The Running Man is a 1987 sci-fi action film directed by Paul Michael Glaser (yes, that one), which is set in a dystopian future. It is a loose adaptation of the book of the same name.When the cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to fire at innocent civilians, he is captured and sent to prison. He escapes, but is captured again, and ends up as a contestant in the nation's number one television show: The Running Man. In the show, Ben and his fellow "contestants" must fight their way through the Stalkers, killers set to stop their advance, to win their freedom.Not to be confused with the South Korean variety show either.
The film provides examples of:
'80s Hair: The Running Man's "It's Showtime!" dancers' big hair.
Adaptational Curves: Ben Richards in the book is "scrawny" and "pre-tubercular". Schwarzenegger… isn't. Stephen King even jokes about this, saying that Ben's "about as far as you can get" from Schwarzenegger.
All or Nothing: First prize is a full pardon. Second prize is a gruesome death.
All for Nothing: In the film, the star prize turns out to be the same as the consolation prize… And the boobie prize.
Altum Videtur: The gratuitous use of Latin in Richards' contract. All of it is real legal Latin, but wildly out of place.
Brick Joke: Killian's bodyguard Sven and steroids.
The Butcher: Ben Richards, "The Butcher of Bakersfield". Played with, in that Richards himself is innocent of the crime, framed by his corrupt superiors when he objected to massacring hordes of innocent people.
The Cast Showoff: When Dynamo (Erland van Lidth) sings the aria from Act III of The Marriage of Figaro, he's actually singing in that scene. Presumably after he got cast, someone found out he could sing opera and decided they had to throw that in somewhere.
Charles Atlas Superpower: A given with Arnie, Richards is able to perform such feats of strength as ripping Amber's weights bench out of the floor and carrying a girder unaided.
Cheaters Never Prosper: Sort of applies to Killian. When it becomes likely that Richards and Amber may actually survive, he airs fake footage to make the viewers believe they've been killed so they won't be viewed as heroes. Naturally, he does not prosper.
Even Evil Has Standards: Captain Freedom as a Stalker genuinely believes in the Gladiator Code and chooses to walk off the show when Killian has him suit up in armor so that he can take on Ben Richards.
Exact Words: As one of the more legal-minded executives at the studio points out when one of his colleagues tells Damon he can't have Richards on the show because their contract doesn't permit them to host political prisoners, "Who's a political prisoner? He's still at large." Later, Damon mentions that he "pulled a few strings" to get Richards brought to him instead of back to prison; evidently he exploited this loophole to the fullest.
Explosive Leash: Richards and his fellow prisoners wear them in the military prison.
Flamethrower Backfire: One of the Stalkers, appropriately named Fireball, dual wields flame throwers. They end up being used to kill him.
Flat Character: The majority of the antagonists. Killian himself explains that the reason why he has framed and got a lot of innocent people's lives destroyed or killed is simply to provide America entertainment. "America loves entertainment!"
Future Imperfect: A TV equivalent; it's implied that a lot of TV shows have been forgotten thanks to the totalitarian government's control of the entertainment networks, and on two occasions an older character makes a reference to an old TV show (Gilligan's Island and Star Trek) that falls flat.
Gaia's Lament: Earth's resources are severely drained in this world.
Gas Mask Mooks: All the guards in the detention zone at the start wear gas masks and protective goggles. They do have a good reason however, considering all the unhealthy stuff in the air from the old industrial complex. The prisoners are less fortunate.
Guns Do Not Work That Way: A minor example and difficult to miss for most people, but when Richards cocks a Steyr AUG before the final battle, he assists the cocking handle forward. Doing so is a good way to cause a misfeed unless you use the silent cocking button, which Richards doesn't.
Groin Attack: Multiple examples. The most notorious being how Richards disposes of Buzzsaw with his own chainsaw.
Heel-Face Turn: Captain Freedom genuinely believes in the Warrior's Code, considers himself a modern gladiator, and when he sees the psychopathic Killian ignore all rules once again, he eventually snaps and angrily walks away from it all. Sven, Killian's bodyguard, switches sides, too, although in his case it may be simply a Bodyguard Betrayal for all the abuse that Killian had presumably given him.
Idiot Ball: Even though Richards was already throughly discredited as "The Butcher of Bakersfield", the Government still insists on making up murders at the airport in order to blame them on him. This is what convinces Amber that he was framed and ultimately causes her to discover the truth. Keeping the unedited footage around was pretty dumb too.
