Ridley Scott had already crafted a groundbreaking, visually impressive sci-fi masterpiece with Alien in 1979. But Alien was really more of a horror movie, a unique science-fiction spin on the "Monster in the House" genre. Blade Runner is a movie that raises more philosophical questions.
When making the movie, Scott helped chart its visual style and groundbreaking set design. He took inspiration from the futurist artist Syd Mead as well as from the cult magazine Heavy Metal (which itself was adapted into a corny R-rated cartoon film). When he finally finished the movie, the story goes that Scott began with a four-hour version of the film: according to him, he thought it was great, but he didn't know what it meant himself (source).
And, oh—the dude totally clashed with Harrison Ford the whole time and got into a T-shirt-based sparring match with the American film crew, after comparing them unfavorably with British film crews (who always said "Yes, Guv" and did what they were told promptly, according to Scott). The American crew printed out T-shirts with "Yes, Guv" printed on the front, which led to Scott wearing a T-shirt that said "Xenophobia Sucks" on it. You do what you gotta do, we guess (source).
The first screenwriter hired to work on Blade Runner was a dude named Hampton Fancher, who is known primarily for… writing Blade Runner. That's his one major screenwriting credit. Fancher pumped out a first draft, but when the filmmakers wanted re-writes, he started taking an excessively long amount of time. That's when they called in David Webb Peoples, who made lots of changes and ended up playing a crucial role in crafting the script.
Peoples has had a longer writing career than Fancher: he helped write the apocalyptic time-travel flick 12 Monkeys (1995) as well as the '80s fantasy Ladyhawke (1985); he also wrote the script for Clint Eastwood's classic Unforgiven (1992) and for the pseudo-Blade Runner semi-sequel Soldier (1998). Monkeys and Soldier have a lot in common with Blade Runner, since they both involve dystopian sci-fi visions of the future.
Peoples and Fancher sent the film through various name changes, as well—from Mechanismo to Dangerous Days (the producer Deeley's suggestion) to Blade Runner. Peoples got a major assist from his daughter, Rita, who came up with the term "replicants" to refer to the movie's androids—the term "replicant" isn't used in Philip K. Dick's book (source).
One final note: although Fancher and Peoples' did a classy job, one of the movies most famous lines was actually improvised by Rutger Hauer, the actor who played Roy: "All those ... moments will be lost in time, like tears... in rain" (source).
The main producer for Blade Runner was a British guy named Michael Deeley, who also worked on the original Italian Job (1969) and The Deer Hunter (1978)—so he had some cred. Warner Bros. was the distributor, but the production company behind the film was the Ladd Company—which was actually responsible for an eighties mega-hit, the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire (1981). They also did the less successful Sean Connery space western Outland (1981).
Since it initially confused everyone, it obviously took time for Blade Runner to pay off—but now, it clearly has. Ladd went on to produce other successful flicks like The Right Stuff (1983), and Braveheart (1995).
Did the producers insist on messing with the movie? Oh, yeah. After test audiences were perplexed and had trouble following the story, the film's financial backers, Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio, forced Harrison Ford to record a voiceover track. Ford agreed, recorded the lines they gave him, and found himself hating the new narration.
While initially not opposed to the idea entirely, Ridley Scott was also displeased with the voiceover, which contains lines like: "Sushi—that's what my wife used to call me. 'Cold fish.'" (You may have seen this version yourself. Some people don't think the voiceover is all that bad, really.)
Ford and Scott thought the narration was just a little too hammy, a little too reliant on film noir private-eye clichés, and in the "Director's Cut" and "Final Cut" versions of the movie, Scott was able to remove the voiceovers.
The revised versions also generally make Deckard and Rachael's future appear much more ambiguous and uncertain. As for other changes, Yorkin also insisted on altering the ending, going for a more conventional happy Hollywood version.
The movie was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth—which means it, you know, predates the digital revolution. Blade Runner has that classic pre-CGI look to it, and the futuristic L.A. sets were actually made by hand. A real camera was swooping over them, gathering in the sights—like when we see the industrial hell-fire torches light up with Tyrell's ziggurat looming nearby.
If you happened to watch the credits (and who doesn't, right?), you might have noticed that Vangelis composed the music for the film. That sounds like a band name—but it's not. It's actually the stage name of a famous Greek composer whose full name is Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Like Cher and Madonna, this guy only needs one name. He tends to compose music with synthesizers and electronic instruments—but in a refreshingly not corny way.
Vangelis's most famous composition might be the immortal theme for the Oscar-winning smash Chariots of Fire. Feel free to run on a beach while you listen to this. When you've hit it that big, you can pretty much cash in and go home—but Vangelis stuck around. He composed the music for Oliver Stone's Alexander and Carl Sagan's TV Series Cosmos. But Vangelis's Blade Runner soundtrack is considered one of his greatest accomplishments.
Thesoundtrack to Blade Runner deliberately heightens the mystery of the movie. Vangelis doesn't really focus on the gloomy and decay-ridden side of the movie's world; he edges towards something like "teasingly mystical." He uses soaring synths and tinkling chimes to summon a feeling of eternal mystery, which helps give dimension to the pursuit of "more life" and true humanity that make up Roy Batty's quest.
At other times, Vangelis uses his score for more noir-ish purposes, for example when he gets into Rick Deckard's melancholy universe on "Blade Runner Blues." Take a listen—you can just feel the world of Blade Runner coming through.
Despite its initially lukewarm reception, people eventually got pretty deep into Blade Runner. It spawned some knock-off book sequels and a couple of computer games, and let's not even get into how the Internet continues to debate the movie's deeper meanings. (Check it out here.) Among other fans, the creators of the hit TV show Battlestar Galactica have testified to the movie's lasting influence and impact.
Blade Runner has also been pretty influential in the cyberpunk subculture… which might not really be a subculture. No one would actually say, "Hey—I am a cyberpunk!" (Well, somebody would, somewhere). But it's definitely a style and an aesthetic. Whenever anyone in a sci-fi future dystopia is sporting a punk 'do, they're taking their cue from Pris and Roy Batty in Blade Runner.