Blade Runner and The Thing Both Came Out 35 Years Ago Today–and flopped. Sometimes both critics and audiences can be stupid. A look back on two of the best science fiction films of all time.
On June 25th, 1982, two of my all time favorite films were released.
In one corner: Blade Runner–Ridley Scott’s visionary epic adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
In the other: The Thing John Carpenter’s inventively gory remake of 50s sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World.
Both came out to much hype: each director was coming off major successes (Alien and Escape From New York respectively) and lead actors Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell were at the top of their game. I read every Starlog and Fangoria magazine I could get my hands on. I had the Blade Runner comic. I was hyped for both.
Yet both flopped. The critics hated them and audiences stayed away. But why?
You can blame a cute little extraterrestrial that helps sell Reese’s pieces. Yep: E.T. which debuted earlier that month to great acclaim and box office, showed the softer cuddlier side of science fiction. No others need apply. It kicked every rivals ass that year.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times’ brutal assessment of The Thing was a popular opinion at the time, saying it was “a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80s.”
While that film provoked invective of the most caustic variety, Blade Runner just left critics cold (Sheila Benson of the L.A. Times simply called it “Blade Crawler” due to its dreamy pacing.)
I was 11 in 1982 and saw Blade Runner in the theaters (yep I’m old but I got to see the coolest shit first! Sorry kids.) with my dad.
As we left he said “why didn’t they just leave for that nice looking scenery at the beginning of the movie?” This was one of many problems with Scott’s original cut, a tacked on happy ending that wrecked the tone (I still have fondness for the original narration, although I prefer the director’s and final cut versions now). But I was hooked by the film’s rain-soaked neon visuals and Vangelis’s hypnotic score.
I didn’t get to see The Thing in theaters however. I begged my grandma to take me, but we went to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan instead (not a bad consolation prize. 1982 was a hell of a year for movies). But I saw it on cable a year or so later and I was mesmerized by Carpenter’s gripping take on paranoia and blown away by Rob Bottin’s effects. And utterly confused that mass appeal and critical acclaim eluded two films that I’ve watched 100 of times (more than any other films I’ve ever seen).
The weird thing was that every kid I knew (or at least a bunch) loved The Thing and Blade Runner as much as me. Why did we get what went over everyone else’s heads? Were we just dumb kids? Or was everyone else stupid?
It should also be noted that for all its cultural might, I’ve only seen E.T. twice. Although this is no major slight against Spielberg’s opus. I just can’t watch that film without getting a wee too emotional at the ending.
The cynical nature of my favorite movies fits my constitution better. I still find the ending to The Thing one of the best ever: bleak, mysterious, and open-ended. While I realize many thrive on resolution, Carpenter left it up to us to decide.
Blade Runner is quite similar–much is implied, little is spelled out. The audience is required to fill in the blanks. And some just don’t want to do the heavy lifting.
But sometimes less is more–it just takes the rest of the world a little longer to catch up.
Own Blade Runner and The Thing on Amazon: