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“Only In a Rerun”: 30 Years of ‘The Running Man’

“Only In a Rerun”: 30 Years of ‘The Running Man’

It’s always fascinating when genre films like The Running Man become incredibly prescient as time goes on. The ones that seem a bit silly or odd in the moment, but no longer feel that way years (sometimes decades) later when we look at our own current social issues. In 2002, many thought it weird that Paramount changed the villains of The Sum of All Fears from tje Middle Eastern terrorists of the novel to Neo-Nazis in the wake of 9/11. Some even accused the filmmakers of softening the source material in favor of going with an unlikely group of antagonists. Fifteen years on, we now have events like Charlottesville taking place. So much for unlikely villains!

Escape from L.A. turned 20 years old last year and despite its sometimes silly nature, it too was proved prescient. Within the United States of EFLA, numerous peoples are expelled from the country just for having beliefs or life practices that are different from a fearful chunk of the population. John Carpenter has all too often been right on point (and ahead of the curve) with his cinematic criticisms of society, even when he’s aiming for wackiness.

Why bring up Carpenter? Because The Running Man desperately wanted to be a John Carpenter movie. Everything about it screams Carpenter, from the catchy synth score to the production design to the socio-political commentary permeating it from top to bottom. It might be (loosely) based on a novel by Stephen King, but it’s one of the biggest Carpenter riffs of the 1980s. This is a good thing.

For those who haven’t witnessed this over-the-top science fiction actioner before, I’ll allow the film’s opening crawl to give you the set-up for the world it showcases within…

By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources, and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand.

Television is controlled by the state and a sadistic game show called “The Running Man” has become the most popular program in history. All art, music, and communications are censored. No dissent is tolerated and yet a small resistance movement has managed to survive underground.

When high-tech gladiators are not enough to suppress the people’s yearning for freedom…

…more direct methods become necessary.

A good chunk of this comes from King’s novel that he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The crawl itself is pure Carpenter, however, and so are the changes to the story’s protagonist, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Richards is a bit of an everyman in the novel, but we all know that Arnold is everything BUT an everyman. In the film, Richards is a police helicopter pilot who is framed for a state-sanctioned massacre of protesters. He is tried for a crime he actually attempted to prevent, locked up, and forced to work at a prison rock quarry. Why? Because audiences needed to see Arnold’s sweaty muscular physique in the film as soon as possible!

Arnold being Arnold, he manages to escape the prison camp, along with the aid of a few resistance members. The resistance aims to “wake up” the populace by exposing all of the governments lies. Like Snake Plissken, Richards wants no part in their righteous crusade. Hell, this easily could have been turned into an Escape film. Also like Snake, Richards just craves freedom. Naturally, he is captured later on and that’s when the titular game comes into play.

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know the drill here. Contestants, who are often unwilling, are tossed into a dangerous environment where they are forced to battle for their lives against those hunting them for sport and entertainment. It’s not a particularly new premise and it is one that has repeatedly been used again in the likes of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

The contestants are called “runners” and they are hunted by the “stalkers”, professional athletes who are beloved by the public for killing people who have been labeled criminals by their tyrannical government. Like any good pulp sci-fi actioner, each stalker has a distinctive personality, ramping up the archness of it all.

We could talk about how The Running Man is a pitch-perfect example of ‘80s genre-mashing action cinema, particularly of the Arnold variety. It very much is. Instead, I’d rather take a look at all of the ways this 2017-set film actually managed to reflect the modern society it is satirizing amidst its violent, futuristic stylings. The police force is militarized? Check. Whether you agree with the tactics of law enforcement these days, there’s no arguing that it hasn’t become more and more militarized over the past 30 years.

Media that is filled with lies is the biggest comparison, of course. The movie might not have envisioned the misinformation-filled invention that is the internet, but it definitely nailed the overall direction that things were headed in. Technology is being wielded against a weapon against the populace in this tale and its insidious use is the spread of confusion and lies. Truth is still shouted by those who care, but a vast majority of the public seems content to sit back and be “ruled with an iron hand”.

