The Running Man (1987 film)

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The Running Man
The Running Man (1987) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Produced by George Linder
Tim Zinnemann
Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza
Based on The Running Man
by Richard Bachman (pseudonym for Stephen King)
Music by Harold Faltermeyer
Cinematography Thomas Del Ruth
Edited by
Braveworld Productions
Taft Entertainment
HBO Pictures
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
(USA & Canada)
J&M Entertainment (International)
Release date
  • November 13, 1987 (1987-11-13)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $27 million
Box office $38 million (United States)

The Running Man is a 1987 American science fiction action film directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Jesse Ventura, and Jim Brown. It is very loosely based on the 1982 novel of the same name 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.

Original director Andrew Davis was fired one week into filming and replaced by Glaser. Schwarzenegger has stated this was a "terrible decision", as Glaser "shot the movie like it was a television show, losing all the deeper themes". Schwarzenegger believes this hurt the movie.[1][page needed] Paula Abdul is credited with the choreography of the Running Man dance troupe.[2]


In 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.

By 2019, Ben Richards, a police helicopter pilot wrongly convicted of a massacre during a food riot in Bakersfield, California, escapes from a labor camp with two resistance fighters, Weiss and Laughlin, and finds refuge at a resistance camp headed by their leader, Mic. Instead of joining the resistance, Richards seeks shelter at his brother's apartment. He finds it is now occupied by Amber Mendez, a composer for ICS, the network that broadcasts The Running Man. Richards asks Mendez about the whereabouts of his brother, and she says that he was taken for "re-education."

Taking Amber hostage, Richards attempts to flee to Hawaii, but she alerts airport security and Richards is captured and taken to ICS. There, Killian coerces him into participating in The Running Man in exchange for Laughlin and Weiss not participating, but Ben learns that Killian had enrolled them as runners anyway and swears revenge.

As the game begins, Richards and his friends are attacked by the first stalker, "Subzero," but they fight back, with Richards killing Subzero – the first time a stalker has ever died on the show. Then 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. She learns the truth about the massacre, but is captured by her own ICS colleagues and sent into the game zone.

The runners split up, each pair pursued by a different stalker. "Buzzsaw" critically wounds Laughlin, but is killed by Richards. Weiss and Amber locate the uplink and learn the access codes, but "Dynamo" finds them and electrocutes Weiss. 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. He and Amber then return to Laughlin, who, before dying, says that the resistance has a hideout within the game zone.

Back at ICS, Killian sees Richards' popularity growing, with viewers betting on him instead of the stalkers. Off-camera, Killian tries to offer Richards a job as a stalker, but when Richards refuses, Killian sends the next stalker, "Fireball". Fireball chases them into an abandoned factory, where Amber discovers the decomposing corpses of the previous seasons' "winners" – realizing that they were killed by Fireball and their victory was faked. Fireball goes after Amber, but Richards rescues her and kills him using his own weaponry.

Frustrated and running out of options, Killian seeks "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 "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 "winners". As Richards heads to the main studio floor, shocking the audience who had watched him supposedly die, Amber fights and kills Dynamo, the last remaining stalker.

Richards confronts Killian after having dealt with security, who tried to kill him and the audience to cover up everything, not knowing it was being broadcast. Killian begs for his life, saying he created the show to appease the U.S. love of reality television and televised violence. In response, Richards decides to give the audience what they want right now – sending Killian to the game zone in a rocket sled. The sled hits a Cadre Cola billboard featuring Killian himself and explodes, killing Killian to the delight of the audience. Richards and Amber then romantically walk out of the studio.



Although most critics praised Richard Dawson's performance as Killian, overall critical reaction to the film was mixed to positive. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "fresh" certification, with a score of 63% based on reviews from 35 critics, with an average score of 5.5/10.[3]

In The Running Man's opening weekend, it was released in 1,692 theaters and grossed $8,117,465.[4] The film's total domestic gross was $38,122,105.[5]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

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".[7] The film's writer Steven de Souza himself reinforced these predictions in a podcast interview with Motherboard.[8]


The film's soundtrack was composed by Harold Faltermeyer and includes music by Richard Wagner, Jackie Jackson and John Parr who performed the main theme of the film called "Restless Heart", written and produced by Faltermeyer and played during the final scene and end-credits.[9]

Video game[edit]

A video game based on the film was released for the MSX,[10] ZX Spectrum,[11] Commodore 64,[12] Amstrad CPC, Amiga, and Atari ST.[13] The game was developed by Emerald Software Ltd and published by Grandslam Entertainment. The 1990 video game Smash TV was inspired by The Running Man.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schwarzenegger, Arnold; Petre, Peter (2012). Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1451662432. 
  2. ^ Hanson, Mary Ellen (1995). Go! Fight! Win!: Cheerleading in American Culture. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press. p. 58. ISBN 0879726806. 
  3. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". Flixster Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 14, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  5. ^ "The Running Man". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 14, 2009. 
  6. ^ "CinemaScore". 
  7. ^ Swain, Frank (5 January 2017). "Why we may be living in the future of The Running Man". BBC News. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  8. ^ "‘The Running Man’ Is the Perfect Dystopian Movie For Trump’s Inauguration - Motherboard". 2017-01-20. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  9. ^ "Harold Faltermeyer – The Running Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". Retrieved 2016-10-24. 
  10. ^ "The Running Man (1990, MSX, Grandslam Entertainments) | Releases | Generation MSX". Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  11. ^ "Running Man, The". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  12. ^ "Lemon – Commodore 64, C64 Games, Reviews & Music!". Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  13. ^ "Legends never die!". Atari Legend. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 

External links[edit]