The Running Man (1987)
The Running Man (1987)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: November 13th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland Van Lidth, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Richard Dawson, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Sven-Ole Thorsen




y 2017, the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources, and oil are in short supply. The remaining communities become a tightly controlled, police-monitored civilization, tolerant of zero dissent in several segregated, paramilitary zones. The oppressive government has popularized and televised a super violent gladiatorial game for public consumption to brainwash and keep them in line. As the highest-rated show on the networks, “The Running Man” pits hi-tech, merciless warriors against convicted criminals in a desperate, no-holds-barred bid for survival.

When helicopter pilot and police officer Benjamin A. Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to follow an order to fire on women and children food rioters, he’s taken into custody by his superiors and sentenced to hard labor at the Wilshire Detention Zone – framed for slaughtering the innocent crowds that are shot down despite his protest and without his participation. Eighteen months later, he gets out during a prison break and flees to Los Angeles. He treks to his brother’s apartment, where he discovers that Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso) moved in after the previous tenant was removed for reeducation. His attempt to use her as a hostage to escape to Honolulu is foiled, and he’s brought to the ICS station – producer of “The Running Man” – where ruthless host and overenthusiastic showman Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) pulls some strings to ensure Richards is made available and forced to participate as a contestant on the show.

Assigned a court-appointed theatrical agent and dubbed the “Butcher of Bakersfield” to raving audiences, Ben becomes a “runner,” along with his Resistance comrades Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto). In 400 square blocks of walled-off, treacherous terrain – left over from the big quake of ’97 – they’re pursued by a horde of “stalkers” armed to the teeth with grisly weapons of death. Before Richards is sent hurtling down into the arena via a lengthy steel chute, he locks eyes with the grinning host and resolutely declares, “I’ll be back.”

The first stalker is Professor Subzero, an ice-skating, hockey stick-wielding wacko. The second and third are a chainsaw-toting maniac and an opera-singing, electric-bolt-dispensing giant, each driving souped-up vehicles. The third wears a jetpack and unleashes a long-range flamethrower. It’s all colorful, flamboyant, heavy-metal fodder for Schwarzenegger to wipe the floors with. There’s plenty of action, over-the-top stunts, ridiculous costumes, Arny’s silly one-liners and rants, humorously sanguinary butchery – and Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom, a celebrity workout personality. It’s fast-paced, lighthearted despite the violence, and occasionally comical (sometimes more unintentionally than it ought to be).

In hilarious satire fashion, the murderous convict betrayed into dying for entertainment becomes the underdog that barbarous viewers unexpectedly support. It takes combat and bloodshed to incite recognition of subjugation, cruelty, and persecution. As the film rambunctiously and goofily identifies the evils of the media (for ratings!), corrupt officials, and postapocalyptic woes, it awkwardly spends screentime preoccupied with cheerleader-like dancers, obligatory inconsiderateness by Killian, dated rock music, and interactions with the live studio audience (as if taking artistic cues from Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop”). There’s still slam-bang bravado, non-stop adventure, and overall modest fun, based loosely on a science-fiction story by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King) – though this adaptation leans toward explosions over scope and wit.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10