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Film / Death Race

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Death Race is a 2008 American action thriller film produced, written, and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) finds himself in prison, forced to compete in the Death Race, a brutal three-day closed-course pay-per-view event. The race features armored cars with machine guns, flamethrowers, missiles, oil slicks, smokescreens and everything else a group of prison thug grease-monkeys can think to attach to a vehicle...

A much Darker and Edgier film than the original Death Race 2000, which was more of a grisly comedy. The 2008 version did away with everything in the original except the theme of a killer car race, the names of the two champions (Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe) and the fact that Frankenstein was not the original, but another driver in the same mask. As a quick tribute, David Carradine, who was Frankenstein in the old film, voiced "Old Frank" in this one (for a couple of lines).


A Direct to Video prequel, Death Race 2: Frankenstein Lives was released in 2010, and a DTV sequel to the prequel, Death Race 3: Inferno was released in 2013. The prequels follow Carl "Luke" Lucas (Luke Goss), a bookie and bank robber who becomes Death Race's first champion and the original Frankenstein. Most recently, an actual sequel to the 2008 film, Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, picks up the story some years after Jensen's tenure as Frankenstein.

For the Rooster Teeth-created web series of the same name, see the page for its parent series DEATH BATTLE!


The films contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The film is set in 2012, and was made in 2008. By the third movie, which is a prequel, this is reversed — it was made in 2012, released in early 2013, and set a year or two before the first one.
  • The Alcatraz:
    • Terminal Island. Escape isn't even dreamed of; even if you're a Death Racer, there are electric killswitches on the cars and guns, the guard towers are all fortified and have bigger arms than the cars, and, of course, it's an island — only way in or out is the long bridge that connects it to the mainland.
    • Kalahari Prison in the third movie. As one of the guards puts it, "You try to escape, the desert will kill you before we do!" Lucas, Katrina, and Goldberg manage to escape by the end of the movie, though they don't contend with the desert.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Joker's navigator in the third movie is one of a pair of serial killer twins. Her sister dies in her arms during the "Navigator Wars" competition, and she's very brooding and antisocial afterwards.
  • Anti-Hero: Jensen is a rough-and-tumble character mainly motivated by revenge who nonetheless has a slew of human qualities.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Hennessey pulls a couple out on Jensen.
    Hennessey: What would you do with your freedom? Go back to your daughter?
    Jensen: That's the idea.
    Hennessey: Thing is... are you really the best future she could possibly have? Are you really "daddy material," or deep down are you something else?
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Big Bill's rapsheet reads "Robbery, Assault, Arson, Sexual Abuse, Income Tax Evasion, Kidnapping, Possession."
  • Ascended Extra: 14K was one of the dead-meat drivers in the first movie, but his roles in the prequels makes him the only driver to appear in all three.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the other drivers who end up becoming Red Shirts through the films have no redeeming qualities.
  • Backseat Driver: Joker's navigator in 3 is constantly bossing him around and criticizing his driving.
  • Badass Bookworm: Lists is a subdued version, he manages to save Jensen from Pachenko though he is quickly overpowered. He manages to get a few moments in the sequel as well.
  • Badass Driver: Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe. The other drivers would be... if they lasted longer. 14K becomes one in the prequels, he's also the last of the other drivers to die.
  • The Bait: Case is this in the end, to allow Jensen to escape as amends to the old Frankenstein.
  • Batman Gambit: The Warden, while clearly in control, walks a very dangerous line. If Frankenstein wins, she is rid of Machine Gun Joe, activates the bomb, and finds herself a new Frank. If Joe wins, she is rid of Jensen, finds herself a new Frank, and disposes of Joe during his fifth race. If Frankenstein agrees to stay on board after his fifth win, she's guaranteed a long and continuous payday. One thing prevents it from being a Xanatos Gambit. The fail condition? If Jensen reveals her "dirty little secret" to anyone. That gave him an incredible amount of power that he ultimately decided not to use, and instead escaped and had her blown sky high.
  • Big Bad: Claire Hennessey, the ruthless prison warden who is also the host of Death Race.
