The first cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's dystopic novel, The Running Man, might boast cheesy production design and over-the-top performances, but it's also ominously on-point, the tale of a lower-class family being forced to duke it out for everyone else's televised entertainment. Just recently, several South Dakota teachers were forced to fight each other for cash to finance their classrooms during a break in a hockey game, broadcast far and wide. It's just a matter of time until we go full Running Man out there, folks.
In 2017 (30 years into the future of the movie's release), the US has devolved into a police state after an economic collapse. That, too, was not far off the reality of 2017. After police chopper pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets framed for killing folks in a food riot, he ultimately escapes his labor camp sentence and takes composer Amber Méndez (María Conchita Alonso) hostage while trying to flee California. When he is recaptured, he is placed in the US's top survivalist reality/game show, The Running Man, where convicts try to escape captors for the prize of an expunged record.
In Schwarzenegger's memoir, Total Recall, he reveals that director Andrew Davis was originally hired to direct this project, from a script by Steven de Souza (writer of Commando and Die Hard). Davis was fired after two weeks, a decision Schwarzenegger bemoaned in retrospect. He was replaced by Paul Michael Glaser, a working TV director at the time.
The eerily prescient Running Man gets a lot of stuff right about its eventual future (right down to Mick Fleetwood's exact look in 2017), despite a host of necessary '80s-futurist aesthetic trappings. Once again, Arnold helped cement his status as a superstar by choosing an interesting movie project in the world of the fantastic.