The audience seems way more upset about what’s going on with their favorite TV program here than with the injustices going on around them. Shades of the recent NFL controversy? The world of The Running Man even has a president who has a talent agent! While such a throwaway line was clearly meant as a jab at Ronald Reagan when the movie was made three decades ago, it is sadly 100% on point again in 2017. Especially in a film where the primary villain is the host of a TV show. It doesn’t stop there either. There’s even a gag involving a popular show where viewers literally watch poor people trying to get money while being torn apart by dogs. The war on the poor perfectly distilled.

30 years later, The Running Man’s social satire hits harder now than it did upon arrival. That alone makes it worthy of remembrance. Once you throw in a pulpy premise, a fun cast, adrenaline-fueled action, hilarious lines, a pulse-pounding synth score, and Arnold at the top of his game. If you haven’t seen it before, now’s the time to change that. If you have? Well, there’s no better time for a “rerun”.



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COMMENTS

66 Comments
  • MeeGhoulz

    Really liked this one! Was the remake any good?

    • Saying Like It Is

      There’s no remake only very loose talk about a sequel.

      • MeeGhoulz

        Oh,yeah… it was total recall!

        • Necro

          HaHa! Yeah it was!

    • The One and Only

      Don’t know, never watched THE HUNGER GAMES.

      • MeeGhoulz

        Nah, I was actually thinking of the Total Recall remake… as I didn’t watched I was thinking: “That Schwarzenegger film that was remade recently…”

      • MeeGhoulz

        Oh, and Battle Toyale director’s cut is way better than hunger games…

  • Alexander Howlin

    I have said it before, and I will say it again: NO ONE appreciates their entertainment becoming politicized. But nonetheless, The Running Man is still great as an action movie, and as an Arnold movie. Sadly, hardcore Stephen King fans generally dislike it because it’s unfaithful to the novel.

    • Judge Satchmo

      I agree. It was only after it was too late that I realized I had stumbled into a political article. Is there no oasis left in this world?

      • Kundow Firevine

        Dontcha know? Trump is such an evil awful fascist, that people who don’t like him get to blurt out their ignorant opinions anytime anywhere anyplace wherever they want, completely and totally free of any repercussion. Evil, evil fascism I say!

      • Alexander Howlin

        Yeah, I am sometimes afraid that there is no sanctuary for us anymore. I really wonder how this article got approved in the first place.

    • grimwilliam

      Why can’t lefties seperate their views from their views

      • JeffMc2000

        Why can’t righties use punctuation?

        • Drakr

          Oooh good one. He must have made sense if you attacked his grammar.

    • Bryant Burnette

      I’m as hardcore a King fan as it gets, and I dig the movie and the book as separate things.

      • Alexander Howlin

        Yeah, I’m a King fan too. I personally never read the book, but I have heard people say that it is underrated.

        • Bryant Burnette

          It was written early in his career — before “Carrie,” even — and it kind of shows, but yeah, it’s a good book. VERY different from the movie, though; so much so that there’s almost no point in comparing them.

    • MODOK

      I appreciate entertainment becoming politicized. Sometimes I just want dumb fun. Other times I want something thought-provoking, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. Writers and directors have opinions too, so ignoring whatever sociopolitical views they work into a movie doesn’t do it justice.

      Running Man is pretty blatant in its politicization. The whole point is lower-class undesirables in a fascist state being thrown into commercial entertainment for the masses. It’s not a careful trail of breadcrumbs that someone has only now just deciphered.

      Anyway, I appreciate it when an author writes about themes in movies or tries to find something new to say about it. Otherwise, we’d just be reading “Wasn’t that a cool movie? Remember that part when the guy dies?”

      • Alexander Howlin

        Well said! Maybe Stephen King intended it to be blatently political, but whatever message he was trying to make was slightly forgotten due to the awesome ’80s presence of Arnie in a movie that is an action movie to the core. I respect that, but I stand by my original comment all the way.

    • JeffMc2000

      I appreciate entertainment that has some political ideas in it. So do most people who aren’t afraid that the ideas expressed are going to hurt their feelings.

      • grimwilliam

        I think the point made is missed on you. I don’t think anybody minds political ideas expressed in film. We do not care for political agendas attached to our beloved movies per this article.

