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Film: Rollerball

Rollerball is a 1975 Dystopia movie set Twenty Minutes into the Future, when everything is controlled by Mega Corps that keep the unwashed masses happy the best way they know how: full contact Blood Sport!

The sport, Rollerball, is like roller derby on speed. Players come and go (usually violently), as the sport is meant to suppress individuality. That changes when our hero, Jonathan E, becomes a Rollerball star and refuses to retire. The executives don't like that and start making changes to the game in an effort to kill Jonathan.

There's also a forgettable 2002 remake, with twice the blood and half the plot.

For the video pinball game from HAL Laboratory, click here.

This film provides examples of:

  • Battle Chant: When star player Jonathan E scores the winning goal in the final game, despite rules changes meant to destroy him, the crowd begins chanting his name in a building crescendo. This portends a social revolution in which the corporate masters lose control of their formerly docile populace.
    • Subverted earlier — as they walk out into the ring, Jonathan's team give their standard chant, while the opposing team chant, "JONATHAN'S DEAD!"
  • Berserk Button: Through most of the movie, Bartholomew is amazingly calm and reasonable when dealing with Jonathan, until he pointedly suggests that Jonathan can be made to quit the game. When Jonathan answers that Bartholomew can't make him do anything, the executive shouts, "Don't say that! DON'T EVER SAY THAT!"
  • The Big Board
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jonathan has survived and become a hero, and it is implied that this victory is a portent of a successful insurrection, but he wins at a horrible cost. He's the sole survivor, all his teammates - and the opposing team - dead, winning a game in an arena littered with corpses. Truly, the price of freedom is high.
  • Blood Sport: Rollerball, of course. (Quickly turning into a Deadly Game as the story progresses.)
    • Much more pronounced in the original short story, where the primary goal of the game was murder. In the movie, murder was added into the later games to show how desperate the higher ups had become in their efforts to prevent Jonathan's victory.
  • Cataclysm Backstory: We learn very little about the Corporate Wars that toppled the world's governments. About all we do hear is Cletus' comment that they were "naaasty".
  • Chekhov's Gun / Tempting Fate: Moonpie is contemptuous of the Japanese players' short stature, though he's warned that even small opponents can cream a big guy three-on-one. Three guesses how Moonpie gets clobbered in the Houston/Tokyo game.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The librarian (played by Ralph Richardson) who programs Zero, and, it appears, Zero, itself.
  • Corporate Warfare: The Corporate Wars are mentioned as a Great Offscreen War, but when Jonathan tries to find out more details he gets stymied.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The film is a protest against violence. However, director Norman Jewison said that, to his horror, a group was interested in financing a real-life version of the game, but the studio said no.
  • Dystopia: It's noted that, some time in the past, the "Corporate Wars" resulted in the overthrow of national governments. The resulting corporate-controlled society has given people all manner of comforts, but at the cost of the people's freedom.
  • Fictional Sport
  • Film of the Short Story: The film is an adaptation of "Roller Ball Murder" by William Harrison.
  • Finish Him!: In the Houston-New York game at the end, Jonathan tackles the last New York player and is about to smash his head in with the ball. After a moment, he instead gets up, goes over to the goal, and jams the ball in for the winning score.
  • Gorn: In the remake.
  • Jump Cut: Several of them in the remake. Hell, there are two jump cuts at the same time in one scene near the end of the movie!
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Jonathan is afraid of this at one point, refusing to go on a helicopter. It's later revealed that the corporation has rejected the idea as it's important that Jonathan die during the game, in order to demonstrate the futility of individual effort.
  • Master Computer: "Zero", which now stores all of human history after the corporations digitized the books. (They've lost the files for the 13th century somewhere...) It goes into a meltdown when Jonathan asks it a question that the corporations don't want it to answer.
  • Memento MacGuffin: A home movie Jonathan keeps of better times with his wife and his coach. He pointedly erases it in her face when she returns to try to persuade him to quit.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The corporate anthems. Also, the intro music.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for our corporate anthem."
  • Parallel Porn Titles: Don't ask.
  • Revenge: Jonathan is partly motivated by resentment over his wife being taken from him by an executive. Ironically, by the time his wife is returned to him, he's not interested in giving up the game; he actually rejects her for cooperating with the corporation's efforts.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: During the last game, the New York team's exec orders one of his players back out onto the track. The player responds by taking off his helmet and throwing it to the floor.
  • Society Marches On: The anti-individualist bent of the bad guys makes sense within the context of the mid-20th century American business world (or the Japanese business world then and now, but that's neither here nor there), which was associated with stifling conformity, but missed the mark as to what the actual hypercapitalist, neoliberal Reagan era and beyond turned out to be like. Modern capitalist culture encourages "individualism" (so long as it involves buying stuff to make you "stand out"), while discarding the petty concerns of one's own self in favor of helping others is a socialist ideal. Today, the concept of corporations trying to stamp out individualism in favor of conformity would baffle mainstream audiences, who associate this kind of dystopia with an Orwellian, all-powerful government instead.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Bartholomew, who initially gives Jonathan almost fatherly advice to quit the game, is soon plotting to have him killed when that advice is rejected.
    • Averted in the case of Cletus, Jonathan's friend who's a former player and current executive. He's powerless to interfere with the corporations' actions against Jonathan, but gives him some helpful information about dealing with them.
  • Trophy Wife: Jonathan had a trophy wife bestowed on him for his success, but he really did care for her. Then she was taken away from him and given to an executive. This seems to be completely normal behavior in that verse.
  • Win One For The Gipper: Subverted. Before the final game against New York, Jonathan skates into the locker room where the rest of the Huston team is waiting. Nothing is said. They just stare at each other, since they all know the odds are none of them will survive the game.
  • What Have I Done: At first, Mackie doesn't mind shooting up the trees. But, after the other party-goers have gleefully shot the rest of them, she's clearly upset over the act.
  • Zeerust: Liquid-state computing and pistol-sized plasma blasters, yet their skaters never progressed from quads to blades? (The movie was made in 1975. In-line skates had been invented by then, but were practically unknown to the public until they were openly distributed in 1981, six years after this film's debut.)
    • Might have to do with stability needed to punch people while skating in armor. Many roller derby skates are still 4 wheel box format.
    • Zero itself also qualifies. A room-sized computer with giant rotary tape drives, the history of the 13th Century misplaced because a tape roll got lost?

Dark StarNebula AwardLogan's Run
The Love BugSports StoriesWhip It
Monty Python and the Holy GrailHugo AwardCarrie
The Rocky Horror Picture ShowFilms of the 1970sRooster Cogburn
Road to ...Creator/United ArtistsThe Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Rokugatsu no HebiFilms of 2000 - 2004 The Rookie
The Great EscapeCreator/Magnetic VideoThe Alamo
Watch It for the MemeImageSource/Live-Action FilmsBlood Sport

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