This film is based VERY loosely on the novel of the same name by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). 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, NY, to Boston, MA; from Boston to Manchester, NH; and from Manchester to Portland and Derry, ME (the former being Stephen King's hometown, the latter being the fictional primary setting for King's novels "It". "Dreamcatcher", "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 $100 for every hour he stays alive over a period of 30 days, an additional $100 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 situation 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, KS, 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, 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 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.
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.
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 at all. He thought Glaser shot this film like a TV show, losing all of the script's deeper themes; Schwarzenegger suspected that 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.
Erland van Lidth ("Dynamo") was a classically trained Helden baritone opera singer, so in his introduction when Dynamo is singing an aria from "The Marriage of Figaro", it actually is van Lidth singing.
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 Nate and Hayes (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).
Features two actors who went on to be the governor of a US state: in November 1998 Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota; in October 2003 Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California.
Dweezil Zappa, son of legendary American composer/singer Frank Zappa, has only two lines in the movie: "Don't touch that dial!", 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" at 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]
"The Running Man" game show seen in the film was based upon an early 1980s Japanese game show 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".
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), which is 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 character - Mrs. McArdle -, The host (Damon Killian) of the show's 'number one fan', is supposed to be an homage to Mrs. Miller, a long-time fixture of many series -including The Merv Griffin Show), who's entire claim to fame (seriously) was her coming almost every day to the tapings. The real Mrs. Miller - who was not a young woman - actually parlayed her notoriety into several ventures, including recording an (entire) album, entitled - what else - 'Mrs. Miller Sings'. It's an album which is only heard on Dr. Demento-type shows.
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 Pictures 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 this film.
Thomas Del Ruth was also the cinematographer on Stand by Me (1986), released the previous year, which was also a Stephen King adaptation of "The Body". However King wrote "The Running Man" under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
1:35 The coordinates shown on the helicopter's monitor ranges from N30°35' W119°29' to N34°12' W119°11' (which corresponds to Santa Clara Elementary School at 324 South E Street in Oxnard, California). The total distance flown comes out to 245 miles (390Km) in only 5 seconds.
The motorcycles with the elongated rear wheels that were used to "steer" the runners in the right direction, are actually used in hill climbing comepetitions and were designed and built by Essey Custom Cycles. A company that was the first to extend the rear wheel for better traction and to keep the rider from doing a wheelie and flipping backwards.
Very obviously based on Robert Sheckley's short story 'The Prize of Peril' (1958) that was adapted in Yves Boisset's french movie 'Le Prix du Danger' (1983), so a plaint for plagiarism was filed against Stephen King in the nineties, wan at court of first instance than lost in court of appeal and finally quashed.
Originally scheduled for a July 1987 release, it was moved back four months by Tri-Star to avoid competition with Arnold Schwarzenegger's other summer film, Predator (1987), which was released in June.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the takeover of the network, Mick makes a reference to Spock from Star Trek (1966), to which the reply is "Who's Spock?". The filmmakers obviously thought that "Star Trek" would be decommissioned by 2017 when the film is set, so the younger characters in the film wouldn't know what it was. In real life, Leonard Nimoy portrayed the character until his final appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which was released two years prior to his death in 2015 where he shared a scene with a younger version of himself. As of 2016 (with the franchise now 50 years old), the Star Trek franchise is still around with the 2009 Kelvin timeline films and a TV series planned for a Spring 2017 release on CBS with Rod Roddenberry (Gene Roddenberry's son) as executive producer.
Kurt Fuller' later starred in Wayne's World (1992), which he played a similar role to his role in The Running Man (1987). In Wayne's World (1992), Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) hacks a satellite so he can transmit a live broadcast of the Wayne's World TV show into the TV of Frankie Sharp's limo. In this film, Mick (Mick Fleetwood) and the resistance hack the network satellite so they can transmit the unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre on The Running Man, which the unedited footage proves Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is innocent and that he did not mass murder the 1500 unarmed civilians.
It's unclear how Amber was able to smuggle the video of the raw unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre in her spandex suit after she gets caught looking through the various media information folders. However, when Richards asks her how she smuggled it and she replies "none of your business" with a sly smile.
Foreshadowing of what's going to happen to the stalkers: when the agent ('Ken Lerner') decides to "help" Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), when he's ready to sign his contract - to agree to partake in The Running Man - by saying, "Here, here here. Use my back, victim". So once Richards has signed, he stabs the pen through the contract so hard that it sticks into the agent's back and he shrieks in pain. "Don't forget to send me a copy", quips Richards and the agent shrieks in pain even louder then disappears. During the game show Richards kills Subzero (Prof. Toru Tanaka) by strangling him with barbed wire, overpowers Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch) by shoving his chainsaw up into his crotch, ultimately killing him and takes down Fireball ('Jim Brown') by pulling his gas line out, causing fuel to leak everywhere, knocks Fireball back, tosses a lit flare at him and he dies in the resulting explosion. Richards also kills Damon Killian ('Richard Dawson') after surviving the game, by sending him down the tunnel in a sled, there's no net to catch it this time, so Killian crashes into a billboard with him on it advertising coke and - like Fireball before him - dies in the resulting explosion. Dynamo ('Erland Van Lidth') chases Richards in his car, but follows him up a steep slope, overturns and gets trapped. Richards was going to kill him but doesn't, as he wouldn't kill a helpless human being. Later at ICS Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonzo) manages to kill Dynamo during his rape attempt, by grabbing her gun on the floor, shooting at water sprinklers in the ceiling and ultimately electrocuting Dynamo.
When the film aired on the TV3 network in New Zealand in the early 1990s, scenes were edited for graphic violence and bad language: Digo's head exploding in the prison breakout sequence was removed. Killian telling Tony to tell the Justice Department to "go F themselves" when he arrives at the ICS building. Ben saying "F you!" to Killian is removed in the scene which Killian meets Ben. The graphic close-up shot of Sub-Zero being killed by Ben with the barb wire is removed. Buzzsaw's death was edited, which blood spattering on Buzzsaw's face when Ben kills himself with his chainsaw which he makes a high pitched scream is removed. The fake fight between Ben and Captain Freedom was also edited, Ben punching Captain Freedom in the face which blood splatters and Ben being impaled by spikes is also cut and an innocent bystander being killed by one of the ICS soldiers in the climatic shootout sequence in The Running Man studio is missing.