Should I Watch..? 'The Running Man'

Updated on April 14, 2020
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Film's poster
Film's poster | Source

What's the big deal?

The Running Man is a sci-fi action film released in 1987 and is based on the novel of the same name by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym of author Stephen King. The film is set in a dystopian future where convicted criminals are forced to compete on a gladiatorial game show for their freedom. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Dawson and was directed by Paul Michael Glaser. The film received a mixed reaction from critics and was only a moderate success at the box office, with domestic earnings of $38.1 million. However, the film has since been reappraised for its predictions on the nature of so-called reality TV, the economic collapse and the ever-widening gap between socio-economic classes.

Enjoyable

4 stars for The Running Man

What's it about?

In the then-future of 2017, the United States becomes a totalitarian police state following a global economic collapse. Amid social unrest, the Government censors all cultural activity besides the broadcast of game-shows where convicts attempt to survive in order to win their freedom. The most successful of these shows is The Running Man - the highest-rated show in TV history and hosted by Damon Killian, which sees criminals compete in a deadly pursuit against armed mercenaries in a number of arenas.

In 2019, former police officer Ben Richards is framed for initiating a violent riot for food in Bakersfield, California. Escaping from his prison camp along with two members of an underground resistance movement, Richards catches the attention of Killian who immediately begins efforts to get him on the show. Aware that he is being monitored, Richards bumps into network employee Amber Mendez and tries to use her as a hostage to escape to freedom. Unfortunately, Killian's net draws ever tighter...

Trailer

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ben Richards
Maria Conchita Alonso
Amber Mendez
Yaphet Kotto
William Laughlin
Richard Dawson
Damon Killian
Marvin J. McIntyre
Harold Weiss
Mick Fleetwood
Mic

Technical Info

Director
Paul Michael Glaser
Screenplay
Steven E. de Souza*
Running Time
101 minutes
Release Date (UK)
23rd September, 1988
Rating
18
Genre
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
*based on the book by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
The film is unashamedly Eighties in tone but the setting and narrative make it feel eerily prescient in these days of 'reality TV' and combative game shows.
The film is unashamedly Eighties in tone but the setting and narrative make it feel eerily prescient in these days of 'reality TV' and combative game shows. | Source

What's to like?

Few people would accuse The Running Man of being a deep picture but as a crowd-pleasing action film, it absolutely smashes it. Relying on Schwarzenegger's charisma, the film is a pulpy blend of gory violence and macabre humour that is instantly familiar to fans of his early films in the Eighties. Frankly, it feels like professional wrestling if there wasn't any regulators ready to take it off the air. But it's also eerily accurate in portraying how TV has evolved into a gaudy pursuit of extremes to present to a rabid and ever-hungry audience. Although the sets, style and costumes are very much of the time, it's genuinely disturbing how the film's concept hasn't made it to actual TV. Yet. I also found it interesting how the film demonstrated how easy it was to fool people through careful editing and mock footage, something that anyone used to hearing the phrase 'fake news' would identify.

As solid as big Arnold is in the lead, his eclectic supporting cast also do a great job of backing him up. Dawson is fantastic as the show's host lacking any empathy whatsoever in his pursuit of ratings while the film's use of larger-than-life actors for the show's popular characters pays dividends with memorable turns from Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, Professor Toru Tanaka and most memorably from Erland van Lidth as the electric Dynamo. Despite the narrative, the film feels stripped back and raw with little pretense and a tongue firmly in cheek which is the right approach for this film. My advice is to not dwell upon how a film such as this might not be that far from reality and just enjoy the thrills and spills as best as you can.

Fun Facts

  • De Souza later admitted in interviews that one of the producers for the TV show American Gladiators sold the show to the networks with clips from this film included. Part of their pitch was "We’re doing exactly this - except the murdering part."
  • Dawson's casting as Killian was partly inspired by his real-life tenure as the host of Family Feud (known in the UK as Family Fortunes) between 1976-1985. Many people who worked with Dawson claimed that he wasn't that dissimilar to Killian in his treatment of underlings.
  • Director Glaser replaced original director Andrew Davis after the latter was fired after eight days, having fallen behind schedule and already $8 million over budget. Schwarzenegger called the decision to make Glaser the director 'terrible', stating that his background in TV meant the film was shot like a TV show and much of the film's themes were lost.
  • The film also predicted the use of digital face replacements in film and TV, which was first used just six years later in 1993's Jurassic Park. A three-second shot replaces the stunt-woman's face with that of a teenage girl as she escapes from dinosaurs through a roof.

