The Running Man Screenwriter Has One Major Regret About The Arnold Schwarzenegger Film, And He Wants Fans To Fix It

Released in 1987, Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man is remembered as one of the big action films that helped further cement Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the biggest stars in the world. It features some of the best one-liners in the actor’s filmography, has a legacy as a very different kind of Stephen King adaptation, and can even be reflected on as prescient in its depiction of the relationship between the media and the public. As it turns 35 this year, there is a lot of greatness to look back upon – though there is one major regret that screenwriter Steven E. de Souza has about the movie that he is hoping that fans can fix with some post-post-production editing.

I recently interviewed de Souza in commemoration of The Running Man’s upcoming anniversary in November, and it was during our conversation that he brought up a last minute change to the film that he feels made the final cut worse. While discussing details of the world predicted by the movie, I noted that Richard Dawson's Damon Killian at one point makes use of what is essentially Deep Fake technology, and the screenwriter explained that the sequence where it’s used was not only different going into editing room, but vastly better.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Dead in The Running Man

(Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures)

The Sequence In The Running Man That Got Changed At The Last Minute

In the third act of the film as it exists, the heroes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Conchita Alonso manage to escape the terrible trials of The Running Man game show, and doing so forces the villainous Damon Killian to put into motion Plan B: computer graphics are used to put digital masks of the protagonists on a couple of people with matching body types, and Jesse Ventura’s Captain Freedom is filmed killing them. The key difference in the movie as originally written, however, is that audiences were supposed to think that Schwarzenegger and Alonso’s characters were actually killed. Steven de Souza told me,

As written and filmed, the audience did not know they switched it out. We were gonna head fake our audience… They come to the host of the show, 'What are we gonna do?' And [Killian] says, 'Alright, I'll tell you what we're gonna do. It's time.' And we don't know what ‘it’ is. And then we see the sequence where Arnold and Maria are trapped, and if you look at the movie again, you'll see that Jesse Ventura beats the crap out of Arnold, and then he kills the girl. And the test audience went 'No!' And then after beating the hell out of Arnold, Arnold comes back after the girl is dead, beats the living hell outta Jesse Ventura, and at the last second, Jesse Ventura throws him on the spikes. Arnold is dead. 'Thank you very much! Goodnight, folks!' Then we will go to the studio and they say, 'Boy, that trick worked!' And you see that they tricked them.

The start of The Running Man’s third act was originally designed to fool the audience into thinking that the film had actually orchestrated the surprise deaths of the two leads, before then revealing the nature of the trick and showing that the characters were alive and on the run. It’s not hard to imagine the shock value that the movie would have had if cut this way.

Arnold Schwarzenegger with Richard Dawson in The Running Man

(Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures)

Why The Proto-Deep Fake Sequence In The Running Man Was Changed

So why did the film get changed? Steven de Souza pins the blame on a producer whom he was polite enough not to mention by name. This individual did analysis of the comments a test screening of The Running Man, and he decided that the aforementioned trickery was too confusing for an audience he deemed not smart enough to understand what was going on. According to de Souza, these reactions not only came from a very small percentage of the audience but from members of an age range that the action flick wasn’t really targeting:

We had an idiot producer who was on this movie who, after the test screening, said, 'You gotta change that.' He says, 'Our audience is too stupid. They don't get it.' 'What are you talking about?' [The test screening] was in Palm Springs; we must have had at least 600 people in the audience, if not more, and there were maybe like two dozen cards saying, 'I don't understand how they put a different face on a guy.' And I go, 'This is 20 cards, and all of them: ‘why did you attend the movie? Came with grandchild.’'

What particularly incensed Steven de Souza about the change was hearing the reaction from the test audience watching the original cut of The Running Man. Based on what he witnessed, it sounds like just about the whole crowd thought that the film really had the audacity to kill off Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Conchita Alonso with 20 minutes of runtime left.

The filmmaker explained that he did his best to try and convince the producer not to make the change, but his efforts were in vain. Now, 35 years later, he wants fans with access to HD versions of the film to create a proper cut that executes the original intention:

I remember begging this guy, 'Would you bet money on a Super Bowl rerun?' I just can never forget, to this day, how insane the audience went – they couldn’t believe it. Do you remember in Die Hard 2 when the plane crashes, the audience can't believe we killed all of those innocent people? Same reaction: Maria Conchita Alonso and then Arnold, back-to-back, and then you discover you were pranked. So if you have the Blu-ray, you can put this back in the proper order.

Doing a new edit of The Running Man may not be the easiest thing, as fans can only work with the footage that exists in the film, and, as Steven de Souza pointed out, there are moments of obvious Additional Dialogue Replacement (a.k.a. ADR) that were introduced to make the theatrical cut’s version of the events make sense. Still, it’s clear that de Souza would very much appreciate the work being done:

You can even tell in the dialogue, when they changed the face, that dialogue was recorded later. Cause the dialogue was like, 'I told you it was gonna work, Killian. Look, it looks just like him. They bought it, baby!' And instead they had to change it around. If you look at the scene, you'll see that you don't see the producer, you see the back of his head. You can see that you're on the wrong face when people are talking. And it was so moronic. It bothers me to this day. And I think it really affected how successful the movie was.

While we wait for a skilled fan to do some editing work with The Running Man, do yourself a favor and make plans to recognize the excellent movie’s upcoming 35th anniversary. It’s presently available to stream with a fuboTV subscription, and you can rent and/or purchase it digitally on Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, and Apple. As noted by Steven de Souza, it’s also available on Blu-ray (and is a must for anyone trying to build the ultimate Stephen King collection) It’s one of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies of the 1980s – which saying a whole hell of a lot – and deserves to be celebrated.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.