Seven versions of the film Blade Runner exist, but only the Director's Cut and International Cut are widely known and seen:
- The original 1982 International Cut (also known as Criterion Edition), which included more graphic violence than the U.S. theatrical release, and which was released on VHS and on [Criterion Collection Laserdisc.
- The U.S. theatrical version (also known as Original Version), also called the domestic cut.
- The workprint, shown only as a audience test preview and occasionally at film festivals; this was distributed in 1991, as a Director's Cut without Scott's approval.
- The San Diego sneak peek cut, which was only shown once in 1982.
- The Ridley Scott-approved 1992 Director's Cut; prompted by the unauthorized 1991 release.
- The various broadcast versions, edited for profanity and nudity.
- Ridley Scott's 2001 Final Cut, was released theatrically and on various media by Warner Home Video in late 2007.
The 1982 American and European theatrical versions released by the studio included a "happy ending" (using stock footage from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining) and a voice-over added at the request of studio executives during post-production after test audience members indicated difficulty understanding the film. Although several different versions of the script had included a narration of some sort, both Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford disliked the studio voice-over and resisted having it added to the film. It has been suggested that Ford intentionally performed the voice-over poorly in the hope it wouldn't be used,
In an interview with Playboy magazine in 2002, Ford was asked (about the voice-over) if he "deliberately read it badly, hoping they'd drop it?". He replied "No. 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." He added, "I was compelled by my contract to do the narration. When I first agreed to do the film, I told Ridley there was too much information given to the audience in narration." Ford had suggested to Ridley Scott that they "take it out and put it into scenes and let the audience acquire this information in a narrative fashion, without being told it." Scott thought this a good idea. "When we got done, the studio said nobody will understand this fucking movie. We have to create a narrative. They had already thrown Ridley off the movie - they were over budget. So I was compelled by my contract to record this narration." Ford is also quoted (in 1999 about the voice-over) saying: "I had no chance to participate in it, so I simply read it. I was very, very unhappy with their choices and with the quality of the material. I contested it mightily at the time. It was not an organic part of the film.'"
The International Cut, or Criterion Edition, is largely identical to the theatrical release but with extra violence added in three scenes:
- When Batty confronts Tyrell in his bedroom, in addition to crushing Tyrell's face with his hands, Batty pokes out Tyrell's eyes with his thumbs, releasing a huge amount of blood.
- When Pris has somersaulted onto Deckard's back, rather than hitting him three times and then dropping him (as she does in all other versions), she hits him twice, then inserts her fingers into his nostrils and releases her legs, holding him up by his nostrils for a few seconds before he falls to the floor. The shot of him falling to the floor is identical in all versions. Deckard also shoots Pris an extra time, and the scenes of her thrashing randomly on the floor after having been shot are slightly extended.
- When Batty is being hunted by Deckard at the end of the film, he pushes a nail through his own hand, which again bleeds profusely.
In 1990, Warner Bros. briefly allowed theatrical screenings of a 70 mm copy of the workprint version of the film, advertising it as a Director's Cut. However, Ridley Scott publicly disowned the workprint version of the film as his definitive Director's Cut, citing that it was roughly edited and lacked the score composed for the film by Vangelis. In response to Scott's dissatisfaction (and in part because of 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 to be released in 1992.
They hired film-restorationist Michael Arick, who had rediscovered the workprint of Blade Runner and 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 which most would agree significantly changed the feel of the film: the removal of Deckard's explanatory voice-over, the re-insertion of a dream sequence of a unicorn running through a forest, and the removal of the studio-imposed "happy ending", including some associated visuals which had originally run under the film's end-credits. The original sequence of Deckard's unicorn dream wasn't 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. As mentioned above, the removal of the "happy ending" and the re-insertion of the unicorn scene suggests a completely different ending where Gaff's origami unicorn would mean that Deckard's dreams are also known, and therefore he too would be a replicant of the same generation as Rachael. That would also explain the need for the unicorn scene.
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 than before with the 1992 release of the film, 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 1997, the Director's Cut was one of the first DVDs on the market. However, it is of low quality compared to DVDs of today due to it being produced in the early days of the format. It was re-released with a new transfer in 2006.
Partly as the result of those complaints, Scott was invited back in mid-2000 to help put together a final and definitive version of the film, which was completed in mid-2001. During the process, a new digital print of the film was created from the original negatives, special effects were updated and cleaned, and the sound was remastered in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Unlike the rushed 1992 Director's Cut, Scott personally oversaw the new cut as it was being made. The Special Edition DVD was slated for a Christmas time 2001 release, and was originally rumored to be a three-disc set including the full international theatrical cut, an early workprint with additional scenes, and the newly enhanced version in addition to deleted scenes, extensive cast and crew interviews, and the documentary "On the Edge of Blade Runner". But Warner Bros. indefinitely delayed the "Special Edition" release after legal disputes began with the film's original completion bond guarantors (specifically Jerry Perenchio), who were ceded ownership of the film when the shooting ran over budget from $21.5 to $28 million.
After years of legal disputes, Warner Bros. announced in 2006 that it had finally secured full distribution rights to the film. They planned for three stages of releases for the film. First, a digitally remastered single-disc limited re-release of the 1992 Director's Cut was released on September 5, 2006 in the United States and on October 9, 2006 in Ireland and the UK. Second, Ridley Scott's new "Final Cut" of the film is scheduled for limited theatrical release in 2007.
The third and final phase, a three-disc box set including the four previously mentioned cuts, the U.S. and International cuts, as well as the old Director's cut and the infamous Workprint. and bonus features, is scheduled for release in December, 2007. Warner Bros. has plans to release this box set not only on DVD, but also on the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats