TRON…Happy 25th!

posted by Coate on July 9, 2007 at 3:35 pm

“It all happens inside a computer.”

On July 9, 1982, twenty-five years ago today, Walt Disney’s TRON was released on 1,091 theatre screens in the United States and Canada. The groundbreaking film, starring Jeff Bridges and directed by Steven Lisberger, cost nearly $20 million to produce (a huge sum in its day) and grossed, according to most accounts, a mere $30 million domestically.

A visual and aural delight, TRON was nominated for two Academy Awards: Sound and Costume Design. But, more amazing than the film’s amazing visual effects is trying to figure out why the film was not nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar!

Of note to the film’s history is that it was photographed in Super Panavision 70, reviving the process that had been popular with the 1960s roadshows but had been dormant for a decade. But despite the large-format origination, Disney struck only about 40 high-quality 70-millimeter prints for domestic distribution. A list of the venues in which the 70mm version was booked is provided below, and what some may find a surprise is the number of theatres in major markets denied an opportunity to showcase TRON in the best presentation manner available at the time. (Some theatres in cities absent from the list of initial 70mm bookings did, however, screen a 70mm print in the fall of 1982 or spring of 1983 when Disney re-issued the film with the hope it might find an audience during a less-crowded moviegoing season.)

So…is TRON a good movie? After 25 years I still can’t decide! But one thing is certain: the film was ahead of its time due to the innovative use of computer graphics, and its influence can be observed in countless movies, television programs and video games. I think anyone working in the film, computer and video-game industries owes a debt of gratitude to TRON and its talented production crew.

Anyone have any TRON memories they care to share?

Me? As a 13 year-old, I saw TRON in July or August of ‘82 at the Barstow Twin in Barstow, California. What I remember most was: (1) being confused by the character names and computer terminology, (2) thinking the movie was not as good as the video game, (3) seeing the trailer for the soon-to-open EPCOT Center and wondering why Florida instead of California would get such a thing, and (4) on the way out of the theatre, enthusiastically spotting the one-sheet for that summer’s re-issue of STAR WARS which included a banner in the corner of the poster promising the first glimpse of footage, in the form of a coming attractions trailer, for the next STAR WARS movie due for release the following year. I would see STAR WARS several (more) times during that re-issue, and TRON was quickly forgotten.

Over the years, though, thanks to the fantastic Special Edition LaserDisc and subsequent DVD, and the 70mm print that surfaced in 1999 and made the rounds, I’ve come to appreciate TRON and think it deserves some recognition on this, the 25th anniversary of its release.

A supplement to this reminiscence for the film history and technology enthusiasts: a list of the original, first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo engagements of TRON.

Baltimore, MD: Westview
Bloomingdale, IL: Stratford Square
Calgary, AB: Chinook
Cedar Grove, NJ: Cinema 23
Chicago, IL: McClurg Court
Chicago Ridge, IL: Chicago Ridge Mall
Edmonton, AB: Londonderry
El Cajon, CA: Parkway Plaza
Gretna, LA: Westside
Grosse Pointe Woods, MI: Woods
Hillside, IL: Hillside Square
Honolulu, HI: Royal
Las Vegas, NV: Cinedome
Livonia, MI: Terrace
Los Angeles, CA: Chinese
Los Angeles, CA: Village (opened July 16)
Milwaukee, WI: Spring Mall Triplex
Montclair, CA: Montclair
Montreal, QC: Claremont (July 23)
New York, NY: State 2
Northbrook, IL: Edens
Orange, CA: Cinedome
Paramus, NJ: Route 4 Sevenplex
Pittsburgh, PA: Warner
Portland, OR: Bagdad
Quebec City, QC: Canadien (July 22)
Reno, NV: Century
Sacramento, CA: Century
San Antonio, TX: Northwest
San Diego, CA: Glasshouse 6
San Diego, CA: La Jolla Village
San Jose, CA: Century 24
Southfield, MI: Northland
Springdale, OH: Tri-County
Toronto, ON: Hollywood
Tucson, AZ: El Con
Vancouver, BC: Denman Place
White Plains, NY: United Artists
Winnipeg, MB: Metropolitan (July 30)
Woodbury, NY: Cinema 150

—-Michael Coate

Comments (17)

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on July 9, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Whatever happened to Cindy Morgan (CADDYSHACK and TRON)? She was hot!

Bloop on July 9, 2007 at 8:47 pm

I’m sure the Disney corp. has no nostalgia for “Tron” that few years before and after!

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on July 10, 2007 at 3:46 am

Personally, I’m a huge fan of this movie.

While it may seem a bit on the campy side these days, the film has a compelling story, with groundbreaking visual effects, and great performances from Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and David Warner.

If you’re curious about the film, take some time to read this wikipedia article.


neeb on July 10, 2007 at 3:53 am

Caught the last part on a double feature with Star Trek II at the UA Glasshouse (need an entry for that one…) in San Diego. Both in 70mm.
Thought it was kind of wild then (I was 6), but cool from a visual standpoint.

Aparofan on July 10, 2007 at 8:53 am

I saw it at the Blue Ridge West theater in Kansas City, MO. It was right next door to one of my favorite arcades. It was great fun playing the game then seeing the movie. I was surprised it didn’t play at the much bigger and nicer Blue Ridge East theater across the street from the mall. It had 70mm capability and a pretty good sized screen. It would be been a perfect fit for the very cool computer imagery of the film.

