Death Race (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Death Race
Death race poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
Produced by
Written by Paul W. S. Anderson
Music by Paul Haslinger
Cinematography Scott Kevan
Edited by Niven Howie
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • August 22, 2008 (2008-08-22)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $45 million
Box office $75,677,515

Death Race is a 2008 American science fiction action thriller film produced, written, and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and starring Jason Statham.

Though referred to as a remake of the 1975 film Death Race 2000 (based on Ib Melchior's short story "The Racer") in reviews and marketing materials, director Paul W.S. Anderson stated in the DVD commentary that he thought of the film as a prequel.

A remake had been in development since 2002, though production was delayed by disapproval of early screenplays then placed in turnaround following a dispute between Paramount Pictures and the producer duo Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner (the latter was the producer without Cruse in the film). Death Race was acquired by Universal Studios, and Anderson re-joined the project to write and direct. Filming began in Montreal in August 2007, and the completed project was released on August 22, 2008.

Two direct to video prequels were released: Death Race 2 (2011) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013).


In 2012, the economy of the US completely collapses, causing unemployment and crime rates to skyrocket, and a sharp increase of convicted criminals, which leads to the rise of privatized prisons. Claire Hennessey (Joan Allen) is the warden of Terminal Island Penitentiary; she earns her profits from the pay-per-view broadcast of a modern gladiator game called "Death Race," with the prisoners as the participants.

In "Death Race", the racers, along with their navigators, compete in a 3-part race over 3 days on a closed track on Terminal Island. The track is littered with pressure plates that either activate their car's offensive weapons, defensive equipment or deadly traps. If one racer wins 5 races, in any order, they will be granted immediate & unconditional freedom signed by Hennessey.

Towards the end of one race, a masked driver nicknamed Frankenstein (David Carradine) is nearing the finish line against his only surviving competitor and rival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson). Frankenstein's navigator, Case (Natalie Martinez), reports that all his defensive weapons don't work. Against Case's protest, Frankenstein refuses to let Joe finish first; Case uses the ejector seat to exit the car just before Joe destroys it with a rocket launcher.

Industrial worker and former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) struggles to live normally and provide for his family in the ruined economy. When the factory he works at is closed, he returns home to his wife and their new-born daughter, Piper. An masked assailant knocks him unconscious. Ames wakes up, holding a bloodied knife, just before policeman stormed into his home. He is arrested by the police and sentenced to life imprisonment, while his daughter Piper is placed in foster care.

Six months later, Ames is transferred to Terminal Island prison. He immediately gets into a fight with Pachenko (Max Ryan) and his Aryan Brotherhood gang. Hennessey's right-hand man Ulrich (Jason Clarke) call Ames to her office. There, the warden offers to let Ames go free, if he impersonates Frankenstein, uses his driving skill and wins one more race (as Frank already won 4). She reveals that Frankenstein died at the operating table after the previous race, but it was kept a secret as he is a crowd-pleaser and she wants to keep the ratings high. As Frankenstein is heavily scarred, wears a mask all the time, and talks to no one but his maintenance crew and navigator, impersonating him should be easy. Ames accepts the offer and meets Frankenstein's maintenance crew, including Coach (Ian McShane), a professional mechanic that is deliberately staying in prison, Gunner (Jacob Vargas), the crew's jokester, and Lists (Frederick Koehler), a paranoid convict with an apparently eidetic memory.

On Day 1, Ames meets his navigator Case. Ames handles himself well, but his defensive weapons again mysteriously malfunction. Under attack by Travis Colt (Justin Mader), Ames improvises and spills napalm over Colt's car, which Case ignites with the cigarette lighter. Colt's car is then run over by Machine Gun Joe's. When he sees Pachenko doing the same hand gesture as the masked assailant, Ames is distracted and is hit by Joe, coming in last place. Day 1 ends with 3 racers dead and 7 remain. After a conversation with Hennessey and another fight with Pachenko, Ames pieces together the facts. He deduces that Hennessey ordered Pachenko to frame Ames, so she can have a replacement for Frankenstein.

