The Running Man (1987 film)
|The Running Man|
|Directed by||Paul Michael Glaser|
|Screenplay by||Steven E. de Souza|
|Based on||The Running Man|
by Richard Bachman
|Cinematography||Thomas Del Ruth|
|Music by||Harold Faltermeyer|
|Distributed by||Tri-Star Pictures|
|Box office||$38.1 million (United States)|
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 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. 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, the United States has become a totalitarian police state following a worldwide economic collapse. The government pacifies the populace through The Running Man, a broadcast game show, where criminals fight for their lives as "runners", fleeing from armed mercenaries named the "stalkers", to earn a government pardon.
Ben Richards, a police helicopter pilot, is framed for a massacre during a food riot in Bakersfield, California. He is arrested by his colleagues and put in a labor camp. Eighteen months later, he escapes with two resistance fighters, Harold Weiss and William Laughlin, finding refuge in their camp, led by their leader Mic. The resistance group look to hijack the ICS broadcast network's uplink facilities to expose the government's lies. Richards departs, visiting his brother's apartment, finding it is now occupied by Amber Mendez, a composer, learning his brother was sent to a re-education camp.
Richards takes Mendez hostage to flee to Hawaii, but is arrested at the airport when Mendez alerts security. Richards meets Damon Killian, the charismatic but ruthless host of The Running Man. Killian coerces Richards to participate in the show, in exchange for Weiss and Laughlin's freedom. However, as the game begins, Killian sends all three men into the game show arena, an abandoned part of Los Angeles. They are attacked by Professor Subzero, but Richards garrotes him with a piece of a razor wire fencing, making it the first time a stalker has died on the show.
Discovering that Richards was framed, Mendez finds the original, unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre. However, she is caught and sent into the game zone. Joined by Mendez—Richards, Weiss, and Laughlin search for the uplink. Killian deploys two stalkers—Buzzsaw and Dynamo—to kill the four runners.
Weiss and Laughlin find the uplink station, and Mendez memorizes the access codes. Buzzsaw mortally wounds Laughlin, but Richards bisects Buzzsaw with his own chainsaw. Dynamo electrocutes Weiss, but is incapacitated by Richards, who spares the stalker. Laughlin tells Richards that the resistance have 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. Hunted by Fireball, a stalker wielding a flamethrower, Mendez finds the corpses of the show's alleged past "winners", revealing that the show's promises of pardon are all false. Richards rescues Mendez and kills Fireball by sabotaging his gas tank and setting him alight with a road flare.
With the viewership now cheering for Richards, Killian asks former stalker Captain Freedom to fight. When Freedom refuses, the network stages a battle of digitized stand-ins, depicting Richards and Mendez being executed by Captain Freedom. Mic locates Richards and Mendez, revealing their faked deaths. Using the access codes, the resistance storms the ICS control room and broadcasts 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 assaults Mendez, who then sets off the water sprinkler system, electrocuting Dynamo.
Richards confronts Killian, who claims that the show appeases the populace's love of televised violence. Killian begs him to reconsider, and Richards forces Killian into a rocket-powered sled, sending him flying into the game zone and fatally crashing through a billboard. As the audience celebrates, Richards reunites with Mendez, departing the studio as the broadcasting network goes down.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as Benjamin A. "Ben" Richards
- María Conchita Alonso as Amber Méndez
- Yaphet Kotto as William Laughlin
- Richard Dawson as Damon Killian
- Jim Brown as "Fireball"
- Jesse Ventura as "Captain Freedom"
- Erland Van Lidth De Jeude as "Dynamo"
- Marvin J. McIntyre as Harold Weiss
- Gus Rethwisch as Eddie "Buzzsaw" Vatowski
- Professor Toru Tanaka as "Professor Subzero"
- Mick Fleetwood as Mic
- Dweezil Zappa as Stevie
- Kurt Fuller as Tony
- Rodger Bumpass as Phil Hillton
- Edward Bunker as Lenny
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as Sven
Christopher Reeve was once attached to play Ben Richards. 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. Director Andrew Davis was hired instead but fired after two weeks because the production was by that time behind schedule by one week, so Glaser was rehired. 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.
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 by John Parr and Harold Faltermeyer and produced by Faltermeyer and played during the final scene and end-credits. A expanded Deluxe Edition, featuring the full score along with source music and previously unreleased alternate cues, was released in 2020.
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. In 2010, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray.
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.
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." 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." 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." 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." 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." 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."
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 66% based on reviews from 44 critics, with an average rating of 5.6/10. The site's critical consensus states, "The Running Man is winking sci-fi satire with ridiculous clothes and workmanlike direction". On Metacritic the film holds a score of 45 out of 100 based on reviews from 12 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
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. The film's writer Steven de Souza himself reinforced these predictions in a podcast interview with Vice Magazine's "Motherboard" section. 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".
In 1989, a video game based on the film was released for the MSX, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, and Atari ST. The game was developed by Emerald Software and published by Grandslam Entertainments.
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.
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