Science Fiction Film & Television

‘It rained fire’: The Running Man from Bachman to Schwarzenegger

Science Fiction Film & Television (2017), 10, (2), 197–213.

Abstract

One of seven books to be published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s The Running Man (1982) is a dystopian sf novel written in 1971, during a time of severe civil unrest under Richard Nixon, but not published until after the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s New Right revolution. A countercultural and scathingly anti-capitalist work, it tells the story of an impoverished family man selected to take part in ‘The Running Man’, a grotesque game show that offers cash rewards to contestants willing to be hunted on television. A film adaptation arrived before the end of the 1980s, but the cinematic version of The Running Man (Glaser US 1987) is often lambasted for transforming a leftist novel into a conservative action blockbuster. This article examines the differing cultural contexts in which The Running Man was written, published and adapted in order to investigate the thematic continuities between King’s book and a film that shares both its writer and star with Commando (Lester US 1985). It demonstrates that, despite many scholars’ criticisms and several changes to King’s narrative, the socialist message of the Bachman book survives, rendering The Running Man one of the few 1980s action films to criticise the Reagan administration.

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Mann, Craig Ian