The Running Man is a 1987 science fiction action film. Its director is Paul Michael Glaser and Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the protagonist Ben Richards.
It is set in the year 2017. The economy of the world has collapsed due to of a lack of resources. A totalitarian regimen controls the United States people primarily through TV, which is broadcasted 24 hours a day. The Running Man is the most popular show, where so-called Stalkers, gladiators outfitted with flamboyant costumes and weaponry, hunt and kill prisoners of the state who participate in return for governmental pardon, should they survive it. However, not always does this system work to suppress the people, which forces the government to use violence to subdue them.
Ben Richards is a captain of the militarized police force who leads a squadron of armed helicopters to a riot at Bakersfield, California, where protesters are trying to acquire food. Richards' superiors want him to open fire on the protesters, despite the fact that they are unarmed. He refuses, and is violently removed from command. His successor, along with the others in the squadron, suppress the demonstration as ordered in an event later known as the Bakersfield Massacre, in which 60 people were murdered. They frame Ben Richards for it, he's dubbed the "Butcher of Bakersfield" and he spends 18 months in prison where he orchestrates a prison revolt, which succeeds and makes sure that he and the prisoners can escape. The prisoners are all outfitted with explosive collars on their necks that will kill them if they go beyond an electronic fence. One of Richards' friends, Harold Weiss , is able to gain control of a command terminal and deactivate the fence, allowing them to escape.
In Los Angeles, after getting rid of his collar with the help of a resistance group led by Mick (a cameo by Mick Fleetwood) he tries to contact his brother so he can get out of the country. His brother turns out to have disappeared, and a woman named Amber resides in the apartment. She tells Richards that the previous tenant of his brother's apartment was taken away for "re-education. When Richards uses her ID and credit card to book a flight out of the country, he is arrested at the airport when she identifies him.
Later she begins to doubt the charges against him because his arrest was broadcast and was portrayed as a violent one where Richards supposedly killed several people and police, despite of the fact that it was not so. In the meantime Ben is taken to Damon Killian, the responsible man of the show The Running Man. Impressed by his escape, his past, and his ability to fight and run, he wants him in his show. Ben only agrees when he realizes that his two best companions during the prison escape, Laughlin and Weiss, and other resistance members have been arrested too and will be sent to the show if he doesn't relent. Richards goes through the painful procedures to become a runner, but then discovers that Killian has lied and Laughlin and Weiss will be sent to the show's zone anyway.
In a flamboyant and flagrant production, Richards, Weiss and Laughlin are rocketed into the game's zone, a desolate and dangerous section of Los Angeles. They're set upon almost immediately by the show's first Stalker, the hulking Sub-Zero, who dress like a hockey goalie and carries a razor-sharp goalie's stick and explosive pucks. Richards and Laughlin battle Sub-Zero, narrowly avoiding death while trying to free Weiss, who's trapped in a large goal net. Eventually, Richards is able to strangle the Stalker with a length of razor wire, killing him. In the studio, the crowd and Killian are stunned that a Stalker has been defeated.
In the meantime Amber, driven by guilt and doubt and also an employee of the show, has launched a private investigation about Ben. She finds video proof that Ben is innocent of the Bakersfield massacre, but she is discovered immdiately after that, arrested immediately and forced into the show. To legitimize it, the Network makes it appear that she was Richard´s lover and an accessory to the Bakersfield massacre.
Richards and his companions make their way into a rubble-strewn area of the game grid. Weiss notices a satellite dish nearby and recognizes it as part of the Network's broadcasting system. They also find Amber and take her along. On the way Weiss discovers that the antenna that one of the Network's broadcast dishes is nearby. Knowing he can hack the control box and steal the broadcast code for the Resistance, he has Amber memorize it.
Richards and Laughlin are both attacked by Buzzsaw, a motorcycle-riding sadist who wields chainsaws. Laughlin is mortally wounded and Richards battles with the Stalker, eventually killing him with one of his own chainsaws.
Weiss and Amber are both attacked by another Stalker, Dynamo, who kills Weiss with a blast of electricity. Richards finds them and fights with Dynamo, rescuing Amber. When Dynamo's small vehicle overturns, he finds himself at Richard's mercy. Richards spares his life since Dynamo is helpless. Laughlin dies and Killian appears on a nearby monitor. He offers Richards a shot at being a Stalker. Richards, enraged, tells Killian off, threatening to kill him when he catches up with him.
The two steal into another area and are set upon by Fireball, who uses a large flamethrower and jetpack. Amber finds her way into a small locker room and sees three charred bodies; last year's "winners" of the contest. Fireball finds her and acknowledges their identities and prepares to burn her when Richards appears and damages the Stalker's fuel tanks. Richards throws a flare and Fireball explodes.
Seeing that the tide is turning in Richards' favor, Killian calls another Stalker, Captain Freedom, out of retirement. Refusing to dress up in an outrageous costume, Freedom is made to fight a stuntman in a staged battle that will fake Richards' and Amber's deaths. Meanwhile, in the game zone, Richards and Amber are found by the Resistance. Mick is there with his lieutenant Stevie (Dweezil Zappa) who is assembling an assault team. Amber gives them the uplink code and the unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre and they start a program to hack into the Network's signal.They get control of the antenna, disclose the truth about the Bakersfield massacre and the truth regarding the "winners" of the Running Man. The gigantic fraud is exposed in front of the entire nation and all attempts to stop it fail. In panic the military police even try to kill the spectators inside the building, speculating that it will not be public and that they are the only ones that know the truth. The entire nation is under shock and utter disbelief. Ben confronts Killian for his crimes, and he justifies them as a necessity of being the number 1 since it is not a matter of people, but of ratings. For his actions Ben forces him to play this game too, rightly speculating that everyone would agree with it. The vehicle, which brings him out to the field crashes into a wall, destroying itself and Killian. Ben is seen as a national hero, and realizing he has fallen in love with Amber, he kisses her in public and goes away with her. The TV show is then closed.
Original director Andrew Davis was fired one week into filming and replaced by Glaser. Schwarzenegger has stated this was a "terrible decision" as Glaser "shot the movie like it was a television show, losing all the deeper themes". Schwarzenegger believes this hurt the movie. Paula Abdul is credited with the choreography of the Running Man dance troupe.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards.
- María Conchita Alonso as Amber Mendez.
- Richard Dawson as Damon Killian.
- Yaphet Kotto as William Laughlin.
- Marvin J. McIntyre as Harold Weiss.
- Mick Fleetwood as Mic, the secret leader of the resistance.
- Professor Toru Tanaka as Professor Subzero, a stalker who uses a hockey-stick capable of cutting steel, exploding pucks, and a hockey rink zone specially fitted for him.
- Gus Rethwisch as Eddie "Buzzsaw" Vatowski, a stalker who uses a specially reinforced chainsaw and a motorcycle.
- Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom, a ten-time former Running Man stalker champion.
- Jim Brown as Fireball, a stalker who is armed with a flamethrower and jetpack.
- Erland Van Lidth De Jeude as Dynamo, an opera-singing stalker who drives a buggy and wears a suit that allows him to arc electricity.