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Rollerball (1975 film)

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Theatrical release poster by Bob Peak
Directed byNorman Jewison
Screenplay byWilliam Harrison
Based on"Roller Ball Murder"
by William Harrison
Produced byNorman Jewison
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byAntony Gibbs
Music byAndré Previn
Algonquin Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • June 25, 1975 (1975-06-25)
Running time
129 minutes[1]
CountriesUnited Kingdom[2]
United States[3]
Budget$5-6 million[4][5]
Box office$30 million[6]

Rollerball is a 1975 dystopian science fiction sports film directed and produced by Norman Jewison.[7] It stars James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn and Ralph Richardson. The screenplay, written by William Harrison,[8] adapted his own short story "Roller Ball Murder", which had first appeared in the September 1973 issue of Esquire.[9]

Although Rollerball had a largely American cast, a Canadian director, and was released by the American company United Artists,[10] it was produced in London and Munich.[11][12]


In 2018, Jonathan E. is the team captain and veteran star of the Houston Rollerball team. Mr. Bartholomew, chairman of the Energy Corporation - one of a series of corporations that now govern society - and team sponsor, offers Jonathan a lavish retirement package if Jonathan will announce his retirement during an upcoming television special detailing his career. Jonathan refuses, and requests to see his former wife Ella, who had been taken from him some years earlier by a corporate executive who wanted her for himself.

Jonathan goes to a library, where he finds that all books have been digitized and edited to suit the corporations, and are now stored on supercomputers at large protected corporate locations. Jonathan's friend and former coach Cletus, now an Energy executive, warns him that the Executive Committee is afraid of him, though he cannot find out why.

Rollerball soon degrades into senseless violence as the rules are changed to force Jonathan out. The semi-final match between Houston and Tokyo is played with no penalties and limited substitutions in the hope Jonathan will be injured and forced out. The brutality of the match kills several players and leaves Jonathan's best friend and teammate Moonpie in a coma, though Houston wins the game.

In a teleconference, the Executive Committee decides that the final match will be played with no penalties, no substitutions, and no time limit in the hope that Jonathan will be killed during the game. Jonathan's popularity and longevity as a player threaten the underlying agenda of Rollerball: to demonstrate the futility of individualism.

Jonathan makes his way to Geneva to access the world's repository of all human knowledge, a central supercomputer known as "Zero," only to find its memory corrupted. Afterwards, Jonathan receives a visit from his former wife Ella, who has been sent to convince him to retire and to make it clear that the coming game will be "to the death". Jonathan realizes his wife's visit was set up by the Executives, and erases a long-cherished movie of the two of them, stating, "I just wanted you on my side." Jonathan decides that despite the dangers, he will play in the championship game against New York.

The final match devolves into a brutal gladiatorial fight. Jonathan is soon the only player left on the track for Houston, while a skater and a biker remain from New York. After a violent struggle in front of Mr. Bartholomew's box, Jonathan kills the skater and takes the ball. The biker charges, and Jonathan knocks him off the bike and pins the biker down. He raises the ball over his head, then pauses. Refusing to kill his fallen opponent, Jonathan gets to his feet and makes his way to the goal, slamming the ball home and scoring the game's only point. Jonathan then takes a victory lap as the crowd chants his name, first softly, then slowly rising to a roar while Mr. Bartholomew hastily exits the stands.



Rollerball's arena sequences were shot at the Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle in Munich, West Germany. This hall was selected because it was the only sports arena in the world with a near-circular profile, which the production could take over and re-dress for shooting.

The then-new BMW Headquarters and Museum buildings in Munich appear as the headquarters buildings of the Energy Corporation at Olympiapark, Munich. Scenes were also filmed at Fawley Power Station,[13] near Southampton. The sequence where Jonathan E. visits Geneva to consult with Zero the supercomputer concerning corporate decisions uses exterior shots of the Palace of Nations.