  • Big Badass Rig: The Dreadnought. Joker and Nero drive absolutely massive trucks in 3, with a tank turret and an Anti-Air cannon as their respective weapons.
  • Bilingual Bonus: 14K. Especially his dying words (in English, translated with an equivalent Chinese phrase in the subtitles).
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Most likely The Warden in the 2008 film, who in public appears to be an affable businesswoman, but shows to be ruthless when it comes to keep the Death Race. Definitely September Jones in the Direct to Video prequel, who really went out of her way to make Carl Lucas' life miserable.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Not counting anything before the first race, Siad fits the bill.
  • Blood Sport: The glorious, gory idea behind the Death Races themselves: a race on an island prison, where the competitors are death row inmates racing for their freedom.note 
  • Boss Subtitles: Used to introduce the significant drivers in every movie. In the second movie, even the Red Shirt drivers get their own cool intros. In the third movie they even do it to 14K, despite the fact that he's the only driver in all three movies.
  • Bookends: The second movie starts with an unnamed but attractive woman swimming in Marcus Kane's swimming pool at his mansion. Within a few minutes of the end, we go back to said pool, only this time, thanks to Triad honour, Kane's body is floating in it while the gunman puts a few extra bullets into him just to be sure.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: After Coach detonates the bomb that kills Hennessey, he looks straight to the camera and says "I love this game."
  • Break the Haughty: This happens to the Warden, to the point where she starts swearing... and "foul language is an issue" for her.
  • Broad Strokes: Word of God says it's a prequel to Death Race 2000 and not a remake despite being set 12 years later.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted; given that Machine Gun Joe is Frankenstein's rival and is presented as something of an asshole who regularly kills off his navigators, it seems apparent that he will die in the climatic final race with Jensen. Instead they team up and even run off to Mexico together (though Case turns up to reassure the audience about Jensen's sexuality).
  • The Cameo: David Carradine makes a cameo voice-over as the previous Frankenstein.
  • Car Fu: How the drivers tend to kill each other.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The seat ejector. First used in the prologue by Case to escape the "Monster" before Machine Gun Joe blows it up with the old Frankenstein still in it, then used in the first race to toss the napalm canister out of the car, and this alongside the lighter sets one of the racers on fire. The third time it becomes important is in the second race, when Jensen threatens to use it to hurl Case out of the car (with a high chance of her getting splattered on the low ceiling they're racing under) unless she confesses that she sabotaged the old Frankenstein.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The cigarette lighter. First presented as a gag ("the most important part of the car") then used alongside the napalm to set a racer on fire.
    • When Grimm crashes, his car is smashed partway through the wall before falling to the raceway again. Coach looks at the footage and sees the bridge directly behind that wall, so Jensen uses Machine Gun Joe's rockets to blast a hole there so they can escape.
  • The Chessmaster: Hennessey has a way of placing pawns exactly where she needs them.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The Warden, at the end. Who despises profanity.
  • Condemned Contestant: The drivers of the Death Race are convicts that are promised freedom if they can win five events but the people running Death Race have no intention of letting anyone get to that point.
  • Cool Mask: Frankenstein's mask is simple but cool. The production team went through several designs before they settled on the final one.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Warden, and Niles York in 3, are out to make as much profit from the Death Race as possible, by any means available, regardless of who suffers. Averted by Weyland, who owns Terminal Island in 2, played straight by September Jones however.
  • Darker and Edgier: The film is this compared to the original. The original played the concept for Black Comedy, whereas the 2008 film and its sequels played it as a gritty action movie.
  • Darkest Africa: The setting of the third movie, with the inmates residing at a prison in the Kalahari desert. The prisoners work in mines and the guards keep hyenas as guard dogs. During the races, local bandits even fulfill the classic "angry/savage natives" role. Interestingly, it was shot on location, and Satana, the guards, and all of the new drivers are played by local talent.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joker in the third movie makes snide remarks constantly, hence the name.
  • Death by Sex: Jensen's wife is killed right as she gets out a beer and tells him they should "get crazy".
  • Deliberately Jumping the Gun: In Inferno, one of the racers tries to get a head start on the others by driving off before the race officially opens. He just ends up demonstrating how effective the prison's guided missile system is to punish anyone who might have ideas of leaving the planned route.
