4. The Running Man
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Written by Steven E. de Souza
Directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, this post-apocalyptic science fiction yarn starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the most mainstream film to appear on this list. Much like The Hunger Games, The Running Man satirizes American entertainment, deriding everything from professional wrestling to reality TV and game shows. The film, which is loosely based on a novel by Richard Bachman (a pen name for Stephen King), is set in the totalitarian America of 2019, wherein convicted criminals are forced to take part as bait in a hideous TV manhunt called, yes, The Running Man. Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a cop framed for massacring rioting civilians during a protest and later picked as a contestant for the show, where he must survive a gang of skillful assassins like Subzero (Prof. Toru Tanaka) and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), each armed with unique weapons. Think American Gladiators mixed with WWE, Let’s Make a Deal, Max Headroom, and The Most Dangerous Game.
Admittedly, the commentary on America’s preoccupation with violence as well as game shows is heavy-handed, but what is most obvious is a set of double standards present. On one hand, it has a plot that harshly criticizes a society that keeps the masses at peace with televised ultra-violence (like The Hunger Games); on the other, the filmmakers revel in the violence, showing little interest in exploring any intellectual commentary. Yes, The Running Man is brainless and somewhat dated, but it is still a must-see, if only for the onscreen combo of Jim Brown and Schwarzenegger kicking ass. Also on display is Paula Abdul’s dance choreography, long before her days on American Idol.
5. The Most Dangerous Game
Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by James Creelman
The Most Dangerous Game was made in 1932, in the era known as “Pre-Code Hollywood,” a time when filmmakers were able to get away with sexual innuendo, illegal drug use, adultery, abortion, intense violence, homosexuality, and much more. It was during this time that a film like The Most Dangerous Game was allowed to be made and shown to the general public without fear of censorship.
This was the first of many official and unofficial screen versions of Richard Connell’s short story of the same name. The film was put together by producer Willis O’Brien while in pre-production on King Kong and features several of the same cast and crew members, as well as props and sets from Kong. Despite these obvious cost-cutting measures, Dangerous Game never feels like a second-rate production and features impressive effects, moody cinematography, smart dialogue, and fine acting.
Running a lean 63 minutes, the film is constructed with hardly an ounce of fat, and the filmmakers waste no time, establishing the basic premise within the first 5 minutes. The plot concerns a big game hunter on an island who chooses to hunt humans for sport. The Most Dangerous Game might be a mindless action movie but remains a genuine classic. Many people have remade the story, some more successful than others, but none has matched the level of craft on display here.
6. Series 7: The Contenders
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan
This film is imperfect, bu it deserves some mention simply because its timing was impeccable. The movie was filmed before the first airing of a Survivor episode and seemed more radical when first released. The film centers around The Contenders, a Survivor-style show depicted within the film, in which six contestants are set loose in the same Connecticut community, with orders to kill each other. Series 7 marked the directorial debut for Daniel Minahan, who previously tackled pop culture and America’s obsession with violence in his script for I Shot Andy Warhol and later would go on to direct episodes for hit TV shows such as Game Of Thrones and True Blood.