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HISTORY

The movie opens with the following title card: “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.”
       The film is based on a science-fiction novel of the same name by Richard Bachman, which is a pseudonym for Stephen King, best known for his horror novels. Published in 1982, it was the one of five novels released under the Bachman pen name. First-time producer George Linder fell in love with the book and optioned it for a movie in 1982. Linder, who made a fortune selling high-technology, lightweight wheelchairs through his Quadra Medical Corporation, paid $20,000 to option the film and $100,000 for the movie rights, according to the 26 Jun 1986 DV. Linder believed those prices were higher than usual for an unknown author, but understood the larger price once King went public about the pseudonym in 1985.
       Actor Christopher Reeve was originally signed to play the lead, as reported in the 12 Aug 1985 LAHExam. Shooting was set to start in Sep 1985 according to a 12 Aug 1985 DV casting notice, but was postponed until Jan 1986 with location shooting scheduled to ... More Less

The movie opens with the following title card: “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.”
       The film is based on a science-fiction novel of the same name by Richard Bachman, which is a pseudonym for Stephen King, best known for his horror novels. Published in 1982, it was the one of five novels released under the Bachman pen name. First-time producer George Linder fell in love with the book and optioned it for a movie in 1982. Linder, who made a fortune selling high-technology, lightweight wheelchairs through his Quadra Medical Corporation, paid $20,000 to option the film and $100,000 for the movie rights, according to the 26 Jun 1986 DV. Linder believed those prices were higher than usual for an unknown author, but understood the larger price once King went public about the pseudonym in 1985.
       Actor Christopher Reeve was originally signed to play the lead, as reported in the 12 Aug 1985 LAHExam. Shooting was set to start in Sep 1985 according to a 12 Aug 1985 DV casting notice, but was postponed until Jan 1986 with location shooting scheduled to take place primarily in the West Edmonton Mall, a giant shopping mall in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, Canada, according to the 3 Sep 1985 HR.
       By Jan 1986, Reeve was out and Arnold Schwarzenegger was in, as was reported in an 8 Jan 1986 LADN brief. An article in the 17 Oct 1986 L.A. Weekly explained that with the change of stars, the film evolved from a dark allegory to an action thriller with humor. The Reeve version had been about an unemployed man who goes on a violent game show for a thirty-day period to feed his family. However, with Schwarzenegger, the protagonist became a condemned, but innocent, criminal forced onto a three-hour gladiator-style game show by the justice system. Between Reeve and Schwarzenegger, screenwriter Steven E. de Souza wrote fifteen drafts of the script.
       George P. Cosmatos, who had directed the hit action film Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, see entry) starring Sylvester Stallone, was initially set to direct, but he was fired over “creative differences” according to the 8 Jan 1986 LADN. Producers considered several other directors including German director Carl Schenkel and British director Ferdinand Fairfax, who got as far as the storyboard stage, according to the 28 Jun 1987 LAT.
       Next, Andrew Davis, who was receiving acclaim for directing the Chuck Norris action thriller Code of Silence (1985, see entry), was signed. However, less than two weeks after principal photography began on 29 Sep 1986, Davis was fired, according to the 16 Oct 1986 DV. Executive producer Rob Cohen told the HR in its 16 Nov 1987 issue that Davis was $400,000 over budget and four days behind schedule after just eight days of filming.
       Producers then hired Paul Michael Glaser, best known as “Det. David Starsky” in the police series Starsky and Hutch (American Broadcasting Company, 30 Apr 1975--15 May 1979). While Glaser did have directing experience, he had never helmed a big-budget movie before. Glaser’s experience was in television directing, having directed several episodes of Starsky and Hutch and three acclaimed episodes of the hit police series Miami Vice (National Broadcasting Companhy,15 Sep 1984--25 Jan 1990). Glaser had also directed the crime drama Band of the Hand (1986, see entry), which was released in theatres after it failed as a television pilot.
       With the change of stars and directors, plus tweaking of the script, the Canadian locations were dropped. Instead, the film shot in the Los Angeles, CA, area. Interior shots, including the giant game show set, were done on sound stages at Hollywood Center Studios. According to promotional materials in AMPAS library files, a large number of exterior shots were filmed at the abandoned Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, CA, about fifty miles east of Los Angeles. The Kaiser Mill served as both the prison location in the beginning of the movie and as much of the “game zone” location where Schwarzenegger fought off the gladiators known as “stalkers.” Other locations included the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, CA; the Filmland Corporate Center in Culver City, CA; Los Angeles International Airport; and outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.
