The Running Man (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

The Running Man (1987) Directed by Paul Michael Glaser. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.


Loosely based on a 1982 Stephen King novel and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, The Running Man is a tongue-in-cheek action romp starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a government police pilot, falsely accused of murdering a crowd of innocent civilians.

Set in 2017, in the wake of a global economic meltdown, America has become a totalitarian society. The authorities use television to pacify a blood-thirsty population by broadcasting elaborate TV executions of convicted criminals. It is very much in-step with what is making huge waves in popular culture right now – The Hunger Games has become a behemoth of a blockbuster franchise on the back of the same idea.

While The Running Man is ripe for and brimming with the sort of satire that helped set fly the career of Paul Verhoeven with RoboCop the very same year, it lets itself down with its stale action sequences, formulaic plotting and tendency for the absurd. There are also many moments where it becomes too daft to laugh with. The gladiators themselves (Buzzsaw, Fireball, Subzero, Dynamo) are intentional cartoon characters and while they offer a degree of amusement, their presence ensures the battle scenes never achieve any genuine tension. That’s the thing – the background to the film and the some of the satire is resonant, yet many elements that propel the plot developments are so flippant that we never become invested.

Between the clumsy gun battles and uneven tone, the film is perhaps most memorable for Richard Dawson’s performance as Damon Killian – the parasitic host of The Running Man game show. His routine is pure parody, capturing just the right tonal balance the film around him fails to fully establish. It would appear Stephen King’s original idea got lost in the translation of becoming an Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle.

When the final credits roll and John Parr strikes up with the stock 80’s power ballad (Restless Heart) Running Away With You, you might be asking yourself what you just put yourself through. There are good moments, but Paul Michael Glaser runs away from the opportunity to do something more interesting than making loud noises and doling out cheesy Arnie one-liners. Due to the light, campy tone, it isn’t hard to see why it has gathered appreciation in cult corners, but ultimately, it doesn’t amount to nearly as much as it ought to have.  2/5


About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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16 Responses to The Running Man (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. dreager1 says:

    I’ve certainly heard of this one and it always sounded very interesting. The premise was certainly unique for its time anyway. Too bad it couldn’t live up to the concept.

    • garethrhodes says:

      I can see and understand why people might hold it dear as a piece of cheesy throwaway nonsense, but it blows some great opportunities to be a better film and amounts to very little, in the end. Thank you for commenting.

  2. filmfunkel says:

    Agreed. A campy, cult romp that was robbed of being something more potent.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Yes, it’s a little frustrating for that reason. It has its place as a late night film you can nod off to. That’s about the best compliment that I can afford it. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Jay says:

    Set in 2017. That gives you pause, doesn’t it?

  4. Paul S says:

    Some things are better left in the 80s.

  5. I love 80s action films set in the future. The technology doesn’t advanced, hair, clothing and music don’t change and board games are still popular. Still, this is one of my favourites.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Oh, I agree. I love seeing all those details. I was born in 1977, so the 80’s is full of fond memories for me. The technology and styles really warm my heart. I respect your opinion and thank you for commenting, but I can’t see this as anything other than a misfire.

  6. Laura says:

    I’d like to see a true to the book remake of this one. The original story is so much darker, although I do still enjoy this daft film.

  7. I read the book at the start of this year and really enjoyed it and while I know the film is completely different (it kind of has to be really, since it has Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role) I still want to watch it at some point.

  8. eethanvalee says:

    This soundtrack is out of control – I love this film, but agree that it could have been better if they’d have taken the darker approach the novel does. I wish the Nolan brothers would pen a script for a remake.

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