6- The 10th Victim (La Decima vittima) (The Tenth Victim)
Directed by Elio Petri
Written by Tonino Guerra, Giorgio Salvioni, Ennio Flaiano and Elio Petri
The 10th Victim was the first film to offer up the concept of a TV show wherein people hunt and kill one another for sport and to expand the idea into a satire on gameshows. Set in the 21st Century, the government and the private sector have joined forces to create a solution to crime by giving it a profitable outlet titled “The Big Hunt,” a popular worldwide game show in which contestants are chosen at random to chase one another around the world in a kill or be killed scenario. The winner of the first round moves on to the next. After ten wins, a player is retired from the game and gets a cash prize of one million dollars, but very few make it that far. As in The Hunger Games, there are sponsors who give contestants bonuses for quoting their slogans on camera. Product placement is the ultimate form of media violence here.
Directed by Elio Petri, this campy futuristic satire of commercialism, violence, and dehumanization has earned a cult following among film buffs and with good reason. It stars Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress at the height of their stardom, and they share remarkable onscreen chemistry, running about in one of the most bizarre curiosity pieces of ’60s Italian cinema. Groovy and ridiculously satirical, the film clearly lent much inspiration to many films to follow, especially the Austin Powers franchise. From the Italian pop and jazz score to the outrageous sixties chic fashions, the ultra-modern sets that recall films like Danger: Diabolik, to the less than subtle anti-media agenda, this revamped version of The Most Dangerous Game is truly a one of a kind. Petri directs with tongue firmly in cheek, and although it doesn’t quite hold together in the final reels, it is something you will never forget. This interesting pop artefact features a number of memorable scenes, none of which I want to spoil here. Trust me, you want to seek this one out.
Note: The film was based on The Seventh Victim, a 1953 short story first published in Galaxy magazine by prolific sci-fi writer Robert Shakley.
7- Le Prix du danger (The Prize of Peril)
Directed by Yves Boisset
Written by Yves Boisset
In a futuristic society, contestants pit their survival skills against each other in a fight to the death for cash prizes on a popular TV program. Sound familiar? Based on a novel by Robert Sheckley, who also wrote the original source material for the 10th Victim, the short story is noted for its plot, which predates reality television by several decades. Much like The Running Man (which it clearly inspired), there is a charismatic gameshow host and an unarmed contestant who slowly wins over the approval of the audience. Unlike Running Man, the film does a better job at exploring the sociological repercussions of gladiatorial combat for the televised masses and is far more interested in debating the ethics of the sport. Not a huge hit on its release, Le Prix Du Danger boasts a refreshingly downbeat ending in contrast to many other films of its kind in which the hero rises above the odds and triumphs. Also worth noting are the satirical commercials aired during the show – an idea that was borrowed by Paul Verhoeven later on. The film stars famous French actors Gérard Lanvin and Michel Piccoli.
8 -The Truman Show
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Andrew Niccol
Apart from the obvious death-match featured in The Hunger Games, the film’s text is thematically provocative, its allegorical elements highlighting the way the “Games” amplify today’s obsession with reality television. Perhaps one of the greatest cinematic commentaries on all-pervasive media manipulation is found in Peter Weir’s Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. For Carrey detractors, The Truman Show proves his talent reaches far beyond physical humour. Carrey remains in complete control throughout, commanding and exhibiting the charm and charisma needed for a role which calls for much sympathy and likeability.
Truman Burbank lives a happy life, but what he doesn’t know is that the life in question is completely manufactured within a giant domed television studio. He’s been the focus of a reality TV show ever since his birth; filmed, observed, scrutinized every second of his life. He’s the star, his hometown is a giant set piece, and even his family and friends are actors. Only he doesn’t know it. Not yet.
The paranoid ingeniousness of The Truman Show brings to mind 1984, while Carrey turns Truman into a postmodern Capra hero. This funny, sweet, and thought-provoking parable about privacy and voyeurism is a must-see. While the film features no fight-to-the-death tournaments, in a way it is the most twisted film featured on this list. I don’t think I’ve ever rooted for a character in a film as much as I did here, desperate for Truman to break through Seahaven’s fourth wall and for the first time in his life actually come alive and become a true man.
