The Tron Franchise Timeline Explained

 Tron Legacy promo poster
Tron Legacy promo poster
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Greetings, Programs! Currently, visitors to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom can take a spin on the park’s most thrilling attraction: Tron Lightcycle Run. But there’s an entire history that leads from the formation of a fictitious computer company a little over 50 years ago to the current state of the Tron timeline. While that new Jared Leto film won’t be arriving at any point on the 2023 new movie releases schedule, it’s still a good time to review this chain of events from the first spark to the end of the line. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s turn the clocks back to 1972, and dig into the legacy of Tron.

1972 - 1982: The ENCOM Legacy Begins

David Warner sits in his office looking annoyed in Tron.
David Warner sits in his office looking annoyed in Tron.

Before Tron, the history of ENCOM was shaped by two men who had very different visions for the future of technology.

1972 - Dr. Walter Gibbs Starts ENCOM

Beginning the legacy of ENCOM in his garage, Dr. Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes) created a company that would branch out as a leading innovator in software and hardware. His company would eventually be bought out, with Dr. Gibbs still continuing his work. Running the operation fell under the new overseer of ENCOM, Edward Dillinger Sr.

1979 - Edward Dillinger Sr. Writes The Master Control Program / Kevin Flynn Is Fired

Dillinger takes ENCOM to new heights, turning that small business into a multinational powerhouse of computing. One of the crown jewels is the Master Control Program, written by Edward himself. A ruthless piece of software, it eventually grows 2,415 times smarter than its initial build.

Together, Edward Dillinger Sr. and the MCP rule ENCOM with an iron fist, and as a result, five games written by programmer Kevin Flynn are stolen and credited to Dillinger. Flynn is fired when he challenges this development, and eventually runs an arcade that some of the games he rightfully wrote call home.

1982 - 1989: Kevin Flynn Changes The Game

Jeff Bridges being zapped by a laser from behind in Tron.
Jeff Bridges being zapped by a laser from behind in Tron.

Tron was only the beginning of Kevin Flynn’s story, as the events that followed would trigger even greater change.

1982 - Kevin Flynn First Visits The Grid, Changing His Life

The events of Tron kick off here, when Kevin Flynn teams up with friends Dr. Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Dr. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) to find the proof of Dillinger’s theft. Inadvertently, ENCOM becomes the first company to ever digitize and transport a person into the computer world, as the Master Control Program sends Flynn to The Grid.

Flynn fights the MCP’s ruthless conquest and theft of programs with the programming avatars of his friends, Tron and Yori. Emerging victorious, and proving his claim of creating arcade games like Space Paranoids, Flynn ousts Edward Dillinger Sr., and becomes the CEO of ENCOM. A new day is dawning, and Flynn even finds time for romance, as this year is when he meets and marries architect Jordan Canas.

1983 - First Contact With The ISOs / Sam Flynn Is Born

Two very important events would take place not too long after Kevin Flynn’s takeover of ENCOM, and both are chronicled in the graphic novel Tron: Betrayal. As mentioned in Tron: Legacy, he would begin experimenting with The Grid, making regular visits to push the boundaries of what he would call “The Digital Frontier.”

In the computer world, this led to Flynn creating CLU (Codified Likeness Utility) to help him and Tron navigate the perfect system. Soon enough, he would encounter the first isomorphic algorithm, or “ISO” for short: lifeforms that were created out of nothing on The Grid itself. This “miracle,” as well as the birth of his son Sam in the real world, would start to change Flynn’s views on perfection; something that would put him at odds with his own creation.

1985 - Jordan Canas Dies / Flynn’s Obsession Grows

Two years after Sam Flynn’s birth, his mother, Jordan Canas, would pass away. The causes were unknown, but it left Kevin to depend on his parents to help raise his young son. In these dark days, Flynn’s time as ENCOM CEO continued to create controversy, as his obsession with the world of The Grid only grew. In this time, Kevin would write the cornerstone text of his work, The Digital Frontier: Mapping The Other Universe. In just a few short years, the mystique surrounding his work would hit its peak on one fateful night.

1989 - 2009: Flynn Lives?

Kevin Flynn smiling as he looks back at his son in Tron Legacy.
Kevin Flynn smiling as he looks back at his son in Tron Legacy.

The heart of Tron: Legacy starts here, thanks to a shift in power that saw human and machine square off with dire consequences.

November 3, 1989 - Kevin Flynn Disappears / CLU Launches His Coup

On approximately November 3, 1989 (per a date displayed at the beginning of Tron: Uprising’s episode recaps) Kevin Flynn went to his office at Flynn’s Arcade, and never returned. The disagreement between he and CLU over whether the ISOs could be trusted came to a head, with Flynn’s own creation betraying him.

CLU seized power of The Grid, almost totally wiping out the ISOs in an event that would become known as “The Purge.” Despite trying to resist, Flynn would eventually retreat to hermitage. Tron was also presumed dead, though that event wasn’t as instantaneous as one would have thought. In the events of Tron: Uprising, the security program tried to train a successor to the mantle, mechanic program Beck (Elijah Wood).

