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The Running Man (1987 film)

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The Running Man
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Michael Glaser
Screenplay bySteven E. de Souza
Based onThe Running Man
by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
Produced by
CinematographyThomas Del Ruth
Edited by
Music byHarold Faltermeyer
Distributed byTri-Star 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. The film is set in a dystopian United States between 2017 and 2019, featuring a television show where convicted criminal "runners" must escape death at the hands of professional killers. It is loosely based on the 1982 novel of the same title written by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

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. A new movie adaptation of the novel, announced in early 2021, is in development at Paramount Pictures, with Edgar Wright directing and Michael Bacall writing the script.[3]


By 2017, the United States had become a totalitarian police state following a worldwide economic collapse. The government pacifies the populace through violent TV shows: its most popular is The Running Man, a broadcast game show, where criminals fight for their lives as "runners", fleeing from armed mercenaries called "stalkers", to earn a government pardon and tropical vacation.

Captain Ben Richards, a police helicopter pilot, observes an unarmed food riot in Bakersfield, California. He is ordered to open fire on them but refuses and is subdued by his colleagues. The media blames Richards for shooting 60 people and he is sent to a prison labor camp.

18 months later, he escapes with two resistance fighters, Harold Weiss and William Laughlin, finding refuge in their camp, led by their leader Mick. The resistance group looks to hijack the ICS broadcast network's uplink facilities to expose the government's lies. Richards declines to help, and then heads to his younger brother Edward's apartment, only to find Amber Mendez, a composer, now occupies it, and that his brother has been sent to a "re-education" camp.

With Mendez's security travel pass, Richards takes Mendez hostage to flee to Hawaii but is arrested at the airport when Mendez alerts security. Meanwhile, Damon Killian, the founder and CEO of the ICS Corporation and the charismatic yet amoral creator, showrunner and host of The Running Man, becomes enamored by Richards' physical prowess and "notorious reputation" as a murderous madman.

Killian coerces Richards to participate in the show, threatening to send Laughlin and Weiss instead. Mendez sees a news report stating that Richards shot people at the airport, which she knows is untrue. As The Running Man begins, Richards is rocket-sledded into the game zone, an abandoned part of Los Angeles, divided into four quadrants. Killian reneges on his deal and also sends Laughlin and Weiss into the game. They are first attacked by the stalker Sub-Zero, but Richards garrotes him with a section of razor-wire fencing, the first time a stalker has ever died on the show.

Mendez finds the original, unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre before she is caught and sent into the game zone, joining the other three contestants. Killian then deploys two stalkers — Buzzsaw and Dynamo — to hunt the four runners.

Weiss realizes the underground resistance has been searching for the government/TV satellite uplink station in the game show arena. Dynamo electrocutes Weiss, just as he cracks the satellite's security, but Mendez has memorized the access code. Buzzsaw mortally wounds Laughlin, but Richards bisects Buzzsaw with his chainsaw. Dynamo is then incapacitated by Richards, who spares the stalker live on air. Laughlin tells Richards that the resistance has a hidden base in the arena before dying from his wounds. Off the air, Killian offers Richards a position as a stalker, which the enraged Richards refuses.

While hunted by Fireball, a flamethrower-wielding stalker with a jetpack, Mendez finds the corpses of the show's alleged past "winners", revealing that the show's promises of pardons are all false. Richards saves Mendez and kills Fireball by sabotaging his gas tank and setting him alight with a road flare. Immediately afterward, the pair stumbles into Mick's command center.

With the viewership now cheering for Richards, Killian asks Captain Freedom, a retired stalker and fan favorite, to join the hunt. When Captain Freedom refuses to fight using mechanical weaponry instead of his bare hands, the network doctors old footage to portray Richards and Mendez being killed by Captain Freedom. Mendez and Richards see this on TV. Richards warns Mendez that the government will hunt them to silence them and is now convinced to attack the ICS building with resistance members. Using the access codes, they broadcast the original footage of the Bakersfield massacre and the deceased runners to expose Killian and the government's lies. As the resistance fighters battle ICS security forces, Dynamo tries to rape Mendez, but her gun triggers the building's sprinkler system, which electrocutes him.

