The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Taglines: 2019. A game nobody survives. This year might be the exception.

In the year 2017, the world economy has collapsed. The great freedoms of the United States are no longer, as the once great nation has sealed off its borders and become a militarized police state, censoring all film, art, literature, and communications. Even so, a small resistance force led by two revolutionaries manages to fight the oppression.

With full control over the media, the government attempts to quell the nation’s yearning for freedom by broadcasting a number of game shows on which convicted criminals fight for their lives. The most popular and sadistic of these programs is “The Running Man,” hosted by Damon Killian. When a peaceful protest of starving citizens gathers in Bakersfield, California, a police officer named Ben Richards is ordered to fire on the crowd, which he refuses to do. Subdued by the other officers, the attack is carried out, and Richards is framed for the murder of almost a hundred unarmed civilians.

The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man is a 1987 American science fiction Technicolor action film in Panavision directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Richard Dawson. It is very loosely based on the 1982 novel The Running Man, written by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The 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.

Original director Andrew Davis was fired one week into filming and replaced by Glaser. Schwarzenegger has stated this was a “terrible decision” as Glaser “shot the movie like it was a television show, losing all the deeper themes”. Schwarzenegger believes this hurt the movie. Paula Abdul is credited with the choreography of the Running Man dance troupe.

About the Story

In 2017, after a worldwide economic collapse, American society has become a totalitarian police state, censoring all cultural activity. The U.S. government pacifies the populace by broadcasting game shows where convicted criminals fight for their lives, including the gladiator-style The Running Man, hosted by the ruthless Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), where “runners” attempt to evade “stalkers”, armed mercenaries, around a large arena, and near-certain death for a chance to be pardoned by the state.

The Running Man (1987)

Two years later, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a police helicopter pilot wrongly convicted of a massacre during a food riot in Bakersfield, California, escapes from a labor camp and seeks shelter at his brother’s apartment. He finds it is now occupied by Amber Mendez (María Conchita Alonso), a composer for ICS, the network that broadcasts The Running Man. Richards asks Mendez about the whereabouts of his brother, and she says that he was taken for “re-education”, possibly hinting at his fate.

Taking Amber hostage, Richards attempts to flee to Hawaii, which is now a separate state, but she alerts airport security and Richards is captured and taken to ICS. There, Killian tries to convince him to participate in The Running Man, saying that if he refuses, William Laughlin and Harold Weiss, members of a resistance movement that Richards had met, will be forced to participate instead. Reluctantly, Richards agrees, but learns that Killian had enrolled Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) as runners anyway.

As the game begins, Richards and his friends are attacked by the first stalker, “Subzero” (Charles Kalani, Jr.), but they fight back, with Richards killing Subzero – the first time a stalker has ever died on the show. Laughlin and Weiss search for the network’s uplink facilities, which they realize are in the game zone. Amber sees a falsified news report on Richards’ capture and, suspicious of the media’s veracity, does some investigating. She learns the truth about the massacre of which Richards was convicted, but she is captured by her own ICS colleagues and then sent into the game zone.

The runners split up, each pair pursued by a different stalker. “Buzzsaw” (Gus Rethwisch) critically wounds Laughlin and is killed by Richards. Weiss and Amber locate the uplink and learn the access codes, but “Dynamo” (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude) finds them and electrocutes Weiss. Amber’s screams lead Richards to her, and as the two evade Dynamo, the stalker’s buggy flips, trapping him inside. Refusing to kill a helpless opponent, Richards leaves Dynamo alive as the studio and home audiences watch. He and Amber return to Laughlin who, before dying, says that the resistance has a hideout within the game zone.

Back at ICS, Killian sees Richards’ popularity growing, with viewers betting on him to win instead of the stalkers. Off-camera, Killian tries to offer Richards a job as a stalker, but when Richards refuses, Killian sends the next stalker, “Fireball” (Jim Brown), after him and Amber. Fireball chases them into an abandoned factory, where Amber discovers the decomposing corpses of the previous seasons’ “winners” – realizing that they were killed by Fireball and their victory was faked. Fireball goes after Amber, but Richards rescues her and kills him.

The Running Man Movie Poster (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth, Marvin J. McIntyre, Dweezil Zappa
Screenplay by: Steven E. de Souza
Production Design by: Jack T. Collis
Cinematography by: Thomas Del Ruth
Film Editing by: Mark Warner, Edward A. Warschilka, John Wright
Costume Design by: Robert Blackman
Set Decoration by: Jim Duffy
Dance Choreography: Paula Abdul
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer, Vassal Benford
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: November 13, 1987