Most importantly, Flynn’s disappearance would see his son Sam left to grow up without a father. While raised by his grandparents, the event would have a massive impact on his life from that point.

November 29, 1990 - ENCOM Faces Corporate Restructuring In Flynn’s Absence

After his disappearance, Dr. Alan Bradley stepped into the post of interim CEO at ENCOM. It wouldn’t last for long, as the company’s already shaky financial fate would trigger massive layoffs, which prompted Dr. Bradley’s resignation. Coincidentally, Dillinger Systems became a huge competitor in this era, a rivalry that still rages to this day.

1996 - 2009: The Flynn Lives Movement Grows

An underground movement convinced of Kevin Flynn’s continued existence, the “Flynn Lives” camp, came into existence almost immediately after his disappearance. The cause would pick up even more steam in 1996, when a computer virus spread awareness for the group. As the short film Tron: The Next Day would clarify, two people were key to the movement’s success: “ZackAttack” and “IsolatedThinker.”

To the public, their identities were never revealed. But, at the end of that short, it’s shown that ENCOM stalwarts Roy “Ram” Klineberg (Dan Shor) and Dr. Alan Bradley were “ZackAttack” and “IsolatedThinker,” respectively. Their faith that Flynn was still out there kept hope alive in the decades that followed, with one man rising to claim his place in it all.

2009 - Present Day: Sam Flynn Reclaims The Family Legacy

Garrett Hedlund in Tron: Legacy
Garrett Hedlund in Tron: Legacy

Flynn's son comes into his own, as Sam takes the ultimate steps towards truly carrying on his father's legacy.

2009 - Sam Flynn Starts Pulling Annual Pranks On ENCOM

Taking after his old man’s spirit of playful disobedience, Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) began to pull yearly pranks on the company he technically owned. As the largest sole shareholder in ENCOM, Sam would show his defiance of how the company was being run by pulling pranks on its leadership.

April 2nd, 2010 - Sam Flynn Crashes ENCOM’s Wondercon Presentation

During 2010’s Wondercon festivities, Dr. Alan Bradley was supposed to be introducing ENCOM’s Space Paranoids Online to a mass of eager fans. But that presentation was cut short thanks to Sam Flynn, who crashed the party by parachuting over the event with the help of the Flynn Lives movement. With their voices raised higher than ever, all it took was one page sent to Alan’s beeper to start the next major conflict in the Tron timeline.

November/December 2010 - Sam Flynn Visits The Grid, Finds His Father

After his annual prank on the ENCOM board released the ENCOM 12 operating system to the world, for free, Dr. Bradley had to bail Sam out of jail. Revealing he received a page that supposedly came from Sam's dad, Alan inspires the young man to head to the deserted Flynn’s Arcade. Through a total accident, the Flynn's son is sent to The Grid, a new piece on the board of a game that had been raging for decades.

Cillian Murphy in Tron: Legacy
Cillian Murphy in Tron: Legacy

RELATED: 8 Questions We Still Have After Tron: Legacy

It isn’t long before Tron: Legacy’s events reveal that Tron wasn’t dead after all, but rather repurposed as Rinzler, CLU’s right hand lieutenant. Teaming with his father Kevin, and Quorra (Olivia Wilde), the last remaining ISO in existence, the three attempt to thwart CLU’s plan to invade the human world. Sacrificing himself so that Sam and Quorra could escape, Kevin merges with CLU, eliminating both entities in an explosive event. It should also be noted that Tron plays a part in this victory, as he seems to snap out of his reprogramming and saves the heroic trio in the process.

Returning to the world of the User, Sam is a changed man. Naming Dr. Alan Bradley the chairman of the board, Sam is ready to take back ENCOM from the management that’s turned it into a corporate husk of its former self. In turn, Alan brings Roy Klineberg back to the fold as well. With the Dillingers plotting something in their own darkened halls, the game has changed, but it’s far from over.

2016 & 2023 - Sam Flynn Begins Opening Portals To The Grid Around The World

Our story ends, for the moment, in Shanghai and Orlando. The story of both incarnations of the Tron Lightcycle Run state that Sam Flynn has begun his own experiments with The Grid, thanks to the portals he’s opened in both of those locations. Thanks to the ENCOM SHV 20905 laser array (also known as the Shiva), people can now be digitized and transported to The Grid, taking part in a lightcycle battle against Rinzler himself!

While we don’t know what the film colloquially known as Tron: Ares will be about, the concept for Tron: Ascension’s plot would say that this latest development is a ticking time bomb. We might see all out war between Users and Programs just yet, but as it stands, the Tron saga is compiling its latest chapter, in the hope that the powers that be at Disney fully commit to booting up this sci-fi legacy once more. Those who want to dive deeper into the world of Tron can start with a Disney+ subscription, where both films and the animated series Tron: Uprising await to reveal even more of the history that got us here today. End of line.