Richards then confronts Killian, who desperately pleads that the show appeases the public's lust for violence. Richards forces Killian into a rocket-powered sled and jettisons him into the game zone. The sled crashes through Killian's billboard image and explodes, killing him. As the audience celebrates, Richards reunites with Mendez, departing the studio as the broadcasting network goes down.



Christopher Reeve was once attached to play Ben Richards.[4] In a 2015 interview about the film, Paul Michael Glaser said that he was originally approached to direct the film but declined because he felt that the preproduction period was insufficient.[5] Director Andrew Davis was hired instead but was fired after just two weeks, because the production was one week behind schedule, so Glaser was now hired. Schwarzenegger has stated this was a "terrible decision," as Glaser "shot the movie like it was a television show, losing all the deeper themes."[6] LA Weekly stated that the film's tone changed from a dark allegory to a humorous action film with the change of the film's star.[7] With Reeve, The Running Man was about an unemployed man who goes on a violent game show for a thirty-day period to feed his family. With Glaser and Schwarzenegger, the protagonist became a condemned, but innocent, criminal forced into a three-hour gladiator-style game show by the justice system. Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza wrote fifteen drafts of the script over the course of the film's development.

Pop star Paula Abdul choreographed the preshow 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 preshow entertainment was composed by Jackie Jackson and was dubbed "Paula's Theme" in honor of Paula Abdul.

Before Richard Dawson was cast, the producers wanted Chuck Woolery to play Damon Killian, but Woolery was unavailable due to his hosting jobs on Love Connection and Scrabble. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested Richard Dawson play Killian because he and Dawson were close friends and Schwarzenegger is a huge fan of Family Feud.

The film's release was postponed from summer 1987 until Thanksgiving, 1987 due to the producers' desire for the film to be the only action thriller released during the holiday season. The film opened on 1,600 screens on November 13, 1987, to moderately positive reviews.



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, "Restless Heart (Running Away With You)" (written by John Parr and Harold Faltermeyer and produced by Faltermeyer) and played during the final scene and end credits.[8] An expanded Deluxe Edition, featuring the full score along with source music and previously unreleased alternate cues, was released in 2020 by Varese Sarabande (who also released the original album in 1987) on both CD and vinyl.

Being also an opera singer, wrestler and actor Erland van Lidth performs in his role as Dynamo part of the aria "Hai già vinta la causa... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro" out of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.


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 surround sound mix.[9]

On February 9, 2010, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray with a 7.1 surround sound mix.[10] Olive Films (under licence from Paramount, who owns the film due to having the Taft Pictures library) re-released the film on DVD and Blu-ray, with the original 2-channel surround mix, on February 19, 2013.

In 2022, for the film’s 35th anniversary, Paramount Home Entertainment announced an Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray release of the film on November 8, 2022. The disc will include HDR-10, Dolby Vision, and the 7.1 surround mix.[11] Paramount also owns the TV and streaming rights.


A lawsuit determined the movie was plagiarized from the 1983 French film Le Prix du Danger (The Price of Danger) directed by Yves Boisset,[12][13] which was made after Robert Sheckley's 1958 short story "The Prize of Peril", just like the 1970 West German TV movie Das Millionenspiel (The Million Game).


Box office[edit]

In The Running Man's opening weekend, it was released in 1,692 theaters and grossed $8,117,465.[14] 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."[15] 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."[16] 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."[17] 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."[18] 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."[19] 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."[20]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 67% based on reviews from 48 critics, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The site's critical consensus states, "The Running Man is winking sci-fi satire with ridiculous clothes and workmanlike direction".[21] On Metacritic the film holds a score of 45 out of 100 based on reviews from 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[22] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[23]

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 a critique of American television culture.[24] The film's writer Steven de Souza himself reinforced these predictions in a podcast interview with Vice Magazine's "Motherboard" section.[25] 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".[26]

Other media[edit]

Video game[edit]

In 1989, a video game based on the film was released for the MSX,[27] ZX Spectrum,[28] Commodore 64,[29] Amstrad CPC, Amiga, and Atari ST.[30] The game was developed by Emerald Software and published by Grandslam Entertainments.