Fascist, but Inefficient: Some of the reason for this seems to be that the totalitarian society's enforcers are distracted by their own Bread and Circuses. We hear the guards making small talk about how they never miss an episode of the Running Man, Amber Mendez excuses her purchases of black market clothing (when Richards discovers it) by saying "C'mon, everyone does it!" and the unedited footage may well have been retained through sheer laziness, i.e. the TV station's bureaucrats never throw anything away.
Which can also be an Actor Allusion to the leader of the underground movement, played by Mick Fleetwood.
Neck Lift: Captain Freedom does this to Amber during the fake fight scene. It isn't the real Amber. It's falsified footage created by Killian.
Neck Snap: Captain Freedom does this to Amber while performing a Neck Lift on her. Again, it's fake, done to make viewers think she's been killed.
Noble Demon: It's made clear Captain Freedom actually has some sense honor and believes in the Gladiators Code. He shows increasing signs of frustration with Killian's more underhanded tactics. Oh he still wants to take on and kill Richards, but face-to-face like warriors should. The final straw proves to be being in a gimmicky outfit rather than facing his opponent like a warrior and it ends with him walking away in disgust.
Also, before killing Buzzsaw with his own chainsaw.
"That's OK, keep it!".
When he's about to launch Killian to his doom.
Killian: "You bastard! Drop dead!"
Richards: "I don't do requests."
Public Execution: Criminals are executed by being hunted to their deaths on TV, with a promise of freedom if they survive.
Quirky Mini Boss Squad: The Stalkers certainly qualify. They aren't developed beyond their special attacks and gimmicks and have very hammy moments, but presumably have been competent enough to never have died until Ben Richards shows up.
Played with when Richards tries to flee to Hawaii, instead of trying to escape the country entirely. It's implied he intends to go farther afield once he's reached his destination. However since Richards is captured we never actually learn why he wanted to go there specifically, largely because he was smart enough not to to tell Amber his next move.
It may be also Shout-Out to Heinlein's If This Goes On… where someone pretends to be trying to escape to Hawaii, which is a separate country, as part of a plan to make his pursuers think he's dead. Hawaii being separate country within the setting means this trope could be very well be being played straight.
The Scapegoat: Richards is blamed for the government-ordered massacre he tried to prevent.
The Stinger: The show's announcer does a voice over at the end of the credits, listing the game's sponsors and inviting people to participate by sending in their name and address, "then go out and do something really despicable!".
Sven, Killian's bodyguard, exemplifies the following tropes:
Villain Ball: Killian backstabs Richards and puts his fellow escapees on the show even after promising Richards that he would not. This is ultimately his undoing. Without the two rebels, Richards never would have found the hideout and escaped the arena. Without Richards, the rebels would have been immediately massacred by the stalkers.
We Can Rule Together: Not quite, but same idea. When Killian must accept that it is actually possible that Richards might win, he offers him a job as a Stalker. Richards refuses. (Well, more like tells him where he can stick it, but it's still a refusal.)
We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: The government uses edited footage to frame Richards. Later, the producers edit footage of Richards being killed in an attempt to salvage his victory over the Stalkers. This winds up backfiring in the latter because they make Richards and Amber look weak compared to their actual selves in the game. When the rebellion manage to play the true tape of the massacre and Killian denies it being true. The crowd, particularly an old lady who rooted for Richards, turn against him cause they've seen Richards in action and know what he's like by now.
Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Ben Richards. This actually gets him in a heap of trouble when he refused to follow orders to mow down hungry protesters.
Your Head A Splode: If Chico had just waited 20 more seconds at the beginning of the movie…
Zeerust: All over the place, particularly in the hairstyles and fashions (mullets and shoulder pads, for example, will apparently never go out of style). Lesser examples exist, such as the horribly dated graphics seen on all the in-universe computer screens and the pseudo-computeresque font used in the "KILLIAN IS LYING TO YOU" clip.
Technology Marches On: Most notable with the "tapes" which are shown to be in containers about the size of 3.5" floppy disks. Ironically, these are actually much larger than some of the Micro-SD cards we have right now which can easily store an entire DVD image containing both sides of this movie's double-sided DVD (containing both a full-screen and wide-screen version of the movie, and lots of extras). Some of those cards even have enough storage space that they could easily fit an uncompressed version of this movie, never mind the few minutes of digital footage from Richards' last mission these "tapes" contained.