'Running Man' Or 'Hunger Games' -- Ranking The Most Watchable Shows In Dystopias
According to The Running Man, by 2017, the U.S. would be a dystopic land populated by cruel people who enjoy watching spandex-clad convicts being hunted down by armed maniacs in wacky costumes. Of course, that turned out to be a ridiculous prediction; present-day clothes are actually quite boring and un-wacky. Still, dystopic stories like that do raise some interesting questions, like "How entertaining would those ultra-violent shows actually be if they were all you could watch on your TV/holoscreens/whatever?"
In Gamer starring Gerald Butler and Terry Crews, we're told that 650 million people pay to watch death row inmates playing real-life Call of Duty while being remote controlled by teenagers, and ... really? We called it "real-life Call of Duty," but, gameplay-wise, it's more like some bare-bones CoD clone you'd get on Steam for $1 and refund within 3 hours:
There's only one game mode, no skins, very limited weapon selection, unavoidable lag, and you can't even make your guy teabag opponents (or, at the very least, do a Fortnite dance over their corpses). This game would get 35 active viewers on Twitch. The other 649,999,965 have to be bots, or maybe people who are only tuning in to watch Terry Crews' shirtless streams (and then buy his bath water).
As a movie, the original Rollerball is a very thoughtful reflection about the "sickness and insanity of contact sports and their allure," as the director once put it. But as a TV show? Let's be honest, not that alluring. The dramatic climax for the final match is basically four minutes of awkward silence.
It's a bunch of quarterbacks in rollerskates going around in circles on a small track -- the exciting part is that they can kill each other, but even chess would be an extreme sport if they added that rule. Surely the futuristic year 2018 has TV shows about people beating each other to death without the rollerskating part if that's what you're into.
Same as above, but we're ranking it a little higher because at least this one has musical acts.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Death Race, the government-sponsored vehicular combat event, has decent female representation (one of those women is a Neo-Nazi, but still) and a nice variety of vehicles and weapons -- it's Mario Kart in real life. The only problem is that you'll miss most of that action since citizens are encouraged to stay outside during the death races so they can serve as "points" (perhaps GTA would be a better comparison).
Plus, a lot of the best moments happen away from the cameras, like the single greatest and most elegantly choreographed fight scene that Sylvester Stallone has ever been involved in:
The Hunger Games (2012-2015)
The Hunger Games has by far the highest production values and the most elaborate lore of any show we've brought up, not to mention a solid cast -- we can't believe they got The Bill Engvall Show's Jennifer Lawrence to sign up. The only reason it's not higher on this list the lore is too elaborate. There's just way too much to keep track of; ceremonies, speeches, interviews, tragic backstories, etc.
Like, imagine you step away for half a day to work in the mines or whatever, and suddenly the guy you were rooting for is dead, two others hooked up and broken up already because one killed the other. Something tells us they don't do reruns or home video releases in Panem, so you'll probably take that confusion to your grave. Perhaps the key is making a show so dumb there barely even is a lore to remember. Speaking of which ...
The Running Man (1987)
This one has it all: a good variety of sections, gigantic sets, plenty of props, and a fun cast of regulars. Where else can you see Arnold Schwarzenegger getting attacked by guys who look like your uncle if he was a supervillain? Pretty good for public television. They even have convincing CGI, as evidenced by the part where they deepfake Captain Freedom killing Arnold and his love interest.
This is kind of like the opposite of Rollerball: the movie may be kinda dumb, but the show itself is such a transcendental experience that it even managed to convince the same people who were cheering for Arnold's death at the start to spark a revolution and overthrow the government within two hours. Even the audience has a character arc in this one. What more could you ask for in a dystopic TV show? Well ...
Das Millionenspiel (1970)
The granddaddy of this genre. Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, a lawsuit determined that The Running Man, despite being "based" on a Stephen King novel (with a totally different plot and characters), was plagiarized from a 1983 French movie called Le Prix du Danger ("The Price of Danger") ...
... which, itself, is based on a novel that had another film adaptation in Germany in 1970, Das Millionenspiel ("The Million Game"). Both of these movies are about TV shows where regular people are hunted by professional killers and helped/hindered by the general audience. So what makes the German version the ultimate dystopic TV show? The fact that it's pretty much The Running Man but, well, hornier. Not just due to the groovy dance numbers that occasionally interrupt the plot ...
... but also due to the NSFW ad breaks, which were originally meant to be a satire of over-sexualized advertisements but today could pass for actual TV commercials. Action, social commentary, and butts; what more could you need in a TV show or life in general?
Thumbnail: Sony Pictures