In November 2019, he was assigned to test new employees at the Tyrell Corporation on the premise that the escaped replicants might try to infiltrate the company in the hopes of extending their four-year lifespans.
Despite having an excellent reputation as a Blade Runner, Holden underestimated the Nexus-6 replicants, as they were difficult to detect even with the Voight-Kampff test. While testing Leon Kowalski, the subject became noticeably agitated at Holden's questions before pulling out a gun and shooting Holden. He was able to draw his pistol after Leon's first shot, but the second crippled him and sent him crashing into a desk.
Holden later recovered and, by 2023, was promoted to Captain of the LAPD Blade Runner Unit. After Detective Harper of the unit was ambushed by the replicant Eve, Holden gave him the task of finding the missing Kano Nakayama.
Harper's investigation uncovered Night Owl, which Specialist Mackey later explained was a fast-acting viral pathogen designed by Tyrell to eliminate all replicants if they were to become a threat. Holden suggested the LAPD obtain a court order to be given Night Owl, wishing to release it to fully eliminate the replicant population.
After Harper failed to rescue Nakayama from the hands of the Replicant Underground Resistance and sparing the Nexus-6 Lazarus, Holden ordered him back to the police headquarters. Holden asked about the missing Lilith Tyrell, whose assistant claimed Harper had requested a meeting with. Because Harper withheld evidence, Holden suspected he could be the mole and subjected him to a Voight-Kampff test. Gaff entered midway through the test, informing Holden that Lilith had been found after showing up at her office. Holden then ordered Harper to go home and return first thing the next day for another Voight-Kampff test.
Holden went to the Tyrell headquarters to confront Lilith Tyrell about Night Owl.
If Harper killed Lilith, he soon arrived, revealing his deception of the Blade Runner Unit, prompting Holden to conclude that Harper was a replicant and summoned other Blade Runners to retire him. Holden pursued Lilith, but was ultimately shot and killed by Harper.
If Harper killed Eve or refused, he soon arrived, revealing to Holden that the present Lilith was actually a replicant that Nakayama was forced to help the Resistance create. Once exposed, Lilith attacked Holden and Harper retired her. Holden commended Harper for saving his life and helping the LAPD retrieve Night Owl. Holden later sent Gaff to offer a "big" case to Harper.
Behind the scenes
Holden is based on Dave Holden in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. He is essentially the same character as presented in the film, but it is clearly stated in the novel that Holden will eventually fully recover. No such assurances are given in Blade Runner.
Morgan Paull was initially hired on the film to perform screentests with actresses being considered for the roles of Rachael and Pris. Ridley Scott enjoyed working with Paull and offered him the role of Holden.
There were two hospital scenes with Holden and Deckard in the film, but these were cut out, explained by director Ridley Scott as being extraneous and perhaps distracting. The scenes have been included in the latest DVD editions of the film released in December 2007. Here additional background info and insight into Holden's character is provided, as Holden is shown reading Treasure Island while in hospital, an old favorite of his. He is also shown to use the derogatory term "Skinjob" in conversation with Deckard and expresses his fear of Replicants becoming almost human, going so far as to accuse Deckard of sleeping with Zhora when Deckard expresses doubts about hunting them. He also reveals that he had tested 26 other Tyrell employees, explaining his short patience when dealing with Leon. He correctly predicted that the replicants were on Earth searching for "God" - to them, Eldon Tyrell.
Another deleted scene shows Bryant and Gaff reviewing recordings of Deckard's visits with Holden; Bryant is shown thinking of both Blade Runners derisively as "two old men trying to grapple with metaphysics" and is confused at Holden's statement that the Replicants are searching for God. Gaff, on the other hand, understands perfectly.
In the Blade Runner comic book adaptation, Holden's interrogation of Leon is shortened, with Leon rising and shooting Holden from across the table as opposed to firing from under it. Here Holden is blown into the wall as opposed to through it by Leon's shot, nor does he draw his weapon (though he is described as attempting to do so) and is presumably killed by Leon's first shot, Leon's second shot being either to confirm the kill or just a sadistic pleasure on Leon's part. Thus as opposed to saying that Holden is in hospital, Bryant comments "He's no good now...For anything."
In the 1997 video game, it is revealed that Leon stole Holden's badge and left it in the apartment the replicants were using. Fortunately, rookie Blade Runner Ray McCoy found the badge when investigating the scene. Additionally, it is shown in the game that Holden is the third best shot in the Rep-Detect department, behind only Gaff and Crystal Steele. The game also says he buys custom-made armor-piercing rounds from Bullet Bob, a gunstore owner. Paull was approached to reprise his role in the game, but negotiations fell through.