The Workprint version (1982, 113 minutes) was shown to audience test previews in Denver and Dallas in March 1982. It was also seen in 1990 and 1991 in Los Angeles and San Francisco as a Director's Cut without the approval of director Ridley Scott. Negative responses to the test previews led to the modifications resulting in the US theatrical version, while positive response to the showings in 1990 and 1991 pushed the studio to approve work on an official director's cut. This version was re-released as part of the 5-disc Ultimate Edition in 2007 with a new transfer of the last known print in existence, with the picture and sound quality restored as much as possible. However, the result was still rough. The main differences between the Workprint and most of the other versions (in chronological order) are:
- The opening title sequence and opening crawl explaining the backstory of the replicants is not present in this version.
- When Deckard plays the piano in a depressed stupor, there is no unicorn dream sequence or background music.
- Different, farther-away shots of Batty as Deckard watches him die are shown. Additionally, there is an alternate narration (the only narration in this version): "I watched him die all night. It was a long, slow thing...and he fought it all the way. He never whimpered, and he never quit. He took all the time he had, as though he loved life very much. Every second of it...even the pain. Then he was dead."
- There is no "happy ending"; the film ends when the elevator doors to Deckard's apartment slam as he and Rachel leave.
- There are no ending credits. The words "The End" are simply shown as exit music plays.
A San Diego Sneak Preview shown only once in May 1982. This version is nearly identical to the 1982 US theatrical version, except that it included three additional scenes not shown before or since, including the Final Cut version (2007).
The US theatrical version (1982, 116 minutes), known as the original version or Domestic Cut, was also released on Betamax and VHS in 1983. This version remained unreleased on DVD for many years. This version (with the international cut) was re-released as part of the 5-disc Ultimate Edition in 2007, presented in same video and audio transfer as the 2006 remastered Director's Cut.
The 1982 American theatrical version released by the studio included the "happy ending" but with the addition of Harrison Ford's voiceovers. Although several different versions of the script had included a narration of some sort, Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott decided to add scenes to provide the information; but financiers rewrote and reinserted narration during post-production after test audience members indicated difficulty understanding the film. It has been suggested that Ford intentionally performed the voice-over badly, in the hope it would not be used, but he stated in 1999: "I contested it mightily at the time. It was not an organic part of the film." Later in a 2002 interview with Playboy magazine, he clarified: "I delivered it to the best of my ability, given that I had no input. I never thought they'd use it. But I didn't try and sandbag it. It was simply bad narration." The "happy ending" aerial shots were also not filmed by Scott, but rather were filmed outtakes from aerial helicopter shots from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining which Kubrick allowed the use of.
The "Happy Ending" refers to the scene after Deckard and Rachael leave the apartment. Gaff spares Rachael's life, allowing her and Deckard to escape the nauseating confines of Los Angeles. They drive away into a natural landscape, and Deckard informs us that despite what Gaff had said ("It's too bad she won't live. But then again who does?"), Rachael doesn't have the built-in four-year limit to her lifespan that the other replicants have.
The International Cut (1982, 117 minutes) also known as the "Criterion Edition" or uncut version, included three more violent action scenes than the US theatrical version. Although initially unavailable in the US and distributed in Europe, Australia and Asia via theatrical and local Warner Home Video laserdisc releases, it was later released on VHS and Criterion Collection laserdisc in North America, and re-released in 1992 as a "10th-Anniversary Edition". HBO broadcast this version to U.S. audiences in the 1980s and 1990s and in 2015.
It is similar to the US theatrical release but has more violence in three specific scenes which were later inserted into the Final Cut.
The US broadcast version (1986, 114 minutes) was the U.S. theatrical version edited by television company CBS to tone down the violence, profanity, and nudity to meet broadcasting restrictions. This version is preceded by a CBS "Saturday Night Movie teaser" explaining the premise of the movie, making it clear that Deckard is not a replicant, and declaring "Blade Runner: Where Love Could Be the Deadliest Sin". In this version the initial text crawl at the start of the movie explaining what a replicant is "Early in the 21st Century..." is read by an anonymous announcer (not Harrison Ford).
The actual text of the opening text crawl is different from the 1982 US theatrical release: "Early in the 21st Century, robots known as Replicants, were created as off world slave labor. Identical to humans [sic], Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. After a bloody mutiny, Replicants were declared illegal on earth. Special police squads, Blade Runner Units, had orders to shoot to kill trespassing Replicants. This was not called execution. It was called 'retirement'".
The Ridley Scott-approved Director's Cut (1992, 116 minutes) was prompted by the unauthorized 1990–1991 workprint theatrical release and made available on VHS and laserdisc in 1993, and on DVD in 1997. There were significant changes from the theatrical version. Scott provided extensive notes and consultation to Warner Bros., although film preservationist/restorer Michael Arick was put in charge of creating the Director's Cut. It was re-released as part of the 5-disc Ultimate Edition in 2007.
In October 1989, Arick discovered a 70mm print of Blade Runner at the Todd-AO vaults while searching for footage for Gypsy. Some time later, the print was rediscovered by two other film preservationists at the same vault while searching for footage from The Alamo. When the Cineplex Odeon Fairfax Theater in Los Angeles learned of this discovery, the theater management got permission from Warner Bros. to screen the print for a film festival set for May 1990. Until the screening, no one was aware that this print was that of the workprint version. Owing to this surprise, Warner Bros. booked more screenings of the now-advertised "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner in 15 American cities.