The 1990 video game Smash TV was inspired by The Running Man.[31][32]


On February 19, 2021, Paramount Pictures announced that it would make a new film adaptation of the novel, one that would be more faithful to the source material. Edgar Wright will direct and reimagine the story with Michael Bacall, the latter of whom will pen the screenplay. Simon Kinberg and Audrey Chon will produce through Kinberg's Genre Films banner, alongside Nira Park from Wright's Complete Fiction banner.[33] In April 2024, it was announced Glen Powell would star in the remake.[34]


  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 March 13, 2018.
  3. ^ "Edgar Wright Set to Direct Stephen King's Dystopian Classic 'The Running Man'". February 19, 2021.
  4. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  5. ^ "Paul Michael Glaser discusses The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG (2015)". Archives of American Television. Archived from the original on November 17, 2021. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  6. ^ Schwarzenegger, Arnold; Petre, Peter (2012). Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 344. ISBN 978-1451662436.
  7. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  8. ^ "Harold Faltermeyer – The Running Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". discogs.com. 1987. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Running Man (DVD Comparison)". DVDBeaver. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  10. ^ "The Running Man Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. February 9, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  11. ^ "The Running Man 35th Anniversary 4K Blu-ray SteelBook Edition". Blu-ray.com. August 22, 2022. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  12. ^ "La Saga Stephen King". L'Écran fantastique (in French). No. 389. September 2017. pp. 33, 98.
  13. ^ Ruard, Matthieu (February 24, 2017). "Le Prix Du Danger / Running Man : Plagier N'est Pas Jouer" [Le Prix Du Danger / Running Man: Plagiarizing Is Not Playing]. Courte-Focale.fr (in French). Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  14. ^ JOHN VOLAND (November 17, 1987). "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 13, 1987). "The Running Man Movie Review & Film Summary (1987)". Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 13, 1987). "Film: Schwarzenegger In 'The Running Man'". The New York Times. C10.
  17. ^ "Film Review: The Running Man". Variety. November 11, 1987. 12.
  18. ^ Kehr, Dave (November 13, 1987). "'Running Man' retreads a worn-out story". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, Page B, D.
  19. ^ Wilmington, Michael (November 13, 1987). "'Running Man': A Show of Satire and Savagery". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 10-11.
  20. ^ Kempley, Rita (November 13, 1987). "'Running': Arnold Pumps Irony". The Washington Post. D1.
  21. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 7, 2024.
  22. ^ "The Running Man Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  23. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  24. ^ Swain, Frank (January 5, 2017). "Why we may be living in the future of The Running Man". BBC News. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  25. ^ "'The Running Man' Is the Perfect Dystopian Movie For Trump's Inauguration - Motherboard". Motherboard.vice.com. January 20, 2017. Archived from the original on June 23, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  26. ^ Tucker, Reed (February 2, 2019). "How 'Blade Runner' and 'The Running Man' predicted 2019 — decades ago". New York Post. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  27. ^ Generation-MSX.nl. "The Running Man (1990, MSX, Grandslam Entertainments) | Releases | Generation MSX". Generation-msx.nl. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  28. ^ "Running Man, The". World of Spectrum. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
  29. ^ "Lemon – Commodore 64, C64 Games, Reviews & Music!". Lemon64.com. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
  30. ^ "Legends never die!". Atari Legend. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
  31. ^ Gerstmann, Jeff (November 29, 2005). "Smash TV Review". GameSpot. Archived from the original on February 17, 2009. Retrieved March 17, 2009.
  32. ^ Soboleski, Brent (December 7, 2005). "Smash TV Review (Xbox 360)". TeamXbox. Archived from the original on January 19, 2009. Retrieved March 17, 2009.
  33. ^ "Edgar Wright to Direct Stephen King's 'The Running Man' at Paramount Pictures; Simon Kinberg's Genre Films Producing". February 19, 2021.
  34. ^ Kroll, Justin (April 11, 2024). "Glen Powell To Star In Edgar Wright's 'The Running Man' Reimagining At Paramount". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 11, 2024.

External links[edit]