The Hunger Games (2012) -vs- The Running Man (1987)

Hunger Games (2012) -vs- Running Man (1987)

Nicole Marchesani - Contributing Writer

The Smackdown

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) shares his governing philosophy in this weekend’s blockbuster film, The Hunger Games: “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.” He and his kind have built their dystopia on this theory: if the people they subjugate don’t have a way to cope, they could get violent. Better to give them some pre-packaged violence and distract them.

Violent television. Now there’s the perfect distraction.

And so the odds are stacked heavily against both Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Ben Richards of The Running Man to win in their own futuristic sporting arenas. But they are motivated to try, each having not just their own lives but the lives of the people they love at stake. While millions of people watch, they suffer and struggle to make it to the end. The only thing keeping them going is hope.

It seems harsh to subject these characters to another bloody arena, but as the films prove, audiences love a good fight. We can’t lie. So do we. 

The Challenger

In the first film of the trilogy based on Suzanne Collins’ novels, The Hunger Games introduces us to Katniss Everdeen (Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence), the sixteen-year-old girl who offers herself as tribute for the survival of her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields). Every year, two citizens from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to participate in the Hunger Games. The twenty-four tributes are placed inside a dangerous arena assembled by the Gamemakers of the Capitol, designed to ensure the survival of only one tribute. The rest of the twenty-three tributes will either die at the hands of an opponent or from the perils waiting in spots of the arena.

You may have heard The Hunger Games described as the next Twilight series (for only one reason I can think of, so Twilight haters should still give it a chance) — the love triangle. Katniss represents her District Twelve along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who has had only one encounter with Katniss before the Hunger Games. Katniss’ only friend in her district, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), promises to look after Primrose and her mother if she does not make it back alive. Gale and Peeta both want two things — change to take place in Panem, and Katniss.

The Capitol grants every tribute a team of trainers and fashion designers to aid them through the festivities of the Hunger Games in addition to preparing them for the arena. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former champion of the Hunger Games, leads Katniss and Peeta’s team, along with Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). With some flamboyant costumes, intriguing promotional stunts, and advice from Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta take their positions in the arena and try to take charge of their destinies.

The Defending Champion

The year is 2017. The economy is blown, the government is corrupt, and television personalities manipulate the audience into believing whatever they want the audience to believe. Yes, I said 2017, not 2012.

The most popular show on television is The Running Man, a reality show that glorifies torture and death. It’s so popular that the audience can’t even remember classics like Gilligan’s Island or the biggest icon of all time — Spock. Contestants on The Running Man television show must defeat frightening stalkers — men with personal methods of killing — to succeed.

After the government frames Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for the murder of innocent civilians, television host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) bribes Ben to appear on The Running Man by putting the lives of Ben’s two closest friends, Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) in danger. The situation for Ben reaches a new low when Killian betrays him by sticking Weiss and Laughlin into the game arena, along with Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso), the woman Ben attempted to kidnap in order to flee the country. Now, not only does Ben have to find a way to take down the deathly stalkers, but he must also try to protect his friends in the process.

The Scorecard

Comparing these two films is like comparing a model with high fashion makeup to an ordinary person with natural beauty. The Hunger Games is visually astonishing, from the elaborate costumes and makeup to the cinematography and special effects. Seeing Gary Ross’s vision of the Capitol is like seeing Peter Jackson’s Rivendell or George Lucas’ Naboo for the first time. For its time, the visual style and special effects in The Running Man worked only because most people, men especially, weren’t worried about how the film looked as much as they were interested in the story, the choreography of the fights, and the actors like Schwarzenegger portraying the characters. Schwarzenegger himself is visually astonishing enough to attract attention (how else could he have made it in Hollywood without those gigantic muscles?). The story of The Running Man is well executed and exciting — the woman with the natural beauty.

The Running Man also doesn’t take itself too seriously in the way The Hunger Games does. When Ben first kidnaps Amber and she asks why she should cooperate, Ben lifts her and the exercise equipment she’s sitting on off the floor and says, “because I’m going to say please.” Schwarzenegger’s puns and lines like “I’ll be back” are downright laughable, as they are meant to be.

