Whichever way you look at it, The Running Man is something of a curiosity. It’s a sci-fi film, written by an horror author—Stephen King. It’s an ‘80s Arnie blockbuster that looks like a made-for-TV movie. And it’s a film with heavy themes, overlaid with cheesy one-liners and musical numbers.
If Running Man had been directed by Paul Verhoeven, rather than Paul Michael Glaser then all of these contradictions would have made perfect sense. And maybe to really appreciate Running Man we need to adopt a little of that Verhoeven mind-set—because despite what it lacks, this is a film that’s quite similar to Robo Cop, which was released in the same year.
Full of social critique, dystopian themes, and black humour, Running Man conjures a future where the US has become a totalitarian state which uses TV to control the populous. ‘The Running Man’ is a gladiatorial style combat game-show which pits convicted criminals against armed mercenaries in a fight to the death. The result is both funny and, at times shocking, with Paula Abdul dance sequences and Janet Jackson music, adding to the whole surreal mix.
On the film’s 30th anniversary in 2017, the film’s writer, Steven de Souza, commented that The Running Man correctly predicted … the widening gap between the rich and poor and society’s obsession with reality TV.
It’s true that The Running Man is not an Arnie classic. In fact Schwarzenegger felt that the hurried production schedule many that many of the script’s deeper themes were lost. But it does what it does well, and—given that it’s set in 2019— with a surprising amount of foresight.
Audio Commentary with Producer Tim Zinnemann and Director Paul M. Glaser.
Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Rob Cohen.
Lockdown on Mainstreet/Game Theory/Trailer.