The Running Man (1987 film)

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The Running Man
The Running Man (1987) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Michael Glaser
Produced by
Screenplay bySteven E. de Souza
Based onThe Running Man
by Stephen King (written as Richard Bachman)
Music byHarold Faltermeyer
CinematographyThomas Del Ruth
Edited by
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • November 13, 1987 (1987-11-13) (United States)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$27 million[2]
Box office$38.1 million (United States)[2]

The Running Man is a 1987 American dystopian action film directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, and Jesse Ventura. It is very loosely based on the 1982 novel of the same title written by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The film's story, set in a dystopian United States between 2017 and 2019, is about a television show called The Running Man, where convicted criminal "runners" must escape death at the hands of professional killers. The Running Man was a moderate box office success in the United States, grossing $38 million on its $27 million budget, but opened to mixed reviews from critics.


By 2017, after a worldwide economic collapse, the United States has become a totalitarian police state, censoring all cultural activity. The U.S. government pacifies the populace by broadcasting game shows where convicted criminals fight for their lives, including the gladiator-style The Running Man, hosted by the ruthless Damon Killian, where "runners" attempt to evade "stalkers," armed mercenaries, around a large arena, and near-certain death for a chance to be pardoned by the state.

In 2019, Ben Richards, a police helicopter pilot framed for a massacre during a food riot in Bakersfield, California, escapes from a labor camp with two resistance fighters, Harold Weiss and William Laughlin, and finds refuge at a resistance camp headed by their leader, Mic. Instead of joining the resistance (who detest Richards at first due to his previous ties with the police), Richards seeks shelter at his brother's apartment. He finds it is now occupied by Amber Mendez, a struggling and frustrated composer for ICS, the network that broadcasts The Running Man. Richards, after discovering she has been secretly making music (which is illegal by government law) asks Mendez about the whereabouts of his brother, and she says that he was taken for "re-education."

Blackmailing and taking Amber hostage, Richards attempts to flee to Hawaii, but she alerts airport security and Richards is captured and taken to ICS before the police can arrest him. There, Killian coerces him into participating in The Running Man in exchange for Laughlin and Weiss's safety. Ben learns that Killian had enrolled them as runners anyway and swears revenge, which Killian brushes off.

As the game begins, Richards and his friends are sent into the game zone, an abandoned part of Los Angeles devastated by a prior earthquake, where they are attacked by the first stalker, Subzero. They fight back and Richards garrotes Subzero to death with barbed wire – the first time a stalker has ever died on the show. Laughlin and Weiss search for the network's uplink facilities, which they realize are in the game zone. Amber sees a falsified news report on Richards' capture and, suspicious of the media's veracity, does some investigating. After learning that footage of the massacre was doctored to incriminate Richards, she is captured by her ICS colleagues and sent into the game zone where she meets up with Richards and his comrades.

The runners split up into groups of two, then each pair is pursued by a different stalker, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo. Buzzsaw mortally wounds Laughlin, but Richards slays Buzzsaw by bisecting him with his own chainsaw. Weiss and Amber locate the uplink and learn the access codes, but Dynamo finds them and kills Weiss by electrocution. Amber's screams lead Richards to her, and as the two evade Dynamo, the stalker's buggy flips, trapping him inside. Refusing to kill a helpless opponent, Richards leaves Dynamo alive to jeers from the audience. He and Amber then return to Laughlin, who before dying, reveals that the resistance has a hideout within the game zone and begs Richards to complete their mission for them.

Back at ICS, Killian sees Richards' popularity growing, with many viewers rooting for him to win instead of the stalkers. Off-camera, Killian offers Richards a job as a stalker; but when Richards refuses, Killian sends in the next stalker, Fireball. Fireball chases them into an abandoned factory, where Amber discovers the charred and decomposing corpses of the previous seasons' "winners," realizing that their victory was faked and they were killed and dumped inside the game zone. Fireball goes after Amber, but Richards rescues her and kills him by sabotaging his flamethrower and lighting the resulting puddle of fuel.

