The Running Man

The Running Man
The Running Man  
First edition cover
Author(s) Richard Bachman
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Signet Books
Publication date May 1982
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 219
ISBN 978-0451115089
Preceded by Roadwork
Followed by Thinner

The Running Man is a science fiction novel by Stephen King, first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books. The novel is set in a dystopian United States during the year 2025, in which the nation's economy is in ruins and world violence is rising.

The story follows protagonist Ben Richards as he participates in the game show The Running Man in which contestants, allowed to go anywhere in the world, are chased by "Hunters," employed to kill them.

The Running Man was loosely adapted into a film with the same name, which was released five years after the book in 1987. The film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Richards, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth, Jim Brown, and Richard Dawson.[1] The film was later made into a video game released on several different game consoles.[2]



Richard Bachman

The Running Man is part of Stephen King's The Bachman Books, a series of books published by King between the years of 1977 and 1982 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The series included three other novels previously published under the Bachman name: Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and finally The Running Man.[3] According to King in The Importance of Being Bachman, the introduction to The Bachman Books, Richard Bachman was created to be his long-term alias, not just a temporary writing identity. Although this was his goal, his actual name was eventually leaked to the media, which angered King.[4] King later based one of his works, The Dark Half, on the revealing of his pseudonym.[5]

Writing the book

According to King in his 2002 memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, The Running Man was written within a single week, compared to his normal 2,000 word, or ten page per day output (King comments that writing a novel would normally take approximately three months to complete at the pace).[6] King described The Running Man in The Importance of Being Bachman as "...a book written by a young man who was angry, energetic, and infatuated with the art and the craft of writing."[7]

Also in The Importance of Being Bachman, King describes the book's protagonist, Ben Richards, as "scrawny" and "pre-tubercular". King also added that Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played Ben Richards in the film adaptation of The Running Man, portrayed the character very differently than he wrote about him in the book, saying that Richards (in the book) was " far away from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie as you can get."[8]


The book has a total of 101 chapters, laid out in a "countdown" format. The first is titled "Minus 100 and Counting ..." with the numbers decreasing, until the last chapter, "Minus 000 and Counting" (or, in some versions, merely "000").

The story's protagonist, Ben Richards, is a citizen of Co-Op City, a suburb of the fictional Harding, which is located somewhere in the Midwest, west of Detroit[9] (not to be confused with the real Co-Op City) in the year 2025. The world's economy is in a shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Richards is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade, and needs money to get medicine for his gravely ill daughter Cathy. His wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the Games Network, a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on The Running Man, the Games Network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program. Richards meets with Network producer Dan Killian and Running Man host Bobby Thompson. The men proceed to discuss Richards' contract for appearing on the show, as well as the challenges he is expected to face when the game starts.

The contestant is declared an enemy of the state and released with a 12-hour head start before the "Hunters," an elite team of Games Network-employed hitmen, are sent out to kill him. The contestant earns $100 per hour that he stays alive and avoids capture, an additional $100 for each law enforcement officer or Hunter he kills, and one billion "New Dollars" if he survives for 30 days. Viewers can earn cash rewards for calling the Games Network with information on the runner's whereabouts. The record time for survival is eight days and five hours - a mark that Richards eventually surpasses. The runner is given $4,800 and a pocket video camera before he leaves the studio. He can travel anywhere in the world, and each day he must videotape two messages and mail them back to the studio for broadcasting. If he neglects to send the messages, he will be held in default of his Games contract and will lose the prize money, but will continue to be hunted indefinitely.

As the game begins, Richards obtains a disguise and false identification records, traveling first to New York City and then Boston. In Boston, he is tracked down by the Hunters and only manages to escape by setting off an explosion in the basement of a YMCA building that kills five police officers. He narrowly escapes through a sewer pipe and emerges in the city's impoverished ghetto, where he takes shelter with gang member Bradley Throckmorton and his family. Richards learns from Bradley that the air is severely polluted and that the poor are kept down as a permanent underclass. Bradley also says that the Games Network exists only as a propaganda machine to pacify and distract the public. Richards tries to incorporate this information into his video messages, but finds that the Network dubs over his voice with obscenities and threats during the broadcast.

Bradley smuggles Richards past a government checkpoint to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he disguises himself as a half-blind priest. In addition, Bradley provides Richards with re-mailing labels so that the Network will not be able to track him by the postmark on his videotapes. Richards spends a few days in Manchester, but dreams that Bradley has betrayed him after being tortured. He travels to a safe house owned by a friend of Bradley in Portland, Maine, but is reported by the owner's mother. As the police and the Hunters close in on the safe house, Richards is wounded, but manages to escape. The next morning, after arranging to mail his videotapes, Richards carjacks a woman named Amelia Williams, holds her hostage, and makes his way to an airport in Derry, Maine. Richards has a standoff at the airport and manages to bluff his way past Evan McCone, the lead Hunter, onto a plane by pretending he is carrying high-quality plastic explosives.

Richards takes both Amelia and McCone as prisoners, and has the plane fly low over populated areas to avoid being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. However, he is confronted by Killian on a video call, who states that he knows Richards does not have any explosives, as the plane's security system would have detected if he did. But to Richards' surprise, Killian offers him the job of lead Hunter. He is hesitant to take the offer, worried that his family will become a target. Killian then informs him that Sheila and Cathy were brutally murdered over ten days earlier, even before Richards first appeared on the show. He gives Richards some time to make his decision. Richards falls asleep, and dreams of his murdered family and a gruesome crime scene. With nothing left to lose, he calls Killian back and accepts the offer. He then overpowers the flight crew and kills McCone, who mortally wounds him. After allowing Amelia to parachute to safety, Richards uses his last strength to override the plane's autopilot and fly the plane toward the skyscraper housing the Games Network.

The book ends with the plane crashing into the tower, and the description, "...and it rained fire twenty blocks away."

Publication history


  1. ^ "The Running Man (1987)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  2. ^ "The Running Man". Gamespot. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  3. ^ King, 1999, front cover and inside page
  4. ^ King, 1996, 1
  5. ^ King, 1996, 3
  6. ^ King, 2002, 69
  7. ^ King, 1996, 3–4
  8. ^ King, 1996, 4
  9. ^ King, 1986, 911


  • King, Stephen (1986). The Bachman Books. New York, New York: Signet. pp. 923. ISBN 0-451-14736-7. 
  • King, Stephen (written as Richard Bachman) (1999). The Running Man (Mass market paperback ed.). Signet Classic. pp. 336. ISBN 0451197968. 
  • King, Stephen (2002). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (reprint ed.). Simon and Schuster. pp. 320. ISBN 0743455967. 
  • King, Stephen (1996). The Importance of Being Bachman (introduction to The Bachman Books). pp. 10 

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