The Ultra-Violent Sylvester Stallone Sci-Fi Is A Secret Gem, Stream Immediately

By Robert Scucci | Published

Before Sylvester Stallone saw his breakthrough with Rocky, he was a little more rough around the edges with his portrayal of Joe “Machine Gun” Viterbo in 1975’s Death Race 2000. Though speculative science-fiction set in the not-so-distant future has a tendency to age out as time passes, Death Race 2000 still holds up because it’s such a wild ride from start to finish. Across its tight, 80-minute run-time, the violence depicted in this film is so over-the-top that it’s comical, and there are plenty of colorful characters to keep the premise running at break-neck speeds.

Death Race 2000 Is Set In A Dystopian 2000

As the title suggests, Death Race 2000, is set in the year 2000, and involves a death race (really). After years of societal disrepair that was brought about by the World Crash of ’79, the United States falls under martial law, and the population is subjected to the government’s tyranny. But instead of resorting to gladiatorial combat as a means to pacify and preoccupy the masses, the government, led by the elusive Mr. President, entertains its citizens with an ultra-violent annual Transcontinental Road Race.

The Transcontinental Road Race

Death Race 2000 introduces us to the five competitors who will partake in the 20th annual Transcontinental Road Race: Frankenstein (David Carradine), Joe “Machine Gun” Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), Jane “Calamity Jane” Kelly (Mary Woronov), Matilda “The Hun” (Roberta Collins), and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove).

Though each driver is a worthy contender in the upcoming event, there is a clear rivalry between returning champion, Frankenstein, and Machine Gun, who’s tired of always coming in second place. Frankenstein dresses in all black, and has supposedly survived numerous horrific wrecks in the past, and Machine Gun is determined to beat Frankenstein once and for all so he can finally come out on top.

The Disturbing Points System

Though completion of the race is the surefire way to secure a victory in Death Race 2000, bonus points are awarded on a sliding scale depending on what kind of pedestrians each driver eliminates throughout their travels. For example, if a driver runs over a teenager, they’re awarded 40 points, but they can score 100 points if they run over anybody who’s over 75 years old. Frankenstein, who is no stranger to playing dirty, has the upper hand because he knows exactly where to score big.

Meanwhile, the Resistance, led by Thomasina Paine (Thomas Paine’s descendant) has executed a plan to systematically kill off each driver in their efforts to overthrow the government. As Death Race 2000 progresses into its second and third acts, unlikely alliances are forged, and there’s so much more at stake than simply winning the competition.

Entertaining For What It Is

As mindless as Death Race 2000 may sound, it’s an extremely fun, and extremely violent exercise in dystopian sci-fi that’s as strong as its lead characters. Leaning into its inherent campiness, there’s something so satisfying about watching such a high level of carnage play out while Junior Bruce (Don Steele) tallies the score on live broadcast television with a sadistic amount of enthusiasm. Although most of the drivers are playing it straight, the commentary sequences include a healthy amount of comic relief, which elevates the premise to ridiculous proportions.

Death Race 2000 was a commercial hit upon its release, earning roughly $5 million at the box office against its reported budget of $400,000. On the critical front, this wild ride across the continental United States garnered an 82 percent critical score against an audience score of 63 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. While some of the less-than-favorable reviews condemned the film for boasting so much over-the-top violence against women and children, the positive reviews celebrated the film for the same reasons.

Where To Stream

In other words, in order to truly enjoy Death Race 2000, you need to go in with the right expectations. This movie may not be for you if you’re not a fan of vehicular manslaughter being depicted as a sport. But if you like your ultra-violence with a side of cheese, then you can stream Death Race 2000 for free on Tubi, Popcornflix, and Amazon Prime’s Freevee.