       Actor Richard Dawson, best known for hosting the long-running television game show Family Feud, was signed to play the evil game show host, “Damon Killian.” As for the actors playing the assassins, or stalkers, publicity materials revealed that former Cleveland Browns football running back Jim Brown played the stalker “Fireball,” while 325-pound, professional weight lifter Gus Rethwisch portrayed “Buzzsaw.” Martial arts grand master and professional wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka, who weighed 350 pounds, played the role of “Subzero,” and 330-pound Erland Van Lidth, a former member of the U.S. wrestling team, portrayed “Dynamo.”
       The special effects for the crucial launch of the rocket sled from the game show set through an underground tunnel into the game zone was handled by USFX, which is a division of the San Francisco, CA, based Colossal Pictures. Designer/director Gary Gutierrez explained in the Dec 1987 issue of American Cinematographer that he created a 260-foot long half-scale miniature tunnel and shot at six frames per second rather than the standard twenty-four to get enough footage of the high-speed ride through the tunnel.
       Although it was originally scheduled to open in summer 1987, producers postponed the release of the $25 million film until Thanksgiving because it would be the only action thriller released during that period, according to reports in the 19 Oct 1987 HR. The filmed opened on approximately 1,600 screens on 13 Nov 1987 to generally positive reviews.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Dec 1987
p. 70-73.
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1985.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1986.
---
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1986.
---
Daily Variety
25 Aug 1986.
---
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1986.
---
Daily Variety
11 Nov 1987
pp. 12-13.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1987
p. 3, 17.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1987.
---
LA Weekly
17 Oct 1986.
---
LAHExam
12 Aug 1985
P. 2.
Los Angeles Daily News
8 Jan 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Jun 1987.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Nov 1987
p. 10.
New York Times
13 Nov 1987
p. 10.
Variety
9 Apr 1986.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Linder/Zinnemann Production
In Association with Home Box Office
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog by
Theatrical lighting des by
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Rigging gaffer
Elec best boy
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Theatrical lighting prod coord
Theatrical lighting elec
Theatrical lighting elec
Theatrical lighting elec
Theatrical lighting elec
Theatrical lighting elec
Theatrical lighting rigging
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Still photog
Lenses and Panaflex camera by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Storyboard illustrator
Storyboard illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Const grip
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Leadman
Dec gang boss
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
General foreman
Head plasterer
Prop shop/Mech eff
Prop shop/Mech eff
Head laborer
Paint foreman
Supv sign writer
Control panel props by
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost dept supv
Men's key costumer
Men's costumer
Men's costumer
Men's costumer
Women's costumer
Seamstress
Cost dept asst
Dynamo's cost engineered by
MUSIC
Mus scoring mixer
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus post prod
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Sd boom
Sd boom
Playback op
Co-supv ed ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Sd processed by
Sd processed by
Foley mixer
Foley by
Foley by
Supv ADR ed
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
ADR mixer
ADR recordist
Dolby engineer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff supv
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Video eff supv
Video eff crew
Video eff crew
Supv of spec visual eff
Spec visual eff by
Dir of photog, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Prod mgr, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Prod supv, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Gaffer, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Key grip, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Model dept supv, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Model maker, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Model maker, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Model maker, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Model maker, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Prod coord, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Spec engineering, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Pyrotechnician, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Spec eff rigger, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Spec eff rigger, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Facilities coord, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Addl stage crew, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Addl stage crew, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Cam asst, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Ed asst, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Tech asst,USFX/Colossal Pictures
Tech asst, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Storyboard artist, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Asst to Mr. Gutierrez, USFX/Colossal Pictures
Main title, video and graphic displays by
Main title, video and graphic displays by Video Im
Main title, video and graphic displays by Video Im
Main title, video and graphic displays by Video Im
Main title, video and graphic displays by Video Im
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Video Image crew
Rocket eff coord
U.S. Rockets
Rocket analysis
Rocket propulsion specialist
Matte shots by
of Illusion Arts, Inc.
Matte shots by
of Illusion Arts, Inc.
Opticals and end titles by
DANCE
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Choreog by
Asst to the choreog
MAKEUP
Key make-up artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Spec make-up eff by
Key hair stylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Prod assoc
Asst to Mr. Bariah
Asst to Mr. Glaser
Prod office coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to Mr. Linder
Cine Guarantor rep
Loc mgr
Pub coord
Casting asst
Extras casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Asst to Mr. Schwarzenegger
Asst to Mr. Schwarzenegger
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation mechanic
Caterer
Caterer
Craft service
Craft service
First aid
First aid
Post prod facilities
STAND INS
Stunts [for character Ben Richards]
Stunts [for character Laughlin]
Stunts [for characters Dynamo, Buzzsaw]
Stunts [for character Fireball]
Stunts [for character Weiss]
Stunts [for character Amber]
Stunts [for character Subzero]
Stunts [for character Killian]
Stunt coord
ANIMATION
Spec animated eff by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Running Man by Richard Bachman (New York, 1982).