Roloff on July 10, 2007 at 10:40 am

As a visual effects afficianado (and upcoming artist) I became a fan years ago of the making of the film, but hadn’t seen it until a couple of years ago. I’ve gathered a lot of weird merchandise over the years including a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo, as well as a lot of posters, lobbycards, books and magazines. I also have the trailer, teaser and a CinemaScope print (mono) on 35mm. I screened it some years ago at a university theatre in Germany for a very enthousiastic small crowd of classic video game enthousiasts (of which I also used to be one). I had a 20 minute preshow reel filled with 35mm ads for videogames (Yars' Revenge and a Parker Bros ad for the Atari 2600 and then modern ones) as well as a lot of trailers (WARGAMES, CLOAK & DAGGER, SUPER MARIO BROS, TOMB RAIDER), and it was great fun, and my ultimate TRON experience (although I was quite sad to see that the print I had bought many years before, which I now saw for the first time, had many scratches).

There is a superb original 70mm print in the UK at the BFI or so, which was shown in York at a 70mm filmfest, a once-but-never-again occasion, said Disney.

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on July 10, 2007 at 1:35 pm

I never got to see TRON in the theaters, but the recent posts on the 25th anniversary of this film and BLADE RUNNER has got looking back at the Summer of 1982 with fond movie memories. Good or bad, that summer saw other hits like:

  • E.T.

and as mentioned above, the re-release of STAR WARS.

markinthedark on July 10, 2007 at 3:09 pm

I saw Tron in 70MM at the El Capitan a couple years ago. It held up really well. The El Capitan seems to run it every couple years for a week.

JSA on July 11, 2007 at 7:34 pm

I first saw Tron during my college years, and was very impressed by the special effects. At the time I was an engineering student, so naturally the film provoked some thoughts. To what extent, if any, is the software a reflection of the designer’s personality in terms of function and structure, as opposed to being just lines of code for a particular application or to solve a problem? What are the potential consequences or possibilities?

I recently saw the film again on DVD, and was pleasantly surprised that it held very well. And today, after 20 + years in the engineering profession, the same thoughts ran through my mind again.


budyboy100 on July 26, 2007 at 1:16 am

I saw this at the SF Alhambra theater, the only time I was inside that theater. I don’t remember much, except how hard it was to find parking.

thnj on August 25, 2007 at 12:13 pm

They made such a big deal out of this movie before it opened. They had the videogame released before the film came out and there were Tron videogame contests at Aladdin’s Castle arcades.
My friend and I couldn’t wait. And then, when they released it, it didn’t play anywhere near me! I was in Monmouth County NJ….:(
I didn’t get to see the film until years later on TV.

StanMalone on January 10, 2008 at 10:19 am

At the time TRON was released I was working at the Greens Corner Cinema where we had a Dolby 35MM print. The game room next door did more business with their TRON video game that we did with the movie, especially after the first week. I remember that it opened at the same time as the Secret Of NIMH. That one was the creation of the animators who had left Disney and formed their own company, but to the public it looked like a Disney. All day, parents would come up to the box office with their children in tow and ask for tickets to “the Disney movie”. Of course they meant NIMH as opposed TRON which based on the poster did not look like any Disney movie they saw when they were children. At that theatre at least, NIMH was a much bigger draw.

Atlanta did not get a 70MM release. The Phipps Plaza Twin #2 and the Tara #2 were among the very few 70MM theatres in Atlanta that retained 70MM ability after the twinning. Other 70MM locations, like the Rhoades were out of the first run business by then or closed down. TRON opened at several locations around Atlanta, but the central booking was at the Lenox Square Theatre. At one time, Lenox had a 70MM set up second only to the original Phipps, but in 1978 the 660 seat auditorium was divided into two 320 seaters. Although the Century 70MM projectors were still used, the screens were pathetically small and no 70MM was ever attempted on them.

In 1984, the Lenox was completely reorganized and the wall came down and a 500 seat auditorium was created. 70MM was restored, and Top Gun, Die Hard and Aliens were among the 70MM offerings there.

As Michael mentioned in his article, TRON did play in 70MM later that year in some of the neglected markets. In Atlanta this occurred at the Phipps Plaza in October. Two week run, very little business. It was preceded by a 70MM run of Deliverance. Again, not much business but they both looked impressive in 70.

moviebuff82 on November 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

Tron 2 is coming out in less than a month…in IMAX 3D!!!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm

When “TRON” came out we didn’t get it.I don’t remember it being any thing to get excited about,certainly not like the “INDY” and “STAR WARS” flicks,I think we had “ROCKYIII” and i am sure we did more on it than Weis Cinema did on “TRON”.

BRADE48 on June 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I worked at the Mann Village, Westwood when it played there. It was supposed to open on July 9th along with the rest of the openings but ended up at Mann’s Westwood (then triplex) all three screens that week. Warner did not want to pull FIREFOX yet from the Village. The next weekend TRON moved to the Village in 70mm and FIREFOX to the triplex. I’m sure Disney was not happy, but Warner and Paramount back then had priority. That was back when Ted Mann was owner of the chain.

richjr37 on December 28, 2011 at 11:42 am

I never got to see “TRON” in first run,i saw it second run at the Rainbow theatre in Henderson,NV while on vacation with my family. Loved it then,love it now.

LoveCinema on August 5, 2014 at 11:14 am

Saw “TRON” at the “Chinese Theater” in July 1982 whilst our journey by car through the United States. Presentation was absolutely perfect in sound and sight. A never to forget Movie-Experience and happy memories.

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