Recognizing their contribution to the film's many crucial action sequences, Rollerball was the first major Hollywood production to give screen credit to its stunt performers. The film was shot in 35mm with a 1.85 aspect ratio but was released in some theaters in 70mm with a 2:1 aspect ratio.[14]

The game of Rollerball was so realistic that the cast, extras, and stunt personnel played it between takes on the set. At the time of the film's release, Howard Cosell interviewed Norman Jewison and James Caan on ABC's Wide World of Sports, showing clips from the film and with the two of them explaining the rules of the game. Audiences who saw the film so loved the action of the game that Jewison was contacted multiple times by promoters, requesting that the "rights to the game" be sold so that real Rollerball leagues might be formed. Jewison was outraged, as the entire point of the movie was to show the "sickness and insanity of contact sports and their allure."[15]

English pro wrestler Mark Rocco was a stuntman for the film. He used the "Rollerball" name as his nickname.[16]


Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is performed on organ by Simon Preston during the opening title sequence and again at the final scene, bookending the film.[17] Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto and the Largo movement from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 are also used to establish tone, mood, and atmosphere for certain scenes in the film. The classical music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by André Previn, who also wrote the "Executive Party" music for the film and the corporate anthems performed before certain matches.[18]


Box office[edit]

The film earned $6.2 million in theatrical rentals at the North American box office.[19]

Critical response[edit]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times was unimpressed:[20]

All science-fiction can be roughly divided into two types of nightmares. In the first the world has gone through a nuclear holocaust and civilization has reverted to a neo-stone Age. In the second, of which "Rollerball" is an elaborate and very silly example, all of mankind's problems have been solved but at the terrible price of individual freedom. ... The only way science-fiction of this sort makes sense is as a comment on the society for which it's intended, and the only way "Rollerball" would have made sense in a satire of our national preoccupation with televised professional sports, particularly weekend football. Yet "Rollerball" isn't a satire. It's not funny at all and, not being funny, it becomes, instead, frivolous.

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and called it "a movie in love with itself" and "vapid, pretentious, and arrogant. Not even John Houseman's fine performance as a villainous corporate director is sufficient to make Rollerball tolerable. The only way to enjoy it, I suppose, is to cheer at the rollerball game's mayhem."[21] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety, wrote that it "packs an emotional and intellectual wallop" and that James Caan gave an "excellent performance".[14] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was also positive, calling it "a fresh, unusual and stimulating movie. In its portraying of the vast and essentially stateless multinational corporations, Rollerball plays off developments which have come since Huxley's and Orwell's time."[22] Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Monthly Film Bulletin panned Rollerball as "A classic demonstration of how several millions of dollars can be unenjoyably wasted ... this glib fable seems to be aiming at a simplified version of A Clockwork Orange without any intimations of wit or satire to carry the vague moralistic message."[23]

James Monaco wrote that Rollerball "like most paranoid fantasies offers no hope: If James Caan can't beat the system, who can?"[24]

TV Guide gave the film three out of four stars; it said "the performances of Caan and Richardson are excellent, and the rollerball sequences are fast-paced and interesting."[25] Jay Cocks of Time said Caan looked "unconvinced and uncomfortable" as Jonathan E.[26]

Filmink said the film "launched the dystopian sports movie genre and a series of rip-offs (Death Race 2000, etc) – most of which, to be frank, were a lot more fun than Rollerball, which could have stood to be a little less important and a little trashier."[27]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 67% based on reviews from 36 critics, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site's consensus reads: "In Rollerball, social commentary collides with high-speed action – and the audience is the winner."[28] On Metacritic the film has a score of 56 out of 100 based on reviews from 11 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[29]

In 1977, Caan himself rated the film 8 out of 10, saying he "couldn't do much with the character."[30]

Video game[edit]

In 1985, IJK Software produced a game called Rocketball for the Commodore 64 computer, with the scoring rules based on the game in the movie. In 1989, Microïds published an unofficial successor called Killerball for the Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, and MS-DOS.[citation needed]

In 1997, Z-Axis Games was developing an official Rollerball video game adaptation based on the film As part of MGM Interactive video game showcase lineup.[31] The game's promise was to recreate the action of the futuristic game played in the movie, and it was set 10 years after the events of the film in the 2098 Rollerball season, where the player would be in charge of managing their Rollerball teams around the world, made up of Rollerball players with roles such as strikers, enforcers, guard, and other players who compete using jet bikes and magnetic in-line skates. Rollerball: The Video Game was slated to be released for PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo 64 on the first quarter of 1998, but was delayed to mid-1998[32] and then was canceled due to the publisher, MGM Interactive, going bankrupt.