Frustrated and running out of options, Killian calls upon Captain Freedom, a retired stalker, to kill them. However, when Freedom refuses, the network creates digital body doubles of Freedom, Richards, and Amber, which are then used to fake Richards' and Amber's deaths on screen. In the game zone, Richards and Amber are found by Mic and taken to the resistance's hideout, where they learn of their supposed deaths. Using the access codes, the rebels get into ICS' control room, broadcasting footage that exonerates Richards and reveals the truth about the game's previous contestants. As Richards heads to the main studio floor, shocking the audience who had watched him supposedly die, Amber is ambushed by Dynamo. She is able to set off a sprinkler above his head, causing his weapons to short circuit and electrocute him to death.

Richards confronts Killian, who begs for his life, saying he created the show to appease the people's love of television and televised violence. In response, Richards decides to give the audience what they want, sending Killian into the game zone in a rocket sled. Without the protective netting which was removed by the resistance when they made their assault, the sled hits a Cadre Cola billboard bearing Killian's likeness and explodes, killing him to the delight of the audience. Richards and Amber kiss and then walk out of the studio hand in hand. TV viewers cheer their victory, then screens across America go black, displaying the message PLEASE STAND BY.



Christopher Reeve was once attached to play Ben Richards.[3] In a 2015 interview about the film, Paul Michael Glaser says that he was originally approached to direct the film but declined because he felt that the pre-production period was insufficient.[4] Director Andrew Davis was hired instead but fired after two weeks because the production was by that time behind schedule by one week. Schwarzenegger has stated this was a "terrible decision", as Glaser "shot the movie like it was a television show, losing all the deeper themes", and believes this hurt the film.[5]

Pop star Paula Abdul choreographed the pre-show dance sequences. This was her second film credit, though she had already choreographed four Janet Jackson videos, as well as videos by ZZ Top, Duran Duran, and Debbie Gibson. The music used for the pre-show entertainment was composed by Jackie Jackson and was dubbed "Paula's Theme" in her honor.



The film's soundtrack was composed by Harold Faltermeyer and includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner, Jackie Jackson, Glen Barbee and John Parr, who performed the main theme of the film called "Restless Heart (Running Away With You)", written and produced by Faltermeyer and played during the final scene and end-credits.[6]


Home media[edit]

Artisan Entertainment released the film on DVD in 2002, and again in 2004. The 2004 release includes new special features, audio commentaries and sound mix.[7] In 2010, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray.[8]

Olive Films (under licence from Paramount, who owns the film due to having the Taft Pictures library) made a second Blu-Ray release on February 19, 2013. Paramount also owns the TV and streaming rights.


Box office[edit]

In The Running Man's opening weekend, it was released in 1,692 theaters and grossed $8,117,465.[9] The film's total domestic gross was $38,122,105.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, complaining that "all the action scenes are versions of the same scenario", but praised Dawson's performance, stating that he "has at last found the role he was born to play."[10] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "has the manners and gadgetry of a sci-fi adventure film, but is, at heart, an engagingly mean, cruel, nasty, funny send-up of television. It's not quite Network, but then it also doesn't take itself too seriously."[11] Variety wrote that the film "coarsens the star's hitherto winning formula" and "works only on a pure action level," calling the satire "paperthin and constantly contradicted by the film wallowing in the sort of mindless violence for the roller derby-addicted masses it is supposedly criticizing."[12] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and wrote, "It's a format all right, but it may be too much of a format for a feature-length film. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former state security officer framed as the perpetrator of a notorious public massacre, sitting in as victim-of-the-week, The Running Man has little to do but run through the game's four stages."[13] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times declared, "The Running Man is, by far, Schwarzenegger's best vehicle since The Terminator—not such high praise if you recall what came in between—and it suggests that his Frank Frazetta frame shows best in these fantasy sci-fi settings ... For the right audience, it'll be fun. It's for action fans with a taste for something off the beaten track—but not too far."[14] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the film "a fast-paced, futuristic purée of Beat the Clock, Max Headroom, professional wrestling and The Most Dangerous Game. Pumped and primed for self-parody, the burly star proves as funny as he is ferocious in this tough guy's commentary on America's preoccupation with violence and game shows."[15]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 64% based on reviews from 42 critics, with an average rating of 5.57/10. The site's critical consensus states, "The Running Man is winking sci-fi satire with ridiculous clothes and workmanlike direction".[16] On Metacritic the film holds a score of 45 out of 100 based on reviews from 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[17] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[18]

