The Running Man (1987)

the running man

“Killian, here’s your Subzero, now plain zero.”

Scoop: 1987 R, directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and Richard Dawson

Tagline: The year is 2019. The finest men in America don’t run for President. They run for their lives.

Summary Capsule: Arnold is decked out in BananaGearTM and forced to participate in a brutal game show.


Justin’s rating: A 5K run of quoting fun

Justin’s review: Early in his writing career, Stephen King was concerned that his name was quickly becoming a brand name, and worried that people were buying his novels based on his name instead of the content. He also wanted to pump out more than one book a year, which was generally frowned upon by publishers. Thus, King created a secret pseudonym by the name of Richard Bachman, and began getting short stories and novels published under the name. While Bachman never sold anywhere near as huge as King, they did fairly well for an unknown writer, including Thinner. Bachman was later outed as Stephen King’s creation and “killed off” in 1985 by imaginary cancer.

Two of Richard Bachman’s novellas that I particularly enjoyed were The Long Walk and The Running Man, both set in a dystopian future and involving sadistic state-sponsored game shows. Do you even need to be told that, apart from the title and an incredibly loose association with the plot, the movie adaptation had virtually nothing to do with the book? The novella was a dark, gritty tale of a man running for his life to raise money for his dying child (and ended with a September 11th-type plane crash into a skyscraper). The movie… well, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoying the life as a human piñata, playing the fall guy for Family Feud’s Richard Dawson.

Nothing screams “Hey! I was made in the ’80s!” like spandex, cassettes akimbo, and the future envisioned with advanced neon lighting technology. Nothing screams “dated” more, either. The Running Man is supposed to be set in a future racked with fuel, oil, electricity, lip gloss and chuihuahua shortages, but this is just about the most happy, colorful dystopia I’ve ever seen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the scrolling text informing me of this dire future, I’d have assumed that it was a documentary of the life and times of modern Philadelphia’s scrappy east siders.

Schwarzenegger is Ben Richards, an ex-police grunt who takes the fall for a massacre, and as punishment must participate in the world’s most popular (and deadly) game show: The Running Man. In it, Richards dresses up like a banana – a slippery opponent, he muses, will often be potassium deficient as well. When his brute strength and cunning wit fails to deter his enemies, you can count on this shambling mound of muscles to break out one of his verbal chestnuts. “Here’s Subzero!” he yells, pauses, then thinks furiously. “Now… PLAIN zero!” English majors everywhere throw up their hands and walk out of universities, having gazed upon a master of linguistic skill that will never be surpassed.

Richards and associated cannon fodder jog through crumbling set after crumbling set, until a one-note “Stalker” catches up with them and a surprisingly pristine battle ensues. There’s the hockey stick-wielding sumo Stalker, the chainsaw Stalker, the flamethrower Stalker, and Hello Kitty. Not quite sure how that mutated cat got in with the rest, but I wouldn’t count her out. She’s lethal.

While well-known for its groan-worthy quips and traditional Schwarzenegger motifs – action stars and villains at the time came only in XXXL – I can safely say that The Running Man was obsolete a year after it came out.

Fat, sings opera, and is covered with Christmas lights. That's terror.
Fat, sings opera, and is covered with Christmas lights. That’s terror.


  • Stephen King wrote The Running Man in 72 hours.
  • Along with Predator, this movie features two future U.S. Governors.
  • Was originally supposed to be filmed in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with Christopher Reeve cast in the role of Ben Richards and George P. Cosmatos as director. When the producers decided to move the production to Los Angeles, Arnold Schwarzenegger was recast in the role. Direction was begun by Andrew Davis but he was replaced early on by Paul Michael Glaser.
  • Whee! Computer running man graphics!
  • “Food,natural resources and oil are in short supply.” Also in short supply are spaces after your commas.
  • 2017 sure loves its wireframe camera technology
  • Jesse Ventura in spandex with a porn star moustache. Okay. I didn’t need to sleep tonight.
  • Richard loves to punctuate his signature with extreme prejudice
  • The future apparently revives cassette tech
  • “Professor” Subzero?
  • If your opponent is on ice skaes, perhaps you should get out of the ice rink
  • Leon’s fashionable yellow shirt and bowtie
  • Nobody cheers that loud for opera, I don’t care how depressing a future this is.
  • Sure a lot of really old people in the Running Man audience
  • When Killian is sending Fireball into the game, he says, “There he goes, the leading rusher.” Fireball was played by Jim Brown, the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards until the mid-’80s.
  • In Killian’s office there is a poster for a fake TV show called “Hate Boat.” In real life, Richard Dawson had a role in the TV series “Love Boat.”
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? There’s a game showy voiceover… so, eh.

Groovy Quotes

Amber: I warn you I get sick. Car sick, air sick. And I’m going to throw up all over *you*.
Richards: Go for it. Won’t show on this shirt…

Richards: Killian! I’ll be back!
Killian: Only in a rerun.

Richards: Killian, here’s your Subzero, now plain zero.

Richards: [after strangling Sub-Zero with barbed wire)] What a pain in the neck.

Amber: [after Richards cut Buzzsaw in half with a chain saw] What happened to Buzzsaw?
Richards: He had to split.

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