We get a different kind of laugh from The Hunger Games, but it’s not intentional. The audience in the movie theater broke out in giggles during the cozy love scenes between Katniss and Peeta in the arena, as well as the intercuts with Gale watching them from District 12. That’s not to say the chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson isn’t perfect, because it is. These two actors seem like they stepped right off the pages of Collins’ novel. There’s supposed to be something off about their relationship, but the reactions should have been swoons and sighs, not chuckles. This could be something else The Hunger Games and Twilight have in common — serious, emotional scenes that get laughs from audiences. Or maybe this particular audience I saw the film with was just tired and delirious from staying awake for a two-and-a-half-hour movie at twelve-thirty at night.

Though the story of The Running Man is above average, depicting a society controlled and manipulated by the government and media, the romance storyline and acting is average at best. Again, Schwarzenegger didn’t make it as an actor based on Academy Award®-nominated performances like Jennifer Lawrence’s in Winter’s Bone. And it doesn’t make any sense, as much as I admire it, to have Amber turn into a resistance leader when all she did throughout the entire film was scream and run away from violence. In this case, it would have made more sense to keep the damsel in distress in the corner while the men do the fighting. If you’re looking for a good female role model who does know how to hold her own, Katniss is your girl.  The Hunger Games depicts one of the few times the female is the protector and the male is the lovesick passive creature.

When the cast list for The Hunger Games was first released, enthusiasts of the novels, including myself, were leery about almost every choice except Lawrence. After seeing the film, I commend casting director Debra Zane and writer/director Gary Ross (who had script help from novelist Collins and Billy Ray) for assembling the best team of actors for the roles. Woody Harrelson could have been a bit meaner, but Elizabeth Banks and Josh Hutcherson were exceptional. It’s about to get tougher for Schwarzenegger in the Smackdown ring, since he has the only memorable performance in The Running Man. Can one man hold up a film against an entire cast?

The Decision

Both films are worth seeing if you are a fan of turning the value of human life into a game for entertainment and honor. Katniss and Peeta may have a difficult time in their own arena, but they dominated this one, unlike Ben who received hits even the strongest body builder cannot recover from. This time, the odds were in the favor of The Hunger Games

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About Nicole Marchesani

A recent graduate of Drexel University with a B.S. in Screenwriting and a minor in Film and Video, Nicole has yet to come down from her cloud of dreams. Currently living in her hometown of Philadelphia, she'll dive into the big California pond in August to pursue a career as a screenwriter. In the meantime, she is directing a web series she wrote, “Why Me?” following the unlucky life of Anna Brown, who writes a self-help book to offer advice on how to cope with daily misfortunes.
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19 Responses to The Hunger Games (2012) -vs- The Running Man (1987)

  1. Valo says:

    “Jesus Christ!”
    “Guess again.”

  2. MacKrazy says:

    Not just ‘The Running Man’ but a whole host of films have taken the Death Game sub-genre and did better things with it. Battle Royale and Gamer spring to mind.

  3. jackson says:

    THG is a big budget, big hype film that falls way short!

    I doubt TRM was a big budget film at the time with much less hype and exceeds expectations.

    For all the hype of THG I was shocked at how bad it was.

    If you compared these 2 films and accounted for “inflation”, TRM would beat THG by about 100x! ie. A cheap film that was great vs. a blockbuster that was OK at best.

    TRM seems more real/possible, THG kept screaming “fake” to me left and right.

    Being more visually beautiful is perhaps the only thing THG has over TRM.

    • Maddy says:

      Of course THG seems fake, it’s not really meant to be non fiction! Not everything needs to be possible to be amazing and frankly I don’t see how TRM could be more possible, they’re both just as you would say ‘fake’. THG did amazing in the box offices so i have to disagree with what your saying about it falling under expectation. Over all the Hunger Games won this poll for a reason.

    • J. says:

      Where did you get your inflation figures from, Jackson?

      The Running Man’s budget in 1987 was $27 million. Based on inflation it would equal to over $55 million in 2013. Hunger Games had a buget of $78. So both films had relatively the same budget.

      TRM was a nowhere near being a low budget film back then because studios at the time weren’t in the habit of puking $150 million down the drain on the average blockbuster. And that was a time when Arnold was at the top of the A-list and there’s no damned way he would have done a low budget flick.

