->'''Richards''': ''"Want some coffee?"''
->'''Donahue''': ''"No."''
->'''Richards''': ''"Sure you do."'' ''([[spoiler:breaks Donahue's head open with the coffee maker'']])

The year is 2025 (the film version is set in 2017). Ben Richards desperately requires money to get medicine for his [[LittlestCancerPatient ill daughter]], Cathy. To stop his wife Sheila from continuing to prostitute herself to pay the bills, Richards turns to a state-sponsored television network, which runs several [[DeadlyGame TV game shows]] that put contestants at risk of severe injury or death. Contestants win money by surviving challenges such as ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiac_stress_test Treadmill to Bucks]]'', where a person with a heart or respiratory condition runs on a treadmill while answering trivia questions, or the [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin self-explanatory]] ''Swim the Crocodiles''. After an extensive screening process, Richards is selected for the country's most popular and dangerous game, ''The Running Man''.

After being declared a public enemy on the show, Richards is given $4,800 cash and a pocket video camera and turned loose. His family will win $100 for every hour he stays alive; if he can survive for 30 days, he wins the grand prize of $1 billion. He also gets a 12-hour head start before the network sends out a team of trackers known as "Hunters" to find and kill him. He can travel anywhere in the world, and each day he must videotape two messages and courier them to the TV show. Without these videotaped messages, he loses the prize money but the Hunters will continue their search. Despite the producer's claims to the contrary, as soon as the Network receives a videotaped message, the Hunters immediately know from the postmark the runner's approximate location. Viewers can earn cash rewards by calling the network with tips on his whereabouts. To date, there have been no survivors - and the producer frankly states that he never expects there to be any. The survival record is eight days and five hours.

The story, written by Creator/StephenKing under his PenName of "Richard Bachman", is better known for its [[Film/TheRunningMan film version]] with Creator/ArnoldSchwarzenegger and [[FamilyFeud Richard Dawson]], which [[InNameOnly turned the story]] into one of a BloodSport played by condemned criminals, and Richards' reason for entering the contest changes -- he was framed for a massacre that he was actually trying to stop.

Not to be confused with Series/RunningMan, the South Korean variety show.

!!The book provides examples of:

* AffablyEvil: Killian tries to be this, but winds up coming off as a condescending JerkAss instead.
* AntiHero: Richards. Of the PragmaticHero type.
* BigBad: Killian.
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler: When Ben Richards with his last ounce of strength flips the aeroplane into autopilot and crashes it into the Games Network skyscraper. Also, the few allies Richards makes in his journey are heavily implied to die, his warnings about the mega corps poisoning the air being the cause of all the cancer spreading among the low class citizens are censored, and his wife and daughter are revealed to be dead since before he even appeared on the show.]]
* BodyHorror: King describes the effects of [[spoiler: Richards being gutshot]] in excruciating detail.
* BreadAndCircuses: Everyone has access to "free-vees" which are free televisions airing stupid shows that keep citizens occupied and distracted. Ricards notes that it's still legal to turn them off.
* CrapsackWorld: Oh so much. A future {{Dystopia}} that is slowly dying of both pollution and its own corruption. The government and the Games Network provide the sadistic games shown on the "Free-Vee" in order to keep the rabble content and docile. Anyone who dares stand up is blackballed from any work if they're lucky. If they're unlucky they're forced to take part in the aforementioned [[DeadlyGame Deadly Games]] or simply hunted down outright.
* DeadlyGame: The eponymous ''Running Man'', along with other [[SarcasmMode wholesome family entertainment]] such as ''Treadmill to Bucks'', a trivia game where contestants with heart or lung problems must answer questions while running a treadmill and trying to avoid passing out or dying.
* DeadpanSnarker: Richards. In spades.
* {{Determinator}}: Ben Richards, in the book and the movie.
* DyingMomentOfAwesome: [[spoiler: Ben crashes his plane into the network tower, killing those responsible for the show. While gutshot and barely conscious. And FlippingTheBird straight to Killian.]]
* {{Dystopia}}: Similar to the one seen in ''Literature/TheLongWalk''.
* FlippingTheBird: Richards does this both at the start and end of his time as a contestant on the show.
* HealthcareMotivation: Richards's reason for entering the contest.
* HeroicBSOD: [[spoiler: Richards has one when Killian tells him about his family's murder.]]
* ImmoralRealityShow: Every reality show on TV. The most prominent is ''The Running Man''; other shows mentioned are ''Treadmill to Bucks'', ''How Hot Can You Take It'', ''Fun Guns'', ''Dig Your Grave'', ''Swim the Crocodiles'' and ''Run for Your Guns''.
* InherentInTheSystem: Similar to ''Literature/NineteenEightyFour'', the violent, corrupt world of The Running Man feeds off its own degeneracy.
* KidsAreCruel: The kids who turn in Richards while he's in Boston.
* LateArrivalSpoiler: In at least one re-issue edition, King writes a foreword that ''gives away the ending.''
* LittlestCancerPatient: Richards's daughter has a case of the flu bad enough to spark her father's HealthcareMotivation, and Richards meets a young lower-class black boy with a five-year-old sister who is dying of lung cancer due to the air pollution.
* PollutedWasteland: Most of America in 2025.
* PoliticallyIncorrectHero: Richards is this at first in the book. He uses the words "Negro" and "nigger," the latter being the first thing that pops into his head when the word "doctor" comes up in a word-association test. However, he changes his opinion when a black family in the Boston ghetto gives him shelter and helps him get out of town.
* PoliticallyIncorrectVillain: [=McCone=] calls Killian several variations of the n-word when he offers Richards a position as a hunter.
* TheReasonYouSuckSpeech: Richards gives a ''spectacular'' one to one of his examiners during the Games Corporation's screening process. It has her nearly in tears by the end of it.
* TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture
* WhamLine: [[spoiler:"Your wife and daughter are dead. They’ve been dead for over ten days."]]
* WhereTheHellIsSpringfield: Takes place in the fictional Harding, somewhere in the Midwest. The exact state is never revealed.
* WordAssociationTest: Richards gets one of these when he's trying out to get on any game show he can. His responses are part of the reason he eventually gets tapped for ''The Running Man''.