Runaway (1984 American film)

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Runaway German movie poster
Directed byMichael Crichton
Produced byMichael I. Rachmil
Lisa Faversham
Kurt Villadsen
Written byMichael Crichton
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Edited byGlenn Farr
James Coblentz
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
December 14, 1984
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$6,770,587 (USA)

Runaway is a 1984 American science fiction action film written and directed by Michael Crichton, starring Tom Selleck, Gene Simmons, Cynthia Rhodes and Kirstie Alley. Selleck portrays a police officer assigned to track down dangerous robots, while Simmons is a scientist who hopes to profit from his malevolent manipulation of robots. The film was a box office disappointment and received mixed reviews.


In the near future, robots are commonplace—a part of everyday life like any other electrical appliance—and are just as prone to malfunctions. When a robot malfunctions, it could pose a threat to people or property. Such robots are known as "runaways." Since they are more dangerous than the average machine, they are handled by a division of the police trained in robotics. The "runaway" squad, however, is treated as an easy and unexciting assignment and often ridiculed.

Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay (Selleck) is a veteran police officer who joined the runaway squad after in incident in which his fear of heights allowed a criminal to escape, which subsequently resulted in a family's death at the hands that escaped criminal. After years on the job, Ramsay has found himself one of the division's few real experts. His new partner Karen Thompson (Rhodes) is enthusiastic about the job, but he assures her there is little excitement involved, saying that mostly it involves flipping a switch. This changes when they find themselves handling a new threat—the first robotic homicide. Investigating a household robot that murdered a family with a kitchen knife and handgun, Jack discovers strange integrated circuits, which not only override a robot's safety features but also direct it to attack humans. These circuits are not hacked chips, but created from a series of master templates, enabling them to be mass-produced.

Despite being unable to learn anything from uncooperative informants who end up dead, Ramsay refuses to give up and soon discovers the perpetrator is sociopathic genius Dr. Charles Luther (Simmons). Luther, while working for a defense contractor, developed a program that allows a robot to thermographically identify a human from amidst cover and to even differentiate between humans. Seeing the profit potential, he killed his fellow researchers and tried to sell the technology on the black market. A failed attempt to arrest Luther - complicated by Ramsay having to remove an explosive shell from Thompson's arm - results in the recovery of another of Luther's weapons, a smart bullet: a miniature heat seeking missile capable of locking onto a human target's unique heat signature, pursuing them wherever they run, even around corners.

While investigating another of Luther's partners, Ramsay and Thompson find Jackie Rogers (Alley), who was once Luther's lover. She double-crossed him and stole the circuit templates, intending to sell them herself. She is scared because she believes Luther will stop at nothing to kill her. When they create a ruse to transfer Jackie to safety, Luther attacks the police convoy with robotic smart bombs. They discover that the bombs are zeroing in on a bug in Jackie's purse; they throw the bag out the window before the bomb reaches the car.

Ramsay decides to make a public appearance with Jackie at a restaurant to draw Luther out, but instead Luther captures Thompson and wants Ramsay to exchange her for Jackie and the templates. Before making the exchange, Jackie gives some of the templates to Ramsay, for insurance that Luther won't kill her. But Luther kills her anyway, after discovering the missing templates. He then fires his smart bullets into the crowded restaurant and flees.

To retrieve the missing templates, Luther plans to attack Ramsay. He uses the police computers to discover everything about Ramsay's personal life, including his son. Once Ramsay discovers his information has been hacked, he races home to find his household robot damaged and his son Bobby missing. Luther calls to confirm he kidnapped Bobby and wants to exchange him for the missing templates.

