There was a joke that went around when The Hunger Games first came out in March that went like this:
Q: What do they call The Hunger Games in France?
A: Battle Royale with Cheese.
The Hunger Games, both in the books and on film, borrows from many older sci-fi works. It’s just the latest in a long line of works where contestants are forced to battle to the death on TV for the pleasure of the screaming masses. Some of these movies are worth seeking out and adding to your Netflix queue. Others, well…aren’t.
Death Race (2008) and Death Race 2000 (1975):
Both of these movies have remarkably similar origins to The Hunger Games. They both focus on a post-collapse United States. Instead of children, Death Race uses prison inmates. The inmates are made to participate in a killer race to the delight of viewers at home. The new one is a typical Jason Statham actioner where he growls through big set pieces, and the original is a cult classic that proceeds much like the entire Hunger Games series, right down to its finale.
Grade: C (2008) and B- (1975)
Series 7: The Contenders (2001):
This satire came out right after the reality TV craze started with Survivor. It focuses on six randomly selected people who are made to kill each other. The characters are wildly different, ranging from a pregnant woman to a retired old man to an 18-year-old student. Series 7’s clever twist is that the whole movie is shot and edited exactly like an episode of a reality show. Series 7 makes up for its low budget with cleverness and black humor.
Battle Royale (2000):
Battle Royale takes place in a fascist dystopia where teenagers are picked at random to compete in a televised tournament where they have to kill each other. The last one standing is the winner. Does this sound familiar at all? In premise, Battle Royale is almost the same as The Hunger Games. In execution, thankfully, it’s different. The kids are caught unaware in Battle Royale, so they’re not nearly as polished in combat as Katniss and crew. Also, these kids are the same high school class. Because of this, you see what happens to lifelong friendships and rivalries when placed in the most tension-filled setting imaginable. And if all that relationship stuff doesn’t interest you, it’s even gorier than The Hunger Games. Beyond that, Takeshi Kitano gives an oddly magnetic performance as their teacher.
The Running Man (1987):
Basically, if another fascist state arises, we can be assured that there will be some sort of on-air murdering show. The Running Man is also set in a fascist totalitarian America. This time, it’s convicted felons who are forced to do battle. Arnold Schwarzenegger is our hero, a wrongfully accused con, and it’s his job to evade and kill so-called “stalkers” on the way to his freedom. Goofy costumes and the presence of actual pro-wrestlers give it a very kitschy appeal. Considering that this was made 25 years ago, it’s impressive in its ability to predict reality television.
Did we miss any?