On Day 2, Ames confronts Case about the malfunctions. Case admits she sabotaged Frankenstein's car to keep him from winning and leaving Death Race, on the orders of Hennessey in exchange for her release papers. Ames tricks Pachenko into crashing, leaves his car and kills Pachenko. Hennessey then unleashes the Dreadnought, a never-before-seen massive and heavily armed 18-wheel tanker. Hennessey plans to use it to thin out the racers and boost ratings. It kills three more racers, leaving only Frankenstein and Joe alive. Ames contacts Joe and the two work together to trigger a "Death Head" trap which destroys the Dreadnought, much to Hennessey's shock and anger.

Aware that Ames knows her secret, Hennessey asks him to consider staying and racing as Frankenstein, in exchange for a life of comfort in prison. As a precaution, she orders Ulrich to plant a bomb under Ames' car, in case he wins. Knowing Hennessey has no intention of letting him go, Ames plans an escape and talks to Joe.

On the final race, Hennessey deliberately keeps Ames from activating his weapons but allows Joe to activate his. Ames, Case and Joe escape by destroying and driving through a weakened wall discovered by examining footage of the previous race. Hennessey activates the bomb, not knowing that it was removed and neutralized by Coach. Hennessey sends attack helicopters after the two cars. They make it to mainland and split up. The helicopters follow and corner Ames. Case reveals that she had already been given her unconditional release paper. She wears Frankenstein's costume, and Ames jumps out of the car. Case is captured while Joe and Ames escape on a freight train.

Hennessey, although furious about the escape, is happy about re-capturing "Frankenstein" and for the success of the televised race. She is given a congratulatory present from Coach, only to find the bomb she put on Ames' car. Coach detonates the bomb, killing Hennessey and Ulrich.

Six months later, Joe and Ames are shown working in Mexico as mechanics, and are reunited with Case and Piper.


  • Jason Statham as Jensen Garner Ames, a falsely-convicted prisoner coerced to drive in the arena, taking the name "Frankenstein" from the man who came before him.[1][2]
  • Joan Allen as Claire Hennessey, the sadistic prison warden who is the current controller of the Death Race.[2]
  • Tyrese Gibson as Joseph Mason (a.k.a. Machine Gun Joe), a sociopathic racer who looks to use Death Race as a means to escape from prison. He alone uses male navigators, due to his habit of killing his navigators or them dying during the race. He has won 3 races and wishes to win so he could leave for Miami.[2]
  • Ian McShane as Coach, Frankenstein's loyal head mechanic and a voluntary inmate, since he feels that the outside world is not worth enough.[2]
  • Natalie Martinez as Case, Frankenstein's navigator. In prison for killing her husband, an abusive cop, she has a few years to serve and was given release papers in exchange for sabotaging Frankenstein's car[3]
  • Max Ryan as Pachenko, a rival driver Ames clashes with several times (who also killed Ames' wife and framed him for it). He is the leader of the prison's Aryan Brotherhood.
  • Jason Clarke as Mr. (Darryl) Ulrich, Hennessey's right-hand man and a sadistic prison guard. His first name is not mentioned in the film.
  • Frederick Koehler as Lists, another member of Frankenstein's pit crew and a compulsive data collector. He is in prison for murdering his mother.
  • Jacob Vargas as Gunner, Frankenstein's car repairman.
  • Justin Mader as Travis Colt, a disgraced ex-NASCAR driver seeking to rebuild his career by winning the race.
  • Robert LaSardo as Hector Grimm (a.k.a. The Grim Reaper), a certified psychopath driving in the race who loves and worships Hennessey (believing her to be the avatar of the Hindu god of death).
  • Robin Shou as 14K, a tenth-generation Triad member, sent to business school, held a degree from MIT.
  • David Carradine as Niles York/Frankenstein, the most popular driver in the history of Death Race. (cameo voice-over, reprising role in original 1975 film Death Race 2000). His mask comes from a huge fire he suffered. He is actually the second Frankenstein.