Ramsay agrees to meet Luther at an unfinished skyscraper. Luther gets the templates while in exchange Ramsay sends his son down in an elevator whereupon Luther informs him that a legion of "assassin" robots—small, spider-like robots which kill by injecting their victims with acid—are waiting to kill the first person exiting the elevator. Thompson arrives and helps Bobby stay out of reach of the robots. Furious, Luther begins firing smart bullets, but Ramsay turns on the robotic construction equipment, creating multiple heat sources which cause the bullets to miss. Ramsay uses this distraction to escape and jump on to an elevator to go down. However, the elevator malfunctions, skyrocketing up to the very top with Ramsay onboard and stops. Ramsay is forced to overcome his fear of heights by reaching a reset button underneath the elevator to restart it, while encountering 3 robot spiders. Ramsay is able to defeat the spiders and restart the elevator downward. The elevator makes a stop on the floor Luther is on, with Luther approaching Ramsay in the elevator and exchanging words with him, causing Ramsay to start the elevator back down again and engage a struggle with Luther during the descent. Ramsay manages to gain the upper hand by pressing the elevator's stop button, catapulting Luther over the side, and the inventor lands on his back, in the midst of his robot spiders. Programmed to kill whoever came down from above, the robots rush Luther, injecting him in multiple places.

Ramsay helps his son down and then cautiously approaches the motionless villain. Screaming, Luther reaches up to grab Ramsay, but falls back, dead, while the spiders self-destruct around him.



The film was written and directed by Michael Crichton who said he deliberately made it vague how far into the future the film was set. "If you want my world view, I think it's about a year ahead," he said. "I wanted to make a cops and robbers film. I believe a lot in right and wrong-I'm not a moralist-but in the concepts of right and wrong. While I think it's very important that there are movies where the bad guy has a point of view, where at times it's important to understand him, at other times, it's important not to be so understanding. Everything is not the same. Birth is not murder, murder is not birth.[2]

Crichton said the film "is not a cautionary tale" about technology but "an updated police story with every police cliche turned a bit... This is a movie, at least in part, about the difference between people and machines. We tried very hard to keep perspective. Machines are so visually interesting that a lot of times they threaten to take over a film. There have been some very technically innovative movies in recent years that are very difficult to relate to as an audience. Sometimes I'll sit there and think: 'Boy, this is really knowledgeable. But so what?'"[3]

Crichton wanted to ensure the film was visual and easy to follow. "Movies are about the here and now in things you see. To me, there's no point in writing a highly cinematic book or doing a very literary movie... I'm self-consciously attempting to simplify my stories. Usually, when I see something I've done, I think: 'Why is everything so complicated? I don't want to work so hard to understand it.' "[3]

The star was Tom Selleck who had a small role in Crichton's film Coma and since become a star on TV in Magnum PI. He later said, "With my TV series, I don't have the luxury of taking on a lot of projects. So when I got offered a movie and the timing's right, I say yes. I keep thinking if I don't say yes, then everyone will go away. And being a fan of Michael Crichton's helped, because I'm really very nervous doing this.... I need my confidence built as much as anybody. It's a strange business.... I like to grow in my parts, this was a risk in some ways."[2]

"I try to look for something a little different each time," Selleck added about his film roles, "although I know people tend to lump them all in the same category. "They called Lassiter and High Road to China action pictures. But they really weren't, at least not by my definition. High Road was a romantic adventure, Lassiter more of a caper movie. Runaway really is an action picture."[4]

"The script doesn't follow a straight path between finding out who the bad guy is and getting him," said Selleck. "It's not action for action's sake. It's much more complex than that. You really get a chance to know the characters."[4]

The film marked the first feature acting role for rock star Gene Simmons (he had been in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park). Simmons had been interested in acting for a while, and had studied it since 1981. He turned down a TV series which wanted to exploit his KISS fame as well as parts in Flashdance and Dr Detroit because "I wasn't interested in musicals or comedy. I wanted to start out in something serious. I understand brooding characters more than I do splashy people."[5] He was offered the part after meeting Michael Crichton and did not have to read for it.[6]

"I didn't see Luther as evil," Simmons said, "but as a deadly animal who kills when someone gets in his way.... Crichton didn't want me to memorize the script or talk to my acting coach. His direction was, `Don't be afraid to try different things.' "[7]

Michael Crichton later said the film "has a technological presence, but if you're a real gadgeteer, you won't like the movie much. I'm bored with special effects. When they were doing the robot photographs for this, I used to go and make phone calls. The little machines can be very distracting, and I've tried to keep them in the background. But people like the little gadgets and I can't help it... It's a very noisy movie, lots to listen to... It's a nice-looking future. No neo-Nazis. No Big Brother. No hideosity. No grime.[8]

