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Before The Hunger Games, Watch Eight Other Battle-to-the-Death Movies

Photo: TriStar Pictures

If the bloody central event in The Hunger Games was actually broadcast on TV, would you watch it? In some ways, the games are a little more dignified than the reality TV currently on the air, which tends to favor humiliation over outright execution (though that whole kids-killing-kids thing is kind of a bummer no matter how you slice it). Still, if The Hunger Games gets you thinking about the real-world implications of this sort of thing — or if you simply want to see more movies that throw attractive people into a ring and then have them kill each other for our televised amusement — here are eight other examples of battle-to-the-death films that may have influenced next week’s blockbuster-in-waiting, and our take on just how watchable they’d be if they ever did make it to basic cable.

The premise: In 2017, criminals are given a shot at freedom by competing on The Running Man, a gladiator-style TV show on which bespandexed cons encounter stalkers trying to murder them with chain saws and hockey sticks. (So … not the dance craze, then?) The ratings: Exact number is unclear, but it is touted as “the highest rated TV show in history.” Watchability: 10/10. It doesn’t get much more mass-appeal than The Running Man, which has something for every demographic. For the guys there’s over-the-top violence, for the girls there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger in spandex, and for the grandparents there’s Richard Dawson. 
The premise: A group of students is transported to an island to participate in The Program, a competition that requires them to kill each other until only one remains. If more than one person is alive at the end, everyone dies. Or if they’re crafty and fake their deaths, they can escape on a boat. The ratings: None. While everyone knows of and fears The Program, they can’t watch it because it’s not on TV. When it’s over though, the winner is revealed to the world. Watchability: 1/10 This would be a lot higher if the competition were broadcast. Instead, the people only get to see a local news report announcing the winner and as everyone knows, local news is unwatchable.  Photo: HO
The premise: It’s the year 2000 and the U.S. has been decimated by financial calamity. The fascists running the country introduce a cross-country car race that keeps the people dumb and entertained thanks to heroes like the seemingly indestructible Frankenstein (David Carradine). The race is won not just by being fast, but by being brutal—bonus points are awarded to drivers who run over pedestrians.  The ratings: Enormous. The entire country either watches on TV or lines the streets to see the cars pass and, if they’re lucky, run them over. Watchability: 5/10. Sure, mad men driving cars with teeth and running down innocent civilians is exciting, but when they get stuck on long stretches of highway it’s like watching NASCAR without all the exciting pit stops. 
The premise: A reality show randomly selects six people through a national lottery, gives them a gun and forces them to compete in a battle to the death, all while remaining within the boundaries of a chosen city. The last remaining contestant goes on to the next series and if she can win three in a row, she’s set free. Series seven includes Dawn Lagarto, a two-time winner who will be freed from the show if she can blast her way through Newbury, Connecticut. The ratings: Unclear, but it’s called the “highest rated ‘reality’ program in America.” Watchability: 6/10. Kind of like COPS, if the cops on COPS were regular people forced to murder other regular people. It’s got the shaky camera work, the surprise entrances and the shirtless morons, but given the compulsory nature of contestant selection, the whole thing ends up being kind of a bummer.
The premise: A group of death row inmates purchased by a swarthy TV producer from third world prisons is dropped onto an island and given the chance to live if they can kill everyone else. They have 30 hours to kill or be killed, either by their fellow contestants or the bomb attached to their ankles. The whole spectacle is broadcast online. The ratings: 44 million people Watchability: 4/10. As it is, it’s a gladiator bout on an island. That’s only interesting to the kind of people who like Deadliest Warrior. In the hands of the right producer, someone who would exploit the story of a wrongly convicted man (Stone Cold Steve Austin) trying to return to his girlfriend in Texas, this rating would shoot way up.
The premise: A new reality competition developed by a money-hungry TV executive (Eva Mendes) offers six people the chance to win $5 million by playing Russian roulette with a revolver loaded with one bullet. The five people who survive the game win the cash, which should be just enough to cover a lifetime of psychiatry bills. The ratings: 150 million people Watchability: 10/10. This show looks as watchable as it is morbid. Not just for the excitement of finding out who will blow their head off, but for the American Idol-like treatment of the back stories. Watching someone play Russian roulette after you just watched a montage of their baby pictures is gripping stuff. 
The premise: Society avoids war by entering violent people like Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) into The Hunt, a competition in which blood-thirsties spend five rounds hunting others and five rounds getting hunted. If they survive all 10 rounds they win a lifetime of riches. If they fall for the person they’re hunting, as Caroline does for Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), things get more complicated. The ratings: It’s not clear, but that show is televised around the entire world. Watchability: 9/10. With attractive Italians either making out or shooting each other, The Hunt easily earns a Tivo season pass. And this is a show better watched on delay, so you can fast-forward through the annoying messages from the sponsors of each kill.
The premise: New video-game technology invented by an evil genius (Michael C. Hall) allows gamers to control other humans in a violent first-person shooter game called Slayers. The avatars in the game are death row inmates, like Kable (Gerard Butler), who can achieve freedom if they win 30 matches. The ratings: 650 million people Watchability: 7/10. The action is exciting but it lacks the human element that keeps people coming back. Sure, we want to see Kable win a few more matches and get let loose, but if we’d seen a montage of him parading through the streets of his home town, we’d care so much more.
Before The Hunger Games, Watch Eight Other Battle-to-the-Death Movies