an extensive expanded universe before it released a thirty-two year sequel. The original was also not financially successful, and had to go through multiple different cuts before even earning its cult-classic label. A lot of general audiences have heard of Blade Runner, but it’s a guarantee that most haven’t seen it. It’s gritty, very slow-paced, and R-rated like its sequel. It’s also a highly recommended to see the original before viewing the sequel, and if most people get bored watching Blade Runner, chances are they won’t be paying to see Blade Runner 2049.
It’s sad that Blade Runner 2049 was a financial failure, because it’s the type of blockbuster that audiences deserve and should support. It’s a film that makes the viewer think while providing what can only be described as visual extravagance, opposed to something like one of the Transformers sequels that are just a bunch of pointless explosions. One can only hope that audiences can become more accustomed to blockbusters like Blade Runner 2049, but there’s always the chance its Oscar campaign is successful and that the critical praise will lead to high DVD sales.