  • Desires Prison Life: Coach actually completed his sentence years before, but stays in prison anyway because he doesn't have anywhere else to go.
  • Description Porn: Nearly everything Lists describes gets this treatment, such as the RPG-7s on Machine Gun Joe's truck and the other drivers.
  • Dirty Business: Case is in prison because she killed a cop... a cop that was a lousy husband of hers, that is.
  • The Dog Bites Back: In the third movie, Niles York's put-upon assistant Prudence keeps her mouth shut when a burned York is mistaken for Frankenstein and sent to Terminal Island. And his mistreated lover/number two Satana was Weyland's mole in the whole thing.
    • In the second movie, Big Bill's navigator kills him in this manner.
  • Domestic Abuse: Case implies her husband was one, leading her to kill him. Jensen is framed as one, and Coach mentions at one point that he's met "his share" of them.
  • The Dragon: Mr. Ulrich the head guard to Hennessy.
  • The Dreaded: Warden Hennessey is a female correctional officer presiding over a prison filled with murderers and rapists. Her first scene has her take an unguarded walk through the yard, with not a single convict daring to lay a hand on her. One of them declares to his buddy his love for how ruthless she is.
  • The Dreaded Dreadnought: Rare non-naval example, the Big Badass Rig is called The Dreadnought, and does the name proud.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Jensen can spend an awful long time looking at Case when they're talking for such a treacherous track and its deadly drivers.
  • Dystopia: High crime and unemployment rates, and a high-rated television program is people murdering each other.
  • Easily Forgiven: Jensen coerces Case into confessing her sabotage of the races, and does absolutely nothing about it despite her having actively attempted to ruin his reunion with his daughter and accidentally getting his predecessor killed. Didn't even say a word. Possibly Justified in that she was doing exactly what everybody else was doing: trying to get her freedom. And he needed her for the rest of the race.
  • Eating the Eye Candy:
    • Case mentions that Jensen looks better than the old Frank.
    • Also played straight with several men scoping out the navigators, including Gunner and Lists.
    • At one point in the third movie, Lists stares as if mesmerized at Katrina's cleavage.
  • Epic Race: The Death Race is a NASCAR-style track race where part of the goal is to kill the other racers. 3 changes the race to a Baja 1000-inspired desert rally.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • September Jones has one when she sees Lucas driving a car around the prison yard; that's where she got the idea of Death Race.
    • Lucas has one in the third movie when Psycho asks if he's the first Frankenstein, and suggests that "Frankenstein" is a role that anyone could play. This gives him the idea of setting up Niles York to be mistaken for Frankenstein.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Pachenko pretends to be this; he tells the prisoners in the chow hall that Jensen was a wife-killer and a "kiddie rapist." This from an Aryan White Supremacist and mass murderer, who killed Jensen's wife on the Warden's orders.
    • In the third movie, everyone is really creeped out by Psycho, who makes everything uncomfortably sexual, and it's implied he's in prison for sex crimes in the first place.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Of course. It's a car movie so there are cars exploding all over the place. Considering the entire point of the titular race, the cars may have been altered to invoke this trope, or some of the weapons the cars house might cause it to happen. It doesn't explain how many civilian cars outside the prison are Pintos, though.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Hennessy often seems to underestimate exactly how far Jensen is willing to push himself for the sake of his daughter, trying to convince him that other people might be better parents for the girl without recognising that he loves her enough to try to be better.
  • Evil Virtues:
    • 14K has fourteen deaths on his record and is a Triad member, but in a showing of Honour, he abides by the code of the Triads in the sequel - when Lucas saves his life, he owes Lucas a life in return. When Lucas is believed killed on the orders of his old boss, 14K calls in a few favours and gets a Triad gunman to leave said boss's bullet-riddled body in his own fancy pool.
    • Weyland is a Corrupt Corporate Executive, but the man believes in honoring his deals. He has quite a problem with York wanting to screw over the Death Race to keep Frankenstein running indefinitely and allows Luke to go and live a new life when his plan to get rid of York works (making York the new Frankenstein).
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe, played completely straight by Hennessey's control of the races and her various attempts to rig them.
