Death Race (film)

Death Race (film)
Death Race

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
Produced by Paul W. S. Anderson
Jeremy Bolt
Roger Corman
Paula Wagner
Screenplay by Paul W. S. Anderson
Robert Thom
(1975 screenplay)
Charles Griffith
(1975 screenplay)
Story by Paul W. S. Anderson
Ib Melchior
(1975 story)
Starring Jason Statham
Joan Allen
Tyrese Gibson
Ian McShane
Natalie Martinez
Music by Paul Haslinger
Studio Relativity Media
Cruise/Wagner Productions
Impact Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) August 22, 2008 (2008-08-22)
(United States and Canada)
September 26, 2008
(United Kingdom)
October 30, 2008
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $45 million
Box office $75,677,515

Death Race is a 2008 action film produced, written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and starring Jason Statham. Though referred to as a remake of the 1975 film Death Race 2000 (based on Ib Melchior's short story "The Racer") in reviews and marketing materials, director Paul W.S. Anderson stated in an interview[1] and the DVD commentary that he thought of the film as a prequel. A remake had been in development since 2002, though production was delayed by disapproval of early screenplays then placed in turnaround following a dispute between Paramount Pictures and the producer duo Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Death Race was acquired by Universal Studios, and Anderson re-joined the project to write and direct. Filming began in Montreal in August 2007, and the completed project was released on August 22, 2008.

A direct-to-DVD prequel to the film, Death Race 2, was released on October 31, 2010.



In 2012, the economy of the United States collapses. Unemployment and crime rates skyrocket, and the sharp increase of convicted criminals leads to the privatization of prisons for profit. For pay-per-view entertainment, a modern gladiator game called “Death Race” is invented at the Terminal Island penitentiary using the prisoners as players. Drivers are paired with navigators to assist them with maintenance, weapons, and track guidance. There are three types of special pads on the track, shields, swords, and death heads, that a car can activate by running over with all four tires. Shields activate a car's defensive weapons, swords activate a car's offensive weapons, and death heads, when activated, extends a column of spikes out of the ground that impales a passing/pursuing car, and then retracts back into the ground, crushing the car and finishing off any survivors. A single Death Race takes place over three days and is divided into three stages. The first two stages are elimination rounds, where drivers eliminate as much competition as they can without getting themselves killed. The remaining drivers then compete in the final stage, where the goal is to be the first to cross the finish line without getting killed. If a driver can survive and win five races, they’re freed, though so far every participant has died.

At the end of one race, a masked driver named Frankenstein (David Carradine) is nearing the finish line against his only surviving competitor, rival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson). His navigator, Case (Natalie Martinez), reports that his defensive weapons are malfunctioning, and is ordered to eject from the car shortly before Joe blows it up. Six months later, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is sent to Terminal Island after being framed for his wife’s murder. The warden, Hennessey (Joan Allen), informs Ames that – unknown to the public and other racers – Frankenstein is dead, but as he was so wildly popular, she wants to keep his legend alive for the ratings. She coerces Ames to clandestinely assume the persona; Ames would only need to win one race to earn his freedom and take back his baby daughter since Frankenstein won four, and by wearing Frankenstein's mask, only few people will know he's not really Frankenstein. His maintenance crew, Coach (Ian McShane), Gunner (Jacob Vargas), and Lists (Frederick Koehler) are among those who know this and quickly acquaint Ames with his competition.

On the first day, Ames meets Case, who also knows he’s not the real Frankenstein. Ames has a rough first go, coming in last place, and three racers are eliminated. His defensive weapons also mysteriously malfunctioned, just like last time. Ames pieces together that one of the racers, Pachenko (Max Ryan), was the one who stabbed his wife at the behest of Hennessey so she could recruit him as Frank’s replacement for huge profits. During the second stage, Ames forces Case to admit that she has been sabotaging Frankenstein’s car on the orders of Hennessey in exchange for her release papers. Case was never meant to kill Frank or Ames, just stop them from winning so Frankenstein could remain in Death Race. Ames then breaks Pachenko's neck and temporarily teams up with Machine Gun Joe to destroy a massive 18-wheel tanker with many weapons that kills the other competitors to boost the ratings even higher. This tips Joe off to Frank’s real identity, and afterward they have a talk.

Hennessey, aware that Ames knows her angle, tries to maintain the ruse of granting him freedom but asks him to consider staying on permanently as Frankenstein. As a precaution, she has an explosive planted under his car before the start of the third round, knowing that she can replace Ames as she used him to replace Frankenstein. The stage begins, and Hennessey manipulates the track in Joe’s favor from her control room. Right when Joe appears victorious, they both escape through a damaged wall; Hennessey unsuccessfully tries to activate the bomb. Hennessey then sends attack helicopters after Ames and Joe, who make it past the bridge that connects the island to the mainland and split up, and the helicopters follow Ames under Hennessey's orders. Case offers herself as bait in the Frankenstein costume and mask to repay the old Frank, and because she’d already been given her release papers. She is captured while the two men escape.

