The album reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and remained in the UK top 100 for 117 weeks, achieving platinum status by December 1982. The initial United States release was unsuccessful, but the album was reissued there in 1983 following the success of the band's second album, Rio. This time it reached No. 10 on the US Billboard 200, and remained on that chart for 87 weeks. Duran Duran was certified platinum (a shipment of one million units) by the RIAA in June 1985.
The band wrote and recorded demos for the album at AIR Studios in 1980, while one of their main influences, the band Japan, was recording the Gentlemen Take Polaroids album just down the hall. The band was influenced by a variety of musical styles and sounds, including David Bowie, Roxy Music, Giorgio Moroder and Chic, to a sound that has been described as "space-age keyboards, post-punk guitars, disco-inspired bass lines and Le Bon's vocal croon – which was at times yelping and enthusiastic, and at other times mysterious and edgy – collided for a decidedly modern sound."
The album was formally recorded in December 1980 at various recording studios in London (as well as Chipping Norton Studios) with record producer Colin Thurston, shortly after Duran Duran signed their record deal with EMI. In interviews, the band has recalled the struggle to continue recording after hearing of the murder of John Lennon on 8 December.
The first pressing of 30,000 copies of the Japanese version (Toshiba/EMI EMS-91019) came with a colour poster. There is a notation on the obi strip that mentions this. Later issues of the album have the notation on the obi removed and contain only a lyric insert and a sheet with a bio in Japanese, some photos and some instructions on how to do the 'new romantic' dance like in the "Planet Earth" video.
The original American release included the "Night Version" of "Planet Earth" instead of the original, even if it is not listed as such. "To the Shore" was dropped from the US track listing to accommodate the-now increased length of "Planet Earth". Earlier alternate titles for "Anyone Out There" and "Night Boat" are used.
Duran Duran was re-released in the US on 25 April 1983, after the success of their second album Rio in America gave the band another chance to market their first album there. The album had two changes to the original American track listing: Capitol Records replaced the "Night Version" of "Planet Earth" with the original single version. Most notably, the then-current Duran Duran single, "Is There Something I Should Know?" was added to the album's track listing.
The album also featured updated cover art designed by Malcolm Garrett, using the newer "double D" band logo featured on the Seven and the Ragged Tiger album and "Is There Something I Should Know?" single. The cover photo showed the evolution in the band's image since 1981. In contrast to the earlier artwork, the new image positioned each band member equally close to the camera, and demonstrated the variety of looks within the band, from tanned adventurers to rouged androgynes. This reflected the band's teen-focused marketing which promoted the image and personality of individual band members, recognizing that "everyone is someone's favourite".
The first single of the band's career was "Planet Earth" (released on 2 February 1981), which reached No. 12 on the UK charts.
The band followed up with the release of "Careless Memories" on 20 April 1981, but it only reached UK No. 37.
The third single from this album was the most successful. "Girls on Film", released 13 July, went to No. 5 in the UK. The video for the single was directed by Godley & Creme and was filmed in August, just two weeks after MTV was launched in the United States, before anyone knew what an impact the music channel would have on the industry. The raunchy "soft porn" video which featured semi-naked women created an uproar and a heavily edited "day version" was aired on MTV (though the uncut version did receive regular airings on the Playboy Channel), and the band enjoyed and capitalized on the controversy.