16 Future Death Sport Movies That Are Worth Your Time
In 1924, writer Richard Connell published his short story The Most Dangerous Game, which tells the sordid tale of a big game hunter on an island who kills humans for sport. That story has influenced pop culture ever since, with the concept being borrowed and applied to numerous survivalist films in the action, thriller, horror, and science fiction genres. Humans are the most advanced and dangerous animal of them all at the end of the day, therefore, hunting them is the ultimate test.
In sci-fi and horror, however, we’ve often seen the idea of such blood sports imagined as wholesome entertainment for the populations of the future. Whether it’s greedy capitalists exploiting the lives of the disenfranchised for their own material gain, or inhabitants of post-apocalyptic wastelands seeking ways to entertain themselves, genre cinema has sometimes shown us that taking another person’s life is just a contest to be enjoyed, much like a football game.
From gladiatorial combat to killer game shows and more, this list looks at some of the movies that incorporate these ideas. As you’ll find out, most of them are similar both from a story point of view and from a thematic perspective; one day society will regress and become so depraved that even death won’t be off the cards when it comes to entertainment. We should be wary of corporations and governments, as they’ll exploit our desire for wealth and fame for their own nefarious ambitions. But we won’t care, because we’ll turn out to be just as barbaric as the systems in place set to capitalize from our spilled blood.
It’s also a chronological list, so we can look at the evolution of the genre somewhat (even though you’ll find that it’s fairly derivative for the most part).
The Tenth Victim (1965)
Italian maestro Elio Petri was a very political filmmaker and an active member of the Italian Communist Party from a young age. As such, his oeuvre contains several films with strong left-wing leanings and a distrust of the establishment, but none are as odd or strangely prescient as The Tenth Victim, one of the earliest post-The Dangerous Game “human hunting” movies.
Influenced by Robert Sheckley's 1953 short stories The Seventh Victim and The Price of Peril, The Tenth Victim is a camp sci-fi tale about an evolved society where violence has been turned into a spectacle entitled the Big Hunt, a competition where contestants provide entertainment of the murderous variety for the masses. The game’s participants, who are sponsored by corporations, undergo ten rounds of deadly combat—5 as hunters and 5 as the hunted—until one remains. The last person standing takes home a jackpot prize.
The Tenth Victim is quintessentially ‘60s, with its kitsch jazz score, pop art style, and general goofiness. Yet, despite the inherent silliness of it all, Petri still managed to deliver a wonderful satire which poses some interesting questions about society’s obsession with wealth and fame. Maybe we haven’t resorted to murder yet, but if reality television has shown us anything, it’s that people are more than happy to degrade themselves for some spotlight.
The Millions Game (1970)
The Millions Game is a German TV movie that predates The Running Man in predicting that the game shows in the future will involve death sports. Likewise, Robert Sheckley’s short stories, The Seventh Victim and The Prize of Peril, inspired The Millions Game, both of which came before the dystopian Stephen King novel that inspired the ‘80s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
The rules of the Millions Game are simple: survive. The film follows a chosen participant as he spends one week trying to avoid armed gunmen out for his blood as the rest of the nation watches the events on television. Why? Well, should he succeed, he’ll bag himself a million DMark. Should he fail… well, let’s just say he won’t have to worry about money ever again.
Apparently, when the movie first aired some people misunderstood the satire and mistook it for a real game show. This led to hundreds of young men applying to participate in future episodes, either as future candidates or hunters. That just goes to show how some people are willing to go to depraved lengths for money—or maybe they wanted to kill people or be chased by killers?
Death Race 2000 (1975)
B movie producer Roger Corman has never been one to pass up an opportunity to make a few bucks. His films are made on the cheap and always profit, but sometimes they capture lightning in a bottle and stand the test of time. Death Race 2000 is one such movie, and it’s one with a message which, unfortunately, has some significance in 2017.
Starring David Carradine and a young Sly Stallone, Death Race 2000 takes place in a future where the U.S. is run by a dictatorship. However, that doesn’t matter as the masses are distracted every year by the annual Trans-Continental Death Race, in which participants earn points by running down innocent pedestrians. Essentially, it’s like the Superbowl of Wacky Races, but with more killing and fun to be had.
When Death Race 2000 was released, Corman sought to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the next film on this list. However, it soon became something else entirely with its biting political satire and pitch black comedy. It also paved the way for a franchise featuring remakes and sequels, the latest of which, Death Race 2050, was released earlier this year.
If sci-fi has taught us one thing about the future, it’s that corporations will be super evil. Sure, some already remorselessly profit at the expense of our health and mortality, but in the future they won’t even bother trying to mask their sinister agenda. Take the evil rich bastards from Rollerball, for instance, who literally turned humankind’s love for violence into a blood sport as a means to keep them controlled. Are you spotting a pattern with these movies yet?
Rollerball takes place in futuristic society where corporations have replaced nations, and the violent titular game is used to control the populace by demonstrating the pointlessness of individuality. The game itself is like roller derby, only with a steel ball and motorcycles thrown into the mix to spice things up.
