In 1985, Stephen King confirmed to the Bangor Daily News that between 1977 and 1984 he had written 5 novels under the alias Richard Bachman. The 5 novels were 'Thinner', 'The Rage', 'The Long Walk', 'Road Work' and 'The Running Man'. Those books were rewritten from assignments he originally handed in to teachers when he was in high school and college. Stephen King stopped using the alias Richard Bachman because "You know how when you're carrying home some groceries in the rain and the whole bag falls apart? Well, that's how it's been with Bachman lately (in 1985). It's been a chronic problem not wanting to over-publish."
'The Running Man' was made into a motion picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Filming of the movie began in August 1986 with the release date being in December 1987. 'The Running Man' was the No. 1 box-office hit the week of its release. Producer George Linder told Vernon Scott of United Press International the movie had a budget of $20 million: "The film business isn't all that different from the process of conceiving a concept for the wheelchair. It's a matter of coming up with a product, manufacturing it and then distribution. But movies are more fun and the gamble is greater."
George insisted, "You've got to be a tough businessman to survive in Hollywood. I had to fight at every level – agents, lawyers, bankers and distributors – to get this picture made. I even had to fight to be the producer (with Tim Zinnemann), even though it was my property to begin with. Andy Davis is our director but as line producer I will be on the set day in and day out. I have a hand and voice in all creative decisions, set design, wardrobe, vehicles, locations, everything. Decisions have been coming quickly and easily for me."
Although the book was set in the year 2025, the movie was set in the year 2017. At the time, the United States was under its first totalitarian government (or "police state"). To deter social unrest because of dwindling resources, the "entertainment" division of the Justice department created a government-sanctioned TV game show called 'The Running Man' to act as a public diversion. The contestants were mostly convicted felons. Dan Webster of the Spokane Chronicle observed, "In such an atmosphere, TV acts also as an emotional outlet, as the only means by which people can legally strike back at something. As the government intends, their targets are each other."
Arnold Schwarzenegger played an enemy of the state, former policeman Ben "the Butcher of Bakersfield" Richards. Arnold told the Associated Press in 1987, "The film is a combination of 'Network', 'Rollerball' and '1984'. It's different than my other movies. The subject matter makes you think more. It's not like going into the jungle and going out after an alien monster." In the movie, the host of 'The Running Man' was played by Richard Dawson of the TV game show, 'Family Feud'. His character was named, sardonically, Damon Killian, "who worships only one god: ratings."
George Linder continued, "There was no point in thinking small. I based my decision to make this picture on the story, not finances. I know it’s going to be a highly successful venture. I always wanted to be in the film business, but I didn’t have a father or an uncle in the industry. It began when I came across Richard Bachman's futuristic novel and took an option on it. Later I found out that Bachman was a pseudonym for Stephen King, which accounted for the stiff price I paid for the option. I knew it would make an exciting movie, so I wrote a treatment myself. I had Arnold in mind for the lead role from the beginning. The story is a sort of 'Spartacus' of the future. This time he plays David instead of Goliath. His opponents in our picture are all 7 feet tall."
"First of all, there was already a good idea, the Stephen King novel," Arnold pointed out. "Then there was a well-written script by Steven de Souza, and that's what I got to see. After I see a well-written script with a good concept, then it is tailored around me. I like to have my films with a lot of humor, comic relief coming throughout the film. I don't like films that have just the action and violence. I understand when people say there's too much action and violence in the films, because they're not everyone's cup of tea. That's why there are different kinds of films: love stories, action-adventures, comedies.
"What we've experienced in test screenings of 'The Running Man' is that this film has a broader appeal, especially the female audience. It's hard to say what my audience is. We assume that it is kids between 15 and 25. In tests of 'The Running Man', we've seen it appeal all the way up to 35. That's pretty much the whole moviegoing audience. After 35, people tend to stay home with their families and watch television."
In April 1986, Arnold Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver. He said at the time, "Maria comes from a Democratic family; she cannot change that. I come from a kind of conservative background, not as much socially as economically. I understand her point of view and she understands mine . . . Whether you're liberal or conservative, both parties work toward the same goal, which is to make the country better."
At the time of 'The Running Man' launch, Arnold was filming 'Red Heat'. He recounted, "All I have to do is find out from the director on each particular film what kind of shape does he see me in for this film. For 'Running Man', (director) Paul Michael Glaser (of 'Starsky & Hutch') wanted me to be around 225, very muscular, but at the same time very agile and quick, because I was running a lot in the film. So I took a lot of aerobic classes, bicycling and running, as well as some weight training. For 'Red Heat', Walter Hill wanted me to lose 15 pounds. He wanted me to look very Russian and bony and to get a straight haircut. I love working out and feeling good. By the end of the day on a movie set, people are tired and living on coffee, while I am still full of energy."