Remember That Time Arnold Schwarzenegger Did a Stephen King Movie?
Get to the choppa, and straight to the bookstore.
Stephen King is the unbeatable master of horror, having published hundreds of creepy stories, many of which were already turned into successful movies and TV shows. King forces us to journey through the darkest corners of the human mind, where unspeakable things lurk, waiting to devour the innocent. On the other hand, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the ultimate action hero, always ready to mow down a battalion of enemies with his intimidating muscles. We can’t imagine a single thing capable of scaring Schwarzenegger, and his presence in any movie usually means some bad guys are about to take a beatdown. King and Schwarzenegger are seemingly at opposite extremes of the entertainment industry, and it’s hard to imagine the two ever crossing paths. Still, that’s exactly what happened with 1987’s The Running Man, a sci-fi action movie loosely based on King’s novel of the same name.
What Is Stephen King’s ‘The Running Man’?
Written by King under the Richard Bachman pseudonym, The Running Man novel was first released in 1982. The book imagines what life would look like in 2025, and King was not kind to American society. That’s because in The Running Man, democracy was replaced with an authoritarian system designed to keep people in line, as social inequality creates an unbridgeable gap between the wealthy minority and the poor masses. In this system, violence and entertainment are tools used by the elites to foment dissent among the oppressed, so that they never even think about the possibility of rebelling. While we are not quite there yet, we can’t say King completely misses the mark with his dystopia, as many of the issues he explores are indeed part of today’s world.
In The Running Man, people are invited to become part of brutal reality shows where they can bet their lives in exchange for huge money prizes. The biggest of these shows is the titular Running Man, in which an average citizen is given a small amount of cash, a passport, and a 12 hour headstart before a group of professional assassins starts to hunt them. The participants must survive one full month if they hope to cash a one billion dollar prize. Unfortunately, odds are not on their side, since the audience can also make small cash prizes by tipping the network about the whereabouts of the participant. It’s a cruel machine that leads desperate people, such as blue-collar protagonist Ben Richards, to sacrifice everything for the opportunity to provide for their family. Meanwhile, the Running Man pushes average people to put greed in front of solidarity, which only helps the people in power to keep crushing citizens under their boots.
With such an intriguing concept, it was only a matter of time until The Running Man got a Hollywood adaption. That happened in 1987, in a movie starring Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘The Running Man’ Is a Whole Different Beast
While 1987 The Running Man keeps some of the book’s main concepts, the film version is a whole different beast. For starters, the brutal reality show is not a twisted version of the lottery, but a program aimed to offer convicts the chance to clean their records and get some paid vacations on a tropical beach. And since it would be a waste not to use all of Schwarzenegger’s muscles, the movie version of Ben Richards is a former police captain who gets sent to a labor camp after refusing to shoot down hungry rioters desperately fighting for some food. So, while King’s original novel is a gripping thriller that shows the perversions of social inequality, the movie adaptation is a full-blown action flick starring Schwarzenegger as a mean and lean fistfighting machine.
The movie version of the Running Man show is also wildly different from the book. In the film adaptation, Ben is released in a city-wide arena filled with cameras, and forced to flee and fight killers with a unique theatrical flair. All of Ben’s enemies are former champions of the reality show, given high-tech weapons to hunt down other participants. So, in many aspects, the film version of the reality show works like a futuristic version of a gladiatorial arena.
1987’s ‘The Running Man’ Is Still Worth Your Time
While the 1987 movie is an awful book adaption, drastically changing the original story, Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man is still worth your time. For starters, the movie is fun, and the costume design for each gladiator hunting down Schwarzenegger’s Ben reaches Mad Max levels of brilliance. The Running Man is also a curious product of its time, drenched in similar macho energy to Predator and Commando. And while we can be happy about Hollywood growing beyond this kind of action movie, there’s a sort of guilty pleasure watching Schwarzenegger mow down bad guys with his biceps and wits alone. There’s a reason why Schwarzenegger is such a beloved action hero, and The Running Man gives the star some of the most memorable set pieces in his prolific career.
If simple fun is not what you’re looking for, The Running Man still offers an interesting reflection about how television, and media in general, helps shape reality. While people are not brainwashed by television as some people wrongly believe, mass media does direct our gaze to specific subjects, which can help people in power to hide from scrutiny. In addition, even if The Running Man media critique is somewhat shallow, this 1987 movie already anticipates the danger of deep fakes, as advances in technology can allow people to create people and events with computers. The movie takes place between 2017 and 2019, so it was a little too pessimistic. However, we already got to a point where big studios can bring actors back from the dead to use their image. And as soon as this technology becomes part of the political game, what’s bad will only worsen.
King’s The Running Man is about to get a new movie adaption, with Edgar Wright directing and Michael Bacall writing the script. But before we get what will probably be a more faithful adaptation of the novel, people should give a chance to the unexpected result of a Stephen King movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
1987’s The Running Man is currently available on FuboTV and Showtime.