      Even one of the highest budgeted films released that year was a James Bond movie made for $40 million.

      Now, i will give props ro THG for beating TRM in revenue. $690 million vs $30 million ($60 million inflated).

  4. James Butler says:

    Sigh…where do I start. Not so long ago, Madison avenue discovered that the demographic that was most vulnerable to their schtick AND had the most disposable cash was the 12-25 crowd, so we have seen in the past twenty years an increasing rotation of movies and books away from grownups and to kids. Running Man was a plausible world. You could see a future society where the downtrodden are pitted against the ruling class’s superhuman champions because it has happened before–in the arena in ancient Rome. Replacing them with kids is not just implausible (this was a move calculated to SUPPRESS rebellion?? If you can find one parent anywhere who would not kill a hundred people and sacrifice themselves to protect their children then you are living on another planet–of course the tween audience does not register that but I digress), it is STUPID. Why do we watch pro sports with 20-30 something ADULTS? Because they are at their physical prime and thus more entertaining!! Even if you put aside physical prowess, a kid’s personality is not developed enough to have the charisma of an adult in the interviews Hunger Games uses. You can knock Schwarzeneggar’s acting all you want, but the man had screen presence and charisma. Jennifer Lawrence’s acting fits what was written for her–but there is the problem–it’s a shallow character and I found it particularly hard to give a damn what happened to her. Additionally the central premise of the Hunger Games–kids killing kids–makes it impossible to root for any of them, because to win they have to become despicable and do the system’s bidding–unlike the Running Man, where they are essentially just trying to defend themselves against bloodthirsty thugs and BEAT the system.
    Even Running Man’s cheesy sfx and costumes actually worked for the movie because it was SUPPOSED to be flashy and loud and grab the audience’s attention–that is how TV WORKS! In the Hunger Games we have these kids running around in the forest for DAYS, hunting each other with the most primitive of weapons (and they have them dying of infection and exposure too!)–this sounds like an episode of National Geographic. How is THAT going to interest an audience–oh that’s right, in the future, where Lady Gaga has taken over fashion, that IS entertaining.
    Geez. I understand there is a market for Twilight knockoff’s but kids, part of being an adult is growing out of Dr. Seuss. If you are 15 and you find Hunger Games anything but insulting to your intelligence then you need to broaden your horizons.

  5. Eric Estrin says:

    I am loving the comments on this thread. You guys rock! Chris, jaredallas — hilarious! Why don’t you all come over to our Facebook page and join the conversation there… http://www.facebook.com/moviesmackdown

  6. Mark says:

    The Hunger Games is a tone down and a dramatized version of the Running Man, it has a female lead instead of a male one, it appeals to teenage girls, there is violence in the movie but it is toned down compared to the Running Man. We do not get an exact time period for the Hunger Games except that it takes place far into the future, Susan Collins says centuries, from the technology it looks like a couple of centuries into the future at least. You would think people who move to outer space by then, but no they live in world destroyed by climate change, yes global warming is what causes the collapse of modern civilization in the Hunger Games, its stated on page 18 of the book. Running Man takes place after the world runs out of oil. Both events largely would disrupt modern life.

    The Running Man was a low budget movie with a much lower profile than the Hunger Games. This new film is more disturbing than the Running Man for a number of reasons, it features kids instead of adults murdering each other, it seems to take place in a society that resembles Ancient Rome. The Roman Empire conquered vast lands far away from Rome. The residents of Rome led very lavish lives, while those in far off corners toiled for the Empire. Another thing is that Panem has futuristic technology, yet only a small percent benefit from that technology. The other is that Panem is highly organized and its citizens are very subservient. In most real third world nations this is not the case, hence the political instability and government overthrows you see in third world countries, if Americans in Panem do not rise up against the government when they have little to lose, it reflects poorly on Americans as spineless cowards.

    • J. says:

      I’m tired of reading you idiots posting that The Running Man was low budget. Where the hell did you get that information?

      TRM cost $27 million when it was made, which, considering inflation, equals to over $55 million at around the time Hunger Games was made for $78 million. Plus, in 1987, Arnold was a total A-lister and would NEVER have done a low budget movie.

