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Richards: Killian! I'll be back!
Killian: Only in a rerun.
The Running Man is a sci-fi action film from the year 1987, which is set in a dystopian future.
When the cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to fire at innocent civilians, he is captured and sent to prison. He escapes, but is captured again, and ends up as a contestant in the nation's number one television show: The Running Man. In the show, Ben and his fellow "contestants" must fight their way through the Stalkers, killers set to stop their advance, to win their freedom.
The film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Ben Richards in the book is "scrawny" and "pre-tubercular". Schwarzenegger... isn't.
- Actor Allusion: Just before he's launched into the Zone, Richards promises that "I'll be back." To say nothing of Richard Dawson's role as a game show host.
- Sub Zero is inexplicably introduced as a professor, just like his actor.
- All or Nothing
- Altum Videtur: The gratuitous use of Latin in Richards' contract. All of it is real legal Latin, but wildly out of place.
- Ass Shove: Amber Mendez and the tape of the Bakersfield Massacre. Or possibly another nearby location.
- Attempted Rape: Dynamo attepts to force himself on Amber when he runs into her in the studio.
- Bad Boss: Killian isn't a particularly nice man to his employees, his bodyguard Sven in particular. This comes back to bite him.
- Big Bad: Killian.
- Blood Knight: Captain Freedom.
- Blood Sport
- Bond One-Liner: Some of the best in film history.
- (cuts a man in half) "He had to split."
- (strangles a man with barbed wire) "He was a pain in the neck."
- (hurls road-flare at a flamethrower-armed Hunter with a loose gas-line) "What a hothead."
- (before throwing a flare) "How 'bout a light?"
- Brick Joke: Killian's bodyguard Sven and steroids.
- The Butcher: Ben Richards, "The Butcher of Bakersfield". Played with, in that Richards himself is innocent of the crime, framed by his corrupt superiors when he objected to massacring hordes of innocent people.
- Carnival of Killers
- The Cast Showoff: When Dynamo (Erland van Lidth) sings the aria from Act III of The Marriage of Figaro, he's actually singing in that scene. Presumably after he got cast, someone found out he could sing opera and decided they had to throw that in somewhere.
- Chainsaw Good: Buzzsaw.
- Condemned Contestant
- Deadly Game
- Defictionalization: The technology used to frame Richards by digitally swapping his face with that of the real killer is now completely real.
- Digital Head Swap: In-universe.
- Do Not Adjust Your Set
- Explosive Leash: Richards and his fellow prisoners wear them in the military prison.
- Fashion Dissonance: The Running Man's "It's Showtime!" dancers, who are a riot of spandex and big hair, firmly placing them in the 80's fashion era.
- Future Imperfect: A TV equivalent; it's implied that a lot of TV shows have been forgotten thanks to the totalitarian government's control of the entertainment networks, and on two occasions an older character makes a reference to an old TV show (Gilligan's Island and Star Trek) that falls flat.
- Gaia's Lament: Earth's resources are severely drained.
- Game Show Host: Killian. Lampshaded to a certain degree by being played by Richard Dawson, who has been characterized at times as a bit of an egotist behind the scenes.
- Groin Attack: Multiple examples.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Laughlin shoves Richards out of the way and is mortally wounded by Buzzsaw's attack.
- Also, Richards agrees to be a contestant because they threaten to use his friends as contestants instead... which of course they do anyways.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Each Stalker is killed with his own weapon. Killian himself is doomed by being launched into the Zone, as he had done to so many before.
- Home Game: Given to members of the Running Man studio audience. How it's supposed to work is anybody's guess.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game
- Idiot Ball: Even though Richards was already throughly discredited as "The Butcher of Bakersfield," the Government still insists on making up murders at the airport in order to blame them on him. This is what convinces Amber that he was framed and ultimately causes her to discover the truth. Keeping the unedited footage around was pretty dumb too.
- I Know Madden Kombat: The hockey-themed hunter "Sub-Zero".
- In Name Only: All that's left is the name of the hero, the last name of the main villain, the name of the show involved and a couple of plot elements - the totalitarian dystopic society and Richards kidnapping a woman and taking her to an airport.
- Ironic Echo: Multiple examples involving Killian.
Hello, cutie pie. One of us is in big trouble.
- Jet Pack: Used by the stalker Fireball.
- Karmic Death: All the Stalkers except Sub-Zero and Captain Freedom.
- Large Ham: Dynamo, a fat man with blinking lights all over him driving after you in a go-kart while singing opera.
- Lightning Gun: Dynamo's "Electrical Launcher".
- Manipulative Editing
- Meaningful Name / Names to Run Away From Really Fast: No one -- no one -- with a name like 'Damon Killian' is ever going to grow up to be anything but a villain.
- Not Worth Killing: "No, I won't kill a helpless human being...not even sadistic scum...like you."
- Oppressive States of America
- Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: Apparently, wireframe computer graphics are state-of-the-art in 2019.
- The Pen Is Mightier
- Public Execution: Criminals are executed by being hunted to their deaths on TV, with a promise of freedom if they survive.
- Red Baron: See The Butcher above.
- Red Shirt
- Released to Elsewhere: Whitman, Price, and Haddad. Last season's winners. "No, last season's losers."
- Could be an inversion of Fridge Horror, as it's unlikely that those three were innocent like Richards, who was an exception to the show's "no political prisoners" arrangement with the justice system. At least if they're Released to Elsewhere, they've not been set loose to resume whatever crimes got them the death penalty in the first place.
- Ridiculous Future Inflation: A can of pop costs $6, and the vending machines don't accept bills.
- Run for the Border: Played with when Richards tries to flee to Hawaii, instead of trying to escape the country entirely.
- Hawaii may be a different country in this setting. It may be a Shout-Out to Heinlein's If This Goes On... where someone PRETENDS to by trying to escape to Hawaii (which is a separate country) as part of a plan to make his pursuers think he's dead.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Richards, when he refuses to fire on the unarmed crowd.
- Show Within a Show: The TV show.
- The Scapegoat: Richards is blamed for the government-ordered massacre he tried to prevent.
- Smarmy Host: Damon Killian
- The Stinger: The show's announcer does a voice over at the end of the credits.
- Sven, Killian's bodyguard, exemplifies the following tropes:
- Throw a Barrel At It: Ben Richards does it to Fireball.
- Ben ignites it but Fireball just strolls through the flame.
- Trashcan Bonfire: The outdoor scenes with crowds betting on the game.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Another possible hiding place for that footage. (See Ass Shove.) In Amber's words, when asked about it:
Amber [Smirks]: "That's none of your business."
- We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: The government uses edited footage to frame Richards. Later, the producers edit footage of Richards being killed in an attempt to salvage his victory over the Stalkers.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Dynamo
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Captain Freedom.
- Who's Laughing Now?: Awesomely thrown back in Dynamo's face by Amber, of all people.
Dynamo:Thought it was pretty funny out in the zone, didn't you? What's the matter, bitch? Why aren't you laughing?
Amber: Because there's nothing funny about a dickless moron with a battery up his ass.
- Win Your Freedom
- Your Head Asplode: If Chico had just waited 20 more seconds at the beginning of the movie...