Film Review: The Running Man

Updated on January 4, 2017
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1987, Paul Michael Glaser released The Running Man, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Mick Fleetwood, Professor Toru Tanaka, Gus Rethwisch, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, Erland Van Lidth De Jeude, Dweezil Zappa, Kurt Fuller, Rodger Bumpass, and Sven-Ole Thorsen, the film grossed $38.1 million at the box office.


Police officer Ben Richards refuses an order to fire on innocent civilians and is arrested. Sent to prison, he escapes and is captured again before ending up as a contestant on the game show, The Running Man. There, he and other contestants must fight their way through Stalkers sent to kill them.


Though employing a fantastic concept, The Running Man is largely a mediocre film with the editing in the first half leaving a lot to be desired. From the time the film opens to the point Richards is sent into the Running Man game zone, it’s choppy and difficult to follow. Though it’s easy to piece together he’s escaping, going to his old apartment and getting captured again, these scenes have no flow to them, making it seem as if the film is missing scenes to show how Richards was able to get to where he is. As a result, it feels like the filmmakers cut out everything except all the bare essentials to drive the plot forward, deeming the entire first half to be not as important as the second. Doing so has the opposite effect. If the filmmakers give the impression the first half didn’t matter, then the viewer is left with the impression the second half won’t either. Additionally, the editing in the first half has the quality of a made for television film and there should be commercials between all of these scenes. It only begins to feel theatrical in the second half.

This is a shame, considering the idea surrounding the film’s plot is fascinating, depicting a society resorting to entertainment surrounding the violent hunting and killing of convicts to escape the reality of their dystopian society. In doing so, the film attempts to become more than the standard escapist action movie of the 1980s. Instead, it tries to reach its audiences concerning the negative aspects of what society deems popcorn movies designed for the audience to turn their brain off and compels them to question whether or not reality television is truly showing reality as it is or a specific version the studio executives want their audiences to see. However, due to the editing found in the first half of the film, the messages it endeavors to convey is lost.

The characterization in the film is also reminiscent of a standard 1980s action film too. Richards’ character is established within the first five minutes as someone who has a good nature and does not want to hurt anyone who is not an immediate threat. Throughout the rest of the film, he’s seen as demonstrating his strength, first shown when he lifts Amber’s workout equipment with little effort, and his mind for strategy. Yet, in Richards exhibiting such great strength prior to being put in Running Man and how he’s been able to beat the Stalkers by staying one step ahead of them, the only intensity there is to be had comes in wondering when he’s going to escape and how he’s going to beat Killian.

As for Killian, he’s nothing but a sadistic villain who puts on a good face for the cameras and the public. Nevertheless, he’s good at what he does until Richards pulls the rug out from under him. His sociopathy is authenticated in his first scene, telling an old man who bumped into him not to worry and to keep doing a great job and telling his secretary she’ll be in his place for a week if he’s not fired by the end of the day as soon as they’re in the elevator. Still, this is to be expected from a man who runs a television network with content based around people fighting for their lives to supposedly earn cash or pardons from prison and manipulates footage to get the crowds watching to be against the participants.

3 stars for The Running Man

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

Awards won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Dawson)

Nominated for

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best Science Fiction Film
  • Best Costumes

Kids' Choice Blimp Awards

  • Favorite Movie Actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

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