A third Blade Runner movie is as inevitable as the coming robot revolution

If Ridley Scott’s film can get a triumphant sequel after more than three decades, a box-office fizzle won’t stop the series

Has there ever been a science fiction movie more primed for sequels than Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049? At the end of the Oscar-winning 2017 neo-noir, itself a continuation of the story first told in 1982’s Blade Runner, we are left with more questions than we had in the movie’s opening frame. There is still no definitive answer on the replicant status of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard (though matters have moved on so swiftly that this barely matters); we have seen little of the replicant uprising that was briefly teased; and the concept of replicants that can reproduce (possibly even mating with humans) has barely been touched upon. As a piece of cinema, Villeneuve’s stunning new episode is as beguiling and enigmatic as Ridley Scott’s original, a Magic Eye poster of a movie challenging us to discern the secrets that lie buried in its swirling patterns.

Until not so long ago, however, any talk of future instalments lay sunk beneath the weight of the film’s disappointing box office take – a mere $260m worldwide on a budget thought to be around $150m. To the casual observer, a basic profit of $110m doesn’t sound too shabby, but Hollywood economics are as abstruse as Scott’s vision of a depopulated, damaged future California: the reality is that after marketing costs and other factors such as the share of gross receipts owed to local cinema owners, Villeneuve’s movie almost certainly lost money. Still, the Canadian director isn’t giving up hope of returning to the dusky neon-peppered world of future LA as he plans his next sci-fi opus, a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.

“It’s such an inspiring place, the Blade Runner world,” Villeneuve told Empire. “The problem I have is the word ‘sequel’. I think cinema needs original stories. But if you ask me if I’d like to revisit this universe in a different way, I can say yes. It would need to be a project on its own. Something disconnected from both other movies. A detective noir story set in the future … I wake up sometimes in the night dreaming about it.”

Director Denis Villeneuve
Director Denis Villeneuve has a problem with the word ‘sequel’. Photograph: Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP

Whether audiences would accept a movie that detached itself almost completely from the events set in place by Ryan Gosling’s K in 2049 is open to question. There would surely be clamour for any new episode to delve further into the secrets unearthed last time out, but Villeneuve could still be given the creative space to craft an original story. The real poser is whether studios would put up the money to get it made.

And yet such a negative view is to ignore completely the resilience of Blade Runner as a movie universe. It took more than three decades for Blade Runner 2049 to receive the green light, 30 years in which Scott’s original film morphed from studio-doctored box-office bomb to bona fide sci-fi classic. Back in 1982 the film’s theatrical cut was met with scorn by most critics thanks to a shonky Raymond Chandleresque narration by an exasperated-sounding Ford and a tacked-on happy ending that ruined almost entirely the movie’s sense of enigma surrounding the lifespan of replicants. It was with the 1992 Director’s Cut (which was not in fact overseen directly by Scott) and the even later 2007 “Final Cut” (which was) that Blade Runner’s enduring brilliance crystallised in the minds of sci-fi aficionados.

Villeneuve’s sequel already looks to have stolen a march on its predecessor. It earned excellent reviews and was well received by the original film’s fanbase. Also, we live in a world where sci-fi sequels are two-a-penny – The Matrix is only the latest cult effort to be getting a belated follow-up – and where Martin Scorsese gets to make a three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic with a budget of $159m that is cheerfully funded by Netflix on the proviso that the streaming service gets to use its presence to inspire new subscriptions. The futuristic, epic visual treats of Blade Runner might be even less suited to the small screen than The Irishman, but if this is the price to pay for seeing another episode, most fans would gladly pay it.

Moreover, the concepts played out in Blade Runner – artificial humans, the potential for humanity to morph into something new rather than be replaced in the inevitable robot revolution – are so fundamentally fascinating that 2049 will surely continue to pick up new viewers over time, just as the original film did. We can only hope that it doesn’t take another 30 years for a critical mass of interest to build and burst the dam, inspiring somebody to start the ball rolling on part three.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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