Crichton felt too many films blamed technology for problems. "There's some bizarre aspect of people that's desperately eager not to accept responsibility for the power they use, the votes they cast or the garbage they create," he explains. "There's nothing called 'technology' that creates itself. If we don't like atomic weapons or air pollution, we have only ourselves to blame. It's all choices, all a product of our hands and minds." [3]

Filming took place from 29 May to August 1984 in Vancouver while star Tom Selleck was on a break from Magnum, P.I..

Jerry Goldsmith composed the original musical score, which was the composer's first all-electronic soundtrack.


The film was marketed with the tagline "It is the future. Machines intended to do our work are programmed to turn against us. Someone must stop the madman who started it all." Gene Simmons wrote music for the album Animalize with KISS while participating in this film.[citation needed]

With a multimillion-dollar budget, big-name actors and a world-famous author as both writer and director, Runaway was planned as 1984's major science fiction draw. However, it was overshadowed by James Cameron's blockbuster The Terminator, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and the film was a box office disappointment.

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews. Janet Maslin of The New York Times said "Mr Crichton has a much better feel for the gadgets than its human players".[9] Kevin Thomas of The Los Angeles Times called it "assured, thoroughly cinematic filmmaking, its flourish of ingenious gadgetary not overwhelming its human dimension."[10] Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune thought the movie began excitingly but descended into a "routine chase thriller" in which Selleck was a poor lead ("he's too nice, too familiar to be a big star in the movies").[11] At the Movies gave Runaway two thumbs down. Roger Ebert thought that Selleck and Simmons gave "good performances" but the film quickly became mired in cliches, while Gene Siskel thought the core premise was intriguing but the film poorly executed.[12]

On Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 44% based on reviews from 18 critics.[13]

Tom Selleck later reflected: Jack Ramsay is not exactly a character whose name is on the tip of everybody’s tongue, but Runaway was a really great popcorn movie... It was very futuristic, it had robots and all sorts of stuff, and it was a nice movie. It was a good movie that I’m very proud of. It didn’t do very well, which was a great disappointment to Michael, who became a friend. And Gene Simmons was in it! Gene hadn’t been in a feature film before, but he was great. We had some great talks and good times... I know it [the plot] sounds hokey, but with Michael Crichton at the helm, it was pretty good stuff.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Streets will be filled with stars The Globe and Mail 7 May 1984: BC.5.
  2. ^ a b NICE GUYS Coburn, Marcia Froelke. Film Comment; New York Vol. 21, Iss. 1, (Jan/Feb 1985): 2,4,69.
  3. ^ a b c Crichton's talents run from medicine to movies LEKICH, JOHN. The Globe and Mail28 Dec 1984: E.1.
  4. ^ a b In the face of fans and fame, Selleck remains a nice guy LEKICH, JOHN. The Globe and Mail12 Oct 1984: E.3.
  5. ^ KISS STAR PUTS ON 'HEAVY' MAKEUP Mills, Bart. Los Angeles Times 19 Aug 1984: t86.
  6. ^ Simmons to co-star in his first movie Chicago Tribune 2 Aug 1984: n11F.
  7. ^ SIMMONS ENJOYS KILLER FILM ROLE Sun Sentinel15 Feb 1985: 47.S.
  8. ^ In 'Runaway' the Bugs Wear Black Hats RitaKemptey. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 30 Nov 1984: W9.
  9. ^ Janet Maslin (14 Dec 1984: C20). "Screen: Tom Selleck in 'Runaway'". The New York Times. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ 'RUNAWAY': TECHNOLOGY CAST AS VILLAIN AGAIN Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Dec 1984: l6.
  11. ^ 'Runaway' success eludes Selleck. Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 18 Dec 1984: d3.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Will Harris (10/14/15). "Tom Selleck on Jesse Stone, Friends, and fighting for Magnum, P.I." The Onion. Check date values in: |date= (help)

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