Rollerball has been interpreted as a critique of sports and violence, but its themes could extend to any powerful corporate entity. And, while we’re here, I’d like to say that the reviled remake is a lot of fun as mindless action fodder. The original, however, is a legitimate satirical masterpiece.
Another Roger Corman production starring David Carradine, Deathsport was originally intended as a follow-up to Death Race 2000, but after the script underwent a pot-induced rewrite, it became its own gloriously demented thing.
In the film, horseback riders are pitted against maniacal motorcycle-riding barbarians and cannibalistic mutants who forcefully recruit people to partake good old-fashioned gladiatorial combat. Because in the future following nuclear holocausts, everyone is a cannibal and sadistic killer. It could be you someday.
While Deathsport lacks the humor of its “predecessor”, it’s still a fun exploitation action flick with a cool concept. Furthermore, it even predates Mad Max with a like-minded post-apocalyptic vision, though we doubt it'll ever be as held in as high regard.
Turkey Shoot (1982)
Genre cinema has often taught us that the lives of the future criminals mean less than muck. Once you get locked up, rotting away in a jail cell is sometimes the least of your worries. If you do the crime and get caught, chances are you’ll end up as a pawn in a sick game. Sometimes, though, the criminals decide to participate of their own free will and that’s how heroes are born.
In Turkey Shoot, a prison feature from the legendary Aussie exploitation maestro Brian Trenchard Smith, society’s deviants are sent to concentration camps to be hunted like wildlife by rich people with too much time of their hands. But as the game progresses, those wealthy sadists get more than they bargained for when the tables are turned.
Criticized by many for its extreme violence, Turkey Shoot is an Ozploitation classic from one of the greatest unsung directors in the history of fun and freaky cinema.
The Prize of Peril (1983)
In this French film adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s short story of the same name, participants must outlast barbaric murderers in exchange for cash prizes.
I feel like I’m just repeating myself when it comes to the plots of some of these movies. Again, it’s about a deadly game show sport for the entertainment of the masses. However, given that this is an adaptation of one of the stories that birthed this bleak vision of humankind in the future, we should once again acknowledge that its source material has been key to our entertainment throughout the years.
It’s just a shame that this movie is so overlooked in the grand scheme of things, given that it’s a more direct adaptation of the stories that launched this amazing subgenre of bloodthirsty cinema.
Back in the ‘80s, Italy was prone to exploitation knock-offs of foreign genre film trends, yet despite shamelessly borrowing of ideas from elsewhere, they still had a tendency to take on strange forms of their own. And when it came to the art form, few directors mastered mockbusters as triumphantly as Joe D’Amato, and Endgame is a testament to his wizardry.
Our story takes place in the year 2025 amid a New York City wasteland ravaged by nuclear devastation. The ruined city is inhabited by scavenger tribes and telepathic mutants, who are persecuted by the societal elite. To keep the people happy and entertained, a reality television program called “Endgame” is shown, which features deadly gladiatorial competition.
Endgame is a treat. Imagine a cross-pollination of The Running Man, Escape from New York, and Mad Max and you have the right idea. The sport is only one part of this adventure, as the second half of the movie entails a band of heroes trying to escape their peril through the wasteland. Along the way, they encounter monks, government agents, and all manner of foes.
Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984)
‘The Godfather of Gore’, Lucio Fulci, is best remembered for his horror fare but as a director, he flexed his muscles across a variety of genres. Warriors of the Year 2072 is yet another Italian post-apocalyptic movie made to cash in on the popularity of Mad Max and Escape From New York. It was a glorious time for cinema, and this is one of the director’s most underappreciated efforts.
Like many films of this ilk, Warriors of the Year 2072 takes place in a future where criminals fight to the death for the entertainment of the populace in a world shattered by the effects of nuclear destruction. However, in the spirit of the savage sports of ancient Rome, the deadly contests take place in a Coliseum, only with motorcycles used in place of chariots as these are future times. This could be our future soon, and to be honest: I’m all for it.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Since so many of these movies exist because of Mad Max, it’s only right that one of George Miller’s movies makes the list. Granted, Beyond Thunderdome isn’t the apex of the Mad Max franchise by any means, but it’s a fun movie with a bad ass steel cage contest and it deserves some praise.
However, the cage brawls aren’t the main focus of Beyond Thunderdome; the plot centers around a town embroiled in a power struggle between two forces, culminating with our hero leading a posse of children to save the innocent townsfolk. Again, this isn’t really a death sport in the spirit of most titles on this list, but it still includes combat in a cage so I’m counting it.
The only downside to Beyond Thunderdome is that it’s tame compared to the other movies in the franchise. In a bid to appeal to a broader international audience, it was given a PG-13 rating and arguably suffers as a result. That said, for all it may be the black sheep of the franchise, it’s still a wonderful sequel set within a world I could get lost in forever.
The Running Man (1987)
As far as adaptations of Stephen King tomes go, The Running Man takes liberties with its source material and then some. In fact, the novel merely served as a basic blueprint to build an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle capable of ripping out YAH GAWDAHM SPINE!!!