9- Louis 19, le roi des ondes (Louis the 19th, King of the Airwaves)
Directed by Michel Poulette
Written by Sylvie Bouchard and Émile Gaudreault
Louis always dreamed of being a TV star, so he enters and wins a contest in which a documentary film crew follow his daily life for three months. The only problem is that Louis lives a rather dull life, and so the TV execs decide to inject some much needed excitement to boost their ratings. If the plot sounds all too familiar, it is because the film was later remade in America as EdTV.
The film isn’t anywhere near as brilliant as The Truman Show, but nowhere near as generic as EdTV either. Being a native of Montreal, though, I couldn’t go without mentioning it. Quebecers may take pleasure in the various cultural references and countless cameos, but the rest of the world may find themselves lost or even somewhat bored. The film won the Claude Jutra Award for the best feature film by a first-time Canadian film director, and the Golden Reel Award for the year’s top-grossing film. It was also a nominee for Best Motion Picture, ultimately losing to Exotica.
10 – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a wildly acclaimed 1969 American drama directed by Sydney Pollack that went on to receive a total of nine Academy Award nominations. Like most of the films to appear on this list, it is based on a novel, in this case the 1935 tome by Horace McCoy. Penned by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson, the film is an allegorical drama set amongst the contestants in a marathon dance contest during the Great Depression.
So how does a movie revolving around a dance competition relate to The Hunger Games? Much like The Hunger Games, the participants (all teens) are broken down into couples in hopes of winning and taking home the prize money, a cash flow much needed during such hard economic times. There is even a sleazy opportunistic MC who urges them on to victory and corporations who will sponsor participants who catch their attention. They Shoot Horses does an excellent job exploring a wretched event that caters to the wealthy and uses the underprivileged to provide entertainment. “People are the ultimate spectacle,” as the tagline reads.
As the marathon winds into a staggering second month, suspicion, doubt and insecurity rages among the competitors, bringing out the worst in everyone. The tension builds as the dancers self-destruct and begin to fight among themselves, eventually leading to a shocking crime.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a tour de force of acting. Jane Fonda offers the first sign that she inherited her dad’s talent, proving herself as a serious dramatic actress. She went on to receive universal praise, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and Gig Young won his Oscar for his superb performance as the slimy promoter. Syndey Pollack does some of his best work directing this fascinating film. From the start, the movie’s story arc heads only downwards to an appropriately bleak ending. Take this as a warning – this movie goes out of its way to deny the audience any moments of pleasure.
11- Turkey Shoot (Escape 2000)
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Written by Jon George and Neill D. Hicks
Saving the craziest for last; here is Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot, aka Blood Camp Thatcher, aka Escape 2000. Turkey Shoot is so cynical, cheap, tasteless, violent, exploitive and ludicrously over-the-top, that none of the original cast or crew members were willing to defend the pic for Mark Hartley’s documentary on Australian genre film, Not Quite Hollywood.
Once again inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot is set in an Orwellian future – a futuristic, fascistic Australia to be exact, in where a group of criminals and rebels are sent to the draconian Camp 47, and reprogrammed through a strict regimen of abuse, torture and rape as a means of social rehabilitation. It may sound like a brutal, darkly nihilistic film, but it also helps that the movie never treats itself too seriously. The prison film/totalitarian future background is only an excuse for vast amounts of blood and gore. In lieu of the reputation that precedes it, it’s impossible for any exploitation/horror aficionado to pass it up. The sum total of political commentary runs to naming the camp’s totalitarian commandant Thatcher – and that’s about it. This is purely a sadistic mélange of over-the-top action set-pieces and ultra-violent sensationalism. In other words, the perfect guilty pleasure for the midnight slot.
Note: Trenchard-Smith went on to direct low-brow classics BMX Bandits, The Man From Hong Kong and Dead-End Drive In.