Tron, Disney’s Most Non-Franchise Franchise, is 40 Years Old

Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn in Tron: Legacy.

Image: Disney

Another week in July, another momentous anniversary for a sci-fi IP. This weekend, the movie celebrating a big milestone is Disney’s Tron, which released on July 9 all the way back in 1982 and is now 40 years old. Let’s do some reminiscing, shall we?

Directed and written by Steven Lisberger from a story he conceived with Bonnie MacBird, the film starred Jeff Bridges as a game developer named Kevin Flynn who got transported into the world of a mainframe computer. Originally planned by Lisberger to be an animated film who would’ve had a production studio created specifically to make the film, Tron eventually became a live-action flick that incorporated backlit and CG elements. In fact, the original Tron and 1984’s The Last Starfighter are both some of cinema’s earliest films to feature extensive CGI.

With critical acclaim for its visuals and marks off for having a nonsensical story, Tron found decent success at the box office, making $50 million worldwide on a $17 million budget. The film even managed to score Oscar nominations at the 55th Academy Awards for sound and costume design; but not visual effects because, according to Lisberger, the Academy thought the film “cheated” by using computers to create is effects. Despite that, the film found much more success as a cult classic. It wound up being very influential over at Disney, with then-Pixar and Disney animation head John Lasseter flat out saying in 2010 that had Tron not existed, chances are Toy Story wouldn’t either. You can also see, in some ways, how it would lead us to both The Matrix and Digimon franchises. (On a related note: is Tron an isekai? Because it feels like it’s an isekai.)

Tron occupies a weird nebulous zone as an IP where it’s simultaneously a franchise, yet also sort of not. Prior to the release of 2010’s Tron Legacy, the most that came from Tron was being a part of Disneyland and several video games throughout the 80s and early 2000s, including several Kingdom Hearts games. While Legacy would go on to become its own box office success—making $400 million globally, which was still impressive back then—attempts at continuing Tron haven’t gone well. The 2012 CG series Tron Uprising, set between the two films and starring Elijah Wood, was ended after one season. There’ve been multiple short stint comics meant to either follow up on threads from the original film, or build up to Legacy, but nothing substantial. Right now, folks who weren’t born in the 80s or didn’t see Legacy may only know of Tron through either old Disney Infinity figures they may still have, Daft Punk’s still pretty sweet soundtrack for Legacy, or more likely, cosmetics in Fortnite.

This is especially surprising given that it’s a Disney IP, but they’re clearly not in any rush to continue Tron’s story, even as rumors have consistently popped up in recent years saying another film was happening. In the lead-up to the release of Top Gun: Maverick, it was Legacy director Joseph Kosinski who revealed that he’d gotten pretty close to making a Tron 3 happen before Disney up and pulled the plug. “I had the whole movie storyboarded and written,” he said. “When I made Tron: Legacy, they didn’t own Marvel; they didn’t own Star Wars…once you’ve got those other things under your umbrella, it makes sense that you’re going to put your money into a known property. And that’s okay.” With how much both of those respective IPs bring in for Disney, it seems like the story of the Flynn family and adventures of the Grid will remain unfinished…assuming that there isn’t a Tron 3 secretly in production that stars Jared Leto.

Until then, you can watch what there is of the Tron franchise over on Disney+.

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