Memories of The Running Man (1987)

by Team Banzai team member Scott

Warning: Spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the book, read it then watch the movie or watch the movie first then read it. It’s very important that you read the original story NOT THE MOVIE VERSION if you read it at all. 

Huntington Beach High School in the mid 80s. I was reading more and more of the great and creative Stephen King. In 1985 I heard about a book called “The Bachman Books”. Richard Bachman was Stephen King and I bought it right away. It contained 4 novellas. One title was “The Running Man”. Of the 4 stories this one stood out to me. It was very creative and futuristic and very dark. Not a stretch for King as some of you know.  

I’m going to quote Wikipedia for the initial description of this story when the book was published. 

“In 2025, the world's economy is in shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Ben Richards, an impoverished resident of the fictional Co-Op City, is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade. His gravely ill daughter Cathy needs medicine, and his wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the Games Network, a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on The Running Man, the Games Network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program. He meets with Dan Killian, the executive producer of the program, who describes the challenges he will face once the game begins.” This is just a snapshot but I want to express the first 3 sentences. This is key to the set up of this story.  

I actually read this story twice. I don’t read many books twice but this was an exciting and riveting story and concept of the not so distant future. Although 2025 is 40 years from when the story collection was published. Anyway, you can probably tell that I loved this book!! Fast forward 2 years to 1987..... I found out that “The Running Man” would be released as a movie! I was so excited!! However, I saw the preview and was confused. It said it was Stephen Kings story but it didn’t look right in the 2 min preview I saw.....I was still excited and anticipated it to be a great movie.  

Well, I went and I saw and......I couldn’t believe the butcher job that was allowed to happen to such a great story. I was furious and crushed at the same time. Let’s take a look at the movie description from IMDB, “A wrongly convicted man must try to survive a public execution gauntlet staged as a game show." Pretty short description, isn’t it? They left out the part that it was a police officer helicopter pilot that is framed for gunning down a group of protesters in his helicopter. In the book Ben Richards is a common man who has been put in a desperate position and does not in any way resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger. Don’t get me wrong, we all love a good Arnold movie but this was not supposed to be Arnold unless he was this down trodden, out of work father of a dying child and a wife who’s a prostitute. I can’t see him as that considering his physique and stature. Maybe I’m short sighted that way but I’m sure someone agrees with me on that point.
So, I’m there, in the theater and I’m completely confused and it’s only 5 minutes in. I’ve told this story before and people ask if I wanted to leave during the movie. I did want to and I didn’t want to. I stayed and I watched and I walked out completely upset that such a great story was totally ruined.  
I haven’t mentioned the end of the book and the end of the movie. Maybe I’m intrigued by dark endings but realistically, bad things happen and it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. In the book Ben Richards hijacks a plane and flies it into “The Games Network Tower”. Everybody
dies. The bad guys die and yes even the good guy Ben.  
Now, back to this I sit and try to enjoy my popcorn and peanut M&Ms while watching this thing called “The Running Man” but in no way resembles the book.....Arnold(Ben Richards suppodely) in the movie.....wins. Not only does he beat the bad guys lead by Richard
Dawson but he also gets the girl, played by the beautiful Maria Conchita Alonzo. He is found out to be innocent and that he was set up by The Games Network. Everything is beautiful and the world is at peace, cats and dogs living together, yadda yadda yadda.....bleccchh, puke, vomit. 

So, there you have it. This one time I went to the movies and saw “The Running Man” and it stunk....... 

Yes, I said it. It stunk. Bad. Like really bad.  But anyone reading this, should totally read the book. You won’t by disappointed, of course I’ve already given the spoilers. 

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What movie have you read the book and got very excited about a movie being made about it, just to be horribly disappointed when you finally got to see the movie?