On the film's 30th anniversary in 2017, The Running Man was cited by a BBC journalist as having made accurate predictions about life in 2017, including an economic collapse, and offering an enduring critique of "American television culture".[19] The film's writer Steven de Souza himself reinforced these predictions in a podcast interview with Vice Magazine's Motherboard section.[20][dead link] Reed Tucker of the New York Post said in 2019 that the film "correctly predicted ... the widening gap between the rich and poor", depicting homeless shantytowns and skyscrapers for the wealthy resembling the real New York City and Los Angeles, and societal obsession with reality TV. De Souza said one of the producers of American Gladiators sold his show with clips from The Running Man, telling the network "We’re doing exactly this — except the murdering part".[21]

Stephen King isn't a fan of The Running Man film because how little it retains from the novel it's based on. Another factor in King's dislike of The Running Man is the casting of Schwarzenegger in the lead.[22][better source needed]

Other media[edit]

Video game[edit]

In 1989, a video game based on the film was released for the MSX,[23] ZX Spectrum,[24] Commodore 64,[25] Amstrad CPC, Amiga, and Atari ST.[26] The game was developed by Emerald Software and published by Grandslam Entertainments. The 1990 video game Smash TV was inspired by The Running Man.[citation needed]


A modern remake of the film has been mooted.[27][28]


  1. ^ "THE RUNNING MAN (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "The Running Man (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  3. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  4. ^ "Paul Michael Glaser discusses The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG (2015)". Archives of American Television. Retrieved 2018-07-08.
  5. ^ Schwarzenegger, Arnold; Petre, Peter (2012). Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 344. ISBN 978-1451662436.
  6. ^ "Harold Faltermeyer – The Running Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  7. ^ "The Running Man (DVD Comparison)". DVDBeaver. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  8. ^ "The Running Man Blu-ray". 9 February 2010. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  9. ^ JOHN VOLAND (November 17, 1987). "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 13, 1987). "The Running Man Movie Review & Film Summary (1987)". Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 13, 1987). "Film: Schwarzenegger In 'The Running Man'". The New York Times. C10.
  12. ^ "Film Review: The Running Man". Variety. November 11, 1987. 12.
  13. ^ Kehr, Dave (November 13, 1987). "'Running Man' retreads a worn-out story". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, Page B, D.
  14. ^ Wilmington, Michael (November 13, 1987). "'Running Man': A Show of Satire and Savagery". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 10-11.
  15. ^ Kempley, Rita (November 13, 1987). "'Running': Arnold Pumps Irony". The Washington Post. D1.
  16. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  17. ^ "The Running Man Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  19. ^ Swain, Frank (5 January 2017). "Why we may be living in the future of The Running Man". BBC News. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  20. ^ "'The Running Man' Is the Perfect Dystopian Movie For Trump's Inauguration - Motherboard". 2017-01-20. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  21. ^ Tucker, Reed (2019-02-02). "How 'Blade Runner' and 'The Running Man' predicted 2019 — decades ago". New York Post. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  22. ^ Kennedy, Michael: Why Stephen King Disliked Arnold Schwarzenegger's Running Man Movie. Screenrant, July 26, 2020.
  23. ^ "The Running Man (1990, MSX, Grandslam Entertainments) | Releases | Generation MSX". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  24. ^ "Running Man, The". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  25. ^ "Lemon – Commodore 64, C64 Games, Reviews & Music!". Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  26. ^ "Legends never die!". Atari Legend. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  27. ^ "The Running Man Remake In Development". Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  28. ^ "The Running Man remake In the Works ?". Retrieved 2020-06-26.

External links[edit]