The Running Man, released in 1987 is an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle loosely based on a novel by Stephen King released in 1982 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. After a slow start at the box office, The Running Man just took its $25m budget back ending with $38m. While initially receiving a lukewarm critical reception, it has since become something of a cult classic after various replays on television and its influence extends to films like Battle Royale and more recently The Hunger Games.
Set in a dystopian future, The Running Man follows protagonist Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), a military pilot is framed for a civilian massacre in Bakersfield. Sentenced to work in a labour camp, he escapes and takes Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso) hostage. While trying to flee the area, he is caught and handed over to the television show The Running Man, where he must overcome a series ˜stalkers’ trained to kill contestants. The prize for winning is his freedom, but as the game progresses it becomes clear that game show host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) is bending the rules of the game in order to finish off Richards.
The beauty of a film like The Running Man, is the simplicity of narrative and execution. It feigns social commentary with reference to the audience of a game show baying for the blood of the contestants, and clearly attempts to tie this in with the increase in the depths to which reality television will sink in order to get ratings. It’s a tantilising idea, but one that is rarely explored with any depth, with the action and focus of The Running Man dedicated to the action hero at the centre and the characters in his way throughout.
Casting actual game show host Richard Dawson as the deliciously evil Killian is a masterstroke as he drives the action with his fake smile and ever-frustrated character. The stalkers are quite fun too, with a host of gimmicks reminiscent of the characters you’d see in a professional wrestling ring around the same time. In fact ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura gives a neat turn as retired stalker Captain Freedom. The Running Man however, is a film dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger and as was so often in the late 1980s, he delivers.
Schwarzenegger’s own brand of charisma is on full display here as are his now famous one-liners. In fact The Running Man must now be considered one of the Austrian ex-bodybuilders most entertaining roles and one that has lasted longer than its initial reception suggested it would.