Prior to Paul Michael Glaser being hired as director, executive producer Rob Cohen had hired four other directors in his attempts to make the movie. The first was George P. Cosmatos, who had impressed Cohen with his work on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). However, when Cosmatos announced that he wanted to relocate the entire film to a shopping mall, Cohen let him go, feeling that Cosmatos was taking the script in an unacceptable direction. Cohen next offered the project to German director Carl Schenkel, having been impressed with Abwärts (1984), but Schenkel turned him down as he didn't feel comfortable taking on such a large project. Next, Cohen hired Ferdinand Fairfax, based upon his work on Savage Islands (1983). Like Cosmatos however, Fairfax began to take the screenplay in a direction which Cohen disliked, so once again, he let him go. Cohen then turned to Andrew Davis, having enjoyed Davis' movie Code of Silence (1985). Davis actually got the project off the ground and into production, but only eight days into the shoot, he was already $8 million over budget and four days behind schedule. As such Cohen let Davis go, and ultimately hired Glaser, whom he had worked with on the first season of Miami Vice (1984).
Arnold Schwarzenegger thought Paul Michael Glaser was a terrible choice to direct, what with Glaser coming from a TV background, and having no film experience as a director whatsoever. He thought Glaser shot The Running Man (1987) like a TV show, losing all of the script's deeper themes; Schwarzenegger suspected because Glaser was a last minute replacement, he didn't have time to research this future he was depicting, unlike James Cameron had with The Terminator (1984); also in television, they hire you and the very next week you shoot, so he didn't place all of the blame at Glaser's feet.
The character "Mick," the leader of the underground, is played by drummer Mick Fleetwood of the super group Fleetwood Mac. His compatriot in the movie, a character named "Stevie" and played by Dweezil Zappa, is an obvious homage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
Dweezil Zappa, son of legendary American composer Frank Zappa, has only two lines in the movie: "Don't touch that dial!", that being one of his father's most famous lyrics from the song "I am the Slime" (from the album "Over-nite Sensation", 1973), and "Psst... you guys wanna buy a hot stereo?... Laughlin!, glad you guys made it." during the beginning of the film
1hr 23 minutes into the film: As Killian is congratulating his production team he is standing next to a TV that is rolling credits for the show. The credits are quite easy to read on a large screen and are: THANK YOU: TIM GEORGE GARY PAUL ROB KEITH YOU ME US THEM ~ WHAT NEXT: I DON'T KNOW ~ TITLES: TYPE M WRONG ~ MAKE UP: PAINT YOUR FACE ~ PROPS: PROPERTY ~ LOCATIONS: BY TO LONG HERE ~ ART DIRECTOR: RED G. BLEU AND PRIMARY COLOURS ~ MUSIC: DO RAY ME ~ CATERING: [scene ends]
Director George P. Cosmatos wanted to relocate the entire film to a shopping mall. This may be the influence for a level in the game Manhunt (2003), a game based on a similar premise in which a former death row inmate must fight for his life against several different street gangs in a complex snuff film he's been forcibly enlisted in. One of these levels, called "View of Innocence," takes place in an abandoned shopping mall.
'The Running Man' gameshow seen in the film was based upon an early 1980's Japanese gameshow called 'Trans American Ultra Quiz', in which contestants were tortured in various ways. The prize went to whichever contestant could stand the pain/humiliation the longest.
The incidental background dialogue and visuals are often nonsensical. Two examples of this are the non sequitur Latin and French phrases used by the lawyer reading Ben Richards' contract, and also the end credits for the Running Man game show that play on the monitor behind Killian, which say things like "Art Direction by Red G. Bleu and Primary Colors" and "What Next: I Don't Know".
The ICS television network headquarters' lower eight floors, seen at 13:40, is the pyramid-like Filmland Corporate Center in Los Angeles, the home of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1987. A matte painting added an imposing 21 story tower above the real structure. In 1992 Sony purchased MGM's old studio lot and moved into the Filmland Building. The building was renamed Sony Pictures Plaza. In 1987, Sony also purchased Tri-Star Pictures, the distributor of The Running Man (1987).
Mick Fleetwood plays himself. In the backstory, Mick became the leader of the underground resistance, when he became disillusioned with the society America had become and especially when the totalitarian regime took all the Fleetwood Mac music records and burnt them and decided to organize the underground resistance to bring down the totalitarian regime and expose to the people the truth behind the totalitarian regime and that the totalitarian regime is lying and manipulating them with television broadcasts.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
This film is based VERY loosely on the novel of the same name. Specific differences include: The novel takes place in the year 2025. This film takes place in 2019, according to the DVD cover, two years after the collapse of world economy in 2017 advertised following the film title sequence. While this film takes place in California, the novel takes place on the Northeastern Coast of the United States, tracing Richards from Co-Op City, New York to Boston, Massachusetts; from Boston to Manchester, New Hampshire; and from Manchester to Portland and Derry, Maine (the former being Stephen King's hometown, the latter being the fictional primary setting for King's novels It (1990), Dreamcatcher (2003), "Insomnia," and "Bag of Bones"); then from Derry back to New York. Richards enters the game willingly as opposed to being forced to, in order to acquire money for his ailing infant daughter. He is deemed an enemy of the state and receives a hundred dollars for every hour he stays alive over a period of thirty days, an additional hundred for every law enforcement officer or "Hunter" (not "Stalker") he kills, and one billion in "New Dollars" (worth far more than original American dollars). As opposed to being confined to the site of an earthquake in California in the film, Richards can travel anywhere in the world to evade the Hunters, but must videotape two messages per day and courier them to the Games Network or forfeit his money. Richards, a Caucasian male, shows signs of racism early on in the novel, but is taken in by the Throckmortons, an African American family in Boston, and after he is told of the situations the government forces them to live in, decides to help them. Laughlin is a Caucasian, and enters the tournament willingly as does Richards. Laughlin eventually meets his end in Topeka, Kansas, where police burn the shed he hides in. Dan Killian (called Damon Killian in the film) is an African American. Killian is also the producer of "The Running Man," not the host. Unlike in the film, the only Hunter mentioned by name in the novel is Evan McCone, the chief Hunter, who is eventually shot dead by Richards. While in Boston, Richards escapes his pursuers by setting fire to a YMCA he is hiding in and narrowly escapes through a sewer pipe. The resulting fire kills five police officers. The ending is far more dire in the novel than in the film. In Derry, Maine, Richards carjacks a woman named Amelia Williams and makes his way to Derry's airport, hijacking a plane, where he also takes McCone hostage. As with in the film, Richards is given the chance to become leader Hunter (much to McCone's chagrin) by Killian, though unlike in the film, he accepts. He is later given the terrible news that both his wife and daughter had been killed even before he had even first appeared on "The Running Man," giving him time to ponder the offer more. Feeling he has nothing left to lose, Richards overpowers the flight crew and kills McCone, but is mortally wounded in the process. Setting Williams free via a parachute, Richards makes a suicide run on the Games Building in New York, killing Killian and everybody inside.