Source: Warner Bros.

How Blade Runner 2049 Rewrites Business History

The sci-fi sequel brings dead brands into a future without Apple products.

In the 1982 film Blade Runner, Los Angeles has become a dark dystopia caked in grime. Set in the distant future of 2019, various brands of the time are spotted around the streets of the seedy, gloomy city. There’s video game maker Atari and airline behemoth Pan Am. RCA makes a cameo, as does the Bell telephone company.

As we approach 2019 in real life, many of those brands are gone or extremely diminished. Superstitious fans declared a Blade Runner curse for the corporate icons of the film. Appear in the film’s grim future, and a brand is believed to be doomed to the dustbin before that day arrives. Now, with the long-awaited sequel arriving in theaters Friday, Blade Runner is rewriting business history.

Atari dominates the corporate iconography of Blade Runner 2049.
Source: Warner Bros.

Blade Runner 2049, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, pushes the franchise forward another 30 years. The universe not only retained all its noir grunge for a new tale of bio-engineered humans; it also kept its universe of alternate-futuristic brands consistent. There doesn’t appear to be a Facebook social network or Google search because in film version 2049 because those companies never existed in the first place.

Instead, director Denis Villeneuve took the original film’s vision of the future and thrust it onward. Society shunned sleekness, choosing retrofitting and pragmatism over glamour. Everything feels descended from the Walkman, not the iPod—and perhaps that’s in part why Sony Corp. is evident in the brand landscape of Blade Runner 2049, while Apple doesn’t get so much as a fleeting nod. Another explanation: Bloomberg News reported that Sony, which is distributing the new movie outside of North America, also put up $90 million of the $150 million budget.

Atmospheric shots are common in the film’s first hour, featuring glowing advertisements above the steamy streets of L.A. You see Sony and, in another throwback to the first film, a prominent Coca-Cola vista. There’s a billboard for Diageo, and Ford’s character still drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey, as he did in the original movie. Real-world Diageo even produced a special Blade Runner 2049 edition of the scotch. Gosling’s character drives a flying police cruiser that bears the logo of French car manufacturer Peugeot. Not GM, not Toyota, and certainly not something glossy like Tesla—Peugeot, which left the U.S. market in 1991.

The Pan Am logo in the origial Blade Runner film’s depiction of 2019.
Source: Warner Bros.

Sony, Diageo, Coke, and even Peugeot are all alive in real life and generally doing well, but Blade Runner also offers a few alternate-timeline callbacks. An imagined Los Angeles skyscraper is emblazoned with the name Pan Am, which in our world collapsed back in 1991. Atari, which is currently trying to stage a comeback, is lavished with a screen-wide firehose of nostalgia in 2049. For a few moments, the camera lingers on a pair of towering Atari signs shining intensely in the night—a stature the video game pioneer hasn’t enjoyed since the early 1980s.

As for those brands in Blade Runner’s world that are still thriving today, such as Coke and Peugeot, we’ll just have to wait to see if the film’s curse claims new victims. There’s a long way until 2049.

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