Later, Hennessey is given an anonymous gift, which turns out to be the bomb she originally meant for Ames; Coach remotely detonates the bomb and then proceeds to break the fourth wall by looking into the camera and saying "I love this game". Six months afterward, Joe, Ames, and his baby girl are shown living honestly in Mexico where Case joins them, and Ames reflects on how his daughter is his chance at something else and that no one could love her more then he does.


  • Jason Statham as Jensen Ames, a falsely-convicted prisoner coerced to drive in the arena, taking the name "Frankenstein" from the man who came before him.[2][3]
  • Joan Allen as Hennessey, the sadistic prison warden.[3]
  • Tyrese Gibson as Joseph Mason (a.k.a. "Machine Gun Joe"), a sociopathic racer who looks to use Death Race as a means to escape from prison. He alone uses male navigators, because his navigators are killed so often that when he used women the ratings would fall due to squeamish audiences.[3]
  • Ian McShane as Coach, Frankenstein's loyal head mechanic and a voluntary inmate.[3]
  • Natalie Martinez as Case, Frankenstein's navigator.[4]
  • Max Ryan as Pachenko, a rival driver Ames clashes with several times (who also killed Ames' wife and framed him for it).
  • Jason Clarke as Ulrich, Hennessey's right hand man.
  • Frederick Koehler as Lists, another member of Frankenstein's pit crew and a compulsive data collector.
  • Jacob Vargas as Gunner, Frankenstein's car repairman.
  • Justin Mader as Travis Colt, a disgraced ex-NASCAR driver seeking to rebuild his career by winning the race.
  • Robert LaSardo as Hector Grimm (a.k.a. "The Grim Reaper"), a certified psychopath driving in the race who loves and worships Hennessey (believing her to be the avatar of the Hindu god of death).
  • Robin Shou as 14K, a tenth-generation Triad member, sent to business school, held a degree from MIT.
  • David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most popular driver in the history of Death Race. (cameo voice-over, reprising role in original 1975 film Death Race 2000) He has crashed so many times that he has to wear a mask to cover his disfigurements.


The cars in the film are real vehicles that have been heavily modified with armor plating, machine guns and defensive weapons:

  • Frankenstein's Monster - A Fifth-generation Ford Mustang armed with 2 M134s, smokescreen, napalm and oil slick for defense,[5] as well as a 6-inch-thick (150 mm) detachable steel plate on the rear bumper called "The Tombstone". It also has an ejector seat for the navigator and a cigarette lighter.
  • Dodge Ram - Machine Gun Joe's truck, armed with a cowcatcher, 4 hood-mounted Browning M1919, 2 side-mounted Vulcan cannons and Russian RPG-7s on the roof.
  • Porsche 911 - Driven by the Chinese convict 14K. With 2 WW2 German MG-42 belt-fed general purpose machine guns and 4 hood-mounted missiles with 4 on the roof.
  • Pachenko's chop top - A chop top, 1967 Buick Riviera GS (serial #494877H903903) armed with 4 German hood-mounted MG-34s and 2 internal PPSh-41 submachine guns also with 2 Uzis mounted in the grille.
  • Pontiac Trans Am - Carson's Car. Has a M134 aiming backwards for defense, and a .50 caliber turret on top of his car which is operated by his navigator.
  • 1972 Buick Riviera "Boat tail" - Riggins' car. Caltrops for Defense and twin Browning M1919 machine guns in the passenger side windscreen.
  • Jaguar XJS - British sports car driven by Travis with 2 .50 cal M2 Browning machine guns.
  • Chrysler 300C - Luxury sedan driven by Grimm armed with 3 hood-mounted FN MAG58s with no stocks and a missile on the passenger side roof and an oil slick for defense.
  • BMW E32 - Siad's car. Armed with a single M134.
  • The Dreadnaught - An 18 wheel tanker modified by Hennessy into an armored vehicle with .50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns, flame thrower, grenade launchers, spikes on the wheel hubs, bulldozer blade, chained caltrops and a M1A1 tank turret.
  • 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS - Custom muscle car driven by Case at the end of the film.


In March 2005, following the success of Alien vs. Predator, director Paul W.S. Anderson revealed that he was directing a remake of Death Race 2000 (1975) entitled Death Race 3000 at Paramount Pictures (which owns television and internet rights to the original, with the former currently being handled on Paramount's behalf by Trifecta Entertainment & Media) based on a script by J. F. Lawton. The remake would be produced by the producer pair Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Anderson described the remake as a riff on the first film. "It's not a straight remake at all. The first movie was an across-America race. This will be an around-the-world race. And it's set further in the future, so the cars are even more futuristic. So you've got cars with rockets, machine guns, force fields; cars that can split apart and re-form, a bit like Transformers. Cars that become invisible," the director explained.[6] reported that "Paul saw his film almost as a prequel if anything; almost the genesis of the Death Race,"[1] though the film is referred to primarily as a remake in reviews and marketing materials.

Two years later, Roger Corman, the producer of Death Race 2000, elaborated that he had an option agreement with producer Tom Cruise, and that Cruise would portray the lead role. The director said that Cruise had not been happy with the first two screenplays and that a third one was underway.[7] In June 2006, producer Jeremy Bolt reported that Anderson would direct the remake of Death Race 2000 after completing Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). The producer described the remake's new tone: "We've basically taken the idea of reality television and extended it twenty years. So it's definitely a comment on society, and particularly reality television, but it is not as much a parody or a satire as the original. It's more straight."[8] The following August, Paramount ended its relationship with Cruise/Wagner Productions, and Death Race was placed in turnaround. According to reports, when the project was discovered available, Universal Studios acquired it. Cruise and Wagner resumed their roles as producers, and Anderson returned to write and direct the film.[9]

In April 2007, actor Jason Statham entered negotiations to star in Death Race, with production slated to begin in late summer or early fall.[9] Anderson described that Death Race would take place in a prison, and that the film would be "super-violent" like its predecessor. "It has little echoes of the original – a lot of people get run down, but rather than having the points system, which had no pay off anyway, it's a pure race. It's more like Gladiator, with the last person standing – or driving, winning," explained the director.[10] Filming on Death Race began in Montreal in August 2007.[3]

Release and reception

The film was originally scheduled for release on September 26, 2008, but was moved to August 22, 2008.[11]

Critical reception

The film has received generally mixed reviews from critics. It currently holds a 42% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[12] and a rating of 41 out of 100 on Metacritic.[13]

Robert Koehler of Variety called Death Race "as hard as metal and just as dumb" and criticized it for removing the humor of Death Race 2000.[14] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film half a star (out of four), calling it "an assault on all the senses, including common."[15] Keith Phipps of the A.V. Club said the film is "ideal for those who want to watch a bunch of cars blow each other up, without having to think about it all that much."[16] Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle called Death Race "one of the most boring drags of all time."[17]

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "an ill-advised and severely wussified remake."[18] Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave the film one and a half stars (out of four), calling it "junk" and saying that "the chases are pretty cool, but there's absolutely nothing else to see."[19] A positive review came from Nathan Lee of The New York Times, who said that "the movie is legitimately greasy, authentically nasty, with a good old-fashioned sense of laying waste to everything in sight."[20] James Berardinelli of ReelViews awarded Death Race a score of two and a half stars (out of four), saying that it's "weak when it comes to things like plot, character, and acting, but it's very good at provoking visceral reactions."[21]

Box office

The film grossed $75,677,515, of which $36,316,032 was from North America.[22]

Home media

The DVD and Blu-ray were released in the United States on December 21, 2008.[23] There was also an unrated edition released. The Blu-ray version of the movie features a Digital Copy of the film. In the DVD commentary, Anderson further elaborates on his thought of the movie as a prequel more than a remake.


The score to Death Race was composed by Paul Haslinger who recorded the string portion of his score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage.[24]

The soundtrack was released on August 19, 2008.[25]


A prequel to the film, Death Race 2, went through production in South Africa.[26] The film, directed by Roel Reiné, stars Luke Goss, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, and Danny Trejo.[27] It was released direct-to-DVD.[28]


  1. ^ a b Tom Tinneny (June 3, 2008). "Death Race: The Set Visit!". Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  2. ^ "First Look: Death Race Battle Scene". Worst Previews. May 28, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Borys Kit (August 8, 2007). "Buckle up: Allen joins Uni's 'Race'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  4. ^ Borys Kit (August 21, 2007). "The 'Race' is on for Martinez". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  5. ^ The Cars of Death Race part 2, IGN (Jan 30, 2008)
  6. ^ Patrick Lee (March 18, 2002). "Paul W.S. Anderson reanimates a game group of zombies in Resident Evil". Sci Fi Wire. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  7. ^ Calum Waddell. "August 17: Roger Corman's DEATH RACE 3000 update". Fangoria. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  8. ^ Stax (June 28, 2006). "Castlevania, Death Race Buzz". IGN. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  9. ^ a b Borys Kit (April 23, 2007). "Statham in 'Death Race' driver's seat". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on August 15, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Paul WS Anderson talks Death Race". Total Film. July 31, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Death Race Rescheduled for this Summer". Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  12. ^ Death Race, Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Death Race, Metacritic
  14. ^ Death Race review, Robert Koehler, Variety
  15. ^ Death Race review, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
  16. ^ Death Race review, Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
  17. ^ Death Race review, Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle
  18. ^ Death Race review, Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
  19. ^ Death Race review, Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
  20. ^ Death Race review, Nathan Lee, The New York Times
  21. ^ Death Race review, James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  22. ^ "Death Race (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  23. ^ [ "Death Race"]. 
  24. ^ Dan Goldwasser (August 1, 2008). "Paul Haslinger scores Deaf Race". Retrieved August 1, 2008. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ Lewinski, John Scott (May 6, 2010). "Six features filmed in South Africa". The Hollywood Reporter (e5 Global Media). Retrieved June 21, 2010. [dead link]
  27. ^ Weinberg, Scott (March 2, 2010). "Engines Have Officially Started on 'Death Race 2'". Cinematical. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  28. ^ Mahadeo, Kevin (March 1, 2010). "Sean Bean Joins Luke Goss in Death Race 2: Frankenstein Lives – Filming Began Today". Retrieved June 21, 2010. 

External links

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