Clocking in at just under three hours, Blade Runner 2049 had plenty of room to reference both its previous film and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which inspired both movies in the first place. The line between human and android has continued to opaque between the two films, but if subtlety isn’t to your liking, don’t worry: this sequel manages to be even bleaker than its source material.
At the same time, 2049 mixes in winks and nods while also elaborating on the franchise’s world. Product placement, foreign policy, and umbrellas are just the beginning of the world-building that the film trades in. It’s both concentrated nostalgia and a leap forward in its mythology.
The rich, textured and subtle world of Blade Runner requires multiple viewings to appreciate the number of themes and complexity of character and interaction at play. Of course, not everyone has the time or the patience for that, which is why we’re here now. We did the work for you.
So stop fiddling with your origami unicorn, stop worrying about your Methuselah Syndrome, and heat up the old Voight-Kampff machine because here are 15 Things You Missed In Blade Runner 2049.
15 There's an Engineer in Wallace's museum of Replicant bodies
Damn you, Ridley. Must we forever be reminded of the Engineers? Even Pinhead and his Cenobites would find this suffering to be excessive. Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace keeps a museum of Replicant exo-skeletons in his offices. One of the models is an Engineer, the mysterious species from Prometheus, the oft-derided prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. They may or may not have created the human race and eventually abandoned it because they hate us…or something. It’s not very clear. And they’re possibly extinct now anyway, according to Covenant. But, again, it’s not entirely clear.
Some fans have suggested the reference was meant to tie both franchises together into one universe leading to another Alien vs. Predator-type of soul-destroying cash-grab, but that theory is riddled with holes.
14 The Blade Runner Curse Lives
1982’s Blade Runner boasted heavy product placement from a variety of companies—Atari, Pan Am, RCA, Cuisinart, and Bell Phones and Coca-Cola. All of these companies ran into severe financial problems in the immediate years following the release of the film. All but Coca-Cola and Cuisanart went bankrupt or were purchased and split into small corporations.
While Coke never went out of style, 1985’s New Coke initiative damaged the brand to a critical point where bankruptcy seemed possible. As we all know now, however, if New Coke and Vanilla Coke couldn’t kill the red brand, nothing will.
In 2049, however, not only is Coca-Cola still running but so are Atari and Pan Am. The brands have blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos while K is driving around LA in his spinner. Oddly, Atari is making a minor comeback nowadays, so maybe the Blade Runner curse will turn into the 2049 resurrection.
13 Gaff’s origami sheep
In a pleasant surprise, Detective Gaff makes a cameo in 2049. Now retired (not in that way) and living in a depressing nursing home, K asks him for information on Deckard after he ran away with Rachael. As one would expect, Gaff was vague and esoteric.
A few origami pieces littered the table while he worked on a new one. At the end of the scene, Gaff places a small origami sheep on the table— not only a reference to Gaff’s hobby but to Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a subtle reference, but we’re mentioning it here because some sites have erroneously claimed Gaff had made a dog, believing it was Gaff who had gifted to Deckard the alcoholic dog later seen in the film.
12 No more-light up umbrellas
After the 2022 black-out where an EMP detonation wiped out technology on Earth for a time, the world managed to get even shabbier even by Blade Runner standards. That meant no more light-up umbrellas which were ubiquitous in the rainy streets of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles.
By default, that likely means LA Gear stopped selling their best sneakers, but we may never know for certain. We can only hope they recovered!
In the years following the black-out, society had to work to bring itself out of a new post-post-apocalyptic rut and back up to its original post-apocalyptic standard. That meant a focus on computers and flying cars, but not flashlight umbrellas. But at least there are interactive holograms that will tell you what you want to hear!
11 There is an audio only commercial for life in the outer colonies
Yeah, clearly life still stinks on Earth, but nowhere in 2049 is the giant, metallic zeppelin promoting life on the outer colonies that littered the sky in the original film. That’s likely another change brought on by the black=out. God knows that giant metal monstrosity likely did a great deal of damage as it fell from the sky so it would make sense that there weren’t any zeppelins floating around in the future.