        • Alexander Howlin

          Exactly, grimwilliam! Thank God someone here knows what I am talking about.

    • Garbageface

      I have said it before and I will say it again: Alexander Howlin doesn’t speak for everyone! I don’t mind my entertainment being politicized in the slightest. So please shut your stupid face.

      • Alexander Howlin

        Eh, I don’t believe that you have ever said that before, considering the fact that I am new to this site. If you want to be brainwashed by these fools, that’s your own issue. Besides, you’re the one whose name is “Garbageface,” so I don’t think that I am the one who needs to “shut my stupid face.”

    • gjk2012 .

      Mentioning any kind of politics in a mindless Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie is a laugh.

  • Baron Von Marlon

    Ah, The Running Man. Grade A Schwarz material.

    I miss movies like this. Or maybe I’m just nostalgic.

  • Creepshow

    Naw. Most of us could throw on Running Man right now, and just watch a great 30 year old flick. (minus the independent thinking)

    Remember kids…
    Sometimes thoughts should stay in your head, and not get dribbled out the side of your mouth.

    • loogenhausen

      Spoken like a true dullard. Stay docile, buddy!

      • Creepshow

        Your tiny loogenhausen is showing.

  • Dennis Chenier

    The article is on point. I’ll have to re-watch to give myself a new experience and updated perspective because from what I remember it’s more fitting now than ever.

  • Motion Fiction Media

    Damn. I love Running Man and Carpenter so much and have never thought about this. It’s so true though!

  • MODOK

    I love Running Man. Didn’t it bomb in the theaters? It seems like it’s one of those movies that’s built its reputation over time, like Halloween 3 and Big Trouble in Little China.

    I haven’t seen it in a while, but isn’t it left uncertain what happens to Jesse Ventura? I presume he was killed by Richards, but I don’t recall them showing it on screen.

    • Bryant Burnette

      I’ve been watching that movie for thirty years and somehow never thought of that until this year. Weird!

  • Bryant Burnette

    So here’s a question that occurred to me during a recent rewatch: what happens to Captain Freedom? He’s involved in faking the footage of him killing Richards, but then you never see him again? Doesn’t it feel like the intent was for it to be HIM who steps aside and lets Richards at Killian in the end, not the random security guard?

    • Necro

      Very good question!

    • MODOK

      Ha, that’s exactly what I asked right below you! Glad I wasn’t the only one confused by that.

  • Necro

    I was just thinking about this one the other day, I love it when that happens. Some sort of pre-cognoscent deja-vu……..I think. Anyway in my personal opinion this is one of Arnold’s better films, and a really good film overall. Richard Dawson is an asshole but fits the role perfectly. I guess his days of fondling and legally molesting middle aged women on ‘Family Feud’ paid off! I’m not getting into the political stuff but the article does make a point. I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see a game show like this, with ‘reality’ tv anything’s possible I guess. I’d like to comment on that game show in the film itself ‘Climbing for Dollars’, so poor people (obviously) get to climb a rope for money, they get to the top only to be sprayed in the face by that smoke shit, fall to their demise and get ripped apart by dogs! Really similar to life today, so how do they win? Much like today I guess no matter what we do there’s always someone/something there to fuck us just when we think we’re making progress. Whether it’s financially, personally, politically, or socially etc. I guess I have to go back and re-watch this cuz it’s been awhile. “I can choose anyone I want, and I choose Ben Richards……..he’s one mean motherfucker!”

  • Frank Gambino

    The book is one of my favorite King books. I’ve read it probably 10 times (it’s short). Talk about a movie doing absolutely no justice to its source material.. this was almost as bad as lawnmower man.

    • Jeff Eastwood

      Have you read the other Bachman books? The Long Walk is f-ing brilliant.

      • Frank Gambino

        Im in the very slim minority of King fans when I say I did not like The Long Walk. I know it seems to be the favorite bachman book, but I didnt like it. Didnt like the characters, the plot, the pacing… Plus the ending was too vague for me.

  • Colin Christian

    Nice article,I agree with your assessment,that flick has always been a guilty pleasure ever since I first saw it in theaters.

  • Dennis Giles

    Never rated Stephen Kings “Running Man ” or was it Bachman short bit.
    Arnie …no merchandise ?

