Tron and its lasting vision of cyberspace

This is a preview of an article you can read on our new website dedicated to virtual reality, Versions.


Here’s a fair question: How can a bomb from 1982 continue to impact the way we imagine cyberspace?

It’s always grids and neon—synths and geometric shapes. When Homer Simpson found himself in this virtual dimension, surrounded by cones, equations, and clip art, he asked if anyone had ever seen the movie TronOne by one, the residents of Springfield said “No.”

Released the same year Disney opened up their futurist edutainment EPCOT park, Tron impressed critics but failed to speak to audiences. It wildly underperformed for the investment, costing $17 million and taking in only three million on its opening weekend. According to James B. Stewart’s book DisneyWar (2005), the studio largely considered the project a write-off. Of course, as we now know, the film’s audience grew as it became an 80s cult icon, and computers became more familiar to the general public. Its increasing popularity even encouraged a sequel decades later, the also financially sluggish Tron: Legacy (2010), which brought the original cyberspace vision back into the collective consciousness, or at least tried. But in 1982, Tron was a confusing journey through techno jargon for people who might have only encountered a computer six times a year.