Verticality and the lack of vertical movement in the urban vision of Blade Runner and its sequels

Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


From flying spinners to rooftop garages to house them, and from street level diners to towering steel pyramids, verticality plays a key role in symbolizing the urban, social, and economic vision of the now alternate future of Blade Runner and its sequels on multiple media. A sharp contrast divides the masses on the streets from the upper or governing classes living and working in high, arcology-like super-structures. Any movement between them is controlled and limited as it would be at any horizontal border. Thus, despite its verticality, Blade Runner’s dominant worldbuilding neglects what Stephen Graham (2016) calls “the three-dimensional politics of the worlds above, below and around borders”. Yet, the 1982 Blade Runner sketchbook describes a relatively more permeable vertical vision, partially based on the production restrictions of the film. Instead of being separated, the poor and rich districts of the future LA are shown to be stacked onto each other with additional levels between them, a vision also present in the set decoration of the Warner Bros. backlot. Some of these sketches show a Metropolis (1927) like leveled city, with upper, mid, and lower street levels and rooftop areas connected with bridges, enabling vertical and horizontal movement between them. While elements of these production design sketches are visible in both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, especially in scenes featuring balconies and rooftops, the vision of a multi-layered, three-dimensional city is much more visible in later iterations of the Blade Runner world on other media: The 1997 video game allows players to explore the undercity, movement between levels is a key story point in Titan Books’ comic book series, and the recent Black Lotus anime series shows rooftop villas imitating ground-level structures. In this regard, this paper will investigate the representation of urban verticality and vertical movement in the franchise and discuss their social, economic, and environmental implications in terms of critical worldbuilding. Connections and comparisons will also be drawn to media inspired by the urban vision of Blade Runner such as the long-running Italian comic book series Nathan Never, classical anime OVA Bubblegum Crisis, and recent VRPG Cyberpunk 2077.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2022
EventBlade Runner @40: Origins and Legacies Conference
- Bangor University, Bangor, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jun 20227 Jun 2022


ConferenceBlade Runner @40: Origins and Legacies Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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