  • Explosive Leash: How do you keep the prisoners from using their crazy cars to escape? Rig them to explode if they try! In the third movie the race has no boundaries, but straying off the intended course gets you an up-close and personal encounter with a heatseaking missile.
  • The Faceless: Frankenstein is supposed to be this.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In the first film Hennessey has her Dragon wire Frankenstein's car to blow, and he does so by... ordering his pit crew out of the space during prep time and sticking a simplistic and very obvious bomb to the car's undercarriage. The car belonging to a head mechanic so attached to the vehicle he remains in prison voluntarily. How did he think it wouldn't be found and disarmed?
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Lucas' death is faked by September Jones in the second movie, to set him up as Frankenstein and assert control over him.
    • In the third movie, Lucas fakes the deaths of Goldberg, Katrina, and Niles York as part of his escape plot.
  • False Reassurance: Hennessey gives Frankenstein signed release papers, telling him all he he has to do now is survive and win. She never mentions she's changed the rules by planting a bomb or messing with the track, as she doesn't intend for him to do either.
  • Frame-Up: Jensen didn't kill his wife; Hennessey had Pachenko do it for her so she could get Jensen to be Death Race's new star.
  • Fun with Subtitles: 14K speaks in Cantonese with English subtitles. The one line he speaks in English is subtitled in Chinese.
  • Game Show: A particularly lethal one at that, with a clever mechanic to simulate the collection of power-ups that are seen in some racing video games.
  • Hellhole Prison: Terminal Island is as ugly and dreary as prisons go without taking into account the Deadly Game and the Kalahari Desert prison in Inferno is even worse — it's inside of a mine and all of the inmates' cells we see are partially flooded, for starters.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Some of the ways the show tries to off their competitors tend to backfire, or take out the other ways it tries to off them. The tanker-truck behemoth is taken out by a Death Head option placed to take out the competitors and the Warden gets killed by the explosive she tried to kill Frankenstein with.
  • I Choose to Stay: Lists when the team escaped in 3. He had been institutionalized, being more comfortable in prison society than that of a free man. Which is why he was in the first Death Race. Also Coach in the first film.
  • Immoral Reality Show: Prison inmates killing each other in gladiator-style combat and when that started to bring less audiences, in Twisted Metal-style Vehicular Combat.
  • In Name Only: Apart from the fact that it features characters named "Frankenstein" and "Machine Gun Joe" in a race that combines Blood Sport with Car Fu, the 2008 film is not related to Death Race 2000.
  • It's Personal: Machine Gun Joe really hates Frankenstein.
  • Just Following Orders: When Jensen gets the upper hand on Pachenko, the latter protests he was acting on Hennessy's orders. Jensen is neither persuaded nor amused.
  • Karmic Death: Hennessy straps a bomb under Jensen's car before the final race, but Coach removes it in time. He later sends it back to her gift-wrapped and detonates it in her office, killing her and The Dragon.
  • Kill Tally: Joe carves a mark with a razor on his cheek for every life he takes on the track as a penance for breaking the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment.
  • Killed Offscreen: In the original cut of the third movie, Razor is seen driving at Olga as she tries to run then her face is seen being added to the eliminated driver poll on the scorecard, but he isn't actually shown hitting her. However, Olga is specifically shown to be ran over by Razor in the unrated cut.
  • Last-Name Basis: Hennessey has a first name (all we know is that it starts with 'C'), but everyone calls her "Ma'am" or by her last name.
  • Last of His Kind: It's joked that Goldberg is "the last Mexican Jew", and that he "killed all the rest."
  • Left the Background Music On: Early in the last race of the third movie, a cool rap song starts playing. Then Psycho tells his navigator to change the station, and as soon as she does, the background music is replaced with a driving techno track.
  • Legacy Immortality: Up to a certain point. The "Frankenstein" identity has been held by several convicts over the course of Death Race, with replacements coming in every time one of them dies. In the third movie, Psycho incorrectly assumes that this has already been happening for some time, and inadvertently gives Lucas the idea of replacing Frankenstein in the first place.
  • Le Parkour: Pretty Boy puts up a decent running chase while being pursued by a missile following his tracker.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Pretty Boy meets his end when he's blown up by a heatseeking missile. He wasn't in his car at the time, so you see bits of him flying well offscreen and easily a hundred feet into the air.
  • Male Gaze: Probably would be easier to count the moments in which the navigators aren't Gainaxing from the bumpy riding or the camera makes an emphasis on the racing harness bringing up their breasts or the fact that they wear tight jeans. Unlike most examples though this one gets a stated in-universe justification: it's all for the ratings.
  • Made of Explodium: Apparently detached gasoline tanks are.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Warden in the 2008 film. Markus Kane, and especially, September Jones in the 2010 prequel.
  • Manly Gay: Machine Gun Joe. Although the reason he gets male navigators is not because he's gay but rather because they tend to get killed horribly (sometimes by his own hand) and them being male makes it less of a ratings destroyer.
  • Man on Fire: Colt gets napalmed in the first race of the film movie. Psycho dies from fire in the third movie, ironically inches away from a lake.
  • Mauve Shirt: Travis Colt turns out to be this. A little more attention is paid to him in the promos, and it's mentioned he's a record-holding ex-NASCAR driver which makes him "technically the best" out of the group. They set him up to be a long-runner, and he gets napalmed in the first race. 14K and Grimm also fall under this trope.
  • Meaningful Name: Jensen Ames, like the car (Jensen Interceptor). Also, Hector Grimm, who of course takes up the moniker of "Grimm Reaper."
  • Merchandise-Driven: In-universe, Death Race is this. According to York in the third movie, Weyland makes around 8 million dollars a week on Frankenstein merchandise alone. As York points out, even though Frankenstein is one race away from freedom, he can't afford to just let him go.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender:
    • The precise reason why Machine Gun Joe gets male navigators. Also played straight with the drivers. The women are used as body fodder just as much as the men, but it's only fully averted when 14K's navigator dies up close. The rest of the girls get a Gory Discretion Shot.
    • In-universe, only Frankenstein's pit crew seem to play this trope straight, as theirs is the only car shown to be equipped with an ejector seat for its navigator.
    • In the third movie, Psycho's navigator Amber is the only survivor of the Death Race outside of Frankenstein, 14K, and their navigators and pit crews. Granted, it's also the only movie with a female driver, Olga, who also has a female navigator.
  • Mission Control: This is Coach, Goldberg, and Lists' function for Frankenstein, as they're his pit crew.
  • The Mockbuster: The 2008 film got a mockbuster, a similar movie named Death Racers.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Dreadnought in the first film. A big rig and tanker-trailer converted to be heavily armored, covered in spikes, and armed with everything up to and including a tank turret. However, it weighs as much as that suggests, meaning it can barely keep up with racers and can't maneuver at all, to the point it needs to use off-track shortcuts to bypass parts of a fairly simple circuit. In fact it's so lumbering two cars manage to force it into a course hazard with basic coordination.
  • More Dakka: Most of the problems presented at the Death Race are solved by unloading as many rounds of ammunition at them as possible.
  • Mr. Exposition: The reason for the navigator, and the pit crew having a radio-connection to the driver, is basically so they can explain things to Jensen who's never done the Death Race before.
  • Mr. Fanservice:
    • Jason Statham in the first film.
    • A naked Luke Goss in the prequel.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Jensen, who realizes that he's not a perfect person and therefore not a perfect father, but he loves his daughter and he's not going to let go of his "chance at something else, something better." He also genuinely loved his wife.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The female navigators; especially Case in the first movie, Katrina in the second and third, and Amber in the third. The third movie has a huge melee between female convicts to decide who gets to be a navigator, and it's made of this — resident pervert Psycho is panting and wheezing throughout the event. The second and third movies also have producers September Jones and Satana, respectively, who love tight, revealing clothes.
  • Mythology Gag: Aside from the character nicknames, Frankenstein runs over a race official at the beginning of a race: Lucas killing September Jones in revenge for declaring him dead and forcing him to be Frankenstein.
  • Neck Snap: Happens to Pachenko. Lucas finishes off two attackers this way in very quick succession in the Kalahari mine fight.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jensen gives one of these to Pachenko, for good reason.
  • Not Used to Freedom: Coach did not want to leave the prison isle, not because used to be free but he doesn't have any places to go.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Everybody initially gets the wrong idea when Jensen tells Case to get on his lap, including an uncomfortable Case.
  • Oh, Crap!: Plenty of these scattered around. Two of the biggest in the first film are 14K about to be blown up by the Juggernaut's tank cannon and Henessey noticing that the bomb she ordered attached to the "Monster" is about to explode in her face.
  • The Old Convict: Coach. His sentence was actually over years ago, but he stays in prison because he has nowhere else to go. Played by Ian McShane!
    • Baltimore Bob in the fifth movie.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: 14K, Pachenko, Lists, Gunner, and Coach. Extends to most of the drivers in the second and third movies, namely Sheik, Apache, Scarface, Hillbilly, Razor, Psycho, Joker, and Pretty Boy.
  • Outside Ride: Apache does this during the first race of the second movie. He has his navigator take the wheel as he climbs to the roof of his car, leaps onto another car, and stabs its driver in the neck. He then hops back onto, and in, his own car.
  • I Owe You My Life: Exploited by Luke in the second film by saving 14K from another racer: 14K's Triad has a "life for a life" code and this way he has a favor to cash in later. He does so by asking 14K to send someone to kill his old boss Marcus Kane.
  • Plot Hole: In Death Race 2, Lists tells Carl Lucas about 14K and some of the other prisoners much like he did with Jensen in the first movie. This makes no sense, because he was seen being transported to the prison on the same bus as Carl, meaning Lists shouldn’t know any of that information.
  • Power-Up:
    • A rare non-videogame example. The cars' weapons are initially locked and must be activated by running over magnetically-active pads with simple symbols: sword for offensive, shield for defensive and such. But the skull pads activate a Booby Trap.
    • The second and third movies both have cage fights (which were the predecesors of the Death Race) where fighters step on sword panels to get weapons, as well.
    • The third movie switches it up — there are no defensive power-ups or traps, and to get your weapons activated you have to drive through a gate rather than over a pad. And some of the gates can only be used once.
  • Precision F-Strike: The inmates are not shy about their language, but to hear it come from Joan Allen?
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Played straight and subverted multiple times, but most notably:
    Pachenko: Let me go man. I'll do anything.
    Jensen: You're gonna die here.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: Lists stabs a thug in the back with his pen during a fight, providing the vital distraction that allows the hero to turn the tide of the fight.
  • Pretty Boy:
    • One of the drivers in the third movie is nicknamed Pretty Boy, and looks the part. He's a coward who leaves his navigator for dead after his car flips.
    • Luke is called "Pretty Boy" by Katrina in the prequel. Later, as Frankenstein, he asks if she was expecting another pretty boy.
  • Private Profit Prison: Private prisons are a fixture the entire franchise. The prison runs titular the DeathRace specifically to make the most money off of its convicts, and the prequels reveal they used to do gladiator-style bloodsports until the ratings dropped enough they were no longer sufficiently profitable.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: 14K is described as one in the second movie, following a code of honor alien to most of the characters.
  • The Quiet One: Frankenstein doesn't talk to the other drivers to preserve the mystique.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: During the ending in Death Race 2, Frankenstein punches the mirror after watching his face disfigured.
  • Rated M for Manly: It's a film about a modern gladiator game where prisoners, all badass racers with nicknames such as "Frankenstein" and "Machine Gun Joe," compete in a race in which track is littered with all kinds of deadly traps while accompained by hot babes as navigators. Oh, and the first film's protagonist is Jason Statham, and one of his crew is Ian McShane. The sequels didn't bring them back, but brough Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames for compensation. Can you feel it, dudes?!
  • Reality Show: Type III: The participants are filmed intensively in an enclosed environment while competing to win a prize.
  • Recycled INSPACE: The Running Man with A Car Race, with other prisoners as the enemies instead of 'stalkers' - at first. In the second race, the Dreadnought comes out, which is basically the equivalent of the entire stalker stable in one chassis.
  • Red Shirt:
    • Carson and Riggins, neither of whom actually appear except to be killed by the Dreadnought. They're not even mentioned when the team tells Jensen about the opposition. Siad is also one of these, but he at least gets a few seconds on screen.
    • Pretty much all of Machine Gun Joe's navigators. Lampshaded by Ames' pit crew when they say that Joe had lost so many female navigators, it squicked out even Death Race's target audience and they started giving him male navigators instead. One poor bastard is smart enough about it that he had to be forced into Joe's truck kicking and screaming.
    • Fury and Tazmanian Devil in the third movie, the only racers who have neither speaking lines or Boss Subtitles. Jackal is killed trying to escape before the race even starts.
  • Retcon: A few things in the prequels seem to retcon stuff mentioned in the first movie. For instance, Hennessey claims she invented Death Race in the first movie; in 2, September Jones comes up with the "Death Race" concept, and later remarks that Terminal Island's new warden, Hennessey, would probably take credit for the whole thing if she weren't around. Sure enough, Jones isn't around because at the end of the second movie she's ran over by Frankenstein.
  • Rule of Cool: Sole reason this is fun. Well, that and Case.
    Coach: It's all about the ratings; Fast cars and pretty women.
  • Running Gag: Joe's navigators and their grisly demises. The audience knows something is up towards the end when his newest navigator is happy to be there, as if he hasn't been paying attention to what's going on, before the final reveal.
  • Scary Black Man: Machine Gun Joe. Inmates are terrified of him. Weyland in the prequels, by virtue of being played by the hulking Ving Rhames. Big Bill in 2, the most dangerous fighter in Death Match.
  • Screwed by the Network: In-universe, the network builds a massive death tank tractor trailer train to screw their cast, sometimes literally.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Due to his relationship with Santana, Luke doesn't sleep with Amber when she's sent over specifically to have sex with him in the third film.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: Death Race 3: Inferno takes place in South Africa, especially around the Kalahari Desert, while all other films in the series take place in Terminal Island someplace in the United States. This is an Invoked Trope by Miles York as well, who wanted to make a change to the Death Race in order to keep it fresh and bring more viewers, with the Kalahari race being a test for more international Death Races.
  • Series Continuity Error In the second movie, which is a prequel to the first, Lists mentions that 14K’s name comes from him having 14 kills. This is MORE kills than Lists mentioned 14K having in the first movie, which takes place AFTER the second.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Frankenstein has a Jason Voorhees vibe with more than a hint of Slipknot too – mask combined with a one-piece racing/boiler suit.
    • The prequels reveal that the Death Race was started by the Weyland Corporation, which doesn't sound too surprising, all things considered.
    • Coach quipping "I guess he didn't like the oatmeal either" is similar to Hick's cornbread line in Aliens.
    • Coach says, "Now that's entertainment." after the Dreadnought blows up.
  • Smug Snake: Hennessey, all the way. She thinks of herself as The Chessmaster, which she would be, if her methods weren't so overt, which eventually brings her to a foul-mouthed Villainous Breakdown before her demise.
  • Spectator Casualty: Coach has to pull Lists into cover on a couple of occasions; but a couple of Red Shirts standing behind them get hit by stray shots.
  • Spiked Wheels: The Dreadnought is equipped with these on the wheel hubs, using them to skewer 14K's navigator.
  • Spotting the Thread: Machine Gun Joe finally figures out who Frankenstein is when he hears him speak.
  • Status Quo Is God: As a prequel to the first movie it was obvious that it was still going to happen, but in the epilogue of Inferno Weyland invokes this and brings the Death Race back to Terminal Island because York's attempt at shaking things up by filming in the Kalahari Desert ended in a clusterfuck partially caused by Weyland's own manipulations that ended with York getting killed or rather with his death faked and then forced to become a new Frankenstein, and he even says that "audiences don't like change".
  • Stealth Sequel: Anderson says in the commentary that he thinks of this as a prequel to the original Death Race 2000. There must be some Broad Strokes involved as it's set 12 years later.
