The Running Man (1987)

Film and Plot Synopsis

In the distant dystopian future of 2017, the United States has become a totalitarian police state after a worldwide economic collapse. The government uses violence to put down peaceful protests and pacifies the general populace with violent television programs, the most popular of which is The Running Man. Ben Richards is a former police helicopter pilot who is framed for a crime he did not commit. Richards is forced to participate in The Running Man, but the reluctant hero soon becomes a symbol of resistance against the oppressive government regime. However, will Richards live long enough for him to complete his run?

‘The Running Man’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Running Man (1987)In the distant future of 2017, the United States has become a totalitarian police state following a worldwide economic collapse. The government uses violence to put down peaceful protests and pacifies the general populace with violent television programs. The most of popular of these shows is The Running Man, a live broadcast game show where criminals fight for their lives as runners against the pursuing armed mercenary corps known as stalkers. If the criminal can successfully run the course, they earn a pardon for their crimes.

Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a former police helicopter pilot who refused to fire on an unarmed food riot in Bakersfield, California. Due to his insubordination, Richards is framed for the massacre of the civilians that occurred after he was relieved of his command and sentenced to hard time in a labor camp. After serving eighteen months in prison, Richards escapes with two other prisoners who manage to circumvent the explosive collars that each prisoner wear around their necks. The two men, Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto), are two resistance fighters who are eager to rejoin their fight to expose the government’s lies. They ask Richards to join them, but he refuses.

After the escape, the host of The Running Man, Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), sees footage of Richards’ escape from the labor camp. Killian is impressed with Richards and states that he wants him for show upon his recapture. Killian begins making calls to the government to ensure that he can have Richards for a ratings bonanza.

Richards heads to his brother’s apartment in Los Angeles. However, he finds that his brother no longer lives there, and the apartment is now occupied by composer Amber Mendez (María Conchita Alonso). Richards ties up Amber and threatens her into helping him get out of the country. The pair head to the airport and pretend to be a couple on their way to Hawaii. However, Amber alerts security and Richards is recaptured on the tarmac of the airport. A short time later, Amber sees a news report about Richards’ capture which states that he killed several people while trying to escape authorities at the airport, something she knows did not happen.

Richards is taken to The Running Man studios. Once there, he meets Killian who politely asks him to agree to appear on the show. Richards refuses, but when Killian informs him that Weiss and Laughlin have been recaptured and will go on in Richards’ place, the former pilot reluctantly agrees to save his friends’ lives. However, once the show begins, Killian goes back on his word and sends all three men into the game zone in an abandoned part of Los Angeles. The audience chooses Professor Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka) as their first stalker. Richards gets the better of Subzero, garroting him. The audience is stunned as this is the first time a stalker has died on the show.

Meanwhile, Amber becomes suspicious of Richards’ past and goes looking for the video footage of the Bakersfield Massacre. She finds edited and unedited discs, but she is captured by network security. As punishment, she is sent into the game zone under the pretense that she is Richards’ lover. At the same time, Weiss, Laughlin, and Richards discover that there are ICS broadcast towers in the game zone. Weiss theorizes that the resistance maybe able to hijack the ICS broadcast network signal if they can find the uplink station and figure out the access information.

Amber joins the three men just as they are attacked by two stalkers, Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch) and Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude). Weiss and Amber are split off from the group and chased by Dynamo. Laughlin and Richards take on the lethal Buzzsaw. Buzzsaw mortally wounds Laughlin before Richards splits Buzzsaw in half with his own weapon. Before he dies, Laughlin tells Richards that the resistance has a hidden base within the game zone. Weiss and Amber find the uplink station, and Weiss tells Amber the access information. However, Dynamo finds them and kills Weiss. Amber runs from the stalker and Richards comes to her aid. Dynamo drives his vehicle off the road and overturns. He becomes pinned in his own car, but Richards does not kill him, stating to the camera that he would not kill a helpless person.

The Running Man audience begins to cheer for Richards. Killian senses an opportunity and talks to Richards off the air using the camera equipment in the game zone. Killian offers Richards a position as a stalker. Richards refuses the offer and vows that he will kill Killian. In an abandoned factory, Amber finds the charred corpses of the show’s past winners and realizes that no one ever wins The Running Man. The latest stalker, Fireball (Jim Brown), tells Amber that he killed them just before he prepares to incinerate Amber. However, Richards arrives and kills Fireball, saving Amber.

With the viewership cheering for Richards, Killian turns to a retired stalker, Captain Freedom (Jesse “The Body” Ventura) to come out of retirement to fight a fake Richards in an altered video. Freedom refuses, and the network creates a staged battle with two digitized stand-ins. The video shows Richards and Amber’s death. Meanwhile, Richards and Amber are rescued by the resistance and taken to their leader Mic (Mick Fleetwood). Mic reveals Killian’s faked deaths of Richards and Amber, and Richards correctly concludes that they will scour the game zone for them because they cannot afford to let the world know that they are still alive. The resistance plans to take control of broadcast signal, and Amber gives them the disc with the original footage of the Bakersfield Massacre which proves Richards’ innocence to broadcast to the country. Richards leads an assault team on network headquarters so they cannot stop the signal.

At the building, Amber is confronted by a recovering Dynamo who threatens to rape her. Amber kills Dynamo before he can proceed with his plan. Richards confronts Killian, who is without any kind of protection. Killian attempts to justify his actions by stating that he is only trying to appease the television audience’s love for violence. Richards forces Killian into a rocket-powered sled before sending him flying into the game zone. The sled explodes when it crashes into a billboard, killing Killian. The television audience celebrates Richards’ victory as he shares a kiss with Amber before the network signal goes down.

Additional Film Information

Rate the Film!

Our Rating

Our Rating

TriStar Pictures released The Running Man on November 13, 1987. Paul Michael Glaser directed the film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Yaphet Kotto.

User Rating: Be the first one !
Show More
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x