Film: Series 7: The Contenders

The 2001 film Series 7: The Contenders, written and directed by Daniel Minahan, serves up a dark and violent satire of American Reality Shows.

The Contenders 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. It's why Jeffrey is in the hospital bed looking bruised with no visible gunshot wound
  • Asshole Victim: Tony. Unemployed blue-collar worker, coke habit, anger management issues, topped by an attempt to flee the show while holding his baby daughter hostage.
  • 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...
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: It's clear no one really wants to appear on The Contenders. Dawn, in particular, regularly snaps at her assigned cameraman.
  • 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.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Franklin not only lines the walls of his trailer with tinfoil, but after killing Lindsay in the mall, tries to convince the onlookers that the show is a fake - until Connie kills him with a sniper rifle.
  • Country Matters: Dawn calls her estranged sister the C-word before taking the latter's SUV at gunpoint.
  • 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".
  • Driven to Suicide: Jeffrey tries to kill himself on three separate occasions. He is not successful.
    • The third one didn't actually happen, and Dawn was beaten to death after the Anti-Climax
  • Going Home Again: Averted. Dawn is less than thrilled that Series 7 is taking place in her hometown, seeing how her mom kicked her out of the house at 17 for having an abortion - not to mention that the guy who knocked her up is one of her new opponents...
  • 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.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Jeffrey admits he went through a "gay phase" after high school, which ended when he married Doria. Unfortunately, after his failed suicide attempt via overdose, Doria outs him on-camera while he's in the hospital.
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear: Dawn insists she's only doing all this killing to protect her unborn child. On the other hand, she's a really efficient killer...
  • Maternity Crisis: Dawn has Connie cornered and at gunpoint - and her water breaks. Followed by a Screaming Birth scene in which Connie must simultaneously deal with a 911 operator and a breach delivery while holding Dawn at gunpoint.
  • Mercy Kill: Connie admits on-camera that, despite her job as The Medic, she's euthanized the occasional patient.
  • 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).
  • Precision S-Strike: Jeffrey's verbal reaction when he realizes that not only did he survive his third suicide attempt, but he is now by default the reigning champion of The Contenders as it heads into Series 8...
  • 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.
    • In a flashback, Dawn takes out one of her previous opponents this way.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Series 7 The Contenders