Ridley Scott publicly disowned this workprint version of the film as a Director's Cut, citing that it was roughly edited, lacked a key scene, and the climax did not feature the score composed for the film by Vangelis (it was a temporary track using Jerry Goldsmith's score from Planet of the Apes). In response to Scott's dissatisfaction, Warner Bros. pulled theatrical screenings of the workprint in some cities, but still played at the NuArt Theater in Los Angeles and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco beginning in the fall of 1991. As a response to these sold-out screenings of the workprint (and screenings of the theatrical cut in Houston and Washington, D.C.), in addition to the film's resurgent cult popularity in the early '90s, Warner Bros. decided to assemble a definitive director's cut of the film, with direction from Scott, for an official theatrical re-release in 1992.
Warner Bros. hired Arick, who was already doing consultation work for them, to head the project with Scott. He started by spending several months in London with Les Healey, who had been the assistant editor on Blade Runner, attempting to compile a list of the changes that Scott wanted made to the film. He also received a number of suggestions/directions directly from the director himself. Three major changes were made to the film:The removal of Deckard's 13 explanatory voice-overs.
The insertion of a dream sequence of a unicorn running through a forest. (The original sequence of the dream was not found in a print of sufficient quality; the original scene shows Deckard intercut with the running unicorn. Arick was thus forced to use a different print that shows only the unicorn running, without any intercutting to Deckard.) The unicorn scene suggests a completely different ending to the film: Gaff's origami unicorn means that Deckard's dreams are known to him, implying that Deckard's memories are artificial, and therefore he would be a replicant of the same generation as Rachael.
The removal of the studio-imposed "happy ending", including some associated visuals which had originally run under the film's end-credits. This made the film end ambiguously when the elevator doors closed.
Scott has since complained that time and money constraints, along with his obligation to Thelma & Louise, kept him from retooling the film in a completely satisfactory manner. While he is happier with the 1992 release of the film than with the original theatrical version, he has never felt entirely comfortable with it as his definitive director's cut.
In 2000, Harrison Ford gave his view on the director's cut of the film saying, although he thought it "spectacular," it didn’t "move him at all." He gave a brief reason: "They haven't put anything in, so it's still an exercise in design." Originally released as a single-disc DVD in March 1997, with both pan-and-scan and widescreen versions on different sides, the Director's Cut was one of the first DVDs on the market. The DVD was a basic disc, with mediocre video and audio quality, sourced from the 1993 laserdisc, and no special features. In 2006, Warner Home Video re-released it with remastered picture and sound quality, with the video sourced from a new 2K master and the audio sourced from a new 5.1 remix. This was the video and audio transfer given to the theatrical, international, and director's cut on the Blade Runner five-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition.
Ridley Scott's Final Cut (2007, 117 minutes), or the "25th-Anniversary Edition", briefly released by Warner Bros. theatrically on October 5, 2007, and subsequently released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray in December 2007 (UK December 3; US December 18) is the only version over which Ridley Scott had complete artistic control, as the Director's Cut production did not place Scott directly in charge. In conjunction with the Final Cut, documentary and other materials were produced for the home video releases, culminating in a five-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition" release by Charles de Lauzirika.
Scott found time in mid-2000 to help put together a final and definitive version of the film with restoration producer Charles de Lauzirika, which was only partially completed in mid-2001 before legal and financial issues forced a halt to the work.
After several years of legal disputes, Warner Bros. announced in 2006 that it had finally secured full distribution rights to the film, and that there would be a three-stage release of the film:
- A digitally remastered single-disc re-release of the 1992 director's cut was released on September 5, 2006 in the United States, on October 9, 2006 in Ireland and the UK, and in the following months in continental Europe. It contained a trailer for the final cut.
- Ridley Scott's "Final Cut" of the film began a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on October 5, 2007; in Washington, D.C. at the Uptown Theatre on October 26, 2007; Chicago on November 2, 2007; in Toronto on November 9, 2007 at Theatre D Digital's Regent Theatre; Sydney, Australia at the Hayden Orpheum on November 8, 2007; Melbourne, Australia on November 15, 2007 at The Astor Theatre; Boston at the Coolidge Corner Theater on November 16, 2007 and Austin, Texas on November 18, 2007.
- A multi-disc box set was released on the DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats.
The set included the workprint, the two 1982 original theatrical versions (US domestic and uncensored international cuts), the 2006-remastered director's cut, the 2007 final cut (completely restored from the original negative, and put through a new director approved transfer, with 35mm footage scanned at 4K or 6K resolution depending on which type of panavision camera filmed the scene, and 65mm elements scanned at 8K resolution, and given a completely new 5.1 mix taken from the original track elements but completely restored and put through the latest audio standards), and several hours of bonus features.
The set was released in Europe on December 3, 2007 and in the US on December 18, 2007. Two-disc and four-disc sets were also released, containing some of the features of the five-disc set.
On November 10, 2008, The Final Cut premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel.
A DVD featurette titled All Our Variant Futures profiled the making of the Final Cut version, including behind-the-scenes footage of Harrison Ford's son, Ben Ford, and the filming of new scenes for the Final Cut. According to the documentary, actress Joanna Cassidy made the suggestion to re-film Zhora's death scene while being interviewed for the Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner documentary, and footage of her making this suggestion is inter-cut with footage of her attending the later digital recording session.
The Final Cut contains the original full-length version of the unicorn dream, which had never been in any version, and has been restored. Additionally, all of the additional violence and alternate edits from the international cut have been inserted.