With the movie version of “The Hunger Games” poised to take the nation by storm, here are some notable film and TV examples of people fighting to the death for sport. Let the games begin.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Richard Connell’s classic short story about a crazy hunter on a Caribbean island who stalks human visitors has been filmed numerous times. The best version came in 1932, with Joel McCrea as the young guy being hunted by loony Leslie Banks. It’s a story that works in any era.
MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME
Welcome to Bartertown. In this 1985 installment of the “Mad Max” series, Mel Gibson finds himself battling assorted psychos in a freaky fight cage called Thunderdome. As wild as the action is, Tina Turner’s striking villain is even more wild.
Amid the spectacle of 1960’s “Spartacus,” there’s a fantastic sequence of Kirk Douglas in the Roman arena versus the great Woody Strode. I won’t give away the ending of this fight, which is stirring.
Of course, “Gladiator” (2000) owes some of its imagery to “Spartacus,” but Russell Crowe can hold his head high. He’s a commanding presence here, especially in forced fighting scenes in the arena. Careful of those tigers, dude.
TV’s original “Star Trek” used the combat-as-sport concept several times. Most memorable was Capt. Kirk’s epic rumble against the lizard-headed Gorn. How did Shatner not get an Emmy for this? Side note: I love the Gorn in those Geico commercials.
THE RUNNING MAN
As time has gone by, I think this 1987 film stands out less because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heroics and more for Richard Dawson’s smarmy host of a televised hunt for criminals on the run. Side note: This may well be the only Hollywood project ever to combine the talents of Dawson, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.
DEATH RACE 2000
Let’s stay in the realm of violent campiness with 1975’s “Death Race 2000.” This one starred David Carradine and involved – I kid you not – a car race in which the point was to mow down pedestrians. My GPS navigation lady would not put up with that sort of thing.
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD
This high-octane western from 1995 is mainly just an excuse to stage a whole mess of gunslinger duels. They’re done stylishly, with a cast that includes Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen and Keith David.
THE NAKED PREY
A strangely engrossing movie, this one. Cornel Wilde is a guide in Africa, being hunted by a determined group of warriors. There are long stretches without dialogue and the characters’ exhaustion is palpable. From 1966.
The plot for this 2009 flick has to do with using mind-control to play deadly games with real people. Gerard Butler is certainly game as the lead character, but the real draw is the always-interesting Michael C. Hall as the bad guy.
I’m partial to the 1982 original, but I have no beef with the 2010 sequel. Both films are dazzling in their own ways, visually. Of interest here, in the virtual world inside a video game, are jaw-dropping battles with flying discs and the coolest motorcycles ever. They have to be seen to be believed.
Now let’s see how “The Hunger Games” fares.