The cars in the film are vehicles that have been heavily modified with armor plating, machine guns and defensive weapons:

  • Frankenstein's Monster - A 2006 Ford Mustang GT A80 armed with 2 M134s, smokescreen, napalm and oil slick for defense, as well as a 6-inch-thick (150 mm) detachable steel plate on the rear called "The Tombstone". It also has an ejector seat for the navigator, a NOS system to provide additional speed and a cigarette lighter.
  • 2001 Dodge Ram 2500 - Machine Gun Joe's vehicle armed with 4 hood-mounted Browning M1919, 2 side-mounted Vulcan cannons and Russian RPG-7s on the roof and is mounted with 25-inch wheels to increase the size of the car.
  • 1980 Porsche 911 - Driven by the Chinese convict 14K. With 2 WW2 German MG-42 belt-fed general purpose machine guns and 4 hood-mounted missiles with 4 on the roof.
  • Pachenko's Chop Top- 1966 Buick Riviera Gran Sport armed with 4 German hood-mounted MG-34s and 2 internal PPSh-41 submachine guns also with 2 automatic Uzis mounted in the grille.
  • 1979 Pontiac Trans Am - Carson's Car. Has a M134 aiming backwards for defense and a .50 caliber turret on top of his car which is operated by his navigator.
  • 1972 Buick Gran Riviera "Boat tail" - Riggins' car. Caltrops for defense and twin Browning M1919 machine guns in the passenger side windscreen controlled by the navigator.
  • 1989 Jaguar XJR-S - driven by Travis with 2 .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns.
  • 2005 Chrysler 300C - driven by Grimm armed with 3 hood-mounted FN MAG58s with no stocks and a missile on the passenger side roof and an oil slick for defense.
  • 1989 BMW E32 735i - Siad's car. Armed with a double M134 on the roof.
  • The Dreadnought - A BAB Unit Peterbilt 18-wheel tanker truck modified by Hennessy into an armored truck with .50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns, 2 flame throwers, 2 rocket launchers, spikes on the forward wheel hubs, iron plates on the back wheels, bulldozer blade, chained caltrops and an M1A1 tank turret on the rear end of the trailer.


In March 2005, following the success of Alien vs. Predator, director Paul W.S. Anderson revealed that he was directing a remake of Death Race 2000 (1975) entitled Death Race 3000 at Paramount Pictures based on a script by J. F. Lawton. The remake would be produced by the producer pair Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Anderson described the remake as a riff on the first film. "It's not a straight remake at all. The first movie was an across-America race. This will be an around-the-world race. And it's set further in the future, so the cars are even more futuristic. So you've got cars with rockets, machine guns, force fields; cars that can split apart and re-form, a bit like Transformers. Cars that become invisible," the director explained.[4] reported that "Paul saw his film almost as a prequel if anything; almost the genesis of the Death Race,"[5] though the film is referred to primarily as a remake in reviews and marketing materials.

Two years later, Roger Corman, the producer of Death Race 2000, elaborated that he had an option agreement with producer Tom Cruise, and that Cruise would portray the lead role. The director said that Cruise had not been happy with the first two screenplays and that a third one was underway.[6] In June 2006, producer Jeremy Bolt reported that Anderson would direct the remake of Death Race 2000 after completing Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). The producer described the remake's new tone: "We've basically taken the idea of reality television and extended it twenty years. So it's definitely a comment on society, and particularly reality television, but it is not as much a parody or a satire as the original. It's more straight."[7] The following August, Paramount ended its relationship with Cruise/Wagner Productions, and Death Race was placed in turnaround. According to reports, when the project was discovered available, Universal Studios acquired it. Cruise and Wagner resumed their roles as producers, and Anderson returned to write and direct the film.[8]