  7. chris says:

    THG isnt a bad movie, or book for that matter, the books are way better then the film so far, its a nock on TRM, as per movies go TRM is better, its better action, more kick ass moments for the most part, the better acting and better budget goes to THG.

    however what Twilight did to Vampires and Warewolves, the THG “tween” audiance is doing to this series of books, its taking every thing great about the books and making them rated G for Gay. and im not saying homosexual gay, its old time english frilly and sissyfied tweety bird gay.

    stop making shit for kids and just make the best story possible. hollywood is ruining great literature

    • jaredallas says:

      “and im not saying homosexual gay, its old time english frilly and sissyfied tweety bird gay. ”

      I will marry this sentence, when my state legalizes it.

  8. Mugsy says:

    Better to compare the books rather than the movies.

    “The Running Man” movie bared almost no similarity to the book (which was magnitudes better.)

    And, as this review points out, the plot of THG isn’t exactly new. Besides TRM, several other TV shows and books have told the story of a “Life & Death gameshow world” (also seen in a Season-2 episode of TV’s “Sliders”, and arguably Rob White’s novel “Deathwatch”… which borrows from “The Most Dangerous Game”. THG is just the story’s most recent incarnation.)

  9. BrianNB says:

    It doesn’t matter who thinks one film is superior to another. The fact remains that The Hinger Games has absolutley no originality at all, it is just a knock-off of other films or other ideas. Simple fact. This doesn’t make the film better or worse, it is just stating a fact, a fact Hollywood seems to be totally naive of, they haven’t produced anything original in years and simply continue to either drown all of us with sequels or book-based stories brought to film. Nothing original at all and if you find something original that is not a sequel or not based on a best selling book, then its likley it will be trash.

    • J. says:

      There are scores of original movies that are far from being trash, stupid. You obviously have clue what you’re talking about.

  10. Adrian C. says:

    While aspects of the story may have been “borrowed” from the Running Man, it does not compare to how much was borrowed from Battle Royale. Yet the author claims to have never even heard of Battle Royale prior to writing the first novel. Had she never heard of Running Man either? Obviously, most stories borrow elements from something done previously but at least give credit where it is due. Pleading ignorance wouldn’t save you according to any university’s plagiarism policies.

  11. Kevin Wohler says:

    While I loved the campiness of Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man, it doesn’t hold a candle to the drama of the The Hunger Games. The latter film is a good balance of character and action, and the dystopian world becomes a social commentary of our own. Despite Richard Dawson’s outstanding typecast performance as a game show host, The Running Man never really moves beyond a caricature of a modern media. While it never strays far from the source material, The Hunger Games film doesn’t resonate with me in the same way as the novel. So, while latest contender in the “reality tv as film” genre is better than The Running Man, the novel of The Hunger Games is still better than both.

    • J. says:

      Bullshit. Read The Running Man novel. Far better writing from a master novelist. AND he wrote the novel in less than a week. Master novelist.

  12. Smacker Jay says:

    In regards to memorable performances, in “The Running Man,” you’re forgetting the stunning performance of Richard Dawson as Damon Killian, one of the greatest action movie villains on Technicolor film, and Maria Conchita Alonso as Amber Mendez ain’t bad either. As for supporting roles, ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura and ex-NFL star Jim Brown are pretty good as sub-villains, too.

    Also, don’t forget that in Stephen King’s original “Running Man” short story, the “running” or “game” environment is also outdoors and much larger than the enclosed arena in which it takes place in the film. 🙂

  13. Bryce Zabel says:

    We ran off to see the first showing of The Hunger Games this morning and enjoyed it.

    It seems to borrow its high-class fashion sense from The Fifth Element, its enclosed reality bubble from The Truman Show and its class-warfare by living sector from In Time.

    We all did wonder at the end what technology has evolved to allow computers to great live biological entities instantaneously and deploy them remotely. Maybe they’ll explain that in the sequels.

    I would have enjoyed this film more without the manipulation of the Gamekeepers. For that, I guess, I could go watch the original The Hunger Games, that other film based on a book, Battle Royale.

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