Before the Hunger: Four Movies That Feature Fights to the Death

With the recent success of the movie The Hunger Games, rabid fans may be clamoring for more movies that feature gladiator style combat. The good news is that there are plenty of great films out there that feature fights to the death, and a couple of which predate many of The Hunger Games’ target audience. So, if you are hungry for some more movies that have arena action similar to the blockbuster based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book, read on.

Battle Royal (2000)

This actioner from Japan is the most similar to The Hunger Games concept. The movie features 42 ninth grade students placed on a deserted island by a futuristic Japanese government and given three days to kill each other until only one remains. Each student is given a bag with random weapons and supplies and is let loose. Critics give this film an average rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

This movie features a reality TV show where the contestants must kill each other off. In this satire of Survivor and its ilk, six randomly selected contestants must kill or be killed while the camera watches. The arena is a small town in Connecticut and among the contenders is the current champion Dawn, who is on the verge of being set free from the show and who also happens to be pregnant. There is also an old man, a teenaged girl, a middle-aged nurse, and a man recovering from cancer. The film features dark humor and a satire of the nation’s then-nascent obsession with reality TV. Critics give it an average score of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mean Guns (1997)

This movie is a bit more obscure. It features a gangster boss who rounds up 100 people who have wronged him and forces them to fight to the death in a large building. The last three survivors will split 10 million dollars. The combatants range from hit men, gangbangers, and thieves to accountants and secretaries. The battle begins with the combatants being set loose and scramble for a bunch of weapons–ranging from bats to shotguns–dumped in the middle of the room. Plot-wise, the movie isn’t a masterpiece, but the fighting and action are intense. The film stars Ice T and Christopher Lambert.

The Running Man (1987)

This classic is the father of arena combat TV show films. This movie features Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Ben Richards, an American cop in the year 2019 who is framed for killing civilians when he refuses to do the same. He escapes from captivity and, when he is re-captured, he is forced to compete in televised gladiatorial combat. The TV show is called “The Running Man,” and it forces convicts to compete against skilled assassins who each possess unique weapons. Critics give The Running Man an average score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes.

So if you are hungry for some fight to the death action, start by checking out some of these movies. And if there are any similar films that you recommend, be sure to chime in below.

Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.

  • Wayne P.

    Possibly the first entry in this sub-genre was from the Studio Age with 1932′s “The Most Dangerous Game”.  Starring Leslie Banks as the villain of the Robert Conrad short story its based on and it has the provocative pre-code turns of Fay Wray (King Kong) and Joel McCrea. Not bad but maybe not a classic!

  • Aaron

    “The Running Man” was one of Arnold’s best,and 25 years later,strangely prophetic with the glut of Reality television,and people doing and cheering on crazy behavior. By 2019,this may well happen.

  • Michael Gonzalez

    Was the Running Man the first appearance of a game show designed to kill each other?  I know there’s gotta be movies that came before that did this as well.  Can anyone name any?

  • Ganderson

    One classic was the Roger Corman production ‘Death Race 2000′ in which 6 or 8 teams of drivers competed in a televised car race from the east coast to the west coast.  Points were awarded based on how many pedestrians were run down, with more points for killing competitors.  One of the teams got some big points right off the starting line by running down one of his own pit crew.  Another classic Corman touch had the hero (yes the Hero!) running over a bunch of aged rest home residents who had gathered on the porch to watch the race; little did they anticipate the driver didn’t think the porch was a safe zone.  This pure cheese-fest came out in 1975 and starred a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone as ‘Machine Gun Joe Viterbo’ and David Carradine as the hero ‘Frankenstein.’  I believe a female character was ‘Matilda the Hun’  One memorable feature was some of the worst matte paintings in cinematic history.  They sure don’t make like that anymore!

    • SteveinSedona

      Actually, the rest home scene was a bit different.  The staff (being big David-Carradine-as-Frankenstein fans) pushed the wheelchair-bound patients out into the middle of the road so Frankenstein could score points, then they (the staff) retreated to what they thought was a safe vantage point.  Frankenstein went around the wheelchairs and scored the staff.

      Martin Kove (Cagney & Lacey, The Karate Kid) was another driver – Nero the Hero.

      • Ganderson

        Thanks for the correction — 1975 was a long time ago

  • SFNY

    There was also The 10th Victim’  with Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress based on a Robert Sheckley story about a club of people who hunt each other down for sport.  This one has a bit of reality TV in it as an Italian film crew follows the participants around.

  • Mr. J. Cutnaw

    Would Rollerball sorta fit?

  • DIRK

    DEATH RACE 2000 sorta obvious, and then theres always RESEVOIR DOGS, talk about to the Last Man!!!

  • Wayne

    Any James Bond  or Dirty Harry movie but that’s too easy. How about Witness, Air Force One, Jaws, White Heat, Little Cesar.


    • Ganderson

      I think the theme could have been stated more clearly.  The idea is not just fights to the death, which appear in lots of movies, but fights to the death as entertainment, sport or as a game.  But I guess that adds ‘Gladiator’ — “are you not entertained?”

  • Joe

    How about GLADIATOR, with Russell Crowe, or SPARTACUS, with Kirk Douglas? 

  • Bigloutexan

    Bruce Lee in Game Of Death……….fighting Kareem Abdul Jabbar in a warehouse……..he did kill Hugh O’Brian in the same fight scene…..

  • Christina West

    Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone’s fight to the death in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938.

  • William Grove

    The novel on which The Running Man was based, was a very superior story. The ending could never be filmed because of the 9/11 terrorist acts. Read the novel by Bachman (Stephen King). Great story.