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Film / Surviving the Game

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"Never underestimate a man who ain't got nothing to lose."
Jack Mason

Surviving the Game is a 1994 action film starring Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, and Gary Busey, loosely based on the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell.

Jack Mason (Ice T) is a homeless man who thinks his life can't get any worse. Aside from having no home and not a dollar to his name, he loses his two best friends in the same day, and decides to commit suicide. A soup kitchen worker, Walter Cole (Charles S. Dutton), saves him from his suicide attempt and directs him to a business man named Thomas Burns (Hauer), who offers him a job as a hunting guide. Mason has his doubts, but hey, well-paying job, right?


Shortly after getting to the remote site in the Pacific Northwest, Mason discovers that the rest of the hunting party (who paid handsomely to be there) has one specific prey in mind to hunt, said to be the most challenging of all prey animals: Man.

And guess who their lucky quarry is?

This movie contains examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: Mason sabotages an ATV, causing it to blow up. When it does, it takes both of Cole's legs, forcing Burns to kill him.
  • Ax-Crazy: Hawkins, played by Gary Busey is really excited at the prospect of hunting down and murdering another human being. If he wasn't lying about the story of his dad forcing him in a fight to the death with their attack dog when he was a boy, then it's no wonder he's so crazy.
  • Bad Samaritan: Cole approaches homeless people and directs them to Burns for a job offer. Unfortunately, it's all just a pretense to trick those people into being prey for them and their clients' hunting trip.
  • Big Bad: Thomas Burns as the orchestrator of the hunt.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Cole plugs Griffin in the head with his .44 Desert Eagle so he can't reveal the existence of their hunts to the authorities. For such a large caliber weapon, there is surprisingly little mess.
  • Bridge Logic: Mason bridges a ravine with a tree by cutting it with a shotgun.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The pack of cigarettes that Doc Hawkins gives to Mason come into play when the now-hunted man has to create a diversion. How they end up perfectly dry after an impromptu swim in a river is a bit of a mystery. Even Mason is surprised by that.
  • Dead Guy on Display: In the lodge, Mason makes a horrifying discovery when he finds a room filled with the preserved heads of the hunters' previous victims. There's even a literal spot with his name on it.
  • Disney Villain Death: Derek Wolfe Jr. dies falling into a ravine. Though he doesn't really qualify as a villain.
  • Disposable Vagrant: Burns makes his money by roping vagrants into the role of prey for his hunter friends.
  • The Dragon: Walter Cole serves as this to Burns. He actually dies with twenty minutes to spare in the movie, leaving Burns with only Wolfe Sr. and Jr. as his reinforcements.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • The entire reason it seems Griffin's on the hunt is as a form of grief therapy after his daughter was killed by a vagrant. He tries to project his grief onto Mason, saying for all he knows it could've been someone like him who killed her.
    • Derek Wolfe Sr. loves his son, Derek Jr. He brought his son, who was oblivious to the group's true intentions, on the hunting trip to "make a man out of him." When Jr. dies on the trip, Wolfe Sr. is obsessed with killing Mason as payback.
  • From Bad to Worse: Mason thought his life couldn't get any worse. He was wrong.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Cole insists that Mason must have someone who cares about him and who he should live for while trying to talk him out of suicide, with Mason saying he has no one. A Rewatch Bonus makes it clear that Cole is just asking this to make sure that no one will notice Mason is gone if he ends up the victim of a Hunting the Most Dangerous Game racket.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: After Mason reveals the tragic circumstances of his own wife and child's deaths then spares Griffin's life, Griffin tries to get the rest of the group to abandon the hunt. When he can't stop them, he decides to just go home, prompting Burns and Cole to kill him to ensure his silence.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The premise.
  • Interrupted Suicide: After his dog and his best friend die within the same day, Mason tries to kill himself by standing in the way of an oncoming truck. Cole pushes him out of the way, but unfortunately it's not for altruistic reasons.
  • It's All My Fault: Mason blames himself for the deaths of his wife and kid in an apartment fire.
  • Mercy Kill: Burns has to do this to Cole once an explosion wounds him and blows his legs off.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Griffin and Mason learn they have much in common with one another.
  • Post-Mortem One-Liner: Wouldn't be a mid-90s action movie without one.
    Hawkins: I like my meat rare!
    Mason: (throws him into a burning building) Try well-done, bitch!
  • Psycho Knife Nut: Doc Hawkins really likes his bowie knife. The way he comes into the cabin crouched low with it in hand is evocative of slasher villains. However, he ditches the knife when he has the opportunity to kill Mason.
  • Pursued Protagonist: The opening scene is intercut with showing the protagonist's miserable life (and the loss of his dog) and another man being chased through the woods and murdered by the same hunters who will soon target the hero.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Explored. One character relates a story where his father made him train his dog as an attack dog and then kill it, stating afterwards that, "Now, you are a man."
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Subverted. Though the SPAS-12 that Mason shoots appears to suffer from a stovepipe jam after the first shot, he keeps the shotgun and later uses it to set up a trap (presumably, he clears it sometime in-between scenes).
  • Rich Boredom: The rich hunting clients all pay $50,000 in order to go hunting - hunting a human, that is - for the ultimate rush.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Just as Burns begins to describe why Mason won't make it out in the wilderness, the latter man fires off his newly acquired shotgun. It doesn't manage to hit any of the men hunting him, yet Burn stops his spiel all the same.
  • Token Good Teammate: Derek Wolfe Jr., who had no idea what kind of hunting trip his father was taking him on and is horrified when he finds it out. He's forced to go along with it because the other hunters are just crazy and he'll be killed if he doesn't.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Mason's dog is run over by a cab, his best friend dies in his sleep, he attempts suicide but is saved by a man only so he can be hunted down for sport by rich psychopaths. That's not even getting into the death of his wife and kid in his backstory.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Once Mason collects himself and starts thinking, he begins cutting down the hunters one by one.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Everyone underestimates Mason to some degree...but Burns embraces this trope fully no matter what happens.
  • Villainous Friendship: Thomas Burns and Walter Cole get along pretty well together. The closest thing to a redeeming quality Burns has is when he seems genuinely sad at having to Mercy Kill Cole.