SONGS
“Running Away With You,” music and lyrics by Harold Faltermeyer and John Parr, published by Kilauea Music U.S. Publishing, Taft/Barish Music, Bogus Global Music, Inc., performed by John Parr, courtesy of Atlantic Records
“The Death March,” written and produced by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee, published by Siggy Music, Toco/Barish Music, The Production Network, Inc., d/b/a The Production Network Music, Taft/Barish Music, performed by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee
“Paula’s Theme,” written and produced by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee, published by Siggy Music, Toco/Barish Music, The Production Network, Inc., d/b/a The Production Network Music, Taft/Barish Music, performed by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee
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SONGS
“Running Away With You,” music and lyrics by Harold Faltermeyer and John Parr, published by Kilauea Music U.S. Publishing, Taft/Barish Music, Bogus Global Music, Inc., performed by John Parr, courtesy of Atlantic Records
“The Death March,” written and produced by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee, published by Siggy Music, Toco/Barish Music, The Production Network, Inc., d/b/a The Production Network Music, Taft/Barish Music, performed by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee
“Paula’s Theme,” written and produced by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee, published by Siggy Music, Toco/Barish Music, The Production Network, Inc., d/b/a The Production Network Music, Taft/Barish Music, performed by Jackie Jackson and Glen Barbee
“The Theme From Gilligan’s Island,” music and lyrics by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle, used by permission of SBK U Catalog, Inc.
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DETAILS
Release Date:
13 November 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 November 1987
Production Date:
began 29 September 1986 in Los Angeles, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Taft Entertainment Pictures/Keith Barish Productions
Copyright Date:
2 December 1987
Copyright Number:
PA358785
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Technicolor
Lenses
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
100
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28822
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 2017, the world economy has collapsed and food, oil, and natural resources are in short supply. The United States is now a totalitarian police state, with regions divided into paramilitary zones. Total obedience is required and communications are routinely censored. The government controls the television network where the most popular show is the The Running Man, a gladiator-like competition airing on Sundays from 8:00-11:00 p.m., where criminals run for their lives while the rest of the country watches. One evening, paramilitary helicopter pilot Ben Richards is sent to investigate a food riot of nearly 1,500 unarmed people in Bakersfield, California. Although Ben’s superiors order him to kill anyone who moves in the riot zone, he refuses to fire on innocent people, so his co-pilot carries out the command. Ben is arrested and jailed in the Wilshire Detention Zone work camp. Eighteen months later, Ben and some of his fellow prisoners escape the camp and head to a shantytown on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. There, people talk about jamming the television signals and broadcasting the truth to the nation, but they do not know where the satellite uplink is located. Ben is reunited with a former policeman named Mic who is now one of the leaders of the underground resistance. Mic refers to Ben as the “Butcher of Bakersfield,” but Ben replies that he is innocent and his bad reputation is due to “network propaganda.” Ben sneaks into the city hoping his brother, Edward, will help him get out of the country, but when he gets to Edward’s apartment, he ... +


In 2017, the world economy has collapsed and food, oil, and natural resources are in short supply. The United States is now a totalitarian police state, with regions divided into paramilitary zones. Total obedience is required and communications are routinely censored. The government controls the television network where the most popular show is the The Running Man, a gladiator-like competition airing on Sundays from 8:00-11:00 p.m., where criminals run for their lives while the rest of the country watches. One evening, paramilitary helicopter pilot Ben Richards is sent to investigate a food riot of nearly 1,500 unarmed people in Bakersfield, California. Although Ben’s superiors order him to kill anyone who moves in the riot zone, he refuses to fire on innocent people, so his co-pilot carries out the command. Ben is arrested and jailed in the Wilshire Detention Zone work camp. Eighteen months later, Ben and some of his fellow prisoners escape the camp and head to a shantytown on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. There, people talk about jamming the television signals and broadcasting the truth to the nation, but they do not know where the satellite uplink is located. Ben is reunited with a former policeman named Mic who is now one of the leaders of the underground resistance. Mic refers to Ben as the “Butcher of Bakersfield,” but Ben replies that he is innocent and his bad reputation is due to “network propaganda.” Ben sneaks into the city hoping his brother, Edward, will help him get out of the country, but when he gets to Edward’s apartment, he finds that Amber Mendez is the new tenant. Amber reports that Edward was taken away one month ago for “re-education.” Meanwhile, at the headquarters of ICS television broadcast network, adoring fans greet Damon Killian, the host of The Running Man