Arnie plays Ben Richards, a wrongly convicted soldier who must survive a deadly gauntlet staged as a televised game show called “The Running Man”. Clad in a bright yellow leotard, he must evade ruthless killers and protect his comrades as the betting public cheer and put money on their favorites to live and die.
The film is just another excuse for Arnie to be an unstoppable force of destruction and deliver cheesy one-liners—but that’s what makes it such a special. This is the ultimate ‘80s experience, and the eclectic array of colorful characters and non-stop carnage makes for one of the most enjoyable gifts given to us from that glorious era of violent action cinema.
Salute of the Jugger (1989)
Salute of the Jugger (also known as The Blood of Heroes) is one of the countless post-apocalyptic movies released in the wake of Mad Max which sought to capitalize on the success of the Mel Gibson-led franchise. It was a glorious time in cinema as all you needed was a few bucks, silly costumes and a scorching desert at your disposal if you wanted to make an action movie set in a world gone wild.
In this future, inhabitants of the wasteland participate The Game, a sport which involves teams of armored combatants competing against each other with the aim of knocking a dog skull into the opposition’s goal. It’s like football, only the players are allowed to bludgeon the other team with chains. The Game isn’t a death sport per se, but it’s hella brutal and comes pretty damn close.
Interestingly, the movie was written and directed by Blade Runner co-scribe David Peoples and stars Rutger Hauer in the lead role. Suffice to say, their previous collaboration together is more fondly remembered among film buffs, but Salute of the Jugger is a lot of fun nonetheless. Furthermore, it inspired a real-life sport based on that of the film’s, albeit with less bloody savagery.
Battle Royale (2000)
Battle Royale is arguably the most disturbing movie on this list. Adapted from the Koushun Takami’s book of the same name, the film tells the story of a group of high schoolers who are taken to an island to forcibly kill each other until only one remains. It isn’t a traditional sports movie, but the setup is like a game so it makes the cut. Plus, it’s a masterpiece.
When the novel was released during Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’ of economic depression, high youth crime rates, and a growing generational gap between the young and old, it served as a social commentary on the contemporary socio-political climate at the time. But for the film’s director, Kinji Fukasaku, the story contained a deeper, more personal meaning; a remembrance of his own horror story.
During the final days of the Pacific War, when Fukasaku was only 15-years-old, he was drafted to work in a munitions factory alongside his classmates. During his tenure, though, the factory was bombed by Allied forces and Fukasaku watched his friends and classmates die before his very eyes. Watching the film with that knowledge, it takes on a disturbing new meaning. On the other hand, it’s a riveting thriller with plenty of gallows humor to keep things entertaining despite the grim subject matter.
Video games are going to turn us all into violent lunatics someday. At least that’s what some people want you to believe, as, despite no scientific evidence to prove it, “experts” and moral crusaders have been connecting real-life atrocities to violent console games since the dawn of mankind— or at least since the emergence of the first-person shooter. In Gamer, however, both are interlinked and it’s a blast.
Directed by Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the hyperkinetic Crank movies, Gamer depicts a future where death row convicts are placed in a survival game. The twist, however, is that they’re controlled by players, like real video characters.
Gamer is a brainless action flick with plenty of ultraviolence to satiate that lust for carnage most of us Grinners crave from our popcorn fare. The virtual-reality concept is far from original, but Neveldine/Taylor bend it to fit their own demented vision in a way that only they can. The movie poses some interesting questions about our obsession with technology, but ultimately, it’s just another outing where Gerard Butler runs around shooting people.
The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games movies, which are based on the novel series by Suzanne Collins, are often dismissed as Battle Royale clones for a YA audience. Granted, the similarities are obvious, but if we’ve learned one thing from this list it’s that movies of this ilk don’t tend to stray too far from the same lanes anyway.
The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, where the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected to participate in the titular games as punishment for a past rebellion. However, for the purpose of entertainment, the televised games are broadcast throughout the nation.
The Hunger Games are the most prosperous products of the future death sport canon. Maybe they’re not the best, but if they’re introducing teenagers to the horrors and joys of what our future is going to be like, so be it. Maybe it’ll make them think and start initiating change that’ll bring about peace some day.
The Purge: Election Year (2016)
The Purge didn’t start out as a death sport franchise, but by the time last year’s Election Year arrived, the series boasted enough elements to make this prestigious list. By this point, the annual legalized crime spree the films are centered on saw some members of society embrace it as a game, where they’d round up their teams and take to the streets for a hunting party.
If you aren’t acquainted with these movies, they tells the story of a night of lawlessness which takes places every year where American citizens get to act out their most barbaric impulses for 12 hours without repercussions. The government and society’s elite see it as a way of eliminating crime and property, but some people treat it like their own Superbowl… of death.
In this movie, America opened its doors to tourists to participate in the Purge as well. People came from far and wide just to end human lives, treating it like a competitive activity. That’s a blood sport if there ever was one.
I know I’ve missed some out, so if you have any recommendations be sure to let us know.