  • The Stinger:
    Hennessey: Okay cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lucas in the prequels is this to Jensen. Doesn't make sense for Jensen (and thus Jason Statham) to be in a prequel? Just get a different white British guy with a shaved head and Perma-Stubble. There's a lot of key character differences, but it can't be a coincidence that they look and sound similar. Similarly, Katrina is the substitute Case, and Niles York is a substitute Markus Kane (the accents are almost identical).
  • Take a Third Option:
    • Jensen and Machine Gun Joe team up and escape rather than try to kill each other.
    • In the third movie, Lucas and Satana work together on an elaborate escape that also functions as a revenge plot against the power-mad Niles York, rather than keep playing by York's rules.
  • Tank Goodness:
    • The Dreadnought has a rear-mounted tank turret that's used to kill anyone snagged on its spike strips.
    • It's not technically a tank, but Joker's massive truck in the third movie has a tank turret as its weapon. The gun extends through the cab, which obviously means the turret can't be rotated.
  • Tempting Fate:
    Grimm: Fuckin' Reaper baby! Can't kill me. You can burn me... heh... you can fuckin' shoot me but you just can't motherfuckin' kill me!
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Many, many characters end a sentence with a "Bitch!" as a way of verbally making an exclamation point in dialog, though as it's played seriously, it sort of loses its punch after it's used so many times.
  • Title Drop: Done by the "promos" in the first film.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: 14K, tenth generation Triad.
  • Uncertain Doom:
    • In the second movie its unclear if Sheikh and Apache's navigators survived or not. Sheikh's car crashed messily after he was killed, but it was still in one piece and not in flames, and Apache survived his car rolling over before he got run down anyway, so his navigator might have to.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Connor] and [[spoiler:Gipsy Rose in the fourth movie.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Hennessy's plans fail because she was so confident in her control of the situation that she never even considered the idea that Jensen would come up with a clear plan to fight back, allowing Jensen and others to get out of the prison with everything he needs to regain custody of his daughter while leaving her to be destroyed by a bomb she tried to plant on Frankenstein's car.
  • The Unmasking: Luke loses his Frankenstein mask during a prison brawl when he first arrives at Kalahari in the third movie. This reveals his identity to his pit crew and navigator, who thought him dead after the events of the second movie. They remain bitter about being lied to until just about halfway through the film.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The amount of co-ordination required for Joe and Jensen to take out the Dreadnought would have required a lot of radio discussion, but we never hear anything beyond "How about we play a little offence."
  • Vehicular Combat: Par of the course with armour-plated cars equipped with guns and caltrops.
  • Villain Ball: York grasps it with a firm hand throughout the third film, consistently trying to screw over not just Frank and crew, but every character he interacts with personally, firing both his Beleaguered Assistant and The Dragon of the film, along with Weyland, consequently, all of them team up and the film ends with them mangling York so he can't be recognized and him becomin the new Frankenstein, just in time for the cold open of the first Death Race, in which we know he dies.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When Jensen and Joe break out of the track's confines and head for freedom, Hennessey starts shouting and swearing.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Warden Hennessey of Terminal Island Prison is a cold-hearted bitch which shanghais Jensen Ames (in more ways than one) into taking part of the titular Deadly Game (and plans to either keep him racing forever or kill him as soon as his usefulness as the season's Frankenstein is over-not that she had a plan to have anybody win). The Prequel movies also retroactively show that she had some amount of Small Name, Big Ego-she says on the first movie that she was the creator of Death Race, but in reality it was the Mega-Corp she works for, and they knew she would take credit around anybody who could buy it.
  • Weaponized Car: Every car in the first film, part of the game rules of Death Race.
  • Win Your Freedom: In the first film, if a racer wins 5 racers, he will be freed. Hennessey tries to make sure that doesn't happen.
  • Wrench Wench: The female navigators are all brought in to help run the cars. Played straight with Case, who wields an actual wrench to fix to guns at one point.
  • You Have Failed Me: Machine Gun Joe is shown to play this straight with all his male navigators.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • When one of Joe's navigators incorrectly identifies a deactivated Sword panel as being litnote , Joe angrily tells him to get out of the car and then proceeds to kick him out and into steel railing.
    • Hennessey attempts to do this with Jensen.

Alternative Title(s): Death Race 3 Inferno, Death Race 2 Frankenstein Lives