Movie Review: The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Pretty much anything with Arnold in it was my favorite back then, but this one has always held a spot near and dear to my heart. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s something about the game show aspect of it that draws you in, just like a television show would. Television has changed a lot of the years but the appeal of The Running Man is just as strong as it was almost 30 years ago.

 

The film is loosely based on a novella by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym used by Stephen King. At the time is was optioned nobody knew that King was involved in the story and Bachman is credited for the book in the film. The plot of the movie revolves around a man who is falsely imprisoned. After a prison break he is captured again and brought onto the set of The Running Man, a show where real life convicts are contestants in a game of life and death. If they are able to make it through a series of televised gauntlets they’re given their freedom. If they don’t, they’re herded into a battle arena of a hunter chosen by someone in the studio audience. Each hunter has a gimmick….Sub-Zero is a hockey goalie that uses exploding pucks and wields a razor edged hockey stick…Fireball sports a jetpack and a flamethrower…etc. 

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Paul Glaser was brought on to direct the film, a decision that was blasted by Schwarzenegger. Glaser was a television director and had never made a feature film. Arnold felt the movie itself was too TV like and didn’t have the deeper feel of a feature film. I’m going to disagree here with Schwarzenegger. Yes, the movie has a television feel to it, but that’s what makes it so great. It doesn’t detract from The Running Man, it creates the appeal. From the casting of long time Family Feud host Richard Dawson, to the way the show is handled in the film, The Running Man is satire at its best. 

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The Running Man is still one of my go to movies. It hasn’t lost a bit of its fun and I still giggle when Dynamo begs for his life after flipping his car. Despite getting fairly well panned by critics and barely making over the budget at the box office, The Running Man has gained cult status. It even inspired American Gladiators on television and the video games Smash TV and Manhunt. You can find vestiges of it in films as well, from The Hunger Games to Rob Zombie’s 21. If you’ve never seen it it’s well worth a watch, especially as a tongue in cheek commentary about how we consume violence on television.

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