television show. Killian’s assistant tells him the show’s ratings have been the same for the past several weeks and might need something to boost its audience. When Killian and his team go over a list of potential prisoners, he sees a video of Ben escaping the labor camp and decides he would be the perfect prisoner to improve the ratings. Meanwhile, Ben ties Amber up while looking for money and a travel card. She brags that she is the musician who wrote the ICS network jingle. Ben arranges to fly to Hawaii and takes Amber with him to the airport as a cover. Once there, she escapes and reports him to the police. Ben dashes across the tarmac, trying to escape, but is captured and taken to Killian’s office. There, Killian invites him to appear on the show, offering complete exoneration if he survives, but Ben declines. Killian then informs him that two of Ben’s friends who escaped the labor camp with him, Harold Weiss and William Laughlin, will be sent into the game instead. Ben reluctantly agrees to participate so his friends will be spared. He is injected with a tracking monitor and various drugs, then rendered unconscious by knockout gas. Meanwhile, Amber is dismayed to see television news stories about Ben’s capture falsely reporting that he shot and killed airport security guards. Realizing Ben is being set up, Amber goes to the ICS building to get the raw footage of the Bakersfield massacre, where Ben was reported to have fired on sixty innocent civilians. When the show starts, Killian’s crew locks Ben into a rocket sled for launching into the game zone through a tunnel. Killian explains to the audience that contestants, known as “runners,” are sent into the 400 square block area destroyed by the great earthquake of 1997. Once inside, runners have three hours to make it through all four game quadrants, but gladiators, known as “stalkers,” will also be there, trying to kill them. Just before Ben is whisked into the game zone, Killian informs the audience that he will be joined by two of his fellow prisoners, Weiss and Laughlin. Angry at Killian’s deceit, Ben promises, “I’ll be back,” to which Killian replies, “Only in a rerun.” Once Ben, Weiss, and Laughlin are in the game zone, Killian has a female audience member pick the first “stalker” to go after them. She chooses Subzero, who operates on an ice hockey rink area and uses exploding hockey pucks and a razor sharp stick capable of cutting steel. Subzero captures Weiss easily and knocks out Laughlin quickly, but Ben pulls down some barbed wire and wraps it around Subzero’s throat, choking him to death. Killian reports this is the first time a stalker has ever died in the game zone. Killian then sends in the stalkers Buzzsaw, who rides a motorcycle and uses a chain saw, and Dynamo, who wears a special suit allowing him to shoot lightning bolts. Killian’s assistant tells him the ratings went up nine points the moment Ben killed Subzero. He also reports that Amber was caught stealing the raw footage of the Bakersfield massacre, so Killian sends Amber into the game. Meanwhile, Weiss realizes that the satellite uplink, which the underground has been searching for, is in the game zone. He finds the control panel and tries to figure out the password. Meanwhile, Buzzsaw wraps a wire around Ben and drags him across the ground with his motorcycle. However, when Buzzsaw tries to kill Ben, he turns the chainsaw around and kills his enemy. Elsewhere, Weiss determines the password is “18, 24, 61, B, 17, 17, 4” and tells Amber to remember the code. Just then, Dynamo appears and kills Weiss with a lightning bolt. Dynamo also tries to kill Amber, but Ben rescues her. As Dynamo chases them, his car wrecks and Ben cuts off Dynamo’s penis with Buzzsaw’s chainsaw. Ben and Amber find Laughlin just moments before he dies of injuries from Buzzsaw. Watching the game from afar, Killian sends in Fireball, who is armed with a flamethrower and a jet pack. However, Killian also communicates with Ben through a special closed-circuit television, offering him a three-year contract as a stalker, guaranteeing him a giant credit line and a condominium. Ben declines and again promises to get even. When Killian asks an audience member to predict which stalker will make the next kill, she replies that Ben will be the next victor. Outside, bookmakers start taking bets on Ben, giving him 100 to one odds. As Fireball arrives in the game zone, Ben throws barrels of oil at him, causing the stalker to catch fire when he ignites his flamethrower. However, that does not stop Fireball, so Ben pulls the fuel cord on his flamethrower and tosses a firecracker at him, killing his enemy in an explosion. With three stalkers dead and one injured, Captain Freedom, a retired stalker who is now a fitness guru, is called into the game zone, but refuses. In response, Killian orders his assistant to impose likenesses of Ben and Captain Freedom on stunt doubles. When television viewers see Captain Freedom’s double ram Ben’s double into metal stakes, they believe Ben is dead. However, Ben and Amber are rescued by Mic and his underground network who have secret headquarters in the fourth quadrant of the game zone. They finally break the network transmission and broadcast the raw footage of the Bakersfield Massacre as well as other incidents that were manipulated by ICS. Ben and Amber go to the ICS headquarters where Dynamo reappears. However, Amber sets off the sprinkler system, electrocuting Dynamo. Meanwhile, Ben confronts Killian, but the game show hosts claims his decision to use Ben was purely to boost television ratings. Ben throws Killian into the rocket sled and launches him into the game zone, where the sled crashes into a billboard and explodes. Free from tyranny, Ben kisses Amber and the two leave together, arm in arm.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.