The Running Man (1987)

The opening narration appears in big block letters on the screen: “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.”

Then the movie opens as Arnold is in command of an attack helicopter of the city of Bakersfield, with a riot over the lack of food takes place in a crowded intersection below.

Arnold is issued an order to open fire on the unarmed citizens, and when he disobeys, finds himself in deep trouble, eventually leading to him being on the world’s most popular game show “The Running Man” where prisoners compete for their lives against deadly stalkers and traps. Through a series of fights and cheesy quips from our hero, he aims to escape the deadly game and come back to exact his revenge on a host that wrongfully put him there.

The Running Man was based off of a Stephen King novel that was turned into an action movie with Arnold at the starring role, presumably to carry on his persona as a beastly action hero. It’s going to be more of Arnold beating down the baddies in the far off future date of 2017, something that can both be laughable in actual year 2017 because of how technology really advanced, as well as a little scary given the current fear of ACTUALLY running low on natural resources.

This movie is full on 80’s style, from the big teased out hair, the tight ADIDAS spandex bodysuits that both the contestants in “The Running Man” game show as well as the Dance Squad (that performs choreography by Paula Abdul) wear throughout the movie, the music, the effects and even the props. This movie just screams “cheesy 80 action flick” but it is still an enjoyable watch the entire time. Arnold doesn’t disappoint when he makes bad puns after putting down another villain who’s name is appropriate to their killing device.

My only problem with the movie is that the opening narration card makes it seem like this is going to be an “Arnold takes on the corrupt government” type movie, but really all he does is take on a game show. Now granted, the game show does seem to play around with human lives the way you’d expect in a semi-futuristic movie where the world leaders “rule with an iron fist,” but once The Running Man (Hosted by Richard Dawson) is bested, then what? Never mind that we’re still oppressed and starving while living in filth, we fixed the evil game show… and now don’t have ANY entertainment.

It’s very obvious from watching this movie that it inspired a lot of media that came after to do the “deadly game of wits and survival” trope, and I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this movie didn’t start that trope anyway, since Predator (June 1987) came out before this one (November 1987).

This movie did end up being the basis for the real life game show “American Gladiator,” which is not surprising since this movie does have some things in common with the actual show, though to my knowledge American Gladiator 1: didn’t ever kill any of the contestants, and 2: didn’t have a home game. Overall I had a good time with this movie, and if you enjoy 80’s action movies that can get a little silly (don’t they all?) I believe you will too.