1980s Stephen King Dystopian Sci-Fi Thriller Unlike Anything Else, Stream Immediately

By Robert Scucci | Published

Of all the corny dystopian sci-fi action thrillers I’ve seen over the years, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never actually sat down and watched The Running Man until last night. Not knowing what to expect aside from a middle-of-the-road Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle (according to the scores on Rotten Tomatoes) I’m now in a profound state of regret because this movie has it all.

Stephen King’s Running Man

From a grim vision of the not-so-distant future not unlike George Orwell’s 1984 to the stark criticism of how network television can be used to manipulate the masses, The Running Man is poignant yet ridiculous; thoughtful yet absurd; critical yet hilarious.

Loosely based on the Stephen King (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym) novel of the same name, The Running Man takes us to the year 2019. Under total government control, United States citizens are numbed to the point of stupidity by entertainment.

Being fed a constant feed of lies, destruction, and war footage through news media outlets, the population is placated with mindless game shows broadcast by the ICS Corporation.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Ben Richards

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The most popular game show on the network is The Running Man, which involves criminals running for their lives from various trained killers known as stalkers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Captain Benjamin “Ben” Richards is the subject of the most recent deceptive news cycle, in which he’s depicted as a spree killer who massacred dozens of innocent civilians before his capture and subsequent imprisonment at a labor camp.

When ICS Corporation founder and CEO Damon Killian reviews the footage of Ben’s daring escape from the camp, he knows that featuring him on the sadistic game show will be great for ratings.

Sparing Lives Of Other Escapees

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Meanwhile, Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso), becomes aware of the fact that Ben was actually trying to be a hero before his imprisonment, and that the footage of his massacre in Bakersfield, California, was heavily doctored.

Additionally, Ben only agreed to participate in The Running Man to spare the lives of his fellow escapees, William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto), and Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre), who are thrown into the game anyway.

Blatant Dystopian Satire

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Through this narrative construct, The Running Man functions as a blatant dystopian satire with plenty of Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners to keep you as entertained as the general population that’s depicted in the film.

Defiantly eliminating stalkers with ridiculous names like Sub-Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka), Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), it’s only fitting that Ben casually says “Aw, he had to split” immediately after bisecting Buzzsaw with his own chainsaw.

Despite The Running Man’s over-the-top action sequences and sense of humor, it never loses the plot, and functions as an effective criticism of the modern media landscape as director Paul Michael Glaser saw it at the time.

They Understood The Assignment

The Running Man also confirms my theory that any movie with a 60 percent (or higher) critical score on Rotten Tomatoes is worthy of my consideration as a great movie.

The score and the reviews that support it reliably tell me that this film may disappoint you if you’re expecting a standard action thriller.

But if you go into it expecting a satire that has an incredible amount of fun with the tried-and-true tropes that it’s trying to simultaneously celebrate and lampoon, you’re going to have a whole lot of fun watching Arnold Schwarzenegger fully understand the assignment while being at the top of his game.

Reviewing The Running Man

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The only regret I feel in regard to watching The Running Man is the fact that I didn’t watch it sooner. If you, like me, have known about the film for years but have been reluctant to watch it, I strongly recommend that you head over to Pluto and make it the next movie that you stream.

Now that I’ve seen the light, I’ll be working this one into my regular rotation.