There were some very big differences between The Running Man book and the movie. In fact you could say that the movie was almost entirely different from the book aside from the name. Where to start? There are more than a few since in the book Ben Richards is not a cop, he’s just a guy trying to make ends meet while attempting to take care of his family. In the movie Richards starts out as a cop that refuses to fire on innocents that are rioting over not having enough food or resources and is detained by his fellow officers before being sent to prison. After that he escapes with two members of the resistance that stand firmly against the current authoritarian regime that also controls the airwaves and basically runs the world in which he lives. The book version has him signing up to the Running Man game and enduring a three-day long process in which he’s finally deemed as fit for the game. In the movie he’s pressed into it after being captured after his escape.
The hunters are also very different in the book since they are regular bounty hunters that don’t look like a cross between a pro wrestler and a comic book villain. In the movie the hunters all have gimmicks that they use to differentiate from one another, while in the book they need to blend in to be better at their job. The movie offers the contestants the chance for a full pardon if they manage to survive every zone, but the book puts the contestants through a 30-day hell that they have to survive in order to win the grand prize of a billion new dollars that will be payable on completion. The whole idea of both the movie and the book however is that the little guy never wins and the big corporation gets to stay big and get even bigger thanks to the ratings that their shows produce. In both the movie and the book the future is a rather grim place that sets a very strong barrier between the rich and the poor.
While the movie keeps the contestants within the selected zones of the game course the book allows Richards to go pretty much anywhere, but with the knowledge that he’s being hunted and might not last longer than 8 days. Richards proves to be a little smarter than previous contestants however as he makes his way across the eastern United States. Another big difference comes near the ending when the movie shows that Richards finally joins the resistance and decides to make a positive change by taking down Killian and the network by taking over the airwaves and allowing the public to realize just how much Killian has been lying to them. In the book Richards doesn’t bother with allying with anyone as he pilots an airliner into the network building even as he’s dying, destroying it in the process.
Between the book and the movie there are similarities, but in truth it almost reminds me of the classic poem by Robert Frost. Two roads definitely diverged on this one.