One month after its release, it is safe to say “Blade Runner 2049” is dead upon arrival at American theatres. Despite critical praise, the film made only $85 million domestically off a $150 million budget, leaving many asking what went wrong.
“Blade Runner 2049” stands on the giant shoulders of its predecessor, “Blade Runner,” and it reaches heights rarely achieved in film. Picking up 30 years after the events of the first film, this installment follows Blade Runner K, played by Ryan Gosling, as he is tasked with tracking down bioengineered slaves called “replicants” who have gone rogue.
Following the same formula that made the original an immediate cult classic, “Blade Runner 2049” immerses viewers in a cyber-punk world and invites them along for a unique neo-noir thrill ride. It relies heavily on the plot of the original film and continues asking many of its moral questions, such as “What is life?” and “At what point does an artificially intelligent system become a sentient being?”
The beauty of both “Blade Runner” and “Blade Runner 2049” is that they do not beat the viewer over the head with ham-fisted moral quandaries; rather, the discussions from the film are raised naturally through the narrative.
These discussions of the films never become stale; each revelation on the state of humanity packs as much of a punch as the first. Throughout the entire runtime of two hours and 43 minutes, viewers never feel like they are being force-fed a moral message.
Despite the beautiful aesthetic, introspective message and breathtaking cinematography, there are a few turnoffs in “Blade Runner 2049” that deter the average moviegoer from buying a ticket.
First and foremost, it is the direct sequel to a 35-year-old film that did not rock the box office when it hit the big screen in 1982. Bringing in only $27 million in its lifetime, “Blade Runner” has reached science fiction fame as one of the most beloved — yet poorly capitalizing — cult classics of all time.
It is hard to encourage moviegoers to make an almost three-hour commitment to a film franchise with which they likely have no prior experience.
To alleviate this, most producers would encourage the production of spoiler-filled trailers that would draw in viewers with promises of a fast-paced, action-packed narrative, but Ridley Scott called for the opposite. The “Blade Runner 2049” trailer reveals absolutely nothing about the narrative of the film and, instead, focuses more on establishing an emotional tone and environment.
This begs the question of whether production companies should focus on maintaining spoiler-free environments for viewers or on making trailers as compelling as possible.
Analyzing the failure of “Blade Runner 2049” brings the viewer to many similar questions.
Are long films doomed for lower ratings? Are movies with darker, grittier messages less likely to succeed? Are science fiction movies that do not rely on huge alien monsters destroying cities destined to fail at the box office?
But these questions miss the biggest point of “Blade Runner 2049.” To gauge its success on profit alone is not fair to the film. As a sequel to a decades-old cult classic, it never had huge chances of leading the box office. But it can do even better: It can become a cult classic like the original film.