On June 25, 1982, a strange thing happened. Two movies, now considered to be masterpieces of their genres, premiered on the very same day… and tanked. Both received middling to genuinely harsh reviews, both failed to make a significant dent in the box office, and both seemed destined to be minor footnotes in the careers of their esteemed creators. Instead, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing have become recognised as two of the greatest movies of all time.
While both are science fiction films, the two movies share little else in terms of plot. Blade Runner is a genre-defining story about a Blade Runner, a detective who hunts artificial humanoids called Replicants, in the cyberpunk dystopia of 2019 Los Angeles. The Thing is at least as much horror as sci-fi, as the inhabitants of an isolated Antarctic research station discover that a deadly shape-shifting alien is hiding among them. Blade Runner’s creativity was boundless in its design of how the future would look, while The Thing’s special effects were limited to — while still being utterly groundbreaking — its monster and its mayhem. Scott’s film is expansive and philosophical, while Carpenter’s is paranoid and claustrophobic. Honestly, in terms of the story, what the two movies primarily have in common is how the characters constantly need to ask the question, “Who is human?”
But the parallels the films share outside their plots are astounding. The Thing is considered one of, if not the, greatest horror movies of all time, while Blade Runner’s legacy and impact on science fiction in all media cannot be overstated. And yet, when they hit theatres, no one cared about either of them. Blade Runner was considered slow and boring, presumably because it wasn’t a whiz-bang action-adventure like Star Wars, while The Thing was absolutely reviled for its gruesome gore and special effects, and constantly compared to the beloved and family-friendly E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which was released two weeks prior. The budget for Blade Runner was $US30 ($42) million, bit it only grossed a little over $US6 ($8) million in its opening weekend, and topped out at $US23.4 ($32) million. The Thing did better, but was hardly considered a box office success — it made $US19 ($26) million on a budget of $US15 ($21) million, which was considered poor enough that it cost Carpenter his next gig, which was the adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller Firestarter.
The parallels don’t stop there. Blade Runner was legendarily taken away from Scott due to its (supposedly) confusing plot and bleak ending, and the studio forced star Harrison Ford to add expository narration to the film (which he loathed) while changing the ambiguous ending to something happier, showing that Ford’s Deckard and Sean Young’s Rachael had escaped Los Angeles to live in the country. Coincidentally, The Thing’s original ending was also replaced with a less ambiguous one for a TV edit that Carpenter had no control over and hated — one where Kurt Russell’s MacReady escapes to another Antarctic research station and proves he’s not infected by the alien through a blood test. And the TV version added expository narration as well.
Despite all this, Blade Runner and The Thing — well, the versions their directors originally intended — have since become recognised as two of the greatest science fiction and horror movies of all time, respectively. They’ve topped Top 10 lists, had dozens upon dozens of belatedly praiseworthy reviews heaped upon them, and Blade Runner in particular frequently shows up in lists of the greatest films of all time.
Sorry to say it yet again, but it is absolutely wild to me that both movies came out on the same day in 1982. It’s like Casablanca and Citizen Kane premiering simultaneously. Or The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. Or, perhaps, Star Wars and Halloween. Two masterpieces, one premiere. If you’re free tomorrow, you could do a lot worse than spending the day as everyone should have spent it 40 years ago — with a Blade Runner/The Thing double feature.
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