What's not to like?

Although it is in keeping with the camp and gaudy nature of the show, the film has a deeply cheesy feel that makes taking the movie seriously rather difficult. You can't fault the cast who deliver their dialogue and one-liners with a nod and a wink to the camera. I'd be more inclined to blame director Glaser, who hadn't handled a film of this size before and displays a disappointing lack of imagination. The action scenes, while exciting and a little different from the norm, aren't that difference from each other and he isn't helped by the narrative. In essence, it's like Game Of Death which saw Bruce Lee deal with a number of varying opponents one after the other but with little propelling the story forward. The film tries to inject some interest in the scenes behind the scenes (as it were) but generally, these only really explain how poor Alonso ended up on the show herself.

But if we're really honest here (and I always am with you, dear reader) then the film is only really going to appeal to action film fans who will probably have seen this cult hit already. In many ways, it reminded me of another Schwarzenegger film - the original Total Recall. Like The Running Man, that film is a sci-fi flavoured action flick that deals with themes not immediately apparent to the average viewer but ultimately gets upstaged by the blood, gun fights and fisticuffs. Like I said, this film does have enough of an insight to still remain curiously watchable these days when TV is jam-packed with programmes depicting physical game-shows and larger-than-life characters pretending to be real people. After all, is there anything more outlandish in something like Tiger King?

Dawson is exceptional as the slimy, attention-craving host of the show - a role that parodied his earlier role as host of game-show 'Family Feud'.
Dawson is exceptional as the slimy, attention-craving host of the show - a role that parodied his earlier role as host of game-show 'Family Feud'. | Source

Should I watch it?

The Running Man is big dumb fun done right, with clashing neon and a cheesy atmosphere that's impossible to dislike. Schwarzenegger and Dawson make for an unlikely clash of personalities in this action classic which overcomes its uninspired direction and narrative with quality casting, good humour and inventive action scenes. It's a change of pace for jaded action fans looking for something a little different but the film won't do much for anyone hoping for a genuinely intelligent sci-fi film.

Great For: action film lovers, jaded network executives, anyone put off by horror film adaptations of King's work

Not So Great For: reality TV stars, the overly serious, fans of the book (this is a very loose adaptation)

What else should I watch?

For some reason, the first film that sprung to my mind when thinking about The Running Man was a low-budget indie film from 2001 called Series 7: The Contenders. Written and directed by Daniel Minahan, the film is a mockumentary about a deady reality game-show which sees members of the public drawn to random to compete in an open-world battle to the death. The film is a black satire on reality television and the obsession with violence in the media - it certainly has more to say about these things than many other movies. Gamer, for example, is a depressing and mindless shooter featuring Gerard Butler as a human avatar for a teenage gaming nerd and is about as deep and meaningful as Barney the dinosaur.

Alternatively, you might consider the controversial Japanese movie Battle Royale which also features a televised contest to the death but featuring a cast of schoolmates forced to fight each other to the death. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami, the film is a visceral and disturbing experience that reflects the fears of youth crime in Japan in the same way the novel did when it was first published in 1999. Derided by critics at the time for its depiction of violence, the film has proved influential to a number of other filmmakers and authors - most notably the B-movie The Condemned and the highly successful The Hunger Games series.

© 2020 Benjamin Cox

Soap Box

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Benjamin Cox profile imageAUTHOR

      Benjamin Cox 

      2 months ago from Norfolk, UK

      Thanks, Noel. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Noel Penaflor7 profile image

      Noel Penaflor 

      2 months ago from California

      I remember seeing this movie on VHS and liking its cheesiness. Now I hope I returned that VHS way back when. Solid Review!

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      2 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      I always liked this film and its array of characters. Another fun fact is that rockers Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa have small roles that impact the outcome. I don't want to spoil what these two do for those you might have interested in seeing this film, but the things these two do can cause trouble for others, and can affect those reliant so heavily on electronics.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)