    • Jeff Eastwood

      It was released as a Richard Bachman book.

  • The Night King

    How about joining the sadly getting smaller by the day number of us living in reality Daniel. Over 2,000 people died on 911 and hundreds more in terrorist attacks elsewhere and overseas since.
    One person died in Charlottesville by a whackjob who believed Sieg Hieling made him a Nazi.

    • Garbageface

      DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO NAZIS!!!! BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!

      • Carl Chrystan

        jawohl, mein captain!

    • turk

      You just defended Nazis. Reconsider your life choices.

      • The Night King

        I didn’t defend anyone. I pointed out the real danger level of different groups based upon the number of people they have killed. So called modern day American Nazi’s are not World World 2 nazis. The worst part of posting on BD comments is dealing with the fucking stupidity level of some of the cry babies who post here.

        • turk

          You minimized the murder of an innocent woman by a Nazi because some Islamist Saudi Arabians killed more people a few decades ago. That kind of thinking requires a very diseased mindset. You’re a sad, little bigot who is defending Nazis because you obviously share some political viewpoints with them.

          You have the right to free speech, even when defending Nazis. But you do not have the right from consequences of your hate speech. So, stop the whining, you pathetic racist.

          • The Night King

            Thank you turk for entering the blocked for being too stupid and emotionally unstable to even converse with category. You may now entertain others with your insanity only I wont be listening. – lol

          • turk

            I would expect nothing less from a coward Nazi supporter than to run away from confrontation.

          • Alexander Howlin

            turk: calls Night King a Nazi, refrains from ever providing an example of Night King’s “Nazism.”

  • Carl Chrystan

    This film was not satire. It was merely an Arnie vehicle, cobbled together to make as much money as possible in the light of his success in the mid 80’s and was pretty much panned across the board, as I can remember. Funny how time changes things. If you want political satire done right in the 80’s, look at ‘Escape From New York’ or ‘Day of the Dead’ or ‘They Live’ or ‘Society’ or ‘The Stuff’ or ‘Possession’, not this garbage (even though it’s garbage that I absolutely love and reminds me of being a kid!).

    • Saturn

      You managed to save yourself right at the end!

      • Carl Chrystan

        Awww thanks. I didn’t realise I had to save myself. I was just making an opinion – open to debate – about an 80’s sci-fi movie. I would have liked a counter-argument, but ah well…

        • Saturn

          No need to be a douche when the comment is obviously in humour.

    • Siraman Rohani

      The Long Road Home (2017– )
      60 min | Drama, War

      Copyright: SEE4KMOVIES.BLOGSPOT.COM

  • Kundow Firevine

    Came to read an article about a movie I love, ended up only reading REEEEE I DON’T LIKE TRUMP REEEEE! Pathetic.

    At any rate, great movie, and very prophetic, what with all the warped shit on TV these days, among other things.

    • turk

      You orange dumpster fire fans certainly are delicate and whiny for people who go around shouting, “snowflakes!” at everyone. But I guess emulation of your dear leader is to be expected. Life must be so scary for you.

      • Kundow Firevine

        LEL LEL LEL ORANGE LEL LEL LEL

        You clowns really need new material.

        • turk

          It is perplexing that all you Trump fans are deftly afraid of anyone with a darker shade of skin, unless that shade is some kind of sickly orange that doesn’t exist in nature. But if you want to avoid any criticism of the most historically loathed president in history, you may have to get off the internet and shut off all contact with the world. The criticism isn’t going to stop, because not a day goes buy where he doesn’t make an international embarrassment of himself, and my country. So toughen up, or hide under your security blanket, “snowflake.” There’s certainly some irony in the fact that you’re a member of a small shrinking minority of bigots that demand special rights not to be offended.

          • Alexander Howlin

            If you think that I am a Trump supporter merely because I am afraid of black people, then you are honestly the stupidest person still alive. I am a Trump supporter because I can use it to fight demented, brainwashed people like you. I hope that you live well with yourself knowing that you have been lied to and used your whole life.

  • Scott Malcolm

    The irony being that “The Running Man” could have just as easily been a poke at the socialist agenda.
    Fail article is fail.

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