Now that Blade Runner 2049 came out, my perception of what a replicant is has been completely blurred.

To start off, the first Blade Runner established that Replicants are bio-engineered robots. So I assumed they're like terminators - human flesh on the outside with metal and circuitry on the inside. There is even a scene where Roy Batty drives a nail through his hand, when it stopped working, presumably to fix circuitry issues.

But with the new Blade Runner 2049, we learn that Replicants have human bones, human flesh that can decompose, and human traits of reproduction. Not only that, they can have children with humans (we don't really know whether Deckard is replicant or not, so I can make that argument).

So are replicants just humans with shorter (or longer) life expectancy? Or are they "robots", and how?

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    Roy stabbing his hand with a nail wasn't done to fix anything, I thought. My assumption was that as his body deteriorated, starting with his hand, they would go numb. The point of the nail was force some feeling into his hand so he could continue to use it, even if that feeling was one of intense pain.
    – ViggyNash
    Oct 8, 2017 at 18:12
  • I think ultimately we are witnessing advancements or evolution on androids (source material "Do Androids Dream of Electric?"). I think the point is to question what a human being is by having humans create "sentinel life". It makes us ask if the experience is more important than truth, when an experience (memory) can be fabricated or altered, and does not knowing the whole truth make a sentient being any less human? BSG re-imaged Cylons play with this too, but it's more about the nature of the reality's metaphysics, than it's about accurate conscious awareness. Westworld may be closer to this. Oct 8, 2017 at 19:26
  • I think you have replicants confused with Terminators. It was never established, anywhere, that they were metal and circuitry on the inside, as far as I can tell. Roys body was breaking down in his last moments, the purpose of the nail was to use pain to focus or "shock" his body in to continuing to obey his wishes, I think, though that's just conjecture. Not sure how a rusty nail would fix state of the art circuitry if it was malfunctioning. Nov 9, 2017 at 16:39

2 Answers 2


According to the first movie's press kit, they were "A genetically engineered creature composed entirely of organic substance."

If you think about it - they are so physically indistinguishable from a real human that they must be screened through psychological and emotional testing (otherwise, x-ray's or blood testing or other medical testing would be used). The book does say that the bone marrow could be tested - but that just shows how close to human the replicants are - they have bone marrow.

In the movie, we know they have biologically engineered eyes, from when Roy and Leon visit Hannibal Chew.

J.F. Sebastian is a "genetic designer" involved in the creation of replicants, particularly the Nexus-6, and Tyrell and Roy discuss the cellular chemistry which prevents extending the lifespan of a replicant.

It may be that the earlier replicant models were partly robotic: the Nexus-6 models are described as being highly advanced in their design.


TYRELL The facts of life. I'll be blunt. To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system, at least by men, makers or not, is fatal. A coding sequence can't be revised once it's established.


TYRELL Because by the second day of incubation any cells that have undergone reversion mutation give rise to revertant colonies -- like rats leaving a sinking ship. The ship sinks.

BATTY What about E.M.S. recombination?

TYRELL We've already tried it -- ethyl methane sulfonate is an alkylating agent and a potent mutagen -- it created a virus so lethal the subject was destroyed before we left the table.

The replicants are bio-organisms (super people), the fail safe of making superior beings was building in a 4 year lifespan.

This is also why they can only be detected by an empathy test, a cyborg would have systems that could be scanned for.

There is even a scene where Roy Batty drives a nail through his hand, when it stopped working, presumably to fix circuitry issues

No, Batty is dying. His ability to feel (part of being alive) is going, and he needs to feel so he resorts to more extreme measures to keep feeling (even as pain). This is similar to Renard in 'The World Is Not Enough', picking up burning rocks, punching through things etc.

There's no point in living if you can't feel alive.

This is the start of Batty understanding that life is precious, so allowing Deckard to live means more than a super soldier killing him.

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