Runaway (1984 film)

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Runaway German movie poster
Directed by Michael Crichton
Produced by Michael I. Rachmil
Lisa Faversham
Kurt Villadsen
Written by Michael Crichton
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Edited by Glenn Farr
James Coblentz
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
December 14, 1984
Running time
99 min.
Country United States
Language English
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 earned mixed to negative 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 discovering his previously unknown fear of heights, which resulted in a family's death at the hands of a man he let escape. 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 get close to Luther and fight him hand-to-hand. Ramsay eventually pushes 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.

Main cast[edit]


The film was written and directed by Michael Crichton.

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] The film marked the first feature acting role for Gene Simmons. He was offered the part after meeting Michael Crichton and did not have to read for it.[1]

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.

Tom Selleck starred in the film during interseason of Magnum, P.I.

Michael Crichton later said,

Runaway 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.[2]


The film received mixed reviews. The New York Times said "Mr Crichton has a much better feel for the gadgets than its human players".[3] The Los Angeles Times called it "assured, thoroughly cinematic filmmaking, its flourish of ingenious gadgetary not overwhelming its human dimension."[4] 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").[5] At the Movies gave Runaway two thumbs down. Roger Ebert opined 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.[6]

It currently holds a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simmons to co-star in his first movie Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 02 Aug 1984: n11F.
  2. ^ In 'Runaway' the Bugs Wear Black Hats RitaKemptey. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 30 Nov 1984: W9.
  3. ^ Screen: Tom Selleck in 'Runaway' Maslin, Janet. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 14 Dec 1984: C20
  4. ^ 'RUNAWAY': TECHNOLOGY CAST AS VILLAIN AGAIN Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Dec 1984: l6.
  5. ^ 'Runaway' success eludes Selleck. Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 18 Dec 1984: d3.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Tom Selleck on Jesse Stone, Friends, and fighting for Magnum, P.I.". 

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