The 2001 film Series 7: The Contenders
, written and directed by Daniel Minahan, serves up a dark and violent satire of American Reality Shows
offers up a unique form of entertainment for its loyal viewers: the show's contestants must kill each other until only one "Contender" remains standing. These contestants have no choice as to whether they want to compete; once a contestant finds out that they've become a Contender, they must participate in the game, as any Contender can kill any other Contender from the moment of notification in any way without any legal repercussions.
Winning the show once doesn't get a Contender anything but a longer lease on life, either — a Contender must win the show three times to earn a full release from the program. In the show's seventh season (or "series" in British terminology), two-time champion Dawn Lagarto hopes to win for a third time and gain her freedom; to do so, she must outlive five other Contenders — one of which, the terminally-ill Jeffrey Norman, happens to have had a prior romantic relationship with Dawn.
Series 7: The Contenders contain examples of the following tropes:
- Anti-Climax: What really happened in the cinema.
- According to the producers of the show, anyway...
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Emergency room nurse Connie seems nice enough — until she expresses her contempt for the people who come into her ER. And that's before she starts killing people...
- Chekhov's Safety Catch/Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lindsay's parents constantly tell her to leave the safety on. Lindsay's fumbling to switch it off during an encounter gives Franklin ample time to beat her to death.
- Crapsack World: People end up drafted into a reality show where they murder each other.
- Deadly Game: The Contenders is a reality TV show where contestants must kill other contestants to "win".
- Goth: Dawn and Jeffrey in high school.
- Gun Struggle: Two of these happen: one between Connie and Dawn, and one between Jeff and Connie.
- Hand Wave: Numerous background details, such as how The Contenders became powerful enough to clear legalized murder as a form of television programming, never receive an explanation. This works in part because the film only shows what the program itself would have aired on TV — in other words, only what the producers want viewers to see.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: It's debatable which is worse: what the contenders are willing to do to survive, or the bland acceptance of the existence of the show.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: It's people hunting each other. For TV.
- Le Film Artistique: Dawn and Jeffrey's terrible high school student film.
- Lottery Of Doom: New contestants end up chosen by via a (seemingly) random lottery involving Social Security numbers.
- Must Not Die a Virgin: Lindsay's boyfriend invokes this in an effort to get her to put out. He fails.
- Nobody Poops: Averted Trope; Dawn catches Connie on the toilet.
- On the Next: An example of this trope ends the film (and casts a totally different light on the climax).
- Pregnant Badass: Do not piss off eight-months-pregnant Dawn.
- Previously On: The film opens with the end of Series 6 of The Contenders: Dawn marches into a convenience store and kills that season's last contestant.
- Reality Television: This film offers up a pitch-black satire of the entire genre.
- Separated by a Common Language: Despite being an American film with an American cast and framed as an American reality show titled The Contenders, the film's title employs the British usage "series" to describe individual seasons of a television program. (The film starts with the end of the sixth season and follows the seventh season of The Contenders.)
- Shout-Out: Daniel Minahan named the main character, Dawn Lagarto, after a childhood friend of his.
- Show Within A Movie: It's the central premise of the film.
- Slashed Throat: Tony threatens to do this to himself.
- Take a Third Option: Dawn and Jeffrey attempt this when they take the camera crew hostage and attempt to escape the show.
- Unreliable Voiceover: The narrator, played by Will Arnett, makes a cameo onscreen at the climax. What he says doesn't always match up with what happens on-screen. The "dramatization" scenes also appear dishonest (and potentially faked).
- The show claims that it picks contestants via a random lottery. That claim becomes suspicious when Dawn's third go-round takes place in her hometown and her old boyfriend becomes one of the other Contenders.
- Win Your Freedom: A contestant must win the show three times to earn freedom from ever participating again. Dawn gets offered this at the end.