However, there is an audio advertisement for the outer colonies that played briefly while K conducted his investigation in LA. It makes sense not only from a possible disaster scenario, but also from a marketing standpoint.
One would imagine that things are even more desperate on Earth now post-black out - it’s certainly even more claustrophobic, and people are more readily looking for cheap ways to escape reality with the Joi holograms. Even fewer people could afford to travel out into space, so there would be a softer marketing campaign for it.
10 "Skinner" is a new slur for Replicants
Admittedly, the world of Blade Runner 2049 isn’t particularly different from the original, outside of some aesthetic flourishes made to re-contextualize the future. There are new additions— certain models of replicant have much longer lifespans, it seems.
Socially, not much has changed, either. The Replicants are still servile, though a future uprising is teaser through Mariette, Freysia, and their compatriots. Replicants are also still very much hated.
K is called a "skin-job" by his fellow police officers, and harassed at home by his neighbors, who have vandalized his door with unfriendly words, including “SKINNER” written in block letters. Sure, 2049 isn’t all that different, but we do have some new nomenclature. So, we have that going for us, which is nice.
9 The Eyes Still Have It
In the original film, Blade Runners would use Voight-Kampff tests that focused on the right eye of the subject, searching for a particularly emotional response that would determine if they were a Replicant or not.
The theme of eyes reflecting the soul is an obvious one and elaborated on in 2049. K identifies Sapper Morton by the registry number in his eye and scans it as proof to the LAPD that the Replicant is dead. Freysa removes her right eye to pass as human.
Dr. Stelline accesses K’s memories by using a machine that focuses on his eyes. This is reminiscent of Roy Batty’s dying monologue where he recites the things he’s seen over his life, noting that once he dies, those images and memories would be lost like tears in rain.
8 The Soviet Union still exists
Blade Runner’s world has always been a bit of a microcosm. The first film took place in a few key locations around 2019’s Los Angeles, and but for a few scant references, the world outside of it was vague at best.
2049 cracks the doors slightly, giving us a taste of the surrounding wastelands and an all but deserted Las Vegas. However, we do get another tease. In the scene where K is standing around in the marketplace eating sushi, a 3-D advertisement for products in the Soviet Union plays (matching with the Russian carapaces Sapper had on his farm).
At the time of Electric Sheep’s writing, the Cold War was still\ at its peak, and likely would have played a role in the nuclear war that preceded both the novel and the original film. That the Soviet Union still exists in 2049 adds to the alternate universe of the story, and asks greater questions about the way the world functions (or lack thereof).
7 The theme of "pain"
In the original film, pain was a major theme. The Replicants dealt with existential dread about their identities and their impending death. Roy Batty even purposely hurts himself— putting his head through walls, sticking a nail through his palm— not just for the Christ metaphor, but because physical pain is one of the last vestiges of humanity he can explore with the little time he has remaining.
On the other side of this is Deckard, who receives several beatings throughout the film. The pain he feels becomes emotional too, in his disgust in himself for killing Zhora in cold blood, and later empathy in understanding the tragedy of Roy Batty’s life.
In 2049, K deals with the pain of confronting his lack of agency and identity. Deckard, now with a greater depth of emotion, has to deal with the consequences of feeling those emotions in the face of losing Rachael and his daughter. The theme of pain is what makes Replicants and humans realize their own sentience. It’s as Wallace says, “Pain reminds you the joy you felt was real.”
6 Johnnie Walker Returns
Scotch plays a significant role in Blade Runner. Despite being poor and living in dilapidation and accelerated decrepitude, Deckard always manages to have Johnnie Walker Black Label lying around. It’s a preference that has carried over into 2049 - though K drinks vodka on his own.
One of the minute details that made Blade Runner’s design aspects so interesting was the understated way it altered the familiar. Pyramidic buildings, flashy LED advertisements, urban decay and overpopulation. It seemed like a reasonable future— replete with its own futuristic bottles of Johnnie Walker. In both films, Deckard drinks from squared, geometrically precise bottles of Black Label. Like Deckard’s PKD blaster, it became a novelty fans focused on.
As part of a marketing strategy for 2049, Johnnie Walker produced a special blend of Black Label and set them in the Blade Runner bottles called “The Director’s Cut.”