In 2004, I-play developed and published a Rollerball game for mobile phones. It is based on the 1975 film, rather than the 2002 remake of the same name.[citation needed]

Speedball and its sequel Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe are said to have been heavily inspired by Rollerball,[33] though Bitmap Brothers co-founder Mike Montgomery denies this, saying Speedball's similarities to the film are more of a coincidence.[citation needed]

The developers of the 2022 game Rollerdrome cited the film as a major influence.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rollerball' (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. June 25, 1975. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  2. ^ "Rollerball". ArchiveGrid. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  3. ^ Vaughn, Stephen (2006). Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 0521852587.
  4. ^ "Rollerball". Variety. January 1, 1975. The $5 million film was made in Munich and London.
  5. ^ "When it comes to the crunch". The Guardian. April 30, 1999. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  6. ^ "Rollerball, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  7. ^ "Rollerball (1975)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 6, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  8. ^ "Rollerball (1975) Cast And Crew". MGM. 2000–2007. Retrieved October 3, 2007.
  9. ^ "Contents Lists / The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 7". Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition, by William G. Contento. 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
  10. ^ Cook, David A. (2000), Lost illusions: American cinema in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979, History of the American cinema, Charles Harpole, vol. 9, Simon & Schuster, p. 243, ISBN 0-684-80463-8
  11. ^ Booker, M. Keith (2010). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8108-5570-0.
  12. ^ Vaughn, Stephen (2006), Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media, Cambridge University Press, p. 55, ISBN 0-521-85258-7
  13. ^ "Developer issues update on Fawley power station demolition". Daily Echo. March 1, 2023.
  14. ^ a b Murphy, Arthur D. (June 25, 1975). "Film Reviews: Rollerball". Variety. p. 23.
  15. ^ Sloan, Robin Adams (October 20, 1975). "Jewison is Outraged by Reaction to 'Rollerball'". Muncie Evening Press. Retrieved May 8, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ McGeorge, Alistair (July 31, 2020). "Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco dead aged 69: WWE stars pay tribute to wrestling legend".
  17. ^ "Andre Previn - Rollerball (Original Soundtrack Recording)". www.discogs.com. 1975. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  18. ^ Rollerball – Original Soundtrack liner notes.
  19. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  20. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 26, 1975). "Futuristic World of 'Rollerball'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  21. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 27, 1975). "'Rollerball's' points dull the mind". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  22. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 22, 1975). "It's Hell on Wheels in 'Rollerball'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  23. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (October 1975). "Rollerball". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 42 (501): 224.
  24. ^ Monaco, James (1979). American Film Now. p. 285.
  25. ^ "Rollerball". TV Guide. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  26. ^ "Time Magazine – Rollerball Review". Archived from the original on September 22, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  27. ^ Vagg, Stephen (September 27, 2022). "The Stardom of James Caan". Filmink.
  28. ^ "Rollerball". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  29. ^ "Rollerball". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  30. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 27, 1977). "James Caan's career hitting tough times". Chicago Tribune. p. e6.
  31. ^ "MGM Interactive to showcase deep games lineup".
  32. ^ "Rollerball Delayed - IGN". August 14, 1997.
  33. ^ "Top 10 Most Influential Amiga Games". Wired. Retrieved June 29, 2018. Heavily influenced by Rollerball and other futuristic, high-contact sports
  34. ^ Leri, Michael (July 27, 2022). "Interview: How Roll7 Released 2 Games in 6 months Without Falling Apart". ComingSoon. Retrieved August 10, 2022.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film
Succeeded by