In April 2007, actor Jason Statham entered negotiations to star in Death Race, with production slated to begin in late summer or early fall.[8] Anderson described that Death Race would take place in a prison, and that the film would be "super-violent" like its predecessor. "It has little echoes of the original – a lot of people get run down, but rather than having the points system, which had no pay off anyway, it's a pure race. It's more like Gladiator, with the last person standing – or driving, winning," explained the director.[9] Filming on Death Race began in Montreal in August 2007.[2]


Critical response[edit]

The film has received mixed reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 43% rating based on reviews from 150 critics.[10] Metacritic gave it rating of 43 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics.[11]

Robert Koehler of Variety called Death Race "as hard as metal and just as dumb" and criticized it for removing the humor of Death Race 2000.[12] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film half a star (out of four), calling it "an assault on all the senses, including common."[13] Keith Phipps of the A.V. Club said the film is "ideal for those who want to watch a bunch of cars blow each other up, without having to think about it all that much."[14] Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle called Death Race "one of the most boring drags of all time."[15]

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "an ill-advised and severely wussified remake."[16] Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave the film one and a half stars (out of four), calling it "junk" and saying that "the chases are pretty cool, but there's absolutely nothing else to see."[17] A positive review came from Nathan Lee of The New York Times, who said that "the movie is legitimately greasy, authentically nasty, with a good old-fashioned sense of laying waste to everything in sight."[18] James Berardinelli of ReelViews awarded Death Race a score of two and a half stars (out of four), saying that it's "weak when it comes to things like plot, character, and acting, but it's very good at provoking visceral reactions."[19]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $75,677,515, of which $36,316,032 was from North America.[20]


The film was originally scheduled for release on September 26, 2008, but was moved to August 22, 2008.[21]

Home media[edit]

The DVD and Blu-ray were released in the United States on December 21, 2008.[22] There was also an unrated edition released. The Blu-ray version of the movie features a Digital Copy of the film. In the DVD commentary, Anderson further elaborates on his thought of the movie as a prequel more than a remake.


The score to Death Race was composed by Paul Haslinger who recorded the string portion of his score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage.[23]

The soundtrack was released on August 19, 2008.[24]


The film is followed by two direct to video prequel films Death Race 2 (2011) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013), both take place before this film and are shot in South Africa. The films was directed by Roel Reiné, stars Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix, Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames. Lists and 14K are the only returning characters and are portrayed by Frederick Koehler and Robin Shou, respectively.


  1. ^ "First Look: Death Race Battle Scene". Worst Previews. May 28, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Borys Kit (August 8, 2007). "Buckle up: Allen joins Uni's 'Race'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ Borys Kit (August 21, 2007). "The 'Race' is on for Martinez". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  4. ^ Patrick Lee (March 18, 2002). "Paul W.S. Anderson reanimates a game group of zombies in Resident Evil". Sci Fi Wire. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  5. ^ Tom Tinneny (June 3, 2008). "Death Race: The Set Visit!". Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  6. ^ Calum Waddell. "August 17: Roger Corman's DEATH RACE 3000 update". Fangoria. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  7. ^ Stax (June 28, 2006). "Castlevania, Death Race Buzz". IGN. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  8. ^ a b Borys Kit (April 23, 2007). "Statham in 'Death Race' driver's seat". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on August 15, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Paul WS Anderson talks Death Race". Total Film. July 31, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Death Race". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 
  11. ^ Death Race, Metacritic
  12. ^ Robert Koehler (August 21, 2008). "Death Race review". Variety. 
  13. ^ Death Race review, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
  14. ^ Death Race review, Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club The Onion
  15. ^ Death Race review, Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle
  16. ^ Death Race review, Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
  17. ^ Death Race review, Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
  18. ^ Death Race review, Nathan Lee, The New York Times
  19. ^ Death Race review, James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  20. ^ "Death Race (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Death Race Rescheduled for this Summer". Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Death Race (2008)". 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  23. ^ Dan Goldwasser (August 1, 2008). "Paul Haslinger scores Deaf Race". Retrieved August 1, 2008. 
  24. ^

External links[edit]