The Running Man is about a dystopian society where there’s a popular game show reminiscent of old gladiator games, where they watch people get killed for sport.
It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose name I still can’t spell without looking up every time. He goes around killing bad guys, in between spouting catchy one-liners. So it will probably look familiar. It’s not Arnold’s most well known movie, and while it’s not not in the same league as Terminator or Predator, it’s far better than the stuff that came later in his career like Last Action Hero or Junior. Or Batman and Robin.
Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a wrongly convicted man forced to compete in a deadly game show where inmates are given a chance at freedom if they can survive the competition. There are plot twists to be found, but you’re probably going to care more about the witty banter and action scenes, unless you’re one of those guys who tries to analyze the deeper meaning of The Matrix Trilogy.
Believe it or not, this was based on a Stephen King novel (under a pseudonym). Yeah, they…they changed some things. Schwarzenegger has said that the original director, Andrew Davis, had intended for a deeper and more politically aware story than what became of the movie under Paul Michael Glaser.
As a result, the movie is often typical of a summer blockbuster action flick. Though in Glaser’s defense, Schwarzenegger has pointed out that the new director was a last minute replacement after the studio fired Davis, so he had little time to study the source material thoroughly.
The Running Man was fairly influential, inspiring things like the TV show American Gladiators (just look at Jesse Venture’s character, Captain Freedom) and the arcade game Smash TV. The idea of a ludicrously violent competition where competitors regularly face death is a bit of a cliche now, but this movie is probably what most people think of when the concept comes to mind.
While you’re sure to be disappointed if you’re expecting a movie with thought-provoking social commentary about things like a privatized and for-profit prison system or increasingly desensitizing reality television is fun for what it is. Which is Commando meets American Gladiator.