5 K Mirrors Deckard
2049 refers to the original repeatedly throughout its runtime. K, from his long coat to his heavy drinking, is clearly a parallel to Deckard. That he’s clearly a Replicant undoubtedly brought to mind the theories about Deckard’s own uncertain status.
Deckard's killing of Zhora in the original Blade Runner is a sticking point for the audience. His look of sadness and self-disgust in looking down as the Replicant he just shot dead in cold blood is mean to be read as either an indication that he’s beginning to feel emotions regarding Replicants or that on an instinctual level, he’s aware he’s killing his own kind. K himself kills his own kind as part of his job. He does so with quiet resignation, though by then end of 2049, this changes.
K looks down at Luv as he’s drowning her with the same look on his face Deckard did after killing Zhora. One of the angles used in the drowning scene directly references this, and indicates K’s own changes of heart regarding his role in society and establishing his own agency against the wishes of the LAPD.
4 World War Terminus
In Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick made reference to World War Terminus— a nuclear war that ravaged much of the world. While never stated in Blade Runner directly, due to the mention of radiation, sickly people, and environmental decay of Los Angeles, it’s likely something like Terminus happened in the film’s continuity as well.
In 2049, the destruction is elaborated on, conjuring images of nuclear winter and confirming the largely post-apocalyptic motif is more expansive than we thought. The entirely of the West coast is now prone to snow (something that only usually happens in Idyllwild-Pine Cove). The desert has retaken Las Vegas, becoming a nearly uninhabitable wasteland. San Francisco is now a dumping ground for scrap metal and scavengers. Sweatshops have opened where bald children (clearly a result of radiation poisoning) are forced to create gear for a secondary black market.
3 K repeatedly mirrors Roy Batty
Roy Batty, the infinitely quotable Replicant antagonist from the first feature looms as a ghost in 2049, though he’s forgotten by its characters. The nascent android rebellion has the same concerns and desires for freedom and long life as he once did, but the real parallels, surprisingly, come from the staid K.
Repeatedly, K wonders about his own memories and his personality that derives from it. While Batty’s memories were always his own, both question their own validity in a world that resents them.
From a visual standpoint, K mirrors Batty repeatedly toward the end of the movie. He’s brought to a crouch similar to Batty’s in an appropriately rain-swept climactic fight. All he’s missing is a monologue. In his final scene, K sits on the steps of the lab, and freezes the same way Batty does in death, like his batteries just went out. The score is a reference to Batty too - a callback to the "Time to Die" refrain from Roy's death scene.
2 The Soldier reference
Soldier was a 1998 film starring Kurt Russell as a genetically enhanced commando who was left for dead and dumped on a refuse planet. The film was written by David Peoples, who co-wrote Blade Runner and wrote Soldier to be a spiritual successor to Blade Runner’s themes. He went so far as to establish the films as being in the same universe by showing a destroyed spinner as part of the rubble on Arcadia 234.
Peoples’ film is largely forgotten these days but was subtly referenced in 2049. The garbage scows that K sees in the metal wasteland on his way to the sweatshop are nearly identical to the one that deposited Russell’s Todd on Arcadia. Since 2049 happens over a decade after Soldier (and likely because of possible lawsuits), the scows are somewhat different - though immediately recognizable to the eagle-eyed viewer.
1 The New, Old Opening Scene
In a decision likely to curry some needed good-will from the diehard fanbase, the opening scene of 2049 was the originally storyboarded beginning of the original film. The scene was never filmed, of course, likely due to the consistent meddling of anyone with an opinion who had a role in the making of the damn thing.
The lost opening found Deckard waiting in the home of a Replicant, who later arrives to finish cooking his noodles. A brief conversation happens and Deckard, rather viciously, shoots the android dead. He rips the jaw from the corpse, finding a serial number, and that is how the audience would come to learn the dead guy wasn’t human.
Of course, this was changed to make Deckard look less psychotic, and the version we have in 2049 was altered to be more relevant to the plot.
Did you catch anything we missed in Blade Runner 2049? Share it in the comments!