Rollerball (1975): As a helpful reminder that modern sports are only a body count away from the gory gladitorial bouts of yesteryear, sci-fi scenarists love to dream up dystopian amusements in which the good old Roman bloodlust has made a comeback. The Production Code-less ’70s yielded this lugubrious tut-tutter, which predicts that by 2018 the world will be controlled by corporations, and the masses will be in thrall to a tweak of roller derby that includes motorcycles, body armor and players getting brain damage or worse. Luckily, today no one watches games in which the players are routinely put in harm’s way.
Death Race 2000 (1975): The same year as Rollerball, the Roger Corman factory upchucked this nastier, sprightlier number, in which the masses of a fascist U.S., undone by a financial crisis, take comfort in a cross-country melee of pimped-out rides. Characteristically, Corman followed it with 1978’s inferior Futuresport, also with David Carradine, while the inevitable remake had the cajones to jettison the part when drivers amass points by mowing over pedestrians. (Geriatrics and children net the higher scores, natch.)
The Running Man (1987): It’s 2017 and a financial crisis—are we sensing a pattern here?—has wrought a totalitarian state in which everyone gets their jollies watching criminals tussle with gimmicky assassins. A novel by one Richard Bachman is pounded into a kitschy Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, and directed by David Starsky, no less.
Robot Jox (1990): Actually, it would be pretty stellar if the world’s nations, instead of staging wars, parlayed their aggressions into mega-sized games of Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots. Hopefully with a bigger budget than here.
Battle Royale (2000): Based on a 1999 cult novel by Koushun Takami, Kenji Fukusaku’s film follows a classroom of teens who are randomly selected to go to an island and fight to the death until only one is left.
The Hunger Games (2012): Based on a 2008 bestseller by Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross’ film follows a